News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 9, 2013

Legendary gathering: Larry Bird returns to arena where he made his name

TERRE HAUTE — 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.

“I think Bill went to a Grateful Dead concert before he came here,” Larry Bird quipped at one point as his former Boston Celtics teammate dominated the third quarter of the program.

The four quarters of Bird’s career came in segments, with video highlights providing a transition between each.

Jim Jones, the former Terre Haute North coach who was Bird’s coach for his first two seasons at Springs Valley, helped moderator Jackie MacMullan with the first quarter of the program, while ISU teammates Carl Nicks and Bob Heaton were involved with the second quarter, Bird’s college years.

Walton, Quinn Buckner and Joe Kleine represented the Boston Celtics years, while Donnie Walsh and Jim Morris spoke of Bird’s current position with the Indiana Pacers.

The ISU pep band opened the festivities with the “Wabash Cannonball,” and Bird could be seen at one point clapping his hands in rhythm with the song played so often back in the late 1970s.

MacMullan, one of Bird’s biographers and a former Boston Globe sportswriter, called Bird “one of the most fascinating, wonderful athletes I’ve ever covered,” although she may have had reason to think otherwise later in the program.

Jones recalled Bird’s sophomore season, saying “[Bird] could play, but he didn’t have NBA stamped on him. He was 6-1, 135 pounds and really slow.”

Now at Springs Valley again for a second coaching stint, Jones also said Bird was “the ultimate team player … who took so much pride in winning.”

The second quarter was a little spicier thanks to the interplay between Bird and Nicks. MacMullan asked Nicks what it was like practicing with a perfectionist like Bird, and Nicks said, “My first thought was ‘I ain’t takin’ none of that’ … but he brought out the best in me.”

“[Bird] worked for everything he got,” said Heaton, Bird’s roommate for awhile, “so for the rest of us, it seemed like ‘We’ve got to do the same thing.’ ”

MacMullan was unfortunate enough to label ISU’s first 1978-79 victory over Purdue as “an upset,” prompting Bird to say, “Purdue? What have they got to do with anything?”

Games mentioned during that segment were the Heaton miracle shot leading to ISU’s overtime win at New Mexico State — with Bird fouled out by the end of regulation time — and Bradley’s “Bird Cage” defense.

“Dumbest thing [Bradley coach] Dick Versace ever did,” Nicks said of that latter game. “I loved it. I was playing H-O-R-S-E out there, working on my jump shot. Me and Steve Reed were lighting it up.”

When the NCAA championship game of that year was brought up, MacMullan said something about Earvin “Magic” Johnson, prompting Bird to imply that she’d always liked Magic better.

MacMullan thought she had Bird when she came back with, “I wasn’t there for his statue unveiling,” only to have Bird respond, “But I heard you donated to it.”

And Nicks said the highlight of the NCAA tournament for him was the practice before the final game, when Bird suggested his teammates all get basketballs and throw them at NBC’s Billy Packer.

Walton took control of the next portion of the evening, much to the chagrin of Buckner, and hilarity ensued. His obvious admiration for Bird prompted MacMullan to interject, “You told me once that [Bird] gave you your life back,” and Walton noted in agreement that “You have not spent six years with the Clippers.”

Kleine, unlike Walton and Buckner, never played on a championship team with Bird, but said he was part of “something even more special,” watching Bird continue to dominate through physical woes near the end of his career. “He sacrificed a lot of pain so we could have a chance,” Kleine said.

And Walton wrapped up his standup routine by saying, “I’ve seen [Bird] dunk in one of these videos. Must have been photoshopped.”

The Pacer finale with consultant and former general manager and team president Donnie Walsh and president of Pacer Sports and Entertainment Jim Morris was subdued by comparison.

Walsh recalled Bird’s coaching career with the Pacers as “the best time I ever had with any team,” and Morris said Bird “loves the state of Indiana, is as Hoosier as anybody could be … and yearns for the Pacers to win a title.

“We’ve got the perfect guy here,” Morris added later. “He will will this team [currently the only undefeated one in the NBA] to a championship somehow.”

After the evening ended, Indiana State announced that due to digital audio problems that affected some areas of Hulman Center, a complimentary video of the evening will be provided to anyone who purchased a ticket.

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