Once Brady Manek began growing his hair out, he and everybody else started to see it. It was the mustache that put the resemblance over the top.
The Oklahoma sophomore forward was already pale-skinned and slender at 6-foot-9, 210-pounds. But when he had his buzzcut and clean-shaven face, he looked like half the guys in every one-stoplight town in America.
But when his dirty blond hair grew out and his mustache filled in, strangers started to do a double take. This guy looks like Larry Bird. Not the current version of the retired NBA legend, but a near doppelganger of the Indiana State star.
The visual similarities between this Hoopster from Harrah and the Hick from French Lick are uncanny.
Decades of gangly kids, especially in his home state of Indiana and Celtics-mad Massachusetts, tried to imitate Bird. But it was their games, they were trying to model after the Celtic legend. Larry’s look was another story. Even in the early 80s, his poofy hair and wispy blonde mustache hardly made him a heartthrob.
But Manek has leaned into the look.
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“People kept saying if you keep your hair growing you’ll look like him. It just turned out to be something that’s amusing, to see how people react to it,” Manek said.
There was no turning back after he wore a green Celtics 33 T-shirt with Bird’s name on the back at Oklahoma’s first home football game.
“It’s funny,” he said. “It’s a fun thing for me to do to get my name out there.”
Fortunately Manek can play. Looking like Larry Bird and playing like Brad Lohaus would have been a bad combination in front of hostile road crowds. But Manek, a four-star recruit when he came out of high school, averaged 10.2 points per game as a freshman and made a Bird-like 38.3 percent of his 3-pointers. If Bird is going to embrace the comparisons, Manek needs to improve his 60 percent free throw shooting, but he’s certainly not some stiff. He’ll get more shot opportunities now too with Trae Young gone.
After deep dives into basketball documentaries and YouTube, Manek is familiar with Bird even though the Hall of Famer retired well before the Sooner was born.
“Just watching old games of his and the 3-point contests he won, all those things he did,” he said. “Me being able to shoot and him being one of the greatest shooters of all time, that really plays a part of me being like him in a way. He was a great all-around player, but he could really shoot it.”
Bird, works as an advisor for the Indiana Pacers now after stints on their bench and in their front office. People keep asking Manek if he thinks the notoriety he’s received might lead to him meeting Bird.
“That’d be crazy. I don’t know if it will ever happen. That would be something that would be really cool someday,” he said. “Just to look back at how I got there, just kind of growing out my hair. It’s pretty crazy to see how blown up it’s gotten. I just put a shirt on and grew out my hair. This is where I’m at now.”
He’s hoping to thrive in the spotlight looking like Larry has created for him.
“I just want to go out there and play well and get recognition for that. I just want to go out there and perform to the best of my ability and be the best basketball player I can be,” Manek said. I never thought I’d blow up like this over something this silly, but it’s really cool. It’s pretty fun.”