Terre Haute, ISU fondly remember Bird's career

Larry Bird was a star player at Indiana State University.

More than 30 years after Larry Bird put Indiana State University on the map, number 33 is still the big man on campus.

"I'll say I'm from Terre Haute, Indiana State and the Hulman Center and people will say, 'That's where Larry Bird played'," said Jennifer Cook, executive director of the ISU Hulman Center.

Stacey Hogue isn't surprised.

"I was in sixth grade when he played here and it was a big deal. Everyone knew who he was. He was the face of Terre Haute," Hogue said.

And no wonder. Bird led the ISU Sycamores to the NCAA championship game in 1979, where the team lost their only game of the season against Magic Johnson and Michigan State.

"Everything he touched kind of turned to gold. There was the whole 'Hick from French Lick' that people said, but he was always sharp as a tack," said Brad Miley, who played with Bird for three years at ISU.

Like many others who stayed in Terre Haute, Miley kept close tabs on Bird as a Boston Celtic, Pacers coach and team president.

"The bottom line is that during his whole career, he was good at everything," Miley said. "And fortunately, he did come back to Indiana. He could have stayed in Boston and done the same thing. It's neat he came back to his home state and gave so much."

Greg Lansing, the head coach of men's basketball at ISU grew up admiring Bird the player and later, the guy calling plays for the Pacers.

"He had to change the culture there. He's done that. He has a team built of players like he was, high-character guys, hardworking guys who want to achieve," Lansing said.

Referring to reports that Bird is stepping down as Pacers president, Cook said, "There's a sadness attached to it. It's an era gone by."

"It's a big loss. He's become such a name associated with basketball," Miley said.

But Lansing says perhaps it's time.

"How much more can the guy do?" he said. "If anyone deserves being able to retire on a high note after finishing with strong with his career, (it's Bird.) It's time he relax and enjoy life."

While no one knows what's next for Bird, Lansing said he'll always have a seat at the Hulman Center.

"He has an open invitation, he's always welcome," he said. "We'd love to have him."