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November 5, 2013

The Bird Years: Larry Bird’s most iconic moments with the Celtics

TERRE HAUTE — 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.

For those who weren’t born yet and didn’t take College Basketball 101 in school, the final score was Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64.

To Ainge and countless fans across the country, this matchup was intriguing because of each team’s unique best player — Larry Bird for Indiana State and Magic Johnson for Michigan State.

After concluding his BYU basketball career in 1981, Ainge decided to shift his athletic attention to the NBA, specifically to join the Boston Celtics.

He did so for one reason — an opportunity to play on the same team with Bird.

“Had I not been drafted to play with Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, I probably would have stayed in baseball,” Ainge told the Tribune-Star in a recent phone interview. “The opportunity to play with someone of that magnitude, it was too good to pass up.”

Retired as an NBA player in 1995, Ainge remains active in the league as president of basketball operations for the Celtics, so he’s unable to attend Terre Haute’s tribute to Bird this weekend.

But as busy as he is, he couldn’t pass on a chance to talk up one of his favorite former teammates leading up to the dedication of the Larry Bird statue.

“I can’t think of anybody from Terre Haute more deserving of a statue,” he said with a chuckle. “He put Indiana State on the map. It was incredible what he did.”

For this story, Ainge and others close to Bird during his 13-year NBA playing career were asked to describe Larry Legend’s most iconic moment or moments with the Celtics.

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SPT080114 rex welz.jpg

Tribune-Star/Jim Avelis Run saver: Rex right fielder Zach Welz grabs a long fly ball, saving two Slider runds from scoring in first inning action Friday evening at Bob Warn Field.

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