Grampa Celtic Weighs In

May 13, 1997

Pope John XXIII called it, I believe, aggiornamento. He said it was necessary to "Blow open the windows of the church." Hence, Vatican II.

If Larry Bird is successful, the NBA is about to witness its own aggiornamento.

Larry says part of being a good coach is not coaching. And he's right.

At his inaugural press conference as head coach of the Indiana Pacers yesterday, he was asked, "What is your philosophy, Larry?"

"My philosophy," he said, "is to get the ball off the boards, get it quickly up the floor, find someone to get it in the hole and play good, solid defense."

Get it quickly up the floor. Doesn't he know nobody runs anymore? Hasn't he been watching these dreadful NBA games in which refusing to shoot the ball masquerades as great defense? Did he watch Sunday's Knicks-Heat game in which one team took 67 shots and the other took 72? (Wilt took 63 all by himself in the famed 100-point game.) Does this mean he is going to buck the trend and actally bring legitimately fast-tempo basketball back to the Pacers, and, by extension, the NBA?

Damn right.

"I'm gonna sit down and let 'em play," Bird promises. "The problem with the NBA now is that too many coaches are taking over the game, trying to call every play. If players are properly prepared, and if they're in shape and doing the things they're supposed to do, you don't have to be up there trying to control the whole game. If you've got a good point guard - and we do - then he can run the team and I can sit down and act like I'm coaching."

Whoa. Wait'll Larry shows up at his first NBA meetings and gets into the room with his fellow coaches. They'll be lining up, trying to talk some sense into his head. They'll be giving him the litany of excuses they all have for promoting these 82-81 games. They'll assure him that he just doesn't get it. They'll beg him to reconsider. They'll point out to him it's much too precious a game to be entrusted to mere players.

And I hope he laughs. After all, he is Larry Bird, and he knows what he knows.

What Larry Bird knows is basketball. He knows what it's really like. He knows the true ins and outs, the actual dynamics, the no-b.s. aspects of this great game. He worked at it, he studied it, and he lived it, and it hasn't changed all that much in the five years since he was forced to retire with a bad back. At least, it shouldn't have changed that much. If Mike Fratello refuses to run even though he's got a wonderful All-Star point guard in Terrell Brandon, that's Mike Fratello's problem, not Larry Bird's. Larry's got Mark Jackson and Reggie Miller, and by God, he's planning on running, bless his Hoosier heart.

"The last few years of my career," Bird said, "I went through that, with the coach calling too many plays, and I didn't like it."

So the Pacers can plan on running, which is quite all right with reserve guard Fred Hoiberg, who decided he'd come over to Market Square Arena to check out his new coach.

"I loved hearing that," Hoiberg beamed. "That's the way players want to play. And it's what fans want to see."

The more I think about this business of Bird coaching, the more intrigued I am. The man is serious, make no mistake. It's not as if Pacer president Donnie Walsh called him up one day, asked him if he wanted to coach and Larry said, "Sure, what the hell? Why not?"

Uh-uh, this is something he's been thinking about for a long time.

He just needed the tumblers to fall in the right place. After all, the Pacers already had a coach. ("Can't get any better than Larry Brown," declared Larry Bird), and Bird had already made up his mind that he would coach only one team, and that would be the home-state Pacers.

"I felt if I didn't take this opportunity now, it would be my last opportunity," Bird reasoned. "This has been a dream of mine. The Pacers passed on me in the draft back in '79 actually, '78."

"And I guarantee you we weren't going to pass on him a second time," joked Walsh.

Now the timing is perfect. The Pacers and Brown had an amicable no-fault divorce, and so the team needed a coach. Larry has played all the golf and reeled in all the fish a man can handle, and he is ready to take on a significant career challenge. The NBA is that, and a whole lot more.

But Larry says he is ready. "I really wanted this job," he said. There was never any real chance he would stay in Boston with Rick Pitino. "I told him a while back he didn't need a Larry Bird looking over his shoulder," Bird said.

Being a GM wasn't going to provide Larry Bird with the buzz he needs. He's a gym rat extraordinaire, not a coat-and-tie guy or a phone schmoozer; he likes evaluating college talent, yes, but he'll get far more of a kick out of being in the trenches than sitting 22 rows up in the stands. Anyone who has lived and breathed and just plain oozed as much basketball as he has develops his own ideas and aches to try them out.

He came to the NBA 18 years ago as a media-shy, socially defensive kid, with an inherent awareness of the game bequeathed to a very few. He respected his gift and he polished it with long, hard (but never in his mind lonely) hours in the gym. He was good enough to be a first-team All-Star in his rookie year, and yet a few short years later, he was a startlingly better player, all because he redefined the term "work ethic."

Along the way the introverted country boy even became quasi-urbane (he made a reference yesterday to Zaire, which we can be sure he had never heard of 18 years ago).

Players won't be able to fool Bird with what Red Auerbach would term "false hustle." Larry will know the difference between false hustle and real hustle because he damn near invented the latter. Pity the Pacer who stares at a loose ball.

I love this. Larry Bird's staggering contract insulates him from all harm. He has no reason not to do it his way. Look out, NBA: Aggiornamento soon will be on display at an arena near you.


FLCeltsFan said...

I love Grampa Celtic. He's one of the greats. And I love Larry's coaching style. I can see Brad Stevens doing that somewhat with Rondo the coach on the floor but then again he's got a young team that may need a little more guidance. Great article. Got my brain wheels turning this morning.

Lex said...

hope you are having a good labor day weekend

FLCeltsFan said...

Going ok... Hope yours is going well also. Good to get to sleep in again. Back to the grind tomorrow.

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