TERRE HAUTE —
A statue of Larry Bird now stands outside Hulman Center, dedicated this weekend.
It depicts him wearing his No. 33 Indiana State Sycamores uniform and displays his rare, famed gift — wizardry with a basketball. “One of the four or five greatest players ever,” rival and friend Magic Johnson once said.
Bird’s stats, court exploits, confidence and practice ethic are part of Hoosier and American hoops lore. He took a school previously disregarded by the college basketball elite to the game’s pinnacle — the fabled 1979 NCAA championship game vs. Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans — with the Sycamores sporting an improbable 33-0 record and the No. 1 national ranking. That’s why they call him Larry Legend. Perhaps no other player ever could’ve accomplished such a thing.
Most of us can’t relate to that achievement, no matter how great we thought we were in high school or on the neighborhood courts. It seems other-worldly.
Bird succeeded at something else in 1979, though, and that achievement is something every current ISU student and thousands of young kids, dads and moms, grandpas and grandmas all across the state can match. The statue doesn’t overtly portray this feat, although artist Bill Wolfe did sculpt Bird in his senior season form. That circumstance is significant. Bird was drafted by the NBA’s Boston Celtics as a junior, but chose to play as a senior and finish his bachelor’s degree.
He entered ISU in 1975, sat out that first season of Sycamore basketball after transferring from Indiana University (it’s an NCAA rule), continued taking classes as a physical education major and playing through the following three incredible seasons, completed his student teaching in the spring of ’79 at West Vigo High School and graduated.
Many would say, “Well, good for Larry, but why single him out for praise in that area? After all, thousands of people earn degrees from Indiana State every year.”
And that’s the point. That statue, in more subtle style, also represents the niche that ISU has long carried and undoubtedly longs to retain. The university offers higher education to many, many first-generation college students. In other words, they are folks who’ll become the first in their family to receive a bachelor’s degree. Believe it or not, that goal mattered greatly to Bird, just as it does to scores of his fellow ISU alums. The allure of the NBA was tempting, but remember, as a junior, Bird’s pro potential remained in doubt among NBA insiders. It wasn’t on his radar, then.
“At that time, I don’t think I had spent two minutes in my life thinking about playing in the pros,” Bird wrote in his autobiography, “Drive: The Story of My Life.” “I just liked college life and had no desire to leave school.”
He, of course, returned in the fall, led ISU to the NCAA Final in March, and then turned down NBA money for school once more. Celtics president Red Auerbach — who’d gambled a first-round draft pick on the small-school phenom a year earlier — offered Bird the unheard-of opportunity to immediately join the Celtics after the Sycamores’ NCAA run ended. (Auerbach assumed ISU would lose in the early rounds, which irritated Bird.) Larry said, “No,” again, and remained committed to starting his student teaching job at West Vigo, graduating, and then going off to fame and fortune in Boston.
In that order.
And he did just that.
In a 1998 interview, former West Vigo coaches Dick Ballinger and Bob Burton recalled how Bird immersed himself in the final piece of his college experience — student teaching. He taught classes in phys-ed and driver’s ed, and served as an assistant baseball coach, and eagerly mowed and lined the field. Burton once overheard Bird talking with his agent Bob Woolf by telephone from the coaches’ office. “Larry was supposed to have some kind of meeting in Indianapolis, but I heard him tell Woolf, ‘I have a B-team baseball game to coach in Bloomington tonight, and that’s my first obligation,’” Burton recalled. Woolf sent a Lear jet to Bloomington to pick up Bird, afterward.
On a handful of occasions, Bird supervised a class of special-needs kids at the high school. “It was an unbelievable experience,” Bird said in the book, “When the Game Was Ours,” written by Jackie MacMullan. “I can’t tell you how much respect I have for people who made it their life’s work to help those kids.”
By that May, Bird was the College Player of the Year, a millionaire-to-be, and a graduate of Indiana State University.
“I was so excited I remember running home and showing off my diploma to everyone, especially to Mom and Granny,” Bird explained in “Drive.” “Mom had always told me that she wanted me to be the first person from either side of our family to get a college degree, and I had done it!”
Thirty-four years later, his alma mater is focused on bolstering its graduation rates. Currently, 21 percent of full-time ISU freshmen get degrees within four years, and 41 percent within six years. ISU President Dan Bradley has set goals to raise the four-year rate to 30 percent and the six-year rate to 50 percent by 2017. Such a big increase may seem to be a lofty goal. Yet, to the thousands of young people who come to Indiana State every year, that goal is their motivation, and their chance to give their family — many of modest means — something special.
In that respect, the new statue on campus contains a small piece of every Sycamore graduate who shares Bird’s final college achievement.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Determination to get that diploma Bird’s deepest bond with fellow ISU alums, students
TERRE HAUTE —
A statue of Larry Bird now stands outside Hulman Center, dedicated this weekend.
- Larry Bird
Larry’s Lessons: On a beautiful fall day at Hulman Center
I attended the unveiling of the Larry Bird statue on Saturday, Nov. 9, and found the proceedings to be wonderful.
Dedicated: Nearly a decade after effort began, Larry Bird’s statue christened in its rightful place
Fans of all ages find in Larry Bird a figure of inspiration
“Bird! Bird! Bird!”
From the sidewalk to the rooftop of a downtown parking garage across the street from the Hulman Center, a big crowd chanted and cheered Saturday for NBA basketball legend, Indiana’s native son and Sycamore star, Larry Bird.
Hughes, News & Views: The ’78-79 Sycamores rediscover timeless bond
The 1978-79 Indiana State men’s basketball team that posted a 33-1 record and battled Michigan State for the coveted NCAA championship almost 35 years ago isn’t likely to play any more full-court games together, not even just for fun.
Larry Bird: In his words
Bird behind the scenes — Before the public statue dedication took place Saturday, Bird agreed to field questions from newspaper and television reporters inside Hulman Center.
TODD GOLDEN: Great to see Bird inside his house at Indiana State
I don’t know Larry Bird and it would be extraordinarily foolish for me to pretend to be an expert on his mood, but some impressions don’t lie, and as I watched the Indiana State legend be honored with a beautiful 15-foot statue by his alma mater on Saturday at Hulman Center, I saw someone who seemed at ease in his time, and especially, his place.
MARK BENNETT: A degree of success
Determination to get that diploma Larry Bird’s deepest bond with fellow ISU alums, students
Legendary gathering: Larry Bird returns to arena where he made his name
Stories came fast and furious Friday night in Hulman Center for the “Honoring a Legend” scholarship program — some of the stories even told by someone other than Bill Walton.
Players, fans, coaches share stories of Bird's legacy
Memories of Larry Bird’s basketball days at Indiana State University filled conversations on the upper concourse of Hulman Center on Friday, prior to the Larry Bird Scholarship Dinner.
GUEST COLUMNIST: Memories of a legendary time
Even though it has been nearly 35 years, I remember it like it was yesterday. The chaos of the fans screaming at every home game.
ISU players look forward to Bird statue ceremony
When you play basketball at Indiana State, it’s impossible to escape the long shadow cast by the greatness that was Larry Bird.
The Sycamores recognize that and embrace playing at Bird’s alma mater. Larry Bird’s 15-foot statue will be dedicated at 11:30 a.m. today in a ceremony outside Hulman Center and the Sycamores are proud to be a part of it.
Gov. Pence issues proclamation declaring Larry Bird Day in Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mike Pence today issued a proclamation declaring Saturday, Nov. 9 as Larry Bird Day in Indiana. The proclamation coincides with the official dedication of a 15-foot bronze statue of Bird at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
EDITORIAL: Bird’s adopted hometown's ready for big weekend
We hope visitors see a Terre Haute striving to honor its past and reach for its future. An exciting weekend is about to unfold in Terre Haute.
Sculpting A Legend: The journey, in pictures
The Tribune-Star presents a special publication of the sculpture's creation.
Still an ISU, Larry Bird fan after all these years
In 1978-79, Darlene Hantzis was a 19-year-old Indiana State University sophomore, English major, student leader and basketball fan.
The Bird Years: From player to executive
When it comes to Larry Bird, there’s one franchise with which he’ll always be indelibly associated.
Bird will live on in eternal Boston Celtic green. He will forever be a symbol of a NBA that exploded in popularity in the 1980s partly because of his considerable exploits.
But as iconic as Bird is as a Celtic, one could make an argument for similar iconic status with the Indiana Pacers.
ISU students writing notes to Larry Bird
As a high school student, Phillip Newbill didn’t know much about Indiana State University or even where it was, for that matter. But there’s one thing he did know. “I just knew Larry Bird came here,” said Newbill, now an ISU senior. “If you ask anyone about ISU, they say, ‘Oh, that’s where Larry Bird went.’”
The Bird has landed: Crews ease Wolfe’s Larry Bird statue into place
After steel cables were attached Monday morning to a 15-foot bronze statue of Larry Bird, Brent Clark, a crane operator with 28 years of experience, carefully maneuvered the likeness of Indiana State University’s most famous basketball star over a concrete base.
The Bird Years: Larry Bird’s most iconic moments with the Celtics
Serving double duty as a baseball infielder for the American League’s Toronto Blue Jays and basketball guard for Brigham Young University, 20-year-old Danny Ainge found time in March 1979 to drive from Provo, Utah, to Salt Lake City to catch an in-person view of the legendary Michigan State vs. Indiana State clash for the NCAA championship.
MAX JONES: Picture story captures Bill Wolfe’s adventure
It was about one year ago when Tribune-Star chief photographer Joe Garza decided to stop by Bill Wolfe’s downtown studio to see what new projects were being born. On the day of Joe’s impromptu visit, Bill was busy planning the very early stages of a project that would dominate coming months — the creation of the Larry Bird statue.
The Bird Years: Rise to prominence
Do dreams ever come true?
Does an athlete ever not only live up to his buildup, but exceed it by enormous amounts?
It may not happen very often now, when athletes are written about and recruited from the time they are in elementary school.
But it certainly happened in the 1970s, when Indiana State University and Terre Haute got to know Larry Bird and were able to introduce him to the rest of the world.
The Bird Years: Small-town beginnings
Larry Bird is not the only small-town Hoosier basketball success story.
But his rise to legendary status makes his the biggest.
Bird’s ascension to stardom at Indiana State is the essence of what March Madness is today. He may have come out of nowhere in the minds of basketball fans around the nation, but those native to Southern Indiana’s Orange County and the surrounding area — and really any pride-filled Hoosier small town — would disagree.
Big week ahead for ISU
Larry Bird fans from near and far will gather at Indiana State University this week to pay tribute to the basketball legend and former Sycamore, who in 1979 took the team to the NCAA Championship game.
MARK BENNETT: Brad Fenton and friends set dominos in motion to make Larry Bird statue a reality
The idea has been out there for awhile, floating.
Locals in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s would say, “They need to put up a statue of Larry Bird. I mean, one of the all-time greatest basketball players played right here in Terre Haute at Indiana State University.”
Honoring Larry Bird: Legend in Bronze
Larry Bird hasn’t seen it yet, but thousands of Indiana Pacers fans and Indiana State University supporters on Tuesday night saw his 15-foot bronze statue in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse atrium, 12 days before it will be unveiled outside Hulman Center in Terre Haute.
- Larry’s Lessons: On a beautiful fall day at Hulman Center