It takes a lot to become one. Sometimes its because of great
achievements. Sometimes because of great personality. Sometimes it
falls upon one, sometimes it is something earned with hard work.
Sometimes it's difficult to define. In Memphis, Tennessee, certainly
one definition would be Larry Finch.
Larry Finch, former All-American basketball standout at Memphis State University and later its most winning head coach, died April 2, 2011 at the age of 60.
It was before there were so many "rock stars" in sports. There were stars, of course, but there weren't all that many and each was quite accomplished. There weren't many businesses for which their sole business was promoting the image of the athlete so the athlete usually made his mark on his own.
So it was when Larry Finch, a good basketball player from Memphis Melrose High School came to Memphis State University to study and play the game. He teamed up with his friend Ronnie Robinson, coached by the gentleman coach Gene Bartow, and took on the college basketball world. In his senior year, 1973, the Memphis State Tigers took it to the final battle, the NCAA national championship game against UCLA and its star, Bill Walton.
UCLA won the championship, but over his college career, Larry Finch won Memphis. The city was enthralled by his talent, his leadership, and the team's accomplishments. A city much divided by race came together as one to cheer and celebrate that Memphis State team and its point guard, Larry Finch.
Finch played professionally for a while in the American Basketball League before turning to coaching the sport. He was assistant for Gene Bartow at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), then assistant for Dana Kirk in Memphis. When Kirk's time at Memphis State was done, Finch became head coach and over the next 11 years accumulated the most wins for a head coach in the school's history. He continued to be much beloved by basketball fans and the city. For eight of those 11 years, the team went to post-season contests, including six NCAA tournaments. Finch was replaced as coach at Memphis State after the 1997 season.
In 2001, Finch suffered a stroke and continued to have health problems over the next decade. On April 3, 2011, he died at a Memphis hospital.
Legends come from many different areas of endeavor and their reputations may vary. Larry Finch came from sports and united a city, won the hearts of its people.