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Larry Bird’s possible return provokes rumors, excitement in Indiana

April 30, 1997

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ As the Indiana Pacers wait to hear from Larry Brown, it’s a different Larry all of Indiana is getting excited about. The speculation that Larry Bird might want to return to the nest has the folks back home talking.

``There would be a lot of excitement, because Larry is still quite a legend in French Lick and Terre Haute and most of Indiana. I’m sure there would be a lot of interest develop in the Pacers if he came back,″ said John Emmons, the athletic director at Springs Valley High School and an assistant coach when Bird played there more than 20 years ago.

Pacers president Donnie Walsh had dinner with Bird last weekend, a meeting he said was designed ``to gauge interest″ on both sides should Brown decide to leave.

Brown was expected to announce a decision today. Walsh told the Indianapolis Star and News on Tuesday that he believes Brown’s departure is imminent.

Walsh said he talked to Bird the way he would with any potential candidate, although he said Bird is ``definitely a guy″ he would pursue if the job becomes vacant.

That’s assuming, of course, Bird is interested. And so far, he hasn’t indicated he wants to leave his consulting job with the Boston Celtics.

``I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve talked to a lot of teams,″ Bird told Boston’s WHDH-TV on Tuesday. ``It’d be hard for me to leave Boston, but if that’s the way it’s going to be, then that’s the way it’s going to be.″

Bird’s return to Indiana certainly would cause a sensation.

``A lot of people from outside would be wondering how it would work out, Larry being the great player he was ... can he truly coach and do well?″ said Bob Heaton, Bird’s former teammate and roommate at Indiana State. ``But I think Larry could relate well to the players, obviously. He could motivate them.″

Bird, whose Springs Valley scoring record was broken years later by his younger brother, Eddie, was a state high school all-star. He enrolled at Indiana in 1974 to play for Bob Knight, but dropped out of school even before practice began. He sat out a year, when he worked part-time on a garbage truck, and then enrolled at Indiana State in Terre Haute.

He was redshirted for one year, then averaged 30.3 points a game for the next three.

Bird, an All-American, was eligible for the NBA draft in 1978 and was a first-round pick by the Celtics. But he returned to school for his final season, repeated as an All-American, was named college player of the year and led the Sycamores to the nation’s No. 1 ranking.

His last college game _ the only loss for Indiana State that season _ was in the NCAA championship against Michigan State and Magic Johnson.

Then he signed with the Celtics, starting a 13-year NBA career that included 12 All-Star game selections, three championships and three MVP titles. His last game was on Aug. 8, 1992, as a member of the gold medal U.S. Olympic team. He retired because of chronic back problems that sidelined him much of the previous two seasons.

Bird, who has been living in Naples, Fla., returns to Terre Haute at least once a year as sponsor of a Boys Club golf outing.

``When Larry comes in town occasionally, there’s always interest, even though he played here, what, 18 years ago,″ said Heaton, now an insurance agent in Terre Haute. ``There’s still excitement, still interest. We have to turn people away.″

Heaton said he heard a rumor last month that Bird might become general manager of the Celtics, but ``it apparently sounds like he’s interested in coaching the Pacers.″

``Larry knows a lot of people. I think he would surround himself with good quality people,″ Heaton said. ``And if I’m Larry Bird, I’m thinking, `My buddy Dave Cowens did a pretty good job at Charlotte, Kevin McHale’s the general manager at Minnesota ...′ I would think he would want to get back involved, whether as GM or coach. I think it would be fantastic for Indiana.″

Back in Bird’s hometown of French Lick, in the southern Indiana hills two hours south of Indianapolis, ``The rumor mill has been kind of on the run,″ Emmons said.

``In French Lick, the Springs Valley area, obviously when he played for the Celtics, most everyone was enthused about the Celtics. I’ve heard a lot of people comment they haven’t watched pro basketball since he quit. But I think there would be interest in our community no matter where he coached.″

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