New Book: “People Thought Larry Bird Was Black”

CBS college basketball analyst Seth Davis has a new book out about the 1979 NCAA basketball title game between Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores called “When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball.” I noticed one detail in a story on it in the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL that had me scratching my head. In the book, Davis claims that before Indiana State’s nationally televised home finale against Wichita State, “many people thought Bird was black.”

Larry Bird t-shirt

(I’m pretty sure he’s white.)

You can imagine that I was pretty skeptical of Davis’ claim. Then I read a quote:

“All the next week I got lots of calls from my friends back in Denver who saw the game,” said Bob Heaton, Bird’s roommate and teammate. “They couldn’t believe Larry Bird was a white guy.”

So maybe Davis’ statement has more validity than I thought. In which case, Americans must have been deeply stupid in 1979. The story of how Larry Bird, a farm boy from French Lick, Indiana, had lead the small Sycamores to the top of the college basketball ranks that year was pretty well known by the end of the year. And I know this is racial profiling, and yes, there are black farmers. But seriously, even without seeing him on TV or the newspaper, I would think most people would assume Larry Bird was white.

(Oddly enough, there was a small portion of Americans who thought that Larry Bird actually was a bird. Most thought he was some sort of a hawk or falcon, which gave him an unfair advantage as he could soar above the rim, and also claw out the eyes of his opponents. The same people thought that Magic Johnson was some sort of wizard or shaman, who possibly had turned Bird into a avian creature.)

Another interesting fact from the book: if you thought that Billy Packer just turned into a hateful, vindictive crank who loathes smaller colleges, think again. Even back in 1979, Packer railed against the mid-majors with the same venom he would have in his later years at CBS against St. Joseph’s and the MVC. In fact, Packer was pulled off the Indiana State vs. Wichita State game by the network because of the hatred Sycamore fans had for him.