When it gets down to it, basketball is basketball.
I know what you're asking yourself, and the answer is yes. There is a shrine to Larry Bird at Indiana State's Hulman Center. It's ok. I asked that question when I first came here, too.
The shrine isn't much, and it's not like Larry's name is in 12-foot high letters above it. It's just enough to remind anyone who may not be aware of it that Bird did in fact attend Indiana State and carried the Sycamores to the highest point they have ever, or possibly will ever attain. The shrine is simple, but effective, just like Larry.
There's a series of photos of Bird in various poses: shooting, celebrating a basket, sitting on the floor in front of the scorer's table. Then there's the trophy case.
It includes the 1979 NCAA National Runner-up trophy, earned when Bird's Indiana State Sycamores lost the national championship game 75-64 to a Michigan State squad led by a budding superstar named Earvin.
This stuff you all probably know.
The 1978-79 college basketball season has been recapped by several books, most recently When March Went Mad by Seth Davis. I'm surprised the movie hasn't been made yet, but due to lack of zombies or vampires it probably won't be made anytime soon.
But a fact that was covered just briefly in Davis' book, as well as most other accounts of Bird's life, is that none of this should have happened. Larry Bird didn't go to Indiana State at first. Bird started his college career at Indiana.
Imagine it: No magical Sycamore run, no shrine, no book. He'd have been just another in a long line of good Hoosiers, not the greatest Sycamore to ever put on the Blue and White.
But Bird and Indiana were not long for each other. The immense IU campus overwhelmed the young, shy Bird. Then there was the run-in with Bobby Knight, and not the kind most think when they see the phrase "run-in with Bobby Knight." For once, it was a lack of words coming from the General doing the damage.
"Larry looked up and saw Knight walking toward them. He stiffened and readied himself to speak to his head coach for the first time since arriving on campus. Knight walked toward Bird; Bird said hello -- and Knight blew by without saying a word." -From When March Went Mad, by Seth Davis
Bird spent 24 days in Bloomington before moving back to French Lick.
One coach's decision at a seemingly innocuous moment changed the course of history for two teams.
And a decision made by Green Bay's head coach Brian Wardle may not change the course of his program, but the regret felt by the second-year Phoenix coach might be just as great right now.
Under the banners recognizing Bird and his accomplishments, the Phoenix and Sycamores played a return game from the 2010 BracketBusters match won by Green Bay 60-59.
The Phoenix held a one-point lead late in this contest as well, coming back from an eight-point Sycamores lead early in the second half to force one of the game's two lead changes on a Steve Baker superhoop with 5:54 left.
The second lead change was yet to come.
Trailing 56-54 with 20 seconds left, Sycamores sophomore guard and Terre Haute native Jake Odum drove the ball to the right wing, turned and left the ball for Jordan Printy.
Phoenix freshman Keifer Sykes came up to guard Printy, and despite being six inches away from the Sycamore guard, Sykes made the critical error of not putting his hands up to defend the shot right away.
That was all the space Printy needed. Printy drilled the three-pointer with 15.1 seconds left to give the Trees the 57-56 lead.
But it wasn't the last error for the men from Titletown.
Green Bay promptly drove the ball down the court, and in the confusion that seemed to be an unfortunately constant part of Indiana State's game, Green Bay's center Alec Brown took the ball at the free throw line. Brown drove down the left side of the lane and casually lofted up a left handed lay-up that kissed off the glass and in for the go-ahead basket with 6.7 seconds left.
Then there was the whistle. No one noticed it until after the ball had gone through.
The referee stood in front of the Green Bay bench, pointing directly at Wardle and waving his hands to signify one of every coaches' nightmares had indeed just befallen him.
Wardle had called time-out to set up a final play before Brown's drive began.
Indiana State still led 57-56.
After that timeout, and another called by Green Bay to prevent a five-second count, the ball went again to Brown. His jump shot from just beyond the left block clanked off the rim and into the hands of Indiana State's Carl Richard.
A missed front-end free throw and a short desperation heave, and it was over. This time, the Sycamores come out with the one-point win.
While the fans walked out of the Hulman Center, past the simple shrine to Larry Legend, most of them didn't think we had necessarily seen the course of history be changed by one coach's choice. It did mean a win for the now 4-0 Sycamores in their hopes of making back-to-back NCAA tournaments, and those in Terre Haute will gladly take it.
at INDIANA STATE 57, GREEN BAY 56 11/21/2011
GREEN BAY 2-3 (0-0) -- S. Baker 6-10 0-0 15; A. Brown 3-11 0-0 7; T. Johnson 5-9 2-3 12; K. Sykes 0-3 1-2 1; D. Turner 2-4 0-0 5; A. Armstead 1-7 0-0 2; B. Cougill 3-5 2-3 10; G. Mays 1-2 2-2 4; K. Cerroni 0-0 0-0 0; J. Williams 0-1 0-0 0; C. Heuer 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-54 7-10 56. INDIANA STATE 4-0 (0-0) -- J. Odum 1-5 1-2 3; M. Walker 4-8 2-4 10; S. McWhorter 1-2 0-0 2; J. Printy 4-8 0-0 12; C. Richard 3-7 0-1 6; D. Lathan 2-5 4-6 9; L. Eitel 0-0 0-1 0; J. Gant 1-2 2-2 4; R. Mahurin 2-5 5-5 10; J. Kitchell 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 18-43 15-23 57.
Three-point goals: GB 7-21 (B. Cougill 2-3; T. Johnson 0-2; C. Heuer 0-2; S. Baker 3-4; A. Brown 1-2; D. Turner 1-3; A. Armstead 0-4; K. Sykes 0-1), INST 6-15 (J. Printy 4-7; D. Lathan 1-2; J. Odum 0-2; R. Mahurin 1-4); Rebounds: GB 27 (K. Sykes 5), INST 30 (D. Lathan 7); Assists: GB 12 (T. Johnson 5), INST 15 (J. Odum 7); Total Fouls -- GB 19, INST 12; Fouled Out: GB-A. Brown; INST-None.