NBA

Larry Bird’s Legendary Career Once Inspired a Man’s Prison Sentence

During his time on the basketball court, Larry Bird shone as one of the NBA’s brightest stars. The Boston Celtics forward earned the nickname “legend” for a reason; while he might not have had the freakish athleticism of some of his peers, Bird still scored points, pulled down rebounds, and won titles with ease. His influence, however, wasn’t limited to the hardwood.

Although Bird mainly made an impact in the world of sports, his star status stretched beyond the bounds of the arena. In fact, he even inspired an Oklahoma man’s prison sentence.

‘The Hick from French Lick’ becomes a star

When you envision Larry Bird, you probably see the forward wearing the iconic green and white uniform of the Boston Celtics. His rise to stardom, however, started in blue.

After dominating the local high school basketball scene, Bird accepted a scholarship to the University of Indiana. He found the scene in Bloomington to be overwhelming, though, and left campus without ever playing a game; he returned home and started working as a garbage man until Bill Hodges paid him a visit.

Hodges was the basketball coach at Indiana State University, and he managed to convince Bird to give college basketball another shot. The forward agreed to join the Sycamores; that decision would change the course of basketball history.

In Terre Haute, Bird blossomed into a star. He spent three years with the Sycamores, helping them go 33-0 during the 1979 campaign; that season would end, of course, with a loss to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the NCAA championship game. Bird might not have won that title, but he did claim plenty of silverware in college, averaging 30.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game for his college career.

Larry Bird’s legendary NBA career

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In 1978, the Boston Celtics selected Larry Bird with the sixth-overall draft pick. While there was some brief controversy—the forward played out his final college season and threatened to enter into the 1979 draft if Red Auerbach didn’t give him an appropriate contract—Bird eventually signed on the dotted line and suited up for the 1979-80 campaign.

From the start, there was no doubt about Bird’s talent. In his first professional season, the forward averaged 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game; he made the Celtics a title contender and cruised to the Rookie of the Year title. He continued to improve with each passing season, and after the Celtics added Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, they became NBA champions.

With Bird leading the way, the Celtics won three NBA titles during the 1980s. Although injuries would eventually slow the forward down, he still spent 13 seasons in the association; he called it a career after the 1991-92 campaign and has since been enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Larry Bird’s star status even affected a man’s prison sentence

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During the 1980s, few professional athletes were bigger than Larry Bird. That star status stretched into popular culture; it even influenced one man’s prison sentence.

According to an AP report posted by ESPN from 2005, Oklahoma “lawyers reached a plea agreement Tuesday for a 30-year term for [Eric James Torpy, who was] accused of shooting with an intent to kill and robbery.” While that deal initially called for a 30-year prison sentence, Torpy made an unusual request: he wanted 33 years in honor of Larry Bird.

“He said if he was going to go down, he was going to go down in Larry Bird’s jersey,” Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott explained at the time. “We accommodated his request, and he was just as happy as he could be.”

In 2011, Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe caught up with Torpy. While he still has Larry Bird-based tattoos and considers the Celtics great a legend, he’s since come to regret his request.

“Now that I have to do that time, yes, I do,’’ he explained. “I kind of wished that I had 30 instead of 33. Recently I’ve wisened up. That three is a big deal, you know? Three years matters.’’

Beyond those additional years, Torpy also believes that Bird has heard about his case and thinks poorly of him.

“I’m pretty sure [Bird, who didn’t comment on the story] thinks I’m an idiot,’’ he continued. “I mean, truthfully, most people do. My own family does, so I’m pretty sure he does, too.’’

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference and Basketball-Reference