May 13, 1997
Larry Bird said he came back home again to Indiana to coach the Pacers
because he had become colossally bored with "just laying around." Bird's
notoriously bad back, which forced the Celtic legend into early
retirement five years ago at age 35, was no longer an issue after a
successful spinal fusion.
And playing golf
for $ 5 Nassaus down in Naples, Fla., did not have the same effect on
his competitive fires as, say, Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
"I guess it's been about a year and a half when I started thinking
about coaching and getting back into it, because you just don't get it
on the golf course," said Bird yesterday in a press conference at Market
Square Arena to introduce him as the Indiana Pacers coach, a session
that was broadcast live to all corners of the Hoosier State and parts of
"You don't get to compete
on the golf course like you do on the basketball court, and the one way I
could get back in it was coaching," said Bird. "I thought about it for a
long period of time and I said to myself that if this job opened up,
then I'm going to seriously consider taking it."
And so Bird officially parted ways with the Celtics, spurning an offer from owner Paul Gaston to become a part of Rick Pitino's
new regime and accepting what is reportedly a long-term deal with the
Pacers for $ 4.5 million per year. He succeeds Larry Brown, who became
the Philadelphia 76ers coach May 5, five days after resigning from the
"I think there's been a lot of
speculation as to why we're so overjoyed in having Larry Bird back,"
said Pacers president Donnie Walsh, alluding to criticism that Bird was
hired to help the team's push for a new arena. "I want to make it clear
that we want Larry back because we know he can help us win ballgames.
That's what the NBA is all about.
if you look at Larry Bird's career - high school, college, and
professional level with the Boston Celtics - and if you look at the
records of those teams before he got there and after he left, you'll see
he had a substantial impact on winning.
"We had a ball club that, for three out of the last four years, has been
a very high-level team. We fell back last year" - with a 39-43 record
that represented the Pacers' first losing mark since 1991-92 - "but we
think Larry can help us get back to a winning situation. We think all
the attributes that he had as a player are going to be transferable to
being a great coach."
Bird said his first
order of business would be to contact his players, then assemble a
staff, as some candidates he was interested in were "still involved in
the playoffs right now."
"I think he's
going to have great respect from the fans and he's going to get great
respect from the players," said Fred Hoiberg, one Pacers player who
attended Bird's press conference. "You know, the big thing in coaching
nowadays is having the respect of your players, and he has the ultimate
respect from everybody here. He knows the game, and there's no one who
knows it better than him."
Ironically, Bird will begin his NBA coaching career in a building where he never quite felt comfortable as a player.
some reason, the rims just seemed higher to me," he said. "I never
really could focus. I never really could shoot the ball well here. I
always told Kevin McHale and Robert Parish when we came here to be ready
because I was going to throw them a lot of passes."
Asked why he did not pursue an opportunity with the Celtics, Bird
explained, "I didn't want to be there, sitting behind Rick and the
people he brought in. I wanted to be involved and I wanted to be out
there, being competitive every night, and this was the place to do it."
knew if Rick came in, he'd bring a lot of new people and I even told
Rick the first time I talked with him it'd probably be best if I left
when he came in, because he wouldn't have to worry about me looking over
his shoulder. So when I heard he decided he was going to take the job, I
talked to him the next day and made the decision that I was going to be
out of there.
"It's definitely going to
take some time for the hard-core Celtic fans to realize that I'm going
to be coaching the Pacers, but I had no desire to coach the Boston
Celtics - I never did."