Twenty years after his retirement from the NBA, Larry Bird remains one of the most popular athletes of all time. Long before he set foot in Boston, however he was "the Hick from French Lick," a small Indiana town of 2,000. Bird was originally set to play college ball for Bobby Knight at Indiana, but left the school after 24 days because he was homesick and overwhelmed by the size of the school. He returned to French Lick and took a job mowing lawns and driving a garbage truck for the town's Street Department. After a year, Bird enrolled at Indiana State.
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Bird was recruited to Indiana State by assistant coach Bill Hodges (left) and enrolled in the fall of 1975. He was forced to redshirt a season and didn't begin playing for the Sycamores until the 1976-77 season.
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Indiana State was far from a basketball powerhouse, but Bird excelled his first year in Terre Haute, averaging 33 points and 13 rebounds per game.
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During his second season at ISU, Bird was named an All-America and led his team to the NIT quarterfinals, where it lost to Rutgers, 57-56, after a controversial ending. In this photo, Bird and coach Bob King confront a referee after the buzzer. Both felt a foul should have been called on the game's final play.
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Despite the season's disappointing ending, Bird had gained national prominence as one of the top players in college basketball. Bird is greeted here by St. Louis Cardinals Mascot Fredbird during a game at Busch Stadium.
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Bird also caught the eye of Boston Celtics general manager Red Auerbach, who drafted him with the sixth overall pick of the 1978 NBA Draft. Bird, seen here in the stands of a Celtics game with manager Bob Wolf, decided to put Boston on hold and return to Terre Haute for his senior year.
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Bird excelled his final year at Indiana State, averaging 29 points and 15 rebounds per game and leading the team to an undefeated season.
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As he dominated on the court, Bird became Indiana's most famous citizen, admired by cheerleaders and inspiring the folksy song, Indiana Has a New State Bird.
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Bird received accolades off the court as well, winning the Adolph Rupp Trophy awarded to the Associated Press's college basketball Player of the Year.
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Bird and teammate Bob Heaton wait by the scorer's table at Hulman Center in Terre Haute. Heaton is currently a member of the Indiana House of Representatives.
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As Bird was making a name for himself at Indiana State, another top player was carving out his own legend, in East Lansing, Mich. Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Michigan State Spartans team was the nation's other top team and fans eagerly awaited a matchup between the nation's two best players.
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After leading ISU to a perfect regular season, Bird and the Sycamores ran through the NCAA tournament. In this photo, Bird passes the ball to teammate Alex Gilbert during the team's semifinal victory over DePaul.
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Bird and Magic faced each other for the first time on March 26, 1979, in the NCAA championship game at Salt Lake City. The Spartans defeated the Sycamores, 75-64. The game drew the highest television rating of any NCAA final in college basketball history
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The Spartans held Bird to just 19 points in his final college game.
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After the game, Bird left Indiana and moved to Boston, where he helped launch the NBA into a new era.
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