A former Corbin Redhound star athlete, who went on to achieve greatness while playing on the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program, died Sunday.
Jerry Bird, who excelled in football and basketball at Corbin in the late 1940s and early 1950’s died in Corbin at the age of 83.
Local sports expert and friend of Bird, Bill Crook said one of his fondest memories of Bird on the court was one of Bird’s first for the Redhounds.
Corbin, which was at the time rated as the number-two team in the state was hosting Clark County, which was the top team.
“Jerry, who was playing behind Frank Selvy, had a big game that night and Corbin won,” Crook said.
“Jerry would tell you he learned everything from Selvy,” Crook added explaining that the Redhounds basketball team advanced to the state tournament each of the four years in which Bird played.
Crook said while Bird was very aggressive when it came to sports, especially on the football field where he played offensive and defensive end, he was the polar opposite in everyday life.
“He was very friendly and would talk to you, but we was really laid back,” Crook said of Bird. “He was kind of quiet.”
Crook said Bird’s college basketball career was almost over before it began.
During a visit to UK, Crook said then Head Football Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant called Bird aside and almost convinced him to sign a football scholarship.
“Bryant wanted him to play linebacker,” Crook said.
Bird played three years for the UK basketball team including the only undefeated season in the history of the program in 1954.
Crook said then Head Basketball Coach Adolph Rupp described that team as the best rebounding team he ever coached.
In a game in the University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament, the Wildcats were matched up against the University of Dayton, which featured one of the first seven-foot players in the game, Bill Uhl.
An injury forced Rupp to shuffle his lineup, forcing Bird to match up against Uhl.
“Jerry put up 34 points that night while holding Uhl to 11,” Crook recalled.
Bird scored 713 points and grabbed 589 rebounds in his career at UK.
His school record of 24 rebounds in a single NCAA Tournament game, which was set March 17, 1956 against Iowa, stands to this day.
“My dad was really proud to be a part of the University of Kentucky,” Jerry Bird’s son, Steve, said. “He always thought the university handled everything with first class. As proud as he was to be a player, he would always tell us how proud he was of his school.”
Jerry Bird was drafted by the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers in 1956 and played one season with the New York Knicks in 1959.
Bird returned to Corbin where he worked at American Greeting Card until he retired.
In 2005, Bird was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. His No. 22 jersey is retired and hangs among the other Wildcats greats in the rafters of Rupp Arena.
“Jerry Bird was Kentucky through and through,” said UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart in a statement released by the school. “He was proud to be a Wildcat and is an important part of Kentucky basketball history. We offer our condolences to his family and friends.”
Bird is survived by his son, Steve, his brother, Rodger, his sister, Nancy Carroll, and two grandchildren, Ryan and Madison.
“He lived a great life and loved his family dearly,” Steve Bird said of his father in a Facebook post announcing Jerry Bird’s death .
A memorial service in Bird’s honor is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Central Baptist Church in Corbin. Thee service is open the public.