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“What are you going to do? Hang off the back of a garbage truck all of your life?” — how two coaches from Indiana State University convinced Larry Bird to play college basketball

Every basketball fan in the world should send a thank you note to Bill Hodges and Stan Evans, who wouldn't take no for an answer.
Indiana State Sycamores forward Larry Bird

Larry Bird

As a teenager, Larry Bird wasn’t interested in becoming a basketball player. For one, his mother (who separated from her husband) had to work for every penny to keep the family afloat and requested her six children to do the same. So, at an early age, Larry invested most of his time working as a garbage man, construction worker, and gasoline station personnel to support his education and family.

However, at one point, two assistant coaches from Indiana State University thought he deserved better than that, given Bird's potential in basketball.

How the Evans brothers recruited Bird

So one day, Indiana State University assistants Bill Hodges and Stan Evans drove up to French Lick to meet and convince Larry to change his mind and perhaps go back to college to play basketball. At that time, Bird had already dropped out of two colleges in 5 months because he could no longer afford to study and see his family suffer. So one of the first questions they asked Larry was does he plan to waste his life being a garbage man.

What are you going to do?” Evans asked. Hang off the back of a garbage truck all of your life?

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Bird sniffed after hearing Evan’s rhetorical question, but it didn’t bother him because he genuinely enjoyed his job. Young Larry enjoyed routinely painting cribs, cleaning parks, and picking up garbage, and he didn’t mind doing it. So initially, Bird wasn’t swayed by the recruitment pitch and instead suggested they go after his friend Kevin Carnes — a high school star point guard with all the potential in the world but with one caveat — he was married.

When Bird finally changed his mind

Since Canes was married, the recruiters knew that his wife wouldn’t have allowed him to play college basketball. Bird then said that it was such a waste of an opportunity, to which Hodges and Evans countered by saying that he was practically doing the same thing to his career.

Too bad,” Bird said, as narrated by The Indianapolis. “Kevin [Canes] would’ve been a helluva player if he’d gone to college.

Bird then took a leap of faith by finally getting back to basketball as he played for the Indiana State University Sycamores, where he orchestrated one of the greatest collegiate basketball careers of all time. He led the Sycamores to the NCAA tournament, where he faced Magic Johnson and Michigan State. If it weren’t for the recruitment pitch given by two persistent assistant coaches, Bird wouldn’t have given basketball a second chance and become an NBA legend.

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