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Monday, January 29, 2007

Article on Former Tiger Player/Coach Larry Finch

Honoring a local hoops legend

by Wally Wellman, The Bartlett (TN) Express
Last modified: Thursday, Jan 25, 2007 - 07:58:23 pm CST

They held a Larry Finch Night at FedEx Forum recently to raise funds for the health care of Larry O. Finch, the legendary kid from Melrose High who went on to star on the basketball court for Memphis State University (now known as The University of Memphis).

The night was intended to be a pledge night for people attending the basketball game to send money to help Finch. The once super-athletic roundball deadeye is now confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke a number of years ago.

I don't know what Larry's bills are, but with the costs of healthcare being what they are, I can only imagine how much money it takes to look after someone who has suffered an incapacitating stroke.

Considering the fact that Larry starred on the court almost 40 years ago, I'd like to say a few words about him so that some of the younger people who did not have the pleasure of seeing him perform on the court might get an idea of the magic he used to perform while leading the Tigers to victory after victory.

He could shoot the eyes out of a snake at 40 paces.

Before Larry came to MSU, everyone was wondering who was going to replace Mike Butler, the hot-shooting Memphis guard who carried the Tigers on his back for a number of years during the '60s. Then Finch came on the scene, and everyone quit worrying.

Every time Larry Finch shot the ball, it rotated perfectly, with the same beauty as a perfect spiral being thrown by a football quarterback. His shots had that perfect arc on them, enabling them to take advantage of every square inch of hoop opening. He had a forward-leaning shot, a sideways-leaning shot, and unlike many of today's "premier" players, he shot about 90 percent from the free-throw line. He could make swish shots or bank jumpers off the glass with equal adeptness.

You were never out of a game with Larry Finch on your side - he could bring you back from a double-figure deficit before you could finish a sandwich.

We had a row of guys - about 12 or 15 of us, all MSU students - who sat in the top row of the Mid-South Coliseum for every home game. We didn't have the time or money to travel with the team, so we watched away games on TV or listened to Big Jack Eaton, the greatest television and/or radio announcer of all time, call the plays.

Larry was a natural leader. One night at the Coliseum, the refs were blowing call after call against the Tigers, and the fans had had enough.

They began pelting the floor with ice cups and an ugly scene was about to explode. Game officials were trying to figure out what to do when Finch ran to the announcer's table, took the microphone and asked the fans to please not throw any more ice.

As you might expect, it immediately quit raining ice.

Larry's actions on the court helped forge a winning basketball team, but looking at the big picture, he and his teammates did a lot more than that. Larry and the Tigers brought a divided city together.

Racial tensions were high in the late '60s. But when people of both races attended a Tiger game, the racial divide disappeared, along with any distinguishing colors.

The only colors that mattered were the MSU blue and gray. It didn't make all the problems go away, but it was a good starting point.

I haven't done a good enough job describing the good that Larry Finch has done for the city of Memphis, but let me sum it up like this: I doubt that there has been another single person - mayor, judge, businessman, whatever - who so unselfishly gave of himself for the benefit of his home town, Memphis, Tenn.

I hope that Tiger fans give enough to help Larry out, now that he needs us just like we needed him when the chips were down and the game was on the line.

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