‘He deserved it’: Family, friends of UofM basketball legend Larry Finch happy with statue reveal
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A crowd of people packed out the foyer of the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center on the University of Memphis’s Park Avenue Campus.
The occasion was to honor one of the university’s great player and coach, Larry Finch, with a statue and surrounding memorial called Larry Finch Plaza.
“Larry went from Orange Mound on Park Avenue to the University of Memphis on Park Avenue,” said Herb Hilliard, UofM’s first-ever African American basketball player and friend of Finch. “And so, it’s very fitting that this memorial for Larry should be here.”
As a player, Finch is known for leading the then Memphis State Tigers to their first NCAA Final Four Appearance and later national championship game in 1973.
They would lose that game to UCLA, but Hilliard said it was the team’s success that banded the city of Memphis together, during a time of racial divide and conflict.
“After the sanitation strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Larry turned a division of color into everyone supporting blue and gray,” Hilliard said.
UofM’s current head basketball coach Penny Hardaway played under Finch in the early 90s and spoke on his mentor before the statue’s unveiling.
Hardaway fought back tears for nearly a minute after approaching the podium before even uttering a word about Finch, who he said was like a father to him.
“I told myself that I was going to really cherish this day because he deserved it,” Hardaway said.
Along with Hardaway was Elliot Perry, who was a member of Finch’s first recruiting class, saying Finch was more than a coach.
“He has given me so much, in terms of pouring into my life in a lot of different ways,” Perry said. “It’s not just basketball but trying to be a good person.”
Among the last to speak was Finch’s widow, Vicki, who said her late husband Larry is looking down with a chest swelling with pride.
“To come from this small community (Orange Mound / Melrose), a community that raised him and that mentored him, and to come and see a statue, a statue, in his honor. I thank all of you,” Finch said.
It’s been ten years since the UofM great passed away due to illness, but his legacy will live on for generations to come, especially after Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland made this announcement to pair with the unveiling of the statue.
“Now, therefore, be it resolved that in honor of his exemplary contributions to the City of Memphis and for his dedicated service to enriching the lives of young people, we hereby proclaim this day Coach Larry O. Finch Day in the City of Memphis,” Strickland said shortly before the statue was unveiled.
Surrounding the statue are four plaques that walk through Finch’s life.
All who see them will know the story that goes with the statue, the story of the player, the coach, the man, and the proud Memphian.
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