May 13, 1997
Indiana is home to Larry Bird, one important reason why he's the new head coach of the Indiana Pacers.
players wishing to continue calling Indiana home might be well advised
to slip out early this morning for a refreshing 5-mile run at more than a
On his first day back in his native
state as Pacers coach, Bird made two things clear yesterday. He's
delighted, no, moved, to have a chance to take the NBA stage as a
resident Hoosier. And Bird expects to win with players who know the dark
side of the phrase "aerobic conditioning."
can't replace the years I had there (in Boston)," Bird said. "They were
some of the best of my life. But that's over. This is sort of a dream
of mine. I want to make Indiana proud.
I live, Texas, Michigan, whatever, French Lick and Baden (the southwest
Indiana towns where Bird grew up) have been home forever."
Pacers didn't have Jim Nabors sing "Back Home Again in Indiana" before
they introduced Bird to the press, but they must have thought about it.
Bird's introductory press conference was really two events in one.
reporters invited Bird to expound on the joys of Hoosierdom. One of
them even asked Bird what he thought of the changes in the state high
Indiana is one of the
few topics on which Bird allows himself the luxury of sentiment. He
answered all home boy queries with grave politeness. Bird is, as you
might suspect, against any change in the state tourney format.
by outsiders why he'd chosen to become the Pacers' head man and what
sort of coach he might become, Bird was much more the man Bostonians
knew during his Celtic salad days. He mixed straightforward declarations
of intent with his trademark martini-dry wit, aimed mostly at his old
"I expect to win," Bird said.
Bird called an aging Indiana squad, eight of whom he played against in his career, "the right crew. We have the talent."
Bird also said he wants to win with a fast-breaking team. Under his
direction, the Pacers will run. And they'll run a lot more off the court
than when on it, too.
"I think it's
necessary for us to run to win," Bird said. "We have to get it upcourt
quickly since we have a shooter like Reggie Miller, so he can get his
shots off behind our screens before the defense can set.
"You've got to be in great shape (for that style)."
cited Pat Riley's Miami Heat as the best-conditioned squad in the NBA.
Riley's practices, of course, have been outlawed by the Geneva
"You don't go into coaching to make friends," Bird said. "You do it to win games."
way of saying howdy to one Pacer, Bird announced that he wanted Indiana
power forward Dale Davis "to take between 100-150 free throws every day
of the week from now on. That's the sort of thing you have to know
about when you're deciding who to put in at the end of a game."
repeatedly refused to cast himself as the old-fashioned, hard-working
American throwback in a league full of immature, lazy kids with
attention deficit disorder. In fact, that instant cliche amused him.
played with a lot of players who weren't that dedicated," Bird said.
"There were guys I had to beg to play every night. Now I see some of
them and they say, those kids won't play, and I say, 'You wouldn't play
Bird, in short, has always been
acutely aware that few other athletes possess his basketball skills and
fewer still his ferocious need to apply them.
expect there are times we'll be testy, and hard times," Bird said.
"That's part of the game. I don't expect them guys to play like Larry
Bird. I want them to work to eliminate their weaknesses and play to
One of Bird's strengths has long been a cold-eyed realism. He insisted that his Celtic association was ended forever.
were so many great memories, I don't want to tarnish them at all," Bird
said. "I'm off on my own now and in a few years we'll see how I did."
The Pacers are paying Bird a reported $ 4.5 million a year. Bird's only comment on his contract was: "It's less than what Rick Pitino gets, you can bet on that."
"I am confident that he will do very well as head coach of the Indiana
Pacers. Larry is returning home and I know the Indiana fans will welcome
and support him."
Bird wished the new Celtics' coach well, but he indicated his next trip to Boston will indeed contain some mixed emotions.
was going to say it would be like making a trip to Toronto," Bird said.
"But that's not true. There will be a lot of pressure on me to have the
team play a great game. I hope my players will make me proud of them."
ballplayer with an ounce of self-respect would want to make Larry Bird
proud of him. Attention, you Pacers. Better make that a 10-mile run.