Larry Bird is basketball.
It is difficult to comprehend the NBA without "Larry Legend." He helped revive the NBA in the 1980s with his superb play and his unadulterated joy in playing and winning. He hung on to basketball as long as he could and did whatever his team needed.
Go out and score 50 points? Do you need that right-handed or left-handed? Get a big steal? Absolutely. Bird has some of the strongest instincts in the game of anybody. He just knows how to play basketball. It is what he has lived and breathed for his entire adult life.
Bird just enjoys keeping things simple. And basketball came easy to him.
But age has a way of making things less simple. You can't do the things you used to do.
And now it seems like Bird is getting ready to say good bye once again. In an interview with Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe, Bird said he is facing his last year as an executive for the Pacers, doing it as a favor to Pacers owner Herb Simon. And one of the NBA's greats is walking slowly into his sunset.
"It's at a point now in my life where I think it might be time to really reconsider and see how long I want to do this," Bird said. "They asked me to stay another year through the lockout season, the owner did, for a favor. I was leaving, but he asked me to stay, and I will and I'll get the job done."
Bird has been instrumental in rebuilding the Pacers from the front office following the vicious, franchise-killing brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills. He traded away franchise centerpieces Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal along with Stephen Jackson to rebuild the team's image. He drafted Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert and got Indiana back into the postseason for the first time since Reggie Miller retired.
The trick is getting out of the nether world between mediocrity and lottery. And that might be Bird's last great trick. His playing career ended when age finally caught up to him. His back was tightening up worse every year and every day but he kept playing through it. If you have read stories about Bird at this time (or watched it, which I was unfortunate not to), you knew he could barely move with his back tightening up so much.
Bird relatively quickly got into coaching, joining the Indiana Pacers and working with Donnie Walsh. Very quickly he had the Pacers contending for a championship. They went to two Eastern Conference Championships and broke through for a Finals appearance in 2000. He then moved to the front office where he took claim to the Pacers reclamation project.
Maybe age is catching up a bit to him now. He certainly see the time he wants to be done with basketball (at least for now) quickly approaching. He is ready to take a step away. If only for a moment.
Bird does not expect this hiatus from basketball to be long though. Bird is a basketball lifer and he will always be close to the game he lives for.
Photo via DayLife.com.