BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – All across the state of Indiana for the past 40-plus years, cold winter nights have been spent listening to college basketball on the radio, either with Don Fischer doing Indiana games or Larry Clisby on the call with Purdue. It was just something you could count on, night after night.
Clisby retired prior to this season, and last Saturday he finally lost his three-year battle with lung and brain cancer. He passed away in Melbourne, Fla., and was 74 years old.
His work day done last Saturday at Assembly Hall, Don Fischer, the legendary radio voice of Indiana basketball since the mid-1970s, talked with me out in the Assembly Hall lobby about his long-time friend.
Fischer talked softly, and slowly. He was very emotional after hearing the news of Clisby's passing just a few minutes before Indiana tipped off with Michigan.
"He was just a great guy,'' Fischer said. "He's been at Purdue since 1983, which was 10 years after I started, but he was also involved with pregame stuff for I think like six years before that. When he got the gig as a play-by-play man, that's how I really got to know him.
"We're the same age, and the longer he was there, he'd have me on the floor laughing every time I was around him. He was so funny talking about all the situations in his life, and he'd make you slap your legs and fall on the floor laughing so hard. He was a character, that's for sure.''
The bonds between Purdue and Clisby ran strong, and Fischer saw it all as the voices of these two rivals.
"He was a great play-by-play man, and he was a fixture in the community,'' Fischer said. "When he didn't have his radio and TV gigs anymore, he played a lot of golf and we had a lot of things in common.
"When he moved to Florida, the climate was just better for him, but we still talked a lot. When he was first diagnosed, it all sounded so bad that we didn't think he'd make it six months and instead he made it a couple of years. We've kept it touch, and traded messages a lot.''
Painter talked a lot about Clisby during his radio show last Monday. He was part of the team, and Painter has known him for more than 30 years too, first as a player at Purdue and then as a coach.
“Cliz was more than just Purdue Basketball’s radio announcer. He was truly a part of our team and program for more than 40 years,'' Painter said. "He had close relationships with current and former players and we always considered him an extended part of our staff.
“While it’s a sad day for all of us and all our great fans, we should all feel fortunate that he was our program’s voice and cherish those memories of him calling games for the team he loved.”
Painter said because he was playing, he never listened to Clisby call games. It wasn't until after he left Purdue that he started tuning in. That's when he started to appreciate Clisby's greatness behind the microphone.
"He had a passion for Purdue and got along with everybody, most everybody I should say,'' Painter said. "From our standpoint, he was a part of us. He sat in the front row of the bus, and he was running things.
"Here's a story. I was at Southern Illinois and I was driving and Purdue's playing. I turn it on the radio and Purdue beat Illinois State, who was in our league. What I took what it was, Clis is pretty good on the radio here. So one day, my son's day care was right by where he was living. He's outside there, and he sees me. I tell him the story, that I never heard him before, and that you're really good. And he's like, 'Yeah, I'm good.'
"You hear all those calls now, with things like "The Journey" and social media, but I thought that was always funny that he had that confidence. 'Heck yeah, I'm pretty good.' ''
Those kind of stories don't surprise Fischer one bit.
"He did a great job at Purdue, and Matt Painter and Gene Keady loved him. There was one point way back in like 1994 when (athletic director) Morgan Burke wanted to fire him and Gene Keady told him no. He told Morgan, 'you can fire him from football, but he's doing basketball.' That's how much he was a part of Gene's staff. Matt loved him, too.
"He was quite a character, but he was so much fun to be around and we're going to miss him.''
Clisby called 1,189 Purdue games during his career and nearly 80 of them were Indiana-Purdue games. He called some of the biggest moments in Purdue history, ranging from Chad Austin’s game-winning shots at Indiana, Glenn Robinson’s basket vs. Michigan to help give Purdue the 1994 Big Ten Championship to Ryan Cline’s step-back three-pointer against Tennessee in the 2019 Sweet 16.
He was a part of nine Big Ten Championship seasons, one Big Ten Tournament title, 28 NCAA Tournaments and three Elite Eight appearances. In 2018, Clisby was inducted into the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Indiana and Purdue play again this Saturday, and Fischer said it will be strange to not be able to share Mackey Arena with Clisby one last time.
"We've had a lot of laughs and a lot of wonderful times together,'' Fischer said. "I'm going to miss him, that's for sure.''
So will thousands of radio listeners across the state.