This past week, Larry Bird announced that he will step down as the Indiana Pacers President of Basketball Operations. His announcement ends a nearly two-decade long relationship with the Pacers in various roles. Of course, for most, when the name Larry Bird is brought up, the Boston Celtics, wavy blonde hair, and silky smooth J come to mind. However, Bird has spent most of his life in the state of Indiana and has done quite a lot for his home state NBA team.
Larry Bird, the Head Coach
After retirement, Larry Bird was brought on as a special assistant in the front office by the Boston Celtics where he stayed from 1992-1997. After that stint, even though he had no prior coaching experience, the Indiana Pacers decided to hire Bird as their new head coach in 1997. Bird got off to a hot start and led his Pacers squad to a 58-24 record, and was named the NBA coach of the year. Acquiring that award made Bird the first and only man to ever win both the MVP and Coach of the year awards in the NBA.
The Pacers backed up their stellar regular season with an appearance in the Eastern Conference finals where they pushed the eventual NBA champions to 7 games. Many argue that Pacers team was the Bulls toughest challenge during their 6 title run. Clutch plays from Reggie Miller make that point hard to argue against.
Bird took that success and turned it into two consecutive Central Division titles in 1999 and 2000, along with the Pacers’ first, and last, NBA Finals appearance in 2000. The 2000 Pacers squad led by Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose, and Mark Jackson faced off against the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led Los Angeles Lakers. The Pacers were defeated 2-4 but even though the Pacers lost the NBA finals that year, it wasn’t due to lack of fight.
When Bird agreed to be the Pacers head coach, he said he would only coach for the three years. And sure enough, after the 2000 NBA Finals, Larry Bird stepped down as the Indiana Pacers head coach. It was a short career but during that span, Bird was able to win two division titles, an Eastern Conference title, and a coach of the year award. This only added to the amazing story of Larry Bird, the competitor.
Larry Bird, President of Basketball Operations
In 2003 the Indiana Pacers once again approached Bird with an offer. This time though, it was for a position in the front office rather than the bench. Basically, Bird was given the reigns to the Pacers and was told to build something great. As President of Basketball Operations, he did just that. The 2003-2004 Indiana Pacers won the Central Divison, had the best overall record in the NBA, and were the favorites to make the NBA Finals in the East that year. Pacers fans felt this was their year to get the organization its first title since the ABA, and get their beloved Reggie Miller a ring before he retires. However, the Detroit Pistons had something else in mind. The Pistons completely shook the Pacers and the hero of Indy, Reggie Miller, had a potential game-tying layup blocked by Tayshaun Prince in the dying seconds of game six.
The loss sent a shockwave through the Pacers organization but Bird and company still had high hopes for the next season. However, the Pacers struggled through the season and tempers simmered while the team couldn’t live up to their title hopes. It all came to a boil on one ill-fated night at the Palace of Auburn Hills, when the event now known as the ‘Malice at the Palace’ took place. An all out brawl between multiple players started by an interaction between Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) and a fan escelated to heights not seen in the NBA. Everybody saw the writing on the wall, this team was checked out.
The Pacers went on to lose in the second round of the playoffs that season. The feeling in Indy was that the window had closed on this team and change was needed.
Larry Bird, the Rebuilder
The one name you need to know about Larry’s next successful team is Danny Granger. Not Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West, George Hill, or Roy Hibbert, but Danny Granger. Bird selected Granger out of New Mexico with the 17th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. At this time, the Pacers were in a transitional period. Reggie Miller had just retired, Jermaine O’Neal was injured, and, fair or not, many felt the need to move on from the Malice at the Palace players. In comes Danny Granger. Granger wasn’t expected to necessarily be the savior of the franchise, but people were intrigued. And after a solid rookie season where he averaged 7.5 ppg, people felt he could really be a solid contributor. That proved to be true. In the 2009 season, Danny Granger averaged 25.8 ppg and managed to make the All-Star game.
Despite the rise of Danny Granger though, the team largely was stuck in mediocrity. Bird had some misses in the draft, injuries plagued the team, and free agents were hard to come by in a small market. However, Bird eventually struck gold. The Pacers drafted Paul George and Lance Stephenson in the 2010 NBA Draft. This was two years after the Pacers had selected a raw but promising center named Roy Hibbert. All of the sudden, the Pacers went from a boring small market team to an exciting team with a future. Bird wasn’t done though.
That very next offseason Bird traded for George Hill from the Spurs and signed free agent power forward, David West. The Pacers were no longer just a potential team, they now had some real talent.
That talent showed when the gritty 6-seeded Pacers, led by Danny Granger, challenged the 1-seed Miami Heat in the second round.
Larry Bird was named the Executive of the Year for his efforts that season. The Pacers future was looking bright under Bird’s watch. After that year, the Pacers went on to make two Eastern Conference Finals but lost both times to the Miami Heat. This wasn’t a disappointment though. The Pacers were contenders thanks in large part to the drafting ability of Larry Bird.
The Pacers have seen their fair share of ups and downs the past few years, but Bird has been as loyal as ever to the organization. He has even shown some of his draft magic more recently by nabbing Myles Turner with the 11th pick of the 2015 NBA Draft. However, even with the Pacers at potentially another crossroads period, Bird feels it is time to move on. As a lifelong Pacers fan, I can say I am proud to say he was our President for all those years. Yes, I can go back and point out moments where I wished he had made a different decision or handled a situation differently. However, the reality is Larry belongs in the same breath as Pacers legends such as George McGinnis, Slick Leonard, and Reggie Miller.
As a lifelong Pacers fan, I can say I am proud to say he was our President for all those years. Yes, I can go back and point out moments where I wish he had made a different decision, or handled a situation differently, but that’s all part of being a fan. Larry did a lot for the Indiana Pacers and a lot of that effort is tangible. The reality is that Larry belongs in the same breath as Pacers legends such as George McGinnis, Slick Leonard, and Reggie Miller.
Salute to Larry Legend, Pacer legend.
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