Larry Bird (right) was named Executive of the Year in 2012. (Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images)
NBA legend Larry Bird will return to the Pacers as president of basketball operations.
The Indianapolis Star reports that the Hall of Famer will rejoin the Pacers after one year away from the team.
“He’s got plenty of rings of his own, now I want him to win one for me,” Pacers owner Herb Simon told The Star. “He’s got his energy back, his health back and he’s raring to go.”
General manager Kevin Pritchard will remain on as Bird’s No. 2 while Donnie Walsh, who said last week he’d be ready to step aside if Bird returned, will become a consultant.
“He left because of physical reasons. It was always contemplated that when he straightened out his medical issues he would come back. The only thing is we didn’t know if it would take a year or more for him to feel strong enough to get back and apparently he had a good year and is ready to come back.”
The Pacers sent out a press release on Wednesday announcing a "major press conference" scheduled for Thursday morning.
“We are all very happy to have Larry back," Simon said in a prepared statement. "When he left last July, Donnie and I both told him the door would be open for him to come back when he’s ready. 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."
Bird, 56, was named Executive of the Year in 2012 before stepping away from the organization.
"I've been working for nine years," Bird said in an ESPN.com video interview, explaining his decision to step away last year. "Now it's time to take some time off, rest up and get in shape, get my shoulder worked on, and we'll see what happens. ... It seemed like for the last 30-something years, I go out or I get up and somebody is wanting something. You just get tired. It wears you down. I just want to lay low."
An Indiana native, Bird played his college ball at Indiana State before winning three titles and making 12 All-Star Games during a 13-year career with the Celtics. Bird went on to coach the Pacers for three seasons from 1997 to 2000 before moving into the front office in 2003, where he remained until 2012.
"The year off gave me a chance to reflect, to rest, to take care of some health issues and it re-charged me," Bird said in a statement Wednesday. "Donnie and Kevin did a great job and I will lean on both heavily as we move forward toward the goal of competing for a championship."
The Pacers went 49-32 last season, winning the Central Division title and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals, where they were defeated by the Heat
in seven games. All of Indiana's core players were acquired during Bird's tenure: he drafted Danny Granger
in 2005, made a draft-day trade for center Roy Hibbert
in 2008, drafted Paul George
and Lance Stephenson
in 2010, and he signed forward David West
and traded for guard George Hill
in 2011. The Pacers have made the playoffs for three straight seasons and look to be one of the Eastern Conference's top teams next year.