Larry Bird – with the help noted Boston journalist and author Bob Ryan – wrote this book while he was still active. Since Bird missed most of the 1988-89 season due to injury, he had time to try out his literary skills.

Although a few chapters were added to Larry Bird’s career after the book was published (for example, his experiences with the 1992 Dream Team were still in the future at the time), this is a typical biography. It starts in Bird’s childhood and tells his first experiences with basketball and the steep rise in his youth. The early chapters are interesting and tell a lot about the problems and difficulties Bird and his family had to leave behind. Bird and his siblings grew up in poor circumstances and had to change homes frequently, sometimes living with their grandmother. The father committed suicide before Larry Bird played in his first game in the NBA.

The process of how Larry Bird came to the Boston Celtics in the first place is also interesting to read. He was drafted by them back in 1978 and decided to play one more year in college. The Celtics’ legendary general manager (and former title coach) Red Auerbach certainly took a risk here, as Bird could have re-entered the 1979 NBA draft, leaving the Celtics empty-handed. The contract negotiations before the 1979-80 season also turned out to be difficult and dragged on for a long time. Eventually however, Red Auerbach and Bird’s agent Bob Woolf were able to agree on a contract that satisfied both sides.

Despite some problems in the beginning, the relationship between Larry Bird and the Celtics was a success story from the start. In his rookie season, the Celtics won 32 more games than they had the previous season. Bird was named Rookie of the Year, well ahead of his rival and later friend Magic Johnson, and led his team to the Conference Finals, where they were defeated by the Philadelphia 76ers in five games. The Celtics won the title in just his second season. Prior to this title season, Boston drafted forward Kevin McHale and traded for center Robert Parish. The congenial trio shaped the franchise over the years and is still considered one of the best trios ever to stand on a basketball court.

What I would have liked to read more about was his relationship with Magic Johnson. The two rivals, who met on a big stage in the NCAA Finals before the NBA, later became friends after some bitter battles. Bird has few words about this, however. For those interested, check out Jackie MacMullan’s very good book When the Game Was Ours.

Bill Simmons, in his book The Book of Basketball, has a list of books he has read in the back appendix. He divides these into categories from “Influential Must-Reads” to “Not particularly helpful”. Drive he lists there in the “Helpful, not a total waste of time” category. One isn’t quite sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing at this point. Simmons, a longtime Celtics fan, is likely to have learned relatively little in this book that he didn’t already know about Bird.

Overall, the book is very interesting for basketball fans who would like to learn more about the history of Larry Bird, the Boston Celtics, and the NBA of the 1980s. However, it is not a must-read. It is written relatively soberly and does not polarize. You can tell that at this point – still during his active career – Bird didn’t want to piss people off. Maybe that would have looked a little different after his career, after all Bird was considered one of the biggest “trash talkers” in the league.

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