When a mural of Basketball Hall-of-Famer Larry Bird popped up on the side of an Indianapolis multi-family home, it was meant to be a tribute to the Indiana native and local hero. Instead, the mural had Bird chirping foul.

The problem? A tattoo snafu. Street artist Jules Muck’s well-intentioned portrayal of Bird presented the clean-cut, high-scoring forward sporting tattoos on every appendage, including an image of a cardinal—Indiana’s state bird—tattooed on the now 62-year-old’s face as if he were about to drop a trap album. Among the other tattoo offenses were two rabbits mating on Bird’s forearm, a shamrock (go Celtics), and a spider web. 

Unamused, Bird’s reps instead quickly reached out to Muck see what could be done. 

“He doesn’t have any problem with tattoos. He just doesn’t want to be seen as a tattooed guy,” Bird’s lawyer, Gary Salle, told the Indianapolis Star, explaining that the Boston Celtics player had overcome many struggles through his life, including an impoverished childhood and the suicide of his father, and wanted to maintain his hard-fought image. 

The portrait was adapted from a photo from Larry Bird’s 1977 cover-shoot for Sports Illustrated. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Muck was commissioned by the building’s owner to paint the mural and says her intention was never to offend Bird.

“I wasn’t trying to make a prestigious fancy piece,” Muck told local news outlet WISH 8 TV. Her depiction of Bird is based on a photograph from a 1977 cover shoot for Sports Illustrated, which shows the then 21-year-old basketball prodigy donning his powder blue Indiana State basketball jersey with his index finger raised to his mouth in a “sssh” gesture. The story was headlined, “College Basketball’s Best Kept Secret.” 

After a series of texts and phone calls, Muck agreed to remove all the tattoos but one: the word “Indiana” which appears on his left arm. “I just wanted to have a little fun,” she told the Indianapolis Star.

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