May 10, 1997
Pacers president Donnie Walsh leaned back in his chair in his spacious
office at Market Square Arena and pondered the question. "Do I consider
it something of a coup?" Walsh said, referring to the hiring of Larry
Bird as the Pacers' coach. "Yeah, I do. I mean, if you had said that you
could get Larry Bird out of Boston anywhere in the last two or three
years, people would've thought you were crazy."
him crazy. Call him what you will. But definitely call Walsh the
architect of a blockbuster deal that resulted Thursday, as one local
columnist wrote, "in one of the greatest days in Indiana sports
Larry Bird was Back Home Again
in Indiana. And Celtic fans all over were green with envy. If there were
any hopes that Bird would remain in Boston as part of Rick Pitino's
regime, they were dashed when Larry Legend ended his 18-year
association with the Celtics as nonpareil player and antsy special
adviser by going home to start his NBA coaching career.
think the way things developed, it was best for both franchises," Walsh
said. "I do think that Boston was probably at a stage where they had to
clean house. I do think Larry Bird could've been a part of what they
have there now, but I think it was time for him to move on, too, and to
take on a new challenge and start a new career. So my real feeling is
that it worked out well for our franchise and it worked out well for
When news of Bird's return to
replace Larry Brown circulated Thursday, it brought to an end two weeks
of breathless anticipation and speculation about the French Lick native
and former Indiana State star.
sportscasters first reported the news from pit row at Indianapolis Motor
Speedway, where the throaty roar of the Indy car practice tempered the
reaction of the crowd when Bird's return was announced. Yesterday's
editions of the Indianapolis Star and News bumped coverage of the Indy
500 time trials from Page 1 to herald Bird's homecoming.
only other time I've ever seen something like that happen was when we
made it to the Eastern Conference finals," Walsh marveled. "Usually in
May around here, the race is the big story. But Bird did it today."
Bird was the word yesterday, especially around the Pacers' offices, where phones were buzzing with season ticket inquiries.
say about 90 percent of the calls have been about season tickets," said
Nancy Duffin, a longtime receptionist who cheerfully fielded a flood of
calls. "I think people here see a future, a bright future. We've all
been holding our breath about whether or not he was going to come.
Excitement was building, but we all had the feeling that he would come,
because as much as Boston is a part of him, this is his home."
Henn, the Pacers' director of ticket sales, said there was no way to
gauge the immediate impact of Bird's arrival upon season tickets, but he
spared no alliterative adjective in describing the long-term impact.
enthralled . . . we're highly enthusiastic . . . we're elated," Henn
said. "I'm elated over two things. Number one, he's the best possible
candidate from a season ticket sales standpoint. The second thing being,
following the line of what Donnie Walsh has said, the guy will be a
great coach. I firmly believe it is the best thing we could've done. And
yeah, I'm elated. E-l-a-t-e-d."
fans contended it was a gamble to assume a great player could be a
great coach, Walsh dismissed that notion by citing a list of former NBA
stars who made a successful transition. Bird, Walsh said, will not be
the first to take over as coach without experience.
did Pat Riley, neither did Billy Cunningham, neither did Lenny Wilkens,
neither did Don Nelson, neither did Danny Ainge," he said. "So, I mean,
the saying that great players don't make great coaches is all a cliche.
If you check it out, it's exactly the opposite."
Padric, 33, arrived at the Pacers Gift Shop in search of a fitted
Pacers baseball cap, but was told there were none in stock. Still, his
enthusiasm about Bird was not diminished in the least. "People at work
have been talking about it all day long," said Padric, a salesman at a
local masonry supply company. "They think he's going to do a good job
because he was a good basketball player and he played by the
fundamentals, and that's an important part of coaching and they think he
can transfer that to the players here.
from Indiana, Larry Bird has the value systems that we believe in," he
added. "He worked hard to be a good basketball player, and Indiana
basketball fans appreciated that. I think there'll be a lot more people
at the games next year."
Now that Larry Bird is Back Home Again in Indiana.