In 1997, he returned to the bench this time as coach of the Pacers — his home state team. He was the 1998 NBA coach of the year and two years later led the Pacers into the franchise’s only appearance in the NBA Finals. Indiana lost that year to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, and Bird retired after the season in part because of health problems.
Three years later, he came back to the Pacers in a front office job.
He and Walsh worked together as a team for five years before Walsh left to join the New York Knicks and Bird took over most of the day-to-day decisions with the Pacers.
Under Bird’s guidance, the Pacers returned to the playoffs in 2011. Bird’s shrewd moves included a draft-day trade for Roy Hibbert and another draft-day trade for George Hill, the signing of free-agent power forward David West and the selections of Paul George and Lance Stephenson in the 2010 draft. Those five, and Danny Granger, produced the franchise’s first playoffs series win in seven years last season, and it was those five, without Granger, that pushed Miami to the limit in Indiana’s first conference finals appearance in nine years.
“We are all very happy to have Larry back,” team owner Herb Simon said. “Larry had a huge impact on this team and where it is now, so it’s fitting that he comes back at this time. Donnie has been a friend and a valuable contributor to the franchise and will continue to be both. I wanted him to agree to stay in some capacity as I believe with Larry and Kevin, it gives us three of the best basketball minds in the business.”
The team will hold a news conference Thursday morning to introduce Bird, who will officially take over July 1.