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MavsFanFinley
07-11-2003, 02:18 PM
Bird returns to Pacers with front-office job

By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer

July 11, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Larry Bird returned to the NBA and the Indiana Pacers on Friday, taking a front-office job with the team he coached to the league finals three years ago.

The Hall of Famer will be president of basketball operations, taking over day-to-day decision-making from Donnie Walsh, who led the franchise since 1986 and will stay on as its chief executive.

As a player, Bird won three NBA titles in the 1980s with the Boston Celtics.

He's been out of basketball since 2000, when he walked away from the Pacers at the end of a three-year coaching contract. His last Pacers team lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in that season's NBA Finals.

Back then, the Pacers offered Bird a top front-office job, with the option of becoming team president after Walsh retired.

But Bird decided to take a break because of an irregular heart beat, a condition it took a year to get under control with medicine. Now, with an increased energy level, Bird was ready to return to basketball.

``I was sort of worn down and didn't want a part of it, but I feel rejuvenated and ready to get to work,'' Bird said Friday.

Walsh now will oversee the Pacers' business operations and players' contracts, while Bird will be responsible for picking players and coaches and for scouting.

Walsh plans to stay with the Pacers four more years and expects that Bird will be his successor.

``I'm really happy to have him back where he belongs, in Indiana,'' Walsh said.

Bird was part of a group that tried to get the rights for an expansion franchise in Charlotte, but the league awarded that team to Robert Johnson in January.

Bird spoke with teams other than the Pacers about similar front-office jobs. He smiled Friday when asked whether he had given up on becoming an NBA owner, recalling a conversation with Pacers owners Herb and Mel Simon.

``I asked the Simons five, six years ago if they wanted to sell, and they wouldn't do it, so I doubt if it is in the foreseeable future,'' he said.

Bird went 147-67 in the regular season with the Pacers, the best three-year record in team history. The Pacers also won two Central Division championships, one Eastern Conference title and made their first trip to the NBA Finals.

He returns to a team that bears little resemblance to the veteran-laden roster that reached the 2000 championship series.

Bird's successor as coach, Isiah Thomas, has made three straight first-round exits from the playoffs. Bird and Thomas were both selected to the NBA's 50th anniversary team and played on rival teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The two were to meet Friday for the first time as boss and coach.

``I was excited when I heard about it,'' Thomas said. ``Any time you have a chance to put a group like this together, you have a chance to do something special.''

Bird said he was looking forward to working with Thomas and helping the Pacers re-sign free agents Reggie Miller and Brad Miller. The team is close to an agreement with its other top free agent, Jermaine O'Neal.

``My job and Donnie's job right now is to get Isiah the best players,'' Bird said.

A three-time MVP with the Celtics, Bird is one of the biggest stars in Indiana basketball history. He was a high school standout in his hometown of French Lick and then led Indiana State to the 1979 NCAA title game.

Walsh has had broad authority from the Simon brothers to manage the team, which he first joined as an assistant coach in 1984.

The Pacers never won more than 26 games in a season from 1982-86, but under Walsh they have made the playoffs 13 of the past 14 seasons.

Drbio
07-11-2003, 02:37 PM
Great move by the Pacers. They win several more games because of this move alone and likely keep JO and others in the fold.

TripleDipping
07-11-2003, 02:47 PM
Does this mean Walsh is being demoted? I thought he was doing a good job in assembling the right players for the Pacers. Keeping them in check is different matter though.

one long blue sock
07-11-2003, 11:24 PM
Originally posted by: TripleDipping
Does this mean Walsh is being demoted? I thought he was doing a good job in assembling the right players for the Pacers. Keeping them in check is different matter though.

I think those type of players shouldn't play together, you shouldn't expect them to stay "in check", but i think that is more of Thomas's doing.