Larry Bird, who missed nearly all of last season after foot surgery, will become the first athlete in any team sport to earn more than $6 million in a single season, the Associated Press learned Saturday.
Bird negotiated the deal before undergoing surgery on his feet last October, when he had two years remaining on a five-year contract. He had been earning $1.8 million a year, far less than the $3 million-plus that such National Basketball Assn. players as Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs and Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks are expected to earn in a single year over the life of their contracts.
No other athletes in team sports are believed to have signed contracts for as much as $3 million in a season, although several in football and baseball are in the $2.5-million range.
The contract negotiations were complicated by the need to keep Bird’s salary in line with the NBA’s salary cap, which will be $9.8 million per team this year. The Celtics reportedly agreed to a two-year contract extension under which Bird’s salary and bonus will jump to between $6 million and $7 million during the 1991-92 season.
Bird’s agent and attorney, Bob Woolf, confirmed Saturday that the 6-foot 9-inch forward had signed an extension through 1991-92.
Bird and Celtic General Manager Jan Volk could not be reached for comment.
When Bird and the Celtics agreed to the contract last October, estimates were that the extension would pay Bird $4.2 million a year.
The $6 million final-year figure came to light after the NBA announced the new salary-cap level last week.
Woolf said when the contract agreement was made that Bird, now 32, would retire at the end of the contract in 1992, which would give him three more seasons.
Bird, a nine-time All-Star who led the Celtics to three NBA titles in the 1980s, played only six games in 1988-89 because of surgery on his feet and ankles. He returned to summer workouts but fell and broke bones in his back two weeks ago.
Estimates were that he would be unable to play for six weeks, but he returned to practice a few days later when it was determined that the bones were non-weight bearing.
Bird has averaged nearly 25 points a game in his 10-year career.