May 9, 1997
The end was unceremonious, flat, such a contrast to everything else about Larry Bird's Celtic career.
Approxmately 5:30 p.m. yesterday, four hours after the anointment of Rick Pitino
as Celtic czar deep into the next millennium, the Indiana Pacers
announced that Bird had accepted an offer to coach them and join the
There. Done. Pitino In, Bird Out. Film at 11.
How could it end this way? How could Larry Bird leave the most fabled
franchise in pro basketball and join a ragtag team that goes back no
further than George McGinnis? If the Celtics are the New York Yankees of
basketball, then the Pacers are the San Diego Padres. And now Larry
Bird is going to coach in a building in which the sound of race cars is
played over the PA.
The arrival of Pitino brings joy to Boston sports fans, but the departure of Bird cuts a small piece out of the Celtic soul.
It's not as if Bird is the first revered member of the Celtic family to
work for another team. Mercenary Bill Russell coached the Seattle
SuperSonics and Sacramento Kings after winning 11 championships for
Boston. Bill Sharman went to Los Angeles to build a Laker dynasty in the
front office. Bob Cousy coached the Kansas City Kings, and today Kevin
McHale runs the Timberwolves while Danny Ainge coaches the Suns. Dave
Cowens is in Charlotte, Don Nelson in Dallas. Red Auerbach has always
taken pride in spawning new generations of coaches.
But Bird was special. Like no local athlete since Ted Williams, he
owned this town every day of his career. The Hick From French Lick,
Ind., came to be associated with Boston and only Boston. He was a
walking, talking, championship banner, a chip off the old parquet.
Certainly, he would be Forever Green.
retired after the 1992 season, and on Feb. 4, 1993, the Celtics had the
farewell of all farewells for Old Larry in the Old Garden. The joint
was filled for a two-hour ceremony that inspired more local pride and
passion than any nongame since the inauguration of John F. Kennedy.
In the years since his retirement, Bird's been seen too few times
around Boston. He'd show up at Brandeis for an occasional practice, or
sit with Red in the high-roller seats at the New Garden. He'd make some
suggestions at draft time, then return to Naples, Fla., to golf, watch
the kids grow, and make an occasional appearance in a major motion
But that wasn't enough. Bird got
bored. He wanted to get back in the game. And when it came time for
Larry to throw off the gold watch and wipe his hands on the bottom of
his sneakers again, the Celtics didn't have enough to interest him. Pitino is the new kid in town, and there's no room for Larry Legend.
Bird is done with the Celtics. It's not the same as Robert Parish going
to play for the Hornets and Bulls, or McHale making decisions for the
T-Wolves. It's not the same as Ainge in Phoenix or Cowens in Charlotte.
It's not even the same as Roger Clemens pitching for the Toronto Blue
Larry Bird is going to coach the
Indiana Pacers. He's going to come into the New Garden, wearing a lame
suit (a freebie, no doubt), coaching a team that wears hideous
blue-and-gold uniforms. He's going to be coaching Reggie Miller, for
Bird is not supposed to coach
Reggie Miller. He's supposed to emerge from the Celtic locker room, head
banged and bloodied, and destroy the Pacers with a hail of 3-pointers,
taunting Miller every step of the way.
He's supposed to work with Antoine Walker and Eric Williams, telling
them stats don't mean anything if you lose games. He's supposed to
represent the Celtics at the May 18 Ping-Pong Ball Festival, bringing
luck that will deliver Tim Duncan.
it's over. There will be no more Larry hiding out at the Chestnut Hill
cinema, winning bets from sportswriters at Brandeis, or comforting
Celtic fans with his presence at the New Garden.
He will not be around to do "Sports Final" with Ted and Bobby Orr. He
will not raise a glass of beer at The Fours on Canal Street while he's
making fun of Bill Walton. He won't be around to listen to Cedric
Maxwell broadcast games, or to go to dinner with Red and avoid picking
up the check.
It's great to have Pitino
on board, but yesterday's euphoria should be respectfully doused by the
departure of Bird. Something was lost when Larry took his game home to
We were graced with his talent
and unique persona for 18 NBA seasons. He won championships and MVPs and
3-point contests. He filled the Garden and he filled the hearts of
Celtic fans. But now it's over.
sometimes an aging relative dies the same week a child is born into a
family. It's the circle of life, and it can happen in sports. That's
what this feels like. Yesterday was an important, triumphant day for the
Boston Celtics. A new leader was introduced and Celtic Nation has
complete confidence that Rick Pitino is absolutely the best man to restore the team to greatness.
But something was lost later in the day when Larry Bird announced he
was joining the Indiana Pacers. Bob Cousy was Mr. Basketball, Bill
Russell delivered the most championships, and John Havlicek was the most
tireless, best all-around Celtic player . . . but Larry Bird owned this
town like no athlete since Teddy Ballgame.
And now Bird works for the Indiana Pacers. This is why Thursday, May 8,
1997, turns out to be not such a great day for the Boston Celtics.