When building statues of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, size does matter

It's no accident the bronze Larry Bird statue Indiana State is erecting outside its basketball arena will be 15-feet tall.

Sculptor Bill Wolfe chose that height to make sure Bird's statue towers over the 12-foot one of longtime rival Magic Johnson that has stood outside the Breslin Center at Michigan State for the past nine years.

"Knowing the competition they've had over the years, I'm making Larry bigger," Wolfe said with a chuckle. "I figured Larry would appreciate that."

An arms race among sculptors is an amusing yet fitting next step in an iconic basketball rivalry that began in 1979 when Johnson led Michigan State to a victory over Bird's Indiana State team in the national title game. Johnson and Bird subsequently dueled for championships many times in the NBA as members of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics before forging a friendship in retirement.

It's special for Wolfe to be able to honor Bird with a statue because he lived near Indiana State at the height of Bird's popularity in college and has a studio in Terre Haute today. Wolfe has promoted the idea of building a statue for the past eight years, but Indiana State didn't get the funding it needed to do it until recently.

"It's something that's long overdue for Larry," Wolfe said. "He brought national attention to the basketball program and the university itself. I think it will be a nice thing to do for Larry and it will benefit the university too."

The pose Wolfe selected for the statue is Bird shooting his trademark jump shot, a fitting choice considering he averaged 30.3 points per game at Indiana State. The statue of Bird will be dedicated outside the Hulman Center in fall 2013.

When Wolfe told Indiana State officials he intended to make Bird's statue three-feet taller than Johnson's, they chuckled but embraced the idea. Even two decades after both retired, they remain synonymous with one another.

"Of course, now Michigan State is probably going to go back and add to Magic's statue to make it bigger than 15 feet," Wolfe joked. "It will keep escalating."

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