LARRY LEGEND • by Jason Stout

Only a devoted fan knows where Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson is from. But everyone must know where Larry Bird is from because when someone hears I’m from French Lick, Indiana, they always say: “Larry Bird’s hometown, right?” It gets old, especially when people want to talk about Larry like they know him, about his job on the garbage truck, about his father’s suicide.

I wonder how these facts about Larry escaped the town’s borders given the unshakable scientific principle about small towns: the smaller the population of a town, the heavier the gravitational pull. Yet these facts have escaped the gravity, while people find it so hard to do the same.

When people do manage it, there’s always a good reason, I guess–for love or money or education. But if Chicago or Atlanta or San Francisco chews them up and spits them out, they’ll come back. They’ll go back to their small town and make fun of themselves for leaving and anyone else who ever tried.

And if they’re from French Lick, they’ll go out to Grapevine Holler and remember how they used to smoke grapevine and chew blackjack gum and drink stolen Boone’s Farms. Or they’ll go down to the Jubil bar and hope to run into Jamie Fisher who was hot and easy way back when, but never for you. Because the easy girls don’t hook up with the ones who want out. Or you’ll have breakfast at the Villager and start smoking again because, why the hell not, you’ll get a pack’s worth of second-hand smoke there anyway, so you may as well enjoy it.

And you’ll remember the one time you met Larry Bird. He had just signed with the Celtics and, even though he was going to make it out, everybody was fine with it. It was as if the town elders had made a pact, saying we’ll let this one go. But we’ll keep the idea of him here. He’ll be out in the world and every time someone thinks of him, they’ll also think of us. And you think Larry must have been part of that pact. That’s why when Larry was first introduced to the city of Boston as the last, great, white hope, he proudly stood in front of the throng of people and declared, “I’m just a hick from French Lick.” That must be why he made sure as part of his first endorsement deal that Converse had to send brand new basketball shoes to the high school team every year. That’s why right after his introduction to Boston, he held a big reception at an over-sized, perpetually under-booked hotel in French Lick. Larry and the elders must have made a deal.

And you’ll remember you were six years old, being raised by a single mom, when this reception was held. And somehow you and your older brother got in. But it isn’t just somehow, it’s because your grandfather is a security guard at the hotel and he sneaks off with some invitations just like he sneaks off with towels from the pool and sometimes steaks from the kitchen. And you’ll remember how your name was drawn to win a door prize at the reception–a signed Larry Bird basketball.

And when you’re living in a trailer on Plum Street, what do you do with a basketball when it’s handed to you free of charge? You shoot hoops with your brother up on the Cherry Hill courts until the signature fades and the ball itself eventually disappears. And you’ll hear later that the ball, because it’s a brand Larry would later refuse to sign, would have been worth a thousand dollars, easy. And you’ll ask yourself which you’d rather have: a thousand dollars in your pocket now or the memory of hours shooting baskets with your brother. And because you’re from an Indiana town where the high school gym holds more people than the town even has, you’ll say it was better to shoot hoops.

But you’ll really be thinking about the thousand dollars. And if you only had the money, then Chicago or Atlanta or San Francisco wouldn’t have kicked your ass. And you wouldn’t be back here now, smoking a Marlboro at the Villager across from the old skating rink.

And you’ll remember the time Jamie let you do a couples skate with her, sweaty hands clenched together doing laps to Kenny Loggins or maybe Air Supply. And you’ll wonder why she skated with you that one time. And you’ll sit at the Villager with your brother who never made it out even for a day and say, I tell you what, the town has gone to shit since the theater burned down and the Kimball factory shut down. And he’ll say, yeah, straight to shit. But what you really want to do is ask him if he remembers the reception like you do and the ball and whether he would rather have the money now. You don’t ask him though because you can’t bear to know what he would say.

And you’ll find out Jamie’s married with three kids, living out on Sand Hill Road and doesn’t get to town much. And you’ll drink yourself blind every weekend at the Jubil anyway. Because Jamie’s not the only girl in town and where else can you meet a girl on a Saturday night in French Lick, IN, population 3,500.

And you’ll think back to what you used to say to people when they heard where you were from. You’d say the two biggest things to come out of French Lick–me and Larry Bird. And you’ll order another round of Milwaukee’s Best and when you pass out you can escape gravity for a little while.

Jason Stout lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and 5 children. His works have appeared in (or are forthcoming in): flashquake (Editor’s Pick, Spring 2008); Shine! (March 2008); and pequin (May 2008). He can be contacted through his website:

This story was sponsored by Flash Fiction Chronicles. Flash Fiction Chronicles is the best site online to discuss flash fiction with top authors in the field.

Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this
  • Nice solid story. Thanks for it 🙂

  • M.Sherlock


  • Excellent! Not a word wasted!

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Nice writing about just an ordinary Joe from the back of beyond. You made French Lick a family thing and that is what we all grew up with. It touches home.

  • Kathy

    Terrific story!

  • Pulled me in and kept me there. Expected bio include French Lick!

  • Betsy Butterfly

    I’ve lived in French lick all my life. Never made it out, never cared to. Loved your story.

  • Greta

    Good story, full of meaningful detail. Setting and voice shined. Well done.

  • Jason,
    What a terrific story. A definite 5. An excellent use of the “you” viewpoint, and Jordan must have thought so too.

    What else? Love the close detail. I’m reading Ron Carlson’s Ron Carlson Writes a Story, and his mantra is: write close to the story, don’t think, SEE, tell what’s happening, be authentic, and let the essence emerge. And you’ve done it and done it well.

    I really liked: “I wonder how these facts about Larry escaped the town’s borders given the unshakable scientific principle about small towns: the smaller the population of a town, the heavier the gravitational pull. Yet these facts have escaped the gravity, while people find it so hard to do the same.”

    My only stumble came with the opening line. You don’t need it. Your story isn’t about basket ball so you only need Larry Bird. When you put this one in your anthology, you might consider beginning: Everyone must know where Larry Bird is from because when someone hears I’m from French Lick, Indiana, they always say: “Larry Bird’s hometown, right?”

    • Lol. Does >everyone< know how much I hate 2nd person POV?

      This worked for me because of the very tricky transition from the generic “they” to “you”, which made the “you” feel like “you” was really the narrator.

      And I’m not sure I agree with you about the first line, Gay. I’d be curious to know if our British readers (or even our Indian readers) know who Larry Bird is. The basketball quote frames the story.

      • That’s a very good point about clarifying that Larry Bird is a basketball player, but does mentioning Kobe and Iverson make it all that much clearer to global readers? Perhaps it’s a generation thing, Bird being an elder hoopster, and the name “Kobe Bryant” sets the scene.

        But….just for the sake of discussion and not to take an nano stroke of praise away from this very excellent story and to bring for opinions on craft, wouldn’t it be clearer to say:

        Only a devoted basketball fan knows where Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson is from.

        • I see your point, Gay. You’re absolutely right that that might clarify things for global readers.

  • Amy

    It’s all in the details. I think the Villager and Grapevine Holler and Boone’s Farm make it “pop,” but maybe that’s the thrill of recognition.

    I like the paragraph about Larry’s pact with the town elders.

    The emotional punch of the thousand dollars “what if,” the family relationships, the sad attempt at escaping gravity on a Saturday night – every punch landed with great economy.

  • Thanks for all the comments everyone. They’re much appreciated.

    Gay – I couldn’t agree more about the 1st paragraph. I struggled mightily with it and it was the one thing I was not fond of. Thanks for the good suggestions.

  • I didn’t think this story would interest me but I was wrong. Using the viewpoint you chose, really draws the reader in. You have authenticity in your voice and your structure as a whole. I liked the visit to French Lick, I liked the tour guide.

    Nice website also. You certainly are on the right track to getting out there and story telling with the best of them.

  • Trisha

    I loved it! I was back there if only for a moment!

  • Nicely done. Loved the style and voice of the piece.

    As for the first line…well, at first I was like, ugh basketball, but as you can see, I didn’t let it stop me…and I’m glad I didn’t! 🙂

    • Your right, Madeline, this story isn’t even about basketball!!!

  • Patrick Parr

    This is just great. I played basketball all throughout all my childhood, so you had me at Larry Legend. I could just hear Mellencamp’s Small Town in the background as I read it.

    Although I’m supersonically biased, how about a specific ‘Sports’ category for EDF? Of course maybe that minimizes the story, since it means a lot more than just a sport.

    Anywho, great job, Jason. Look forward to more.

  • Stephen Book

    Nice, comfortable voice. It felt like sitting around with a long-time friend. Just as comfortable as kicking back with a pack of blackjack gum and drinkin that stolen Boone’s Farms.

  • Stephen Book

    Nice, comfortable voice. It felt like sitting around with a long-time friend. Just as comfortable as kicking back with a pack of blackjack gum and drinking that stolen Boone’s Farms.

  • Libbyw

    Great job of writing from the 2nd person point of view. This is hard to write and even harder to read, except for a short short story. I was drawn in and it took a couple of paragraphs before I realized it was written in 2nd person. Then I went back and discovered that it started in first person. Not sure if that works to shift point of view.

    But the free basketball story is poignant and stands out in a tale otherwise about a small town, any small town, but this one happens to be not only the town of Larry Bird, but one with a funny name.

  • In response to the discussion above of english readers knowing about larry….seriously i dont know who any of them are…I’ve never even watched a basketball match in my life…nor has anyone else i know.

  • Libbyw

    Great use of second person point of view. It’s hard to do and even harder to read in a longer story, but the length of this is just right to not tire of “You” point of view. Maybe it would have been stronger if the entire piece was one point of view instead of starting off in first person. The story of the boy who wins the basket ball is poignant and personalizes the story, whereas a lot of it is about the town and townspeople. Not just any town, but one with a tiny population and a funny memorable name.

  • Thanks for the comments everyone. I do agree that the opening could have been structured a little differently. I certainly didn’t pay enough attention to the international audience and should have clued in the “basketball” connection at the get go.

    The 2nd person POV was a gamble – but Jordan is right: there was an intentional shift from “I” to “They” to “You” in order to underscore the emotional detachment the narrator is attempting, but failing, to achieve.

    Hope it worked!

    Thanks again all

  • Lindsay

    That was a great read. I’m from a small town and the whole thing just felt spot on. The mix of fond memories, regrets and nostalgia made it all hit home and feel very real. Good job!

  • Milton T. Burton

    Damn fine story. I envy your having written it. Superb!!
    Milton Burton

  • Good job, Jason. I enjoyed it thouroughly.


  • Elizabeth Allen

    It was a wonderful story and even though I don’t know anyone in a situation like that it broke my heart. I guess that it what a good story is suppose to do, make you think and feel.

  • Pingback: Interview with Jason Stout | Every Day Fiction()

  • Tightly written, with a good flow. The repetition works well as a narrative rhythm. Ambiance, sense of time and place, grow into a very personal sense of the human condition, of hope and dreams and the nagging ambiguities of living out those dreams. The final line brings it home very nicely.

  • Brian Stout

    I enjoyed the story of the old days for you. Great points and I understand the feeling of French Lick as Larry’s place. There once was a time that I was proud my sperm doner was from there. Now it would have to be the rest of my family besides him.
    Was your brother “Buddy” in the story? I would like to talk to you sometime send a message on myspace if you get the chance. Hope your family is doing well. Sending my love, GREAT STORY !!!!

  • Eric May

    Great story, I remember this story from a few years ago Wright- Ferguson 310. I remember you always spoke very highly of him as a person. Roomie

  • Peter

    It’s all been said above really, I loved it to.