It started snowing last week in Indianapolis, and the roads were a little slick. Everyone had to slow down. That included Larry Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations. But slowing down has different meanings these days for Bird. Once the baddest man on the basketball planet, Bird turned 60 earlier this month. And if it seems like it was a long time ago when we were all watching Larry and Magic Johnson challenge one another for supremacy, imagine how long ago it feels to them.
But Bird has never been nearly as interested in nostalgia as most of us; he has a Pacers team he’s trying to figure out. On paper, Indiana looked like it would be a threat in the Eastern Conference this season, bringing in native son Jeff Teague from Atlanta to run the point and Thaddeus Young from the Nets to give the Pacers an athletic four to play next to All-Star Paul George. Second-year center Myles Turner looked like he’d be a monster, going for 30 points and 16 rebounds in the season opener. But from there, the Pacers were, frankly, awful offensively (20th in Offensive Rating) and mediocre defensively (16th in Defensive Rating) under first-year coach Nate McMillan.
It leaves Bird with a lot to think about as he tries to stay active and keep Father Time at bay, an executive now instead of someone who could bend the game to his skill and will, all those years ago.
Me: What does 60 feel like?
Larry Bird: Well, you know, it’s going by so fast, from playing to coaching three years to being in this office, you know how these seasons fly by. It’s pretty amazing to me. But I’ve got my health. I feel good. The problem is, in 10 short years you’ll be 70. And that’s not good. You hear all these people say 70 is the new 50. Well, not in my body.
Me: Besides playing, is there anything that, physically, you can’t do anymore that you really miss?
LB: The one thing I miss is going out and running five miles, or three miles. I can’t do it, because of my back. I run on the elliptical -- not run, but do that stuff. But it’s not getting up in the morning and just taking off and running outside. I always bitched about when I was doing it, but I always enjoyed it when I was over. But I can’t do that anymore, and I miss that. I miss going outside and going out for little jogs. The thing that scares me the most about getting older is, I don’t know if you notice it, but you get out of your car sometimes and you go, ‘did I just park that there? It’s not straight like it used to be.’ Things like that. I thought I had it in there straight, but it’s not as straight as I thought it was.
Me: I find myself occasionally completely losing my train of thought. I’ll be starting on something, and I’m talking, and then all of a sudden, I’m talking about something else.
LB: Yeah, that or players. I’ll be talking to somebody about players and forget about the player. Like, you know -- ‘the guy who plays, the point guard from Charlotte.’ It’s different. Your eyesight (falters) and you get frustrated. But I’m blessed. I’m here and I get good medical treatment. And I’ve got access to doctors. That’s been great for me. That’s been a major plus. Other than that, I can’t complain. I’ve had a good run.
Me: Are you still running on the underwater treadmill?
LB: I used to. I did that a lot. You ever heard of an AlterG? I use that more now than the underwater. I like being out of the water.
"The thing that scares me the most about getting older is, I don’t know if you notice it, but you get out of your car sometimes and you go, ‘did I just park that there? It’s not straight like it used to be.’ Things like that. I thought I had it in there straight, but it’s not as straight as I thought it was."
Me: Did you ever think about training for the Marathon when you were in Boston, just to see if you could do it?
LB: No. The most I ran was about eight miles one day back when I was playing. And my knee started hurting. That’s the first time I had knee pain in my life. I go never again. So I always kept it around five miles. I ran in some races that were five miles. I did some here when I was coaching, but I never went over five. I was nervous, you know? I don’t think I could do it. I thought I would break down. When I was living in Boston, any time you went out for a jog, you weren’t alone. There was hundreds of people out there. Everybody runs in Boston. I thought about it; could I ever do it? The reason I ran close to eight miles was my girlfriend was supposed to -- well, she was my girlfriend then -- she was supposed to pick me up after four miles, and she forgot about it. So I just kept running. Finally I got too far out there and said hell, I can’t run back; it’s too far, so I just kept running just because. And she finally came. And the reason I know how far away it was was because I marked it off in the car.
Me: So, how do you compensate and stay active?
LB: I do the AlterG and I walk a lot. My weights, I’m probably 10 to 15 pounds more than I want to be. I go, three months a year I go on this strict diet for a month and lose the pounds, stuff like that. But as far as movement, If I ain’t broke down, I try to run every day. I try to run AlterG and stuff like that. Just like today, I’ll go down there. I was up to 3½ miles; now I’m at 2½. I’m working back up to three. There’s a limit for me. I try to stay active, keep moving. I always heard people say, as they get older, they always say you’ve got to keep moving. I believe that.
Me: As much as you ran, did you ever have shin splints?
LB: No. The only thing that ever bothered me, especially back home, was my back would get real tight. I ran a lot. Even in the summer, I’d wake up in the morning and the first thing I’d do was 2½ miles to get loose, just to start my other training. I always ran, always felt good doing it. It really wasn’t a big deal for me. But now that I can’t do it, you miss something, you know?
Me: What were your splits at your peak?
LB: It just depended. I ran in some races back in Boston. At home, I’d just do it to get loose. I did at the high school and get on the track, do my 440s, 220s. Then I’d bike for 12½ miles. Then I’d start shooting, and after I got my shooting stuff done, I’d lift. I figured I’d get everything done in four hours. I wouldn’t absolutely kill myself on the run; that was just to get loose and moving.
Me: When you dream, do you dream about still playing, or do you just dream about what everybody dreams about: being late for something?
LB: Or trying to get in the game and can’t find my shoes. Mostly now when I dream about basketball, I dream about the position I’m in, watching and trying to advise players and talking. It’s not as much playing. I had dreams where I played in games, but most of the time I was going to a game and couldn’t get there, or I couldn’t find my shoes. Something always kept me from playing.
Me: You told me many years ago that you really like watching Allen Iverson play because of how hard he went. Is there anyone like that in today’s game that you like to watch play?
"I’ll have to admit, I’ve changed my mind over the years on a lot of things. I don’t know if I was just being hard-headed, because I was never a 3-point guy. But the way the game is changed is, I think, better for the fans. "
LB: Obviously (Russell) Westbrook. He goes all out all the time. It’s remarkable how his body is holding up and the things he gets done. Over the years, I’ve seen kids come in here, kids come and go, kids that don’t even go to high school, maybe one year of college. You always wonder how they’re going to develop. I watched, over the years -- see, I’ve got a train of thought (problem) right now -- the center for the Clippers ...
LB: Yeah, Jordan, DeAndre. When he came in here to work out the first time, I couldn’t believe the kid was even thinking about coming out. He was tall, he could run and he could jump. But basketball (skills)? Had none. And I am amazed, I am truly amazed how this young man has developed his game from where he was to the point he’s at today. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve seen guys get a lot better, but when he came in there that day, we had Roy Hibbert, we had some other big guys in here. I really felt sorry for the kid. I thought there’s no way in hell this kid will ever make it in this league. And I don’t know who got with him, or what he did, but to watch him play and perform on a nightly basis the way he does is just breathtaking to me. After everything I’ve seen, I always go back to that. It’s pretty amazing. And this wasn’t this year; this happened five years ago. And just watching him, he was in here the other night and I thought, boy, I’m so proud of that kid. It’s amazing. I’ve never really met him other than that day he was in here. But just watching kids like that come in, and here I’m thinking they have no chance, there’s no way in hell they’ll play in this league, and to accomplish some of the things he’s done, to me, that’s worth it all. And I had nothing to do with it. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. But that’s the kick I get out of it. I mean, there’s been others, but he sticks out in my mind. I never thought he had a chance in hell, you know?
Me: Do you like the way the game’s played today -- the small ball, the four out, one in style?
LB: I’ll have to admit, I’ve changed my mind over the years on a lot of things. I don’t know if I was just being hard-headed, because I was never a 3-point guy. But the way the game is changed is, I think, better for the fans. I watched Portland play a lot this year, and them two kids (Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum), when they get it going, they’re unbelievable. The court don’t look as small as it used to to me. They’re using the 3-point line so much, it looks like a bigger court.
Remember when they used to talk about widening the lanes? But we didn’t. We brought in guys who could shoot the three ball. And you don’t hear the talk any more. But I do, I really like it. I think it’s only going to get better. Look at the last 10 years, and the jump that we’ve made. What’s going to be (in) the next 10 years? I’m a fan of it, yeah.
Me: I can only imagine what teams like yours and the Lakers would have been like offensively if the three had been a real weapon back then and how the spacing would have been.
LB: You’re right about the spacing. We pounded it inside. If you came down the court and somebody threw the ball to your man and he was at the 3-point line, hell, you backed off two feet. You was worried about the drive. But it would give Kevin (McHale) and Robert (Parish) and Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and all them guys more space down there. But, we probably wouldn’t have played as big, either. We might have gone smaller. You never know.
Me: Let me ask you about your team this year. I thought you guys would get a ton of deflections and runouts and lob and dunk on people. What are you seeing?
LB: I think one of our problems is we’ve got too many guys that like to pound the basketball. We do get deflections, we do get steals, but we don’t get a lot of fast break points. That’s where I thought we would get out and get, I was hoping for like 15 a game, maybe a little bit more. We’re not getting that. I always wanted to score between 103 and 105 points. The disappointing thing is on the defensive end. Giving up George Hill and letting (Ian) Mahinmi go, two of our better defenders, I knew we were going to struggle a little bit, but we’ve struggled more than I anticipated. And that’s hurt us. We’re not consistent. But we’ve got a nice little team and if we play well and we play together, we’ll win our share of the games. But we’re always going to be inconsistent, because of the fact that we don’t defend as well as I thought, and we’ve got too many guys that just want to dribble the basketball. That kills your offense. But they’re all good guys and they enjoy each, and Paul, since he came back from the injuries, has been phenomenal for us. I worry, too, that we depend too much on him. The guys sort of give in a little bit and go to him too much. But, when he’s got it going, you’ve got to ride him.
Me: He’s really good.
LB: Well, the thing is, he defends every night. He’s a better defender than he is a scorer. But, in saying that, the one thing is that every night, he’ll guard you. A lot of guys, they don’t do that. But he will guard you. But he’s good. He’s a good player.
Me: I don’t know how you could have projected that when he was in college, because they didn’t play anybody. How do you know if he’s going to be any good?
LB: Well, I didn’t either, when I played. The thing I do with these guys is, he’s long, and he’s athletic. If you watched him in college, He’d come down and hit a beautfiful fadeaway shot, then airball his next 3-pointer. He turns it over at a high rate. But he went to the free throw line, he shot 88 percent. You knew it was there, the shooting. The only thing you had to worry about was, was he going to work? And Paul’s always been a good worker. And it’ll all come together, Defensively, if you watched him in college, he was going for steals all the time. He was always in the passing lane. But he worked on his game, and h’s gotten better in all areas. Defensively, he’s gotten a lot better; he knows what he can get away with. Offensively, he can hit the three now. He can post up. He’s not a real post-up guy, but he’s a midrange post-up guy. His handle’s a lot better than it used to be. But nobody knew he was going to be the defender he’s become. That’s what makes him, because he can play both sides of the ball. He’s still a streaky shooter. He’ll go, like last year, for about four months here, he was shooting 39, 40 percent. But he’s a player. He’s a gamer.
Me: Well, I thank you for your time.
LB: If I can remember your name, I’ll say hi to you the next time you’re here.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Getting paid twice a month ON TIME, instead of once a month and sometimes not knowing when it's coming is AMAZING 😂😂😂— malcolm delaney (@foe23) December 16, 2016
Atlanta Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney (@foe23), Thursday, 9:17 pm, presumably after Direct Deposit -- everyone’s friend -- kicked into action earlier in the day. Before signing with Atlanta last summer, Delaney had played overseas in France, Ukraine, Germany and Russia during the past five seasons. No word which on -- if it was only one -- of his former teams didn’t come promptly with the coin.
THEY SAID IT
"If things don't go so well and it hurts everywhere, it could be that 2017 will be the end. Actually, my plan is to complete the 20 years and play for Dallas until 2018. But just because I have signed a two-year contract doesn't automatically mean that I will play for two years. It could happen next year."
-- Dirk Nowitzki, in an interview with the German sport magazine Bild, on whether he’ll be able to play through the end of his two-year deal with the Mavericks, that will pay him $40 million if he completes the contract.
"I think I'm too good to be playing eight minutes. That's crazy. That's crazy. That's crazy. We need to figure this (bleep) out."
-- Nerlens Noel, to local reporters Friday, decrying his limited playing time against the Lakers. Noel has been unhappy all year with his role in Philly, which has carved out a starting role for Joel Embiid in the middle and is still trying to work Jahlil Okafor into the mix. Noel just returned from surgery on his left knee.
“If he would have given me a move, I would have let him have the layup. But he laid it up in my face. I just can’t let him do that…he just tried to say, basically, ‘I’m your brother; let me have it.’ And I would have let him have it. But he put it right in my face. I can’t not just not block the shot.”
-- Wizards forward Markieff Morris, on why he committed twin-on-twin crime Friday by capping his twin brother Marcus’ drive to the hoop during Washington’s win over Detroit.
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