Larry Bird Heads Home

May 13, 1997

Indiana is home to Larry Bird, one important reason why he's the new head coach of the Indiana Pacers.

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 jog.

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."

"You 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.

"Wherever I live, Texas, Michigan, whatever, French Lick and Baden (the southwest Indiana towns where Bird grew up) have been home forever."

The 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.

Local 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 school tournament.

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.

Asked 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 teammates.

"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."

But 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)."

Bird 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 Convention.

"You don't go into coaching to make friends," Bird said. "You do it to win games."

By 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."

Bird 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.

"I 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 either."'

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.

"I 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 their strengths."

One of Bird's strengths has long been a cold-eyed realism. He insisted that his Celtic association was ended forever.

"There 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."

Said Pitino: "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.

"I 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."

Any 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.


FLCeltsFan said...

Yeah, as much as Bird was a Celtic and always will be, he was moreso a Hoosier. Bird is right about one thing though, a team has to run to win. And they have to defend... Too often coaches do one and not the other. It's when both are emphasized that teams are dangerous. Brad Stevens seems like the Run and Defend type of guy.

Lex said...

Did we run in 08?

I know we defended and I know we ran in 86.

But I don't remember us running all that much in 08.

Maybe we ran and hoisted 3s?

FLCeltsFan said...

They did selective running. They won mostly because of their smothering defense and keeping the other teams from running or scoring. Most of the time they played half court but they did have some pretty fast breaks too.

FLCeltsFan said...

A team that has a defense like that 08 team had can get away without running.

Lex said...

Still love that team, especially the role plays

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