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Larry Bird in Terre Haute for opening of his museum, a superstar still shy and introverted

TERRE HAUTE -- Larry Bird stood in front of a crowd in downtown Terre Haute on Thursday to the cheers and chanting of "Larry, Larry, Larry, Larry." As a video played behind him boasting his legendary accomplishments on the court, he sat in a chair, his elbows on his knees, looking down toward the ground and never once turning to see himself on the big screen draining shots, winning NBA titles and taking Indiana State to the NCAA championship game.

When the video was over and Bird walked to the podium to speak, he wondered out loud to an audience who hung on his every word how a guy like him ever ended up in a position like this. It still seems Bird can't believe he is actually Larry Bird.

"I'm a shy introvert. How the heck I keep getting up here on stage talking to thousands of people, it's always been amazing to me," he said at the ceremony before a VIP opening of the Larry Bird Museum. "But it's because of the love and respect that I've always had for my fans and the love and respect that they've shown me back. And today is a special day for me, because you're here. If you were not here, it means nothing."

Larry Bird waves at the crowd gathered Thursday, May 30, 2024, for the grand opening ceremony of the Larry Bird Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Larry Bird waves at the crowd gathered Thursday, May 30, 2024, for the grand opening ceremony of the Larry Bird Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The opening of a museum in his honor, Bird said, he hopes will inspire others to strive for greatness, especially young people.

"I want to thank everyone that had anything to do with putting this museum together. I know it's not easy. It takes a lot of time, a lot of people, but I think you'll enjoy it," he said. "I know there'll be thousands of young kids come through there. Like I always say, if just one of them gets a feeling to do something, not only in basketball, but other sports, and is successful at it, it's done its job."

The museum, located at the Terre Haute Convention Center, is a shrine to the unlikely superstar from French Lick who never had much to say to the media or to large crowds, but always had plenty to say on the court.

"We are here to celebrate a legend, a man who brought Indiana to the forefront of basketball greatness. He showed the nation that the basketball school in this state starts with ISU," said Terre Haute Mayor Brandon Sakbun. "He made trash talking an art form and I think we're all pretty lucky that Twitter was not alive back then. I can't imagine what we would have looked like."

Bird talked about his journey, how it all started in Terre Haute more than 40 years ago when he played basketball for Indiana State after growing up as the local star of Spring Valley High in French Lick.

"And it's not a journey that you go alone. I never really felt alone because of fans like you," Bird said. "We won together, we lost together, we stayed together and here we are again today."

With that the crowd erupted.

Larry Bird almost literally comes to life

All around the stage just outside the museum, Bird jerseys were aplenty. Fans held cell phones up to catch a glimpse of this towering legend in real life right there in front of them.

Above, a plane drew a No. 33 and a basketball in sky writing. Powder blue ISU T-shirts were for sale and food trucks were set up. A mural of the famous Sports Illustrated cover featuring Bird and two ISU cheerleaders could be seen peeking behind a black curtain.

As VIP members got a tour of the museum, live music played and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament was set to start. Inside the museum, Bird almost literally comes to life, Terri Conley, vice president of Terre Haute's Capital Improvement Board, told the crowd.

"As we open the doors to the Larry Bird Museum, you will find inspiration through a remarkable journey, a journey that started from Larry's early days in a small town in Indiana," she said, as she detailed what visitors would find inside.

"Throughout the museum, you will see powerful images and quotes from Larry and others that display these life lessons of unrelentless hard work, the ability to overcome obstacles, as well as the importance of believing in yourself," she said, "all leading to Larry Bird's life and career through never-before-seen interviews with coaches, teammates and rivals."

Visitors can test their basketball knowledge through trivia questions and try to shoot a free throw, "with some advice from the legend himself," Conley said.

"In addition, rare memorabilia, awards, and personal stories will bring his legacy to life. You will have a deep appreciation for Bird's impact on the game of basketball and his inspirational story from those simple beginnings to an NBA legend."

Conley closed her speech with a heartfelt thank you to Bird.

"There's so many people to thank, but we have one person that we really must thank. That one person is Larry Bird," she said. "We are forever grateful that you chose the heart of downtown Terre Haute to tell your story. The museum is more than a tribute. It is an immersive journey into the heart and spirit of Larry Bird. And we are very excited to give the fans a glimpse of the man behind the legend."

Creating a museum in Bird's honor was a no-brainer and a long time coming, said Greg Gibson, a Terre Haute businessman, philanthropist and good friend of Bird's.

"It's a reminder of great times and amazing adventures, an era of brilliance in basketball," he said. "Nobody played the game like Larry Bird, and I'm not sure anyone ever will again."

Visit the Larry Bird Museum

Address: 800 Wabash Avenue, Terre Haute at Terre Haute Convention Center

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Admission: Free, but online reservations are required. Field trips and group tours are available on a limited basis by contacting larrybirdmuseum@gmail.com. More museum info.

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on X: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: dbenbow@indystar.com.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: 'Shy, introvert' Larry Bird in Terre Haute for opening of his museum