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Two Larry Birds stood on the Boston Garden parquet...

By KEN FRANCKLING

BOSTON -- Two Larry Birds stood on the Boston Garden parquet floor Wednesday, as if one isn't enough headache for Boston Celtics opponents.

Bird lined up next to an uncanny wooden likeness sculpted for the New England Sports Museum. He was in awe of the replica, as wags wondered if there was a way to let the life-sized statue age and keep Bird in his youthful prime -- a sort of Dorian Gray in sneakers.

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The sculpture was carved by artist Armand LaMontagne of North Scituate, R.I., a woodcarver whose other athlete profiles include life-size sculptures of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams that are on permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

'It's amazing what the man can do,' Bird said as he stood by the sculpture at a Boston Garden news conference. 'It is a great honor because I'm still playing, still alive. I'm glad I can enjoy it now.'

Bird looked at the sculpture once more before beginning his pre-game warmup.

'The detail is unbelievable,' Bird said. 'The hurt fingers, the scars. It's probably got a better vertical jump than I do, and may be a little bit faster, but I don't know if it can shoot as good.'

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Fans were to get their first glimpse of the sculpture at halftime of the Celtics-Indiana Pacers game Wednesday.

LaMontagne carved the work from a solid, kiln-dried, 1,800-pound block of laminated basswood.

Bird is poised at the foul line, intent on a free throw. The work is accurate to the tiniest detail, including Bird's new haircut, a scar under his right eye, the permanently fused pinky on his right hand and the stitching in his size-14 sneakers.

The unveiling highlighted a two-night 'celebration of greatness' tribute thrown in Bird's honor as a Sports Museum fund-raiser.

His mother, Georgia, and his high-school and college coaches flew in for the occasion. Back home in Indiana, Tuesday night's high-school game between Springs Valley and Shoals was postponed so Springs Valley Coach Gary Holland, who coached Bird in his senior year of varsity ball, could attend the fete.

Celtics General Manager Red Auerbach used the occasion to proclaim he considers Bird the best player to play for his NBA team and perhaps any other.

'I've done a lot of soul-searching,' Auerbach said. 'I've decided, quite frankly, that he's the greatest player ever to put on a uniform.'

The work, valued at $250,000, is scheduled to tour six Bank of Boston locations throughout New England before going on permanent display at the Sports Museum.

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