By Craig Pearson
For the former Indiana State players who visited the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in late November, the weekend was a chance to relive memories with teammates and see Larry Bird’s career with the Sycamores celebrated again.
Bird was enshrined Nov. 22 along with Michigan State’s Magic Johnson and coach Jud Heathcote on the 30th anniversary of the 1979 NCAA championship game.
In addition to supporting Bird, it was a chance for Larry Legend’s former teammates to be fans of the game.
The ISU team that finished 33-1 and was national runner-up to Johnson and the Spartans was well represented in Kansas City.
Bob Heaton of Clay City, Tom Crowder of Cayuga, Bob Ritter and Leroy Staley were in attendence along with ISU coach Bill Hodges and team trainer Rick Shaw.
The chance to talk 30 years later with the charismatic Johnson was a phenomenal experience, Heaton, Crowder and Staley all agreed.
Heaton recalled Johnson embracing a shy autograph-seeking boy during the weekend, and the former Sycamore spoke about getting Magic’s autograph on a Hall of Fame program being a highlight of the trip for him.
“It was fun to finally meet up with Magic and talk with him a little bit,” said Heaton, who is especially known for two game-winning shots during that magical season.
One was a three-quarter court shot at the buzzer of regulation that forced overtime and helped the Sycamores move to 19-0. The second was a left-handed shot in the NCAA Tournament regional final against Arkansas that sent ISU to a 73-71 victory and a berth in the Final Four.
Crowder, a reserve forward, took pleasure in the fact that some things stay the same 30 years later.
“He was typical Larry Bird, cordial but not outgoing,” Crowding said, “unlike Magic Johnson, he was happy to see us as much as anybody.”
Staley, who now works with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Pearl, Miss., and was known for his leaping ability on the basketball court, was impressed by Magic’s memory and ability to put a smile on someone’s face, particularly his own.
“What amazed me, about seeing Magic, he asked me, ‘You still got those ups?’ If he remembered that about me, that made my whole trip,” Staley said.
Staley said he thought Bird enjoyed himself, and the former Sycamores said Bird was glad to have his teammates and former coach around. When the hype was building around the nation in ‘79, Bird refused almost all interview requests until the Final Four in homage to his teammates.
“It was really great being around Larry again,” Staley said. “We were always in the limelight with Larry. He got to really sit back and enjoy himself.”
The 1979 team was also honored in Hulman Center in February of 2009, although the turnout wasn’t quite as strong as it was for the 25th anniversary in 2004.
“We were all in the right place at the right time,” Crowder said a few days before Christmas. “It’s like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ If you take anybody on that team and take them out of that picture, things would have been different.”
One single college basketball game will never be as celebrated as that 1979 game, which still has the largest TV share of all time for an NCAA game.
Like Heaton, basketball fans in Kansas City were thrilled to do it again.
“With Magic and Larry, the people got a big treat out of it,” Heaton said.
• Another former Sycamore great, David Moss is playing well for LaFortezza Bologna in the Italian League.
Through 12 games, Moss is averaging 13.7 points, 4.8 rebounds 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals. He’s shooting 49 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from 3 and 79.5 percent at the free-throw line.
With 1,562 career points, Moss is the fifth-leading scorer in ISU men’s basketball history.
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (812) 231-4357.