Just off back surgery, he was unsure he'd ever play basketball again, for the Celtics, the US Olympic team or in his backyard at French Lick.
Now, with his recovery on course and his status among the elite once again manifested, Bird today will be named to the 1992 Olympic basketball team, the first to include players from the NBA.
Dave Gavitt, head of USA Basketball and Celtics CEO, said last July that "there aren't 10 better" than a healthy Bird. The selection committee agreed. Bird, who will turn 35 in December, will be the oldest Olympian and, since this is the last year of his contract, conceivably could add an Olympic gold medal as his going-away present.
The team is top-heavy with All-Stars and marquee idols. Nine other NBA players have been named and the final two spots will include at least one collegian. There also are plans to name some NBA alternates next spring in the event one of today's top 10 can't go.
The NBA champion Chicago Bulls have two representatives, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The Utah Jazz will be represented by Karl Malone and John Stockton. The others are Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Magic Johnson.
The Olympic coach, Chuck Daly, and Gavitt are scheduled to be present for today's announcement (5 p.m., Channel 4) in the offices of NBA Entertainment in New York. As many as six Olympians could join them. NBC has scheduled satellite hookups in Chicago, where Jordan, Johnson and perhaps Pippen are scheduled to be. There also will be a feed to Boise, Idaho, where Malone and Stockton will give their views.
With the suspense gone as to the identity of the team, the focus could shift to other matters. Will Ewing finally speak on his apparent desire to leave the Knicks? (The early line is an unequivocal "no.") Will Jordan address the issue of his apparent contempt for Isiah Thomas? Will Barkley offer a Mideast peace plan?
Of the 10, four have Olympic experience. Jordan, Mullin and Ewing were cornerstones of the 1984 gold medal team, which routed everyone in Los Angeles. Robinson was the center on the ill-fated 1988 team in Seoul, which anyone short of John Thompson could probably have coached to the gold. Unfortunately, Thompson led them to the bronze.
Conspicuous by their absence are any members of the Detroit Pistons, one of whom, Thomas, was on the 1980 team that never made it to Moscow (Gavitt was head coach). Daly has expressed his desire for as many as three Pistons (Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman are the others) but was not involved in the selection process.
In fact, one Detroit executive who was involved in the process, general manager Jack McCloskey, has resigned from the selection committee because he is upset that Thomas may not make the team, according to the Detroit News.