July 23, 2024

While working on a book about Larry Bird’s high school basketball experiences, I became fascinated with what happened to Larry the year after he graduated from Springs Valley High School, his dropping out of IU and especially his short time as a basketball player at Northwood Institute in West Baden, Indiana.

On first glance, there seems hardly a trace of a story about Larry’s time at Northwood and what few narratives are out there often conflict and vary.  Larry’s own brief statement about the episode in his book Drive simply seems to shortchange the reality of that time and place. “I don’t think I lasted two weeks. I practiced with them a couple of days before realizing there wasn’t enough competition, and I didn’t belong there either.”

But I sensed there was more to the story. I began looking at old newspaper accounts, reexamining the brief narratives already out there, and taking fresh interviews, finally putting together a more detailed story about that difficult and mostly forgotten time in Larry Bird’s life. Perhaps the greatest find in this research was the only photo of Larry in some kind of Northwood uniform, in this case a Northwood warm up jacket. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson Hang Out; Reminisce About This 'Dream' Experience  - NESN.com

Any understanding of Larry’s Northwood experience must be framed by an essential bit of back story, one that begins at an exciting high point in Larry’s life. Two photos capture these moments, the first taken towards the end of his senior year.

In this photo, snapped just before the Springs Valley Blackhawks were to face the Jasper Wildcats in Washington regional play in 1974, Larry is standing before a wall in the high school hallway, the wall decorated with signs wishing Larry and his teammates luck in the upcoming game against the “Krauts” as the Jasper team was sometimes called in those days before political correctness. Larry is staring into the distance to his left, reflecting perhaps on the just passed regular season successes, on winning a sectional tourney, and on the hope of advancing deep into state tournament play.

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