By JIM JOHNSON
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Subtle reminders that one of basketball’s greatest players once dominated at Indiana State are strewn throughout the Hulman Center.
A picture of a young Larry Bird sits in a case with the 1979 NCAA runner-up trophy. The Sycamores went 33-1 that season, losing to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the final.
Nearby are four pictures that show Bird from his days as a college star.
But on Saturday morning, before the Sycamores faced Ball State in the season-opener, university officials unveiled a bronze trophy of Bird, sporting a Sycamores jersey and in mid-jump shot form — a noticeable reminder of Indiana State’s greatest days in basketball.
“I never dreamed of anything like this and that’s why it’s so special,” Bird said.
Bird climbed from a SUV for the dedication ceremony to the school’s pep band’s playing of the school song and cheers from a sea of fans gathered near the new statue just off Larry Bird Avenue. Those who couldn’t get a close enough look filled four levels of a parking garage across the street.
Bobby “Slick” Leonard, a former coach and current radio analyst for the Indiana Pacers called the statue “breathtaking.”
“Who would have ever thought that we could go down into the hills of southern Indiana and bring a guy in here who shocked the basketball world with his teammates?” Leonard said. “That statue right there is going to be an inspiration to a lot of students and athletes that come here to Indiana State as well as the memory of that ‘79 ball club.”
That’s the whole intent.
The dedication ceremony and a moment at halftime where Bird was introduced to “Lar-ry! Lar-ry!” chants from fans, wrapped up a weekend that included a fundraising dinner on Friday for the Larry Legend Scholarship Fund.
University President Dr. Daniel J. Bradley said it was the single-largest and most successful fundraiser in the university’s history and raised nearly $400,000 for the scholarship.
“The statue wasn’t enough,” Bradley said. “They also wanted to create a scholarship in Larry’s honor. This goal has been achieved as a result of (Friday) night’s dinner. It will provide scholarships for future Sycamore athletes to gain an Indiana State University education while playing for the men’s basketball program.”
The statue stands just over 17-feet tall after being set in front of the Hulman Center. The goal from the beginning was to make it larger than the 12-foot tall statue of Johnson at Michigan State. Johnson later became a rival of Bird’s in the NBA.
There was talk Johnson may attend Saturday’s dedication. Of course, Johnson would see how much taller Bird’s statue is compared to his at Michigan State.
“That’s probably why he didn’t show up,” Bird said.
Bird created excitement during his days in Terre Haute and the school’s pride carried over to his NBA career as a player, coach and executive. And when the Celtics won the 1984 NBA Championship, Bird dedicated the win to Terre Haute.
“It’s well deserved,” former Boston teammate Bill Walton said. “It’s a great day, not just for Indiana State, not just for the state of Indiana, but for the world.”
The weekend was an opportunity to honor the legend that gave the school such pride. It’s also a reminder to Bird that he doesn’t return to Terre Haute as often as he’d like — something he’s not happy about.
“I don’t get back to Terre Haute enough,” Bird said. “And there’s nobody to blame for that other than myself. Of all of the support and letters that I’ve gotten throughout the years from this area, it’s been so meaningful to me, and for me not to be here more often, I think it’s a shame upon myself.”
Former Sycamore teammate Bob Heaton, now serving in the Indiana House of Representatives, read a proclamation from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence proclaiming Nov. 9, 2013, as Larry Bird Day in the state of Indiana.