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?"
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,
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?
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.