In Indiana, a land where annual obsessions called March Madness and Hoosier Hysteria thankfully bring us nothing but net, it comes as no surprise that Electric Consumer readers’ pick for favorite Famous Hoosier would be a king of the basketball court. Larry Bird, the “Hick from French Lick,” who rose from humble beginnings to college and pro basketball superstardom, is not only a sports icon; he’s a true example of the Hoosier work ethic.
“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100 percent all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end,” he once said. For Bird, now 61, that theory helped put him in NBA record books. He’s the only person in professional basketball history to be named Rookie of the Year (1979-80, Boston Celtics), Regular Season MVP (three times between 1983 and 1986), Finals MVP (1984 and 1986), Coach of the Year (1997-98, Indiana Pacers) and Executive of the Year (2011-12, Indiana Pacers).
As a player, he led the Indiana State University Sycamores to the final game of the 1979 NCAA championship and then, as a professional, led the Boston Celtics to two NBA championships. He played on the celebrated 1992 Olympic gold-medal-winning “Dream Team.” As a coach, he steered the Indiana Pacers to a berth in the 2000 NBA Finals. He retired from the coaching position after the end of the 2000 season, returning as the Pacers’ president of basketball operations in 2003. In 2012, Bird left the Pacers, only to return a year later as president of basketball operations. He served in that capacity until May 2017, and now maintains an advisory role within the Pacers organization.
We asked Bird about his Electric Consumer honor, his roots, his career and the game that has been his life. See what “Larry Legend” had to say.
Q: Electric Consumer readers from across Indiana chose you as their favorite “Famous Hoosier.” Why do you think your fellow Hoosiers so easily identify with you and “root” for you?
A: I grew up in a small town in Southern Indiana. After my background was written about during my career at Indiana State, along with the success we had there and the school not being a basketball power, and the state’s love of basketball, I think it all came together.
Then when I came back to coach the Pacers and then to run the basketball side, it kind of stacked up on top of my early career.
Q: How does growing up in rural Indiana play a part in your daily life?
A: It keeps you humble. I loved growing up there and think about it often.
Q: Your hometown of French Lick and its neighbor West Baden have continually been recognized because of the resorts and the golf courses and nearby Patoka Lake for recreation. Are you surprised by the changes and growth in the area over the past 20 years?
A: I’m really surprised. It’s beautiful in Southern Indiana and the changes — helping one of the poorest parts of the state — have been for the good and, hopefully, will continue.
Q: What exactly is your role as advisor to the president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers?
A: I do scouting, discuss direction of team of team and stay in touch with (President of Basketball Operations)Kevin (Pritchard). He makes all the decisions.
Q: You’ve been a college and pro basketball standout, an Olympian, a coach and a Pacers executive. What has been the highlight of your career? Why?
A: Winning championships, competing for championships. That’s why you do these things, to win.
Q: If you were 40 years younger, playing college or pro basketball now, do you think you’d be as successful — or more successful? Would you want to be playing ball now?
A: That’s hard to say, but I think I would be successful because I did have talent for the game and I put in the work to succeed.
Q: Looking back on your career, would you do anything differently?
A: I would not have tried to play through so many injuries. I would have had them taken care of.
Q: What’s left on your bucket list?
A: Seeing the Pacers win a championship, whether I’m involved or not.
Q: What’s the best advice you were ever given?
A: As for basketball, no matter how much or how long you practice, no matter how many shots you put up, someone is doing more.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever gave?
A: I was told this when I was 10, but I’ve used it: Don’t always be talking when you should be listening.
Q: The Pacers had a fabulous season this year, making it to the playoffs. What’s been your takeaway from this season?
A: It was very pleasing. I liked how the team stayed together, I liked the leadership from a number of our guys and I liked how they competed every night.
Fun facts about Larry Bird
• The bright blue Twitter logo is named “Larry” after Larry Bird. Turns out Twitter’s co-founder Biz Stone is from Boston and he grew up when Bird led the Boston Celtics to two NBA championships.
• The rivalry and friendship between Bird and Magic Johnson was captured on the Broadway stage in the play “Magic/Bird.” The play failed to attract acclaim or an audience. It ran for just one month in the spring 2012.
• Four days after “Magic/Bird” was canceled, Bird was named NBA Executive of the Year. He was the first person to win NBA’s Triple Crown: best player, coach and executive.
• Not only is Bird known for his trash talking; one of his early jobs was picking up trash back home in French Lick. Back in 1974, after dropping out of Indiana University and West Baden’s Northwood Institute, Bird got a job with his hometown’s street department, driving a garbage truck and doing maintenance and road repair work. He did that for nine months before returning to college, this time Indiana State University. The rest is history.