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A massive bronze statue of Larry Bird—standing more than 15-feet tall—will be unveiled at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Oct. 29 to coincide with the Indiana Pacers home opener. But it won’t be staying in Indianapolis long.
Before he was the Pacers director of basketball operations or coached the team to the NBA finals, and even before his playing days and three NBA championships in Boston, Bird made a name for himself as a collegiate player in Terre Haute. And that’s where the statue’s final resting place will be.
That seems fitting. After all, that’s where the unique story of this statue began.
Indiana State will pay tribute to Bird’s legacy on the collegiate, professional and world courts with special events in conjunction with college basketball’s opening weekend Nov. 8-9.
ISU officials expect about 1,000 people at a dinner Nov. 8 and as many as 5,000 at an event immediately following the dinner that will be emceed by Jackie McMullan, a former Boston Globe columnist who is now a regular on ESPN programs.
A number of dignitaries including Pacers owner Herb Simon, Quinn Buckner, Bill Walton, some of Bird's 1979 ISU teammates, and Jim Jones, Bird’s high school coach in French Lick, are expected to attend the dinner and take part in the post-dinner presentation.
“It will be more of a conversation that Jackie will be moderating with Larry on stage,” said Phil Ness, ISU associate vice president of development for athletics. “We envision it being something that celebrates Larry’s entire career.”
ISU officials also have invited Bird’s collegiate and professional nemesis-turned-friend Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
“We put out the invitation, and we haven’t been told ‘no,’” Ness said. “We know Magic is very busy, but we’re hopeful.”
ISU officials expect the event to net at least $500,000 to fund an endowment created to fund the Larry Bird Scholarship, which will offer an in-state resident a full basketball scholarship to the university. If the fundraising goal is exceeded, more than one Larry Bird Scholarship per year could be offered.
The Pacers will almost certainly have some type of major unveiling ceremony of the statue. Pacers President Jim Morris told IBJ on Tuesday that he couldn’t comment, but acknowledged that a number of Pacers officials would take part in the Terre Haute festivities.
“Larry Bird has done more for Indiana State than anyone I know,” Morris said. “His legacy there is extraordinary.”
Bird led Indiana State to the 1979 NCAA championship game, where the Sycamores lost to Michigan State. The title game was ISU’s first loss of the season and the first of many great battles between Bird and Magic Johnson, who led MSU and later the NBA L.A. Lakers. Bird became a perennial NBA all-star and league MVP while playing for the Boston Celtics and then earned NBA Coach of the Year and later led the Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals.
Bird’s legend almost never landed in Terre Haute. Only after spending a partial year at Indiana University and then returning to work for the sanitation department in his hometown of French Lick did Bird get recruited to come back to school at Indiana State.
How the statue came to be involves a story almost as interesting as Bird’s own legendary tale
Brad Fenton and a group of ISU supporters were on the Michigan State campus in 2005 when they noticed a large statute of Johnson outside Breslin Arena, explained ISU President Daniel J. Bradley. Fenton, who was an ISU student at the time, thought that if Johnson deserved a big statue in East Lansing, then Bird deserved a bigger statue in Terre Haute.
Fenton is credited with spearheading both the effort to raise money for the $150,000 statue and the scholarship endowment.
“The students wanted to pay tribute to Larry by having a statue on our campus which, in the spirit of competition, would be taller than the statue of Magic Johnson outside Breslin Arena at Michigan State," Bradley said. "The students also wanted to start a scholarship in Larry’s honor, and began raising money with t-shirt sales on campus and at ISU basketball games. Their motivation and dedication inspired an ISU alumnus to fund the statue in its entirety.”
The statue dedication will take place on Nov. 9 at 11:30 a.m.on the south side of the Hulman Center, the home of the school’s basketball team, prior to the 1 p.m. basketball game against Ball State University.
Tickets and sponsorships for the dinner and post dinner presentation are still available. For information, visit Indstate.edu/larrybird.