Sports » Sports Feature

The Return of Larry Finch

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Larry Finch played his last game for the Memphis State Tigers 22 days after my fourth birthday. But if you looked at the current issue of Memphis magazine — and you can get over the Lester Quinones amount of leg players showed in 1973 — you'd swear the Tiger legend is alive, well, and ready for one more NCAA tournament run.

Among the joys of being a sportswriter is the rare feeling that I am in precisely the right place at precisely the right time. (No, this is not the Alcorn State game at FedExForum on a Tuesday night in November.) Most recently, when the University of Memphis football team won its conference championship and clinched a berth in the Cotton Bowl, the Liberty Bowl felt like earthbound heaven, at least for that moment, that night of fireworks and confetti, December 7, 2019. So many Memphians, so happy, and together, as one. This was Memphis Tiger football. The Cotton f'n Bowl!

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This brand of euphoria doesn't always require fireworks or confetti. It crept up and hugged me rather tightly over the course of several recent weeks in my day job as managing editor for Memphis magazine (the Flyer's sister monthly). It began with a business meeting at Spark Printing last December, in which a colleague and I were introduced to a machine called the Jetvarnish 3DS. The size of a computer from 1975 (smallish for the kind of press a magazine typically requires), this printer can apply foil and varnish — separately — to previously printed material. Like the cover of a magazine.

A few weeks earlier, I'd received a press release from the Pink Palace notifying the world that a special exhibit on Memphis Tiger basketball would open in March, one curated to celebrate the culture and impact of this city's first true home team. It didn't take long, upon meeting the good folks at Spark, for the staff at Memphis to realize, yes, a spark of inspiration. How might we help celebrate Tiger basketball culture with the new — literally shiny — technology available with that magic printer?

The question then became who might help celebrate Tiger basketball culture, and the answer was as swift as a Derrick Rose crossover, as resounding as a Keith Lee two-handed dunk. If we could find the right picture of Larry Finch in his prime, we had the chance to honor and salute the greatest Tiger of them all while bringing him to life in ways no print media ever had before.

You can now see — and importantly, feel — the result. And it took a village. The University of Memphis athletic department had the iconic image, back when media photos were the norm, before pregame videos became a team's identifier. Printing the cover required more than Spark alone could provide. Toof Commercial Printing and LSC Communications took the floor in our multi-stage process, one that required well over 24 hours to complete.

Snags? Heck yeah, there were snags. Thankfully, all relatively minor. (I chose to ignore my dentist on a recent visit when he asked if I'd been grinding my teeth more than usual.) Printing to the standards of Memphis magazine is still as much art as science. Applying ink to paper — to say nothing of applying foil or varnish — can be precise, but it's not a given, ever. Professionals, though, make this magic happen. They collaborate toward a reward that allows you to feel the fingers of Larry Finch's left hand, to see the name "Memphis" shine as brightly as Finch himself did the night he scored 48 points in a single game.

I've missed Larry Finch since he died in 2011. The city of Memphis has missed his presence. An anonymous American once said of Franklin Roosevelt, upon the president's death in 1945, "I didn't know FDR, but he knew me." Finch occupies that place in my heart, and in the hearts of countless other Memphians. I'm grateful to have played a role in bringing him to life on the cover of our March magazine. Stories — those we tell, and those told about us — are the closest any of us will come to immortality. By that measure, Larry Finch is indeed alive and well, among us even. Let him shine. Memphis magazine can be found at Novel (387 Perkins Extd.). To subscribe, call 575-9470 or visit memphismagazine.com.

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