Larry Bird was born in West Baden, Indiana, the son of Georgia (née Kerns) and Claude Joseph "Joe" Bird. He grew up in both West Baden and the adjacent town French Lick, which earned him the nickname "the Hick from French Lick" in his later basketball career. Financial troubles would plague the Bird family for most of Larry's childhood. In a 1988 interview with Sports Illustrated, Bird recalled how his mother would make do on the family's meager earnings: "If there was a payment to the bank due, and we needed shoes, she'd get the shoes, and then deal with them guys at the bank. I don't mean she wouldn't pay the bank, but the children always came first."Bird sometimes was sent to live with his grandmother due to the family's struggles. Bird told Sports Illustrated that being poor as a child "motivates me to this day".
The Bird family's struggle with poverty was compounded by the alcoholism and personal difficulties of Joe Bird. In 1975, after Bird's parents divorced, his father committed suicide.
In spite of his domestic woes, by the time he was a high school sophomore, Bird had become one of the better basketball players in French Lick. He started for French Lick/West Baden's high school team, Springs Valley High School, where he left as the school's all-time scoring leader. Bird's high school coach, Jim Jones, was a key factor to Bird's success. "Jonesie", as Bird called him, would come help Bird and his friends practice any day of the week. Bird would always be in the gym early, shoot in between classes, and then stay late into the evening. He quit both football and baseball to focus on the sport he loved, basketball.