Something About Larry
June 27, 2013
The room filled up fast. Every local media outlet was represented, often by more than one person, and usually by the “headliner.” This was no job for a backup.
The press conference would begin at 10 a.m. – exactly at 10 a.m. – which everyone knew it would, and was why they made it a point to arrive early. There would be no one-on-one interview opportunities afterward. He would come in, answer every question as directly as possible, and leave.
Larry Bird is back with the Pacers, and the impact on the organization was obvious even before he walked through that door to meet with the media Thursday morning. It's a funny thing about Bird. He's not outgoing, he doesn't schmooze, he doesn't have an ounce of B.S. in him, he can be moody at times, but everyone who associates with him likes him. For those very reasons, apparently. Rest assured, not a single muttered complaint was heard within the walls of Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday when Bird ended his one-year hiatus and reclaimed the team presidency. Not that many interact with him on anything resembling a regular basis, and most in fact would prefer that he become more involved in the day-to-day activities (something not likely to happen) but everyone seems to like him.
“There's just something about him,” one veteran employee was heard to say before the press conference began, and that seems to sum it up. Like most successful people, his substantive qualities are nebulous. Nothing you would put into an instructional manual. But people tend to shape up in his presence, and that includes the media members who know better than to arrive a few minutes late or to ask a dumb question. Early in the press conference, a photographer's cell phone rang. He scrambled to turn it off, drawing a dirty look from Bird in the process.
Bird's brand of gentle bluntness always wins in the end. More than anything, people appreciate honesty, and that's what you get from him. Combine that with his fame, his size, his common sense and his lack of ego, and it's a powerful combination.
Who else but Bird would dare take a lighthearted jab at Reggie Miller while complimenting Lance Stephenson's rebounding?
“If Reggie Miller would have rebounded his position, he would have been a Hall Hall of Famer,” Bird said.
Bird also left no doubt about his desire to improve the Pacers' bench, which was erratic last season. Whereas Frank Vogel, Kevin Pritchard and Donnie Walsh had couched their concerns, seemingly careful not to offend anyone, especially those who will return to the team, Bird put it out there for all to hear.
“The bench didn't step up and play the way we thought it would,” he said. “Somehow we have to upgrade it. And we don't have a lot of money to spend.”
Brian Shaw finally got a head coaching position earlier this week, which reminds of the story he once told about his first interview for one of those coveted jobs. It came with Bird in 2007. Bird's first words to him when they sat down for their conversation, was “I'm not going to hire you.” Which, of course, made Shaw say to himself, “Then why am I here?” Bird, however, quickly followed by saying he thought Shaw was going to be a successful head coach someday, and he wanted to provide him with interviewing experience and start getting his name out as a candidate for other jobs. It worked.
Bird is as private as he is honest. He wouldn't, for example, reveal if he had surgeries in the off-season, or how many years he signed up for this time around. He only said he's feeling refreshed both physically and mentally, and that he'll fulfill his contract.
So now he has the opportunity to complete one of the most unique trifectas in all of sports. He played on three championship teams and was voted both the NBA's Most Valuable Player and the Finals MVP. He coached the Pacers to their only appearance in the Finals after already being named Coach of the Year. He's mostly responsible for the team that pushed eventual champion Miami to the limit in the Eastern Conference finals this past season, and has been named Executive of the Year.
There's not much left for a 56-year-old man to accomplish but finish the construction job he began in earnest five years ago.
“The job's not finished,” he said. “I will do my very best to get this team to where it should go.”
It might happen, it might not. But it doesn't seem wise to bet against him.
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