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Updated: Wednesday, 27 Jun 2012, 5:39 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 27 Jun 2012, 5:38 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Larry Bird has been a part of the Indiana Pacers since the late 1990s, first as a coach, then as a member of the management team. And just like his decision to leave the team now, Bird has always done it his way.
The native Hoosier, who excelled in college basketball and the NBA, became the bench boss of the Indiana Pacers for the ‘97-‘98 season. The team made it to its conference finals, and Bird was named NBA Coach of the Year. But from the start, Bird made it clear he would be the bench boss for only three years.
"My golf game's a little rusty,” he said during the 1998 playoffs. “I can pick that back up."
After his third season, even though he pushed the Pacers to the NBA finals that year, Bird left the team, leaving then-team President Donnie Walsh looking for a replacement.
But in July 2003, Bird was back - this time not on the bench, but in the front office, as president of basketball operations. At the news conference announcing his return Bird expressed his goal: "Right now, not to win the championship, but get to the finals and give ourselves an opportunity to win."
But 15 months later, in November 2004, the Pacers-Pistons brawl in Detroit killed a promising season and sent the team on a downward sprial. It took half a dozen years, but Bird, who took over full control of the team after Donnie Walsh left in 2008, is credited with sparking the recovery.
The Pacers have been back in the playoffs the past two seasons, and Bird was named NBA Executive of the Year this year. Despite the recent success, rumors persisted that Bird was ready to leave the team.
A month ago, on May 30, he talked about it to reporters: "I want to sit down with Herbie,” he said, referring to team owner Herb Simon, “and get this done as quickly as possible. And I don't like this at all. It’d be easier for everyone if I just signed a three-year deal, but we are on a handshake deal and always will be."
Now Bird is gone, and Donnie Walsh is back as president of the team.
And while Bird is leaving, there is always a chance he'll be back. In fact, Walsh mentioned he'll be keeping in touch with Bird.
Bird’s story and personality has also made him part of American pop culture. He’s been in three movies: Blue Chips, Space Jam and Celtic Pride. And currently running on Broadway is a play about the relationship he has had over the years with another NBA superstar, Magic Johnson, called Magic-Bird.