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It was killing Larry Bird, wasn’t it? The idea that some other Pacers president might kiss a trophy after everything he and the franchise had been through together. Coaxing an aging squad into the NBA Finals as coach and later, as an executive, looking on helplessly as a head case and a beer-soaked jerk in Detroit crushed his title hopes. And then last year, watching the players he had assembled, painstakingly and over many years, push the defending-champion Miami Heat to the edge of the playoff precipice, while he “retired” in Florida. He was burning, right? Donnie Walsh, Bird’s longtime front-office mentor, thinks so. “It had to be hard, sitting at home and watching that,” Walsh says. So Bird returned to the Pacers as president of basketball operations this past July to finish what he’d started—at least we think that’s why. We asked the man himself, and we’re still not sure.You cited health issues when announcing your departure last year. Feeling better? Yeah, I feel a lot better, or I wouldn’t be here.Must have been tough being away from the team during that playoff run. No, I was very happy for them. You know, I’ve been in a lot of runs.What was your formula for putting this group together? I got lucky in the draft and got some good players.How did your return to the Pacers come about? I rehabbed, got healthy, and started feeling better. I stayed in contact with Donnie and Herb [Simon, the Pacers’ owner] throughout the year, and one day they called me to see if I was interested in the job. If I was, they needed to know now. And I decided to come back.What does it mean to work for the pro franchise in your home state? I don’t know if I’d be doing this if it was anywhere but here. But some reports had you considering an offer from the Sacramento Kings. I don’t want to get into that.
AP Photo/Corbis/Walter McBride
This article appeared in the December 2013 issue.
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