By Scott Underwood
The Herald Bulletin
---- — November is an exciting time in the Madison County area for many reasons, not the least of which is the coming of basketball season.
Several Division I college programs — including Indiana University, Purdue, Butler, Ball State and Indiana State — are within a 120-mile radius of Anderson.
While IU and Purdue probably aren't destined for banner seasons and Butler and BSU have new coaches, it's a particularly exciting time for Indiana State Sycamore fans. The excitement springs partially from ISU's strong returning team, but mostly from a celebration of past glory.
On Saturday, ISU officials unveiled a statue of Sycamore great Larry Bird and honored Bird and the rest of the 1979 national runner-up team in a ceremony at the Ball State-Indiana State game in Terre Haute. Fittingly, the Sycamores defeated the Cardinals as Larry Legend looked on.
Many Hoosiers can relate to Bird. He came from a small Indiana town, French Lick, and persevered through self-doubt, poverty and personal crises to rise to fame and fortune.
After ISU lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the famous '79 NCAA final, Bird went on to lead the Boston Celtics to three NBA championships and was a three-time league Most Valuable Player. Most experts consider him among the top dozen pro basketball players of all time.
Perhaps most importantly to his fellow Hoosiers, Bird has never lost track of his Indiana roots. He lives in West Baden and is an executive with the Indiana Pacers. Bird still has a down-home personality and is embarrassed when he becomes the subject of effusive praise. While he sometimes projected arrogance during his playing days, he is, at heart, a humble man.
When he was an assistant coach under Bird with the Pacers, I interviewed Rick Carlisle at his Indianapolis home. On the wall of his den hung a photo of Bird riding a lawn mower. When I asked about the photo, Carlisle grinned and told me that Bird was at his happiest when mowing his lawn on a sunny Indiana day.
I was just entering my teenage years in the late '70s when Bird was burying jump shots and opponents at Indiana State. I played basketball and my parents were both ISU grads, so Bird naturally became revered in our household. My dad eventually put his money where his heart was, buying stock in the Celtics.
After taking last year off, Bird returned to the Pacers' front office this year. The team is off to the best start, 7-0, in franchise history and is the only remaining unbeaten team in the NBA. Bird is the primary architect of the Pacers roster.
Yes, it's great to be a basketball fan in Indiana in November — whether you're ruminating on past glory or anticipating the future!
Editor Scott Underwood's column appears Mondays. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @THBeditor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 640-4845.