Larry Bird was voted the NBA’s Executive of the Year, turning into the 1st to be named the league’s top executive, coach and MVP.
“It was a long journey; it’s an agonizing journey,” Bird announced in Indianapolis. “But now we think it’s going to pay dividends.”
The 3-time MVP and Hall of Famer received 12 first-place votes and 88 total points from a panel of team corporate management throughout the NBA. San Antonio’s R.C. Buford (56 points) finished a distant 2nd, followed by L.A Clippers GM Neil Olshey (55).
“I believe it’s an award well deserved,” Pacers forward Danny Granger said. “Larry probably has more accolades than anybody right now.”
Bird was hired as team president in 2003 and learned the ropes at Donnie Walsh’s side. He helped put together one of the greatest teams in the league in his 1st season, a 61-game winner that appeared poised to be in charge of the Eastern Conference for many years to come. Basketball lines
Then he endured the franchise-changing brawl at the Palace in Detroit in 2004 that gutted a championship contender; a series of arrests and public embarrassments from his players in the following seasons that divided a hoops-crazy fan base; and 3 training changes as he looked to modify the culture of a free-falling franchise. A 4-year playoff drought had lots in his home state looking for Bird’s head, a surprising fall for someone that once could do no wrong in Indiana.
A fed-up Bird started a massive overhaul in 2006. The house-cleaning took years and included the trades of Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Shawne Williams, the exile of Jamaal Tinsley and the move from hard-driving head coach Jim O’Brien to unproven 38-year-old helper Frank Vogel.
“We had to change the work,” Bird announced. “I thought Jimmy O’Brien really helped us in that aspect. He came in here and knew precisely what we had to do. We had to not just change the culture, but we had to take it slow and get some players we thought we could build around.”
After exhibiting some questionable staff acumen early, Bird has pulled off some savvy moves to assemble a cohesive, hard-working team that finds itself deadlocked 1-1 with the heavily favored Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“For that organization to get to this point, it wanted to have a man like Larry who has amazing patience, a really powerful will and the resolution to see a plan through,” recounted Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who coached the Pacers from 2003-07 and has been a friend of Bird’s since their playing days together in Boston.
Bird added Granger, Paul George, Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough in the draft, George Hill, Lou Amundson and Leandro Barbosa through trades and David West in free agency.
Playing in small-market Indiana, Bird has never had the luxury of an open check book to follow max income players in a max salary league. He’s had to fret far more about fit, chemistry and working ethic, and that is just fine with him.