Larry Bird watches Indiana Pacers pre-draft workout as prospects feel his presence

Bird has held multiple roles with the Pacers
May 3, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers President of Basketball operations Larry Bird during a timeout during the second half of game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana Pacers beat Atlanta Hawks 92 to 80. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
May 3, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers President of Basketball operations Larry Bird during a timeout during the second half of game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana Pacers beat Atlanta Hawks 92 to 80. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports / Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — On Wednesday, the Indiana Pacers held their third pre-draft workout ahead of the 2024 NBA Draft. While the team had their eyes on six more prospects, the draft hopefuls were looking toward one particular person in Larry Bird.

The NBA legend was among the talent evaluators in the building for the assessment session. He has been in and out of advisory roles with the Pacers front office for a few years since stepping away from the President of Basketball Operations position he held until 2017. Bird was spotted at various workouts and team practices throughout the last year, including multiple pre-draft workouts last season.

Across two stints, Bird was the lead decision maker in the Pacers front office for over a decade. Prior to that, he was the head coach of the franchise from 1997-2000. All of that, of course, came after his legendary playing career with the Boston Celtics.

Bird's resume is among the greatest in basketball history, and he is one of the most recognizable faces in the sport. That's why it can be so intimidating for draft prospects to perform in front of the legendary forward.

"It's exciting. Obviously, an NBA legend," Oakland's Jack Gohlke said of Bird being among the observers. "I think it's just really cool. I would say it's almost easier to play in front of a sold out arena than to have these guys sitting courtside," he added. Bird was surrounded by Pacers executives, and many players on the current roster — including Tyrese Haliburton, Isaiah Jackson, and Kendall Brown — were in the practice arena.

Prospects go through several workouts with many teams, and they run into many important NBA figures along the way. On rare occasions, like with Bird, it leaves them starstruck. They have to shake it off and play at their best.

"It definitely does, just because he's in here," Michigan State's Tyson Walker said when asked if Bird's presence adds extra juice to the draft workout. "Everybody knows he's a legend, just what he's done on the court. Just want to play the best you can in front of him."

UC Santa Barbara's Ajay Mitchell has already gone through more than a dozen pre-draft workouts, so he's seen a wide variety of famous basketball people in recent weeks. He has several more coming, too. Yet Bird's arrival was instantly something he felt.

"Oh yeah, for sure," Mitchell said when asked if there was a moment he noticed Bird. "Once he walked in, I was like 'I recognize him!' It's amazing to see him here. Working in front of him, it's a great opportunity. It's a blessing to have him around."

It's important for players to stay focused regardless of who is watching during workouts. If anything, Bird's presence adds an aura to the building that makes it easier to evaluate prospects. He proved his ability to identify talent when heading Indiana's front office.

Mitchell stopped short of saying it added pressure having Bird in attendance, though. "Not really. You obviously notice that they're here. You're like 'okay, I've got to play good.' Once I'm on the court, I just play basketball," he said. "I'm not really worried about who is around. It's great to have them around and obviously see what they think about the workout."

Indiana will host their fourth pre-draft workout tomorrow, and perhaps Bird will be around again. The Pacers have a unique draft coming in a few weeks.


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Tony East

TONY EAST

Tony East is the Publisher of AllPacers. He has previously written for Forbes Sports, the West Indianapolis Community News, WTHR, and more while hosting the Locked On Pacers podcast.