Larry Bird has always been larger than life for Hoosiers. Growing up in the sticks of southern Indiana, Bird molded himself into a high school basketball star through dint of hard work and persistence. Landing a full ride to play hoops for Indiana University and the legendary Bobby Knight, Bird had the temerity to walk off the Bloomington campus early in his freshman year to return to an uncertain life. Persuaded by coaches to give college and basketball another try, Bird enrolled at Indiana State University and led the Sycamores to the national title game in 1979 before embarking on an unparalleled NBA career with the storied Boston Celtics. Larry's legend grew with every improbable stop until he took on almost mythical proportions in his home state. It seems fitting, then, that the recently-retired president of the Indiana Pacers would be honored by his alma mater in grand fashion. Indiana State announced on August 28 that they plan to unveil a huge 15-foot bronze statue at their home-floor Hulman Center sometime in 2013.
That 1979 title run stands as the greatest feat in the history of Indiana State athletics and ranks high on the list of all-time sports memories for the entire Hoosier state. We were all held in the grip of Bird's magic as he carried his rag-tag band of ballers to deep into the mouth of March Madness. Even then, we knew that he was cementing his legacy and helping to solidify the bright-light dreams of every little boy who ever played basketball on a barn-mounted hoop surrounded by lush and cloying Indiana corn fields. Larry evoked memories of Milan High School and the electricity that fills the air in crowded gymnasium's across the state on cold winter nights. It hardly mattered, in the end, that ISU lost that title bout with Michigan State and Magic Johnson, but that game and the Magic-Bird rivalry does play a part in the monstrous statue that will soon loom over the denizens of Hulman.
According to sculptor Bill Wolfe, the Bird monument has been in the works for awhile, but he wanted to make sure that it had the size advantage over a similar Johnson shrine at Michigan State. Checking in at a mere twelve feet, Earvin's statue has stood outside the Breslin Center for nine years or so, a time span which has provided Wolfe the perspective of distance to decide on the magnitude of his Bird opus. Although we can quibble about just how much better Bird was than Johnson, most Hoosiers wouldn't argue with the basic premise that Larry won the on-court war. After all, monikers aside, it was Larry Bird who truly brought magic to the game.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Pacers fan since the early 1980s and has witnessed the rise and fall of a great NBA franchise. He follows the current club closely but harbors secret hopes that Larry Bird will someday drain a three wearing Blue and Gold.
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