This afternoon “Larry Legend” once again accomplished something in basketball that many followers of the sport never thought they would see in their lifetime. When Larry Bird, the Indiana Pacers team president was announced as the National Basketball Association’s Executive of the Year on Wednesday he started a selective company of one. Today, the “Hick from French Lick” became the first individual to ever be named league MVP (which he did 3 times with the Celtics), Coach of the Year (1998 with the Pacers) and Executive of the Year. There has not been a more deserving individual for the way that he has brought the Pacers back to respectability, and today his efforts have been rewarded by the Association.
There is no denying that Larry Bird is one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game, but he’s also done a pretty darn good job in the sport since hanging up his shoes for the last time after the 1991-1992 season. As a player Bird was a 3 time NBA Champion (1981, 1984, 1986), a 3 time Most Valuable Player, 2 time NBA Finals MVP, 12 time All-Star, NBA Rookie of the Year (1980) and he has his #33 retired by the Boston Celtics. And after the Celtics employed Bird as a special assistant in the front office from 1992 through 1997, Larry Bird moved back out to Indiana and became head coach of the Pacers before the 1997-1998 season. Despite having no previous head coaching experience, Bird led the Pacers to a 147-67 record in three seasons and took the team to their only NBA Finals appearance in 2000. He was also named Coach of the Year in 1998 following his first season in which the Pacers finished 58-24, the franchise’s best record at the time. After following through on his promise to only coach the team for 3 years he left after the 2000 season, and three more years later he returned as the franchise’s President of Basketball Operations, the position that he still holds today. In April 2008, Donnie Walsh, Pacers Sports and Entertainment CEO and President stepped down to join the Knicks, and Bird picked even more basketball related duties and responsibilities for the club.
Bird has made a huge impact in designing this year’s Indiana Pacers, who are currently tied 1-1 in their second round playoff series with the Miami Heat. The Pacers went 42-24 in this shortened season and with the injury to Miami’s power forward Chris Bosh may have a chance to upset the Heat this year (unlikely, but I would love it). This season alone, Bird helped the Pacers sign starting power forward David West, trade for starting point guard George Hill, and bring in Lou Amundson and Leandro Barbosa for some quality veterans off the bench. He also promoted interim head coach Frank Vogel to head coach, providing some stability to a franchise that really needed it. The starting five of George Hill, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, and Roy Hibbert is surprisingly one of the best in the league and there is not much drop-off when it comes to the bench with Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa, Tyler Hansbrough, Lou Amundson and A.J. Price among others.
For all the work that Larry Bird has put into the Indiana Pacers over most of the last 15 years, it is really nice to see him getting some league-wide recognition for his accomplishments again. If he and the Pacers can pull off one more miracle this season and defeat the Heat they will become the darlings of the NBA this year and we’ll hear even more about the wonderful job that Bird and his crew have done assembling this current squad. As a Celtics fan I would love for the Pacers and Boston to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals to rekindle a playoff rivalry from 2003-2005 in which the Pacers won 2 out of 3 playoff series, and if that happens you know Bird will be a huge part of it. And just like the recognition he received today winning the Executive of the Year award, he would have earned it.