I have to admit, I have a minor obsession with Larry Bird's pre-NBA story, his ill-fated weeks at Indiana University, his return to French Lick, his emergence at Indiana State as a force of nature no one saw coming. More than anything, I remain flabbergasted by Bird's intuitive ability. The dude was born to play basketball, and when he finally put on the powder blues in Terre Haute, Ind., he did things the basketball world had never seen before. But he couldn't beat Magic Johnson, not in 1979, and that part of the story will always fascinate me, too. (For more on all this, I'd be remiss not to recommend Seth Davis's "When March Went Mad," an excellent 2009 tome on the 1979 season and the legendary rivalry it birthed.)
For the two men themselves, that rivalry has long since ended. Over time, Bird and Magic became respected adversaries and then happy warriors and then true friends, culminating in their co-captainship of the 1992 Dream Team. For everyone else -- particularly the Indiana State folks in charge of building Bird's statue outside ISU's Hulman Center -- the rivalry most certainly lives on.
That's why the sculptor of the statue, Bill Wolfe, decided to make it 15 feet tall, almost eight feet taller than Bird himself. Because that way the statue will be bigger than Magic's. From the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute:
Wolfe said Monday that he wanted to be sure that Bird’s statue was taller than any of his longtime basketball nemesis and now friend, Magic Johnson, who played for Michigan State University as well as the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.
“I don’t have anything against Magic,” Wolfe said. “Larry is just better,” Wolfe and Jack Fox, director of development for the Indiana State University Foundation, said in unison at Wolfe’s studio on Ohio Street in Terre Haute.
How great is that?
Funding for the statue began in 2007, according to the Trib-Star, but has had to weather leadership changes in the ISU Foundation, among various other logistical hurdles. But the $135,000 and change raised to pay for the statue's completion is still in hand, and Wolfe is well on his way to completion. The statue is set to be dedicated outside the stadium in the fall of 2013.
Beyond honoring the greatest player in school history -- and one of the best players in the history of everything -- the statue isn't just a callback to a bygone era. Fox said the hope is also that the statue helps Indiana State land recruits, who will get a very visceral dollop of the Larry Bird tradition the minute they pull up outside the Hulman Center.
“You can walk a [prospective player] by that statue and say, ‘This is where Larry Bird played and you could be in the same place as him,’” Fox said.
Sadly, I'm not sure that recruiting pitch has national appeal; how many current teenagers care about what Bird did in college anyway? Then again, how many Indiana-born high school basketball players that would consider playing at Indiana State don't know everything there is to know about Bird? If you're a father in Indiana and you haven't instilled a healthy love of Larry Legend in your aspiring son or daughter's brain before that child learns to talk, you've officially failed as a parent.
Anyway, Magic and Bird and both decades past their playing days, but the rivalry rages on. Yet one more reason to love college basketball, and to love the people who love it, from East Lansing to Terre Haute. You guys are all insane, and I hope you never change.
(Hat tip: The Dagger)