The way he tells it, Larry Bird's 2012 decision to step down as Pacers team president wasn't intended as a hiatus. He saw a team on the incline with a few sturdy building blocks, a young coach worthy of the front office's trust in Frank Vogel, and a capable replacement waiting in the wings in long-time Pacers architect Donnie Walsh. The franchise was relatively secure from a basketball standpoint, all while Bird saw reason to leave his post due to an ailing back and other health concerns.
So off Bird went, both to pursue other interests and enjoy time away from the game. But as we've seen so often with so many renowned athletic competitors, it was only a matter of time before he was drawn back in. According to Bird's interview with Ken Berger of CBS Sports, an exploratory phone call from the Kings, a follow-up with Pacers owner Herb Simon, and a visit from Vogel was all it took to lure back the face of Indiana basketball:
"If you're a lifer, you're a lifer," Bird told CBSSports.com in a quiet moment after practice last week.
Bird is a lifer, all right; a private man who knows there is no use fighting the awkward bond between his small-town roots and his life's work in the public eye. He has returned after a year off to reclaim his perch as president of the Indiana Pacers, an outcome he truly didn't foresee when he left.
"I never dreamed I'd be back, especially so quick," Bird said. "But I thought that's the best thing that I've done in a long time -- get away from it, refresh, watch the team play."
Berger goes on to describe that Bird felt "burned out," before stepping down from his post last summer, though a year away from the day-to-day grind of personnel management has seemingly rejuvenated him. That makes Bird an added asset to an already loaded front office; not only has Walsh retained a relationship with the franchise as a consultant, but Kevin Pritchard serves as the team's GM -- together forming a triumvirate of well-balanced basketball knowledge. It's from their cooperative work that Indiana re-signed David West, sold Simon on a max extension for Paul George, acquired Luis Scola via trade ("I've always liked Scola, always been after Scola," Bird told Berger. "I made some calls knowing the price might be steep, but still feel like we got a good deal out of it."), and signed both C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland. That's a full slate of offseason work that preserved Indiana's core while significantly upgrading its bench, the combination of which promises to make the Pacers ever more competitive. Bird might have needed a break from this scene, but as he intimates to Berger: He can't stay away from the game for long. He's too deeply entrenched in the sport, too invested in the Pacers' success (Berger notes that Bird watched almost all of Indy's games last season), and ultimately, too good at his job to simply walk away. He tried once and he may well try again, but basketball courses in Bird's veins.