Carl Nicks can trace his life today back to a pivotal basketball game at his southside Chicago high school.
“ISU coach Bill Hodges was there to watch a big 6’11’’ guy playing against me,” Nicks recalled.
However, Nicks played such an outstanding game that Hodges began recruiting him to play for the Sycamores and play with Indiana’s own Larry Bird, ’79.
“I said, ‘Larry who?’ I had never heard of him,” Nicks said with a laugh. “But once I met him and played a pick-up game with him, I was in awe. I was stunned by the unbelievable way he played. I decided then and there that I wanted to go to ISU and play ball with Larry Bird.”
That decision, Nicks says, paved the path for his future.
Nicks and Bird were teammates of the 1978-1979 Sycamores team that went undefeated into the Final Four and finished runner-up in the NCAA Championship. Nicknamed “Mr. Intensity,” Nicks was the second leading scorer on the team that year with an average of 19.3 points a game, just behind team leader Bird, who averaged 28.6 points.
After graduating from Indiana State University, Nicks was drafted by the Denver Nuggets. He later played for the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as the Toronto Tornados and Saint-Étienne in France. Over the years, Nicks and Bird kept in touch. Bird went on to become president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers. After retiring from pro basketball, Nicks served as coordinator of the Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program at Methodist Hospital and coached basketball in a local middle school. He and his wife, Kelli, have been married almost three decades and have a son, Carl Nicks Jr.
One summer morning in 2005, Nicks received a surprise phone call. “It was just out of the blue. It was Larry asking me if I still knew college basketball,” Nicks said. “He wanted me to be a college scout for him and the Pacers…. I was so proud and excited to be back with him again.”
Then in October 2014, Nicks got another surprise. He was asked to be manager of player relations for the Pacers. “This is the perfect job for me, because I’m a basketball guy. The players know that 30 years ago, I was where they are now,” Nicks said. “I am one of the most grateful, excited happy persons in the world. After all these years, it seems like I’ve come full circle. To give something back to these young guys, to travel with the team, to work with Larry Bird — I am so blessed.”