Bird Introduced as Pacers Coach

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 New England.

"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 Pacers.

"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.

"I think 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.

"For 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."

"I 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."

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