Larry Joe Bird was born in the small, southern Indiana town of West Baden on December 7, 1956. His father, Claude, worked as a laborer, often taking jobs at the local Kimball Piano and Organ Company, while his mother, Georgia (Kerns) worked as a waitress. The Birds had three children before the arrival of Larry—sons Mike and Mark and daughter Linda—and two more sons afterwards—sons Jeff and Eddie. His parents struggled throughout Bird's childhood to make ends meet, and Bird and his brothers were often sent to live with his grandmother, Lizzie Kerns, while the family shuffled between West Baden and the adjacent town of French Lick. "I just never realized how poor we were," Bird wrote in his 1989 memoir Drive: The Story of My Life, "Nobody in French Lick is wealthy. Everyone makes basically the same amount of money and everyone has basically the same values. It's the kind of small town where everyone stands up for his rights." Remembering his small-town roots, Bird would later jokingly refer to himself as "the hick from French Lick" when he first arrived in Boston as an NBA player, and the phrase became his nickname.
With little in the way of financial resources, the Bird children amused themselves with intra-family sporting events, especially basketball. Bird later recalled that his older brothers were fearsome competitors against their younger brother, which spurred him on to practice his skills in order to beat them. Bird was also profoundly shaped by his community's love of sports. "Sports are big, always have been," he recalled in his autobiography, "Especially basketball—giving rise to the term 'Hoosier Hysteria' to describe Indiana's fascination and support of basketball. Everyone knows what's going on in sports and everyone who plays sports is extremely competitive." Upon entering Springs Valley High School in 1971, Bird played football, baseball, and basketball. A broken ankle curtailed his activity in his sophomore year, but Bird returned to the basketball team as a six-foot, four-inch junior (he would eventually top out at six-feet, nine inches) and helped his team go to the sectional finals. The Spring Valley team made it to the regional finals in Bird's sennior year, but the squad's lack of confidence betrayed it. Even with the loss, Bird learned to keep practicing his basic skills, including his free throws and passes, that would later make him one of the most consistent players in the NBA.