What would have happened if the Pacers had drafted Larry Bird

The Indiana Pacers won a coin flip in 1978 to earn the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. One of the top talents available was a junior-eligible forward from French Lick who was playing his college ball a little more than an hour down the road in Terre Haute.

Larry Bird told NBA teams he was returning to Indiana State for his final season of eligibility, putting the team that drafted him in a difficult spot: Sign him prior to the 1979 draft or have nothing to show for the pick. Bird had all the leverage since he could simply re-enter the 1979 draft. The Pacers didn’t feel they could afford Bird due to the money owed to the NBA for joining the league from the ABA. The Boston Celtics, of course, selected Bird sixth in 1978 and eventually signed him to a five-year, $3.25 million contract that made him the highest-paid rookie in sports history at the time. The Pacers dealt the no. 1 pick to Portland for the No. 3 pick – select Rick Robey – and guard Johnny Davis.

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