News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 10, 2013

Fans of all ages find in Larry Bird a figure of inspiration

TERRE HAUTE — “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.

The sun shone brightly as the crowds clapped to the music and gave Bird a warm welcome during the dedication of the new more than 17-foot tall Larry Bird statue, designed by Wabash Valley artist, Bill Wolfe.

The actual bronze statue, depicting Bird in his uniform about to shoot a ball, is 15 feet tall.

One of the attendees, Mary Fitzgerald Ball, took notice.

“It looks like him getting ready to shoot a three-pointer,”  said the 1974 ISU alumna who drove to the event from Avon. “It’s very life-like.”

After the cover was lifted from the larger-than-life statue, Bird — who saw the statue for the first time — spent a few minutes intently looking at the bronze version of himself.

“It’s not just for me,” Bird said. “It’s for my teammates, for my fans. ... It’s a very special time.”

Larry Joe Bird, a retired NBA player and coach who currently serves as the president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, is considered one of the best pure shooters of his era and one of the greatest players in NBA history.

In addition to being a member of the USA Dream Team in the 1992 Olympic Games, Bird also led his team, the Boston Celtics, to three NBA championships during his career.

Born in West Baden, Bird attended Indiana State University in the late 1970’s, where he led the Sycamores to a 33-game winning streak in 1979 until, that is, the NCAA national title game against Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans.

Bird said that while he was at ISU, he didn’t “dream of anything” like the honor ISU and the community gave him this weekend.

When asked what he would have done differently during the title game looking back, Bird didn’t know if he would change anything.

 “I prepared well,” Bird said but admitted that he just “didn’t make too many shots that day.”

Nevertheless, Bird’s accomplishments at Indiana State and beyond brought a lot of excitement to Terre Haute and the game of basketball, which, in the words of event attendee and current ISU student, Pam Chamberlain, “put ISU on the map.”

And for many people at the dedication, that excitement was present once again.

Thousands of people — including those who traveled quite a distance — came to the event to share in the excitement.

“I traveled from Texas for this,” Bill Killian, another attendee, said.

“He was kind of my hero,” Killian said, adding that it was worth coming to the dedication.

A couple traveled about 12 hours from North Carolina for the event.

“I’m his number-1 fan,” said Pam McCrea, a Larry Bird memorabilia collector who was accompanied by her husband, Mike, at the event.

Mike, who attended ISU around the same time as Bird, said he remembered seeing Larry on campus once in a while.

He also remembered the excitement of the games.

“Everybody got into it,” Mike said. “We always looked forward to those games.”

The “very charged” crowd at the dedication brought back memories of that exciting time, he said.

Even the kids were excited.

Seven-year-old twins Morgan and Carli Tryon stood by the statue for pictures and asked their parents to put the shots on Facebook.

Another kid, 4-year-old Colton Enyeart, said he has never seen a statue that big. He also said he wants to be a basketball player.

Bird may have been immortalized with the installment of the bronze statue, but his legend lives in the hearts of many.

Chamberlain, the current ISU student, remembered watching “every game” on TV with her dad and grandfather, rooting for Bird.

More specifically, she remembered Bird telling the media after winning the 1984 NBA Finals that he won it for Terre Haute.

 “I cried,” Chamberlain said of hearing that from Bird. “He was magical at court.”

And those who followed Bird’s career admire him also for his character.

Ball said she is a “big fan” who likes him because of his “work ethic” and “humility.”

“He’s a great role model,” she said. “We need more people like him today.”

Bird was and is an inspiration.

 Watching him “gave you the feeling that small-town people can do big things in life,” Chamberlain said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.

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