News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 6, 2013

The Bird Years: From player to executive

Larry’s vision, experience revives Pacers

TERRE HAUTE — When it comes to Larry Bird, there’s one franchise with which he’ll always be indelibly associated.

Bird will live on in eternal Boston Celtic green. He will forever be a symbol of a NBA that exploded in popularity in the 1980s partly because of his considerable exploits.

But as iconic as Bird is as a Celtic, one could make an argument for similar iconic status with the Indiana Pacers.

Bird, of course, never played a game for the Pacers, but first as head coach and then as general manager and team president, Bird is an integral part of the Pacers’ most successful NBA eras.

Bird has had a direct hand in five of the Pacers’ seven conference finals appearances. The Pacers made their only NBA Finals appearance to date in 2000 — Bird’s final season as head coach.

Bird has helped the Pacers revive themselves into an elite playoff team three times. He did it in his first season as team president in 2004, and he rebuilt the Pacers, who were a NBA lottery team from 2007 to 2010, into an Eastern Conference Finals team in 2013.

But Bird did it the first time as head coach. Back in 1997, Bird had never been a head coach at any level. He quickly proved he was up to the task.

1997: Bird comes to Pacers

To understand what Bird did, one must understand where the Pacers’ franchise was in 1997 when he was hired.

Starting in 1987, when Reggie Miller was famously taken ahead of Steve Alford in the first round of the NBA Draft — a move that irritated the many Pacers fans who were also Indiana University basketball fans — the Pacers had been building themselves into a contender under general manager Donnie Walsh.

When Walsh hired longtime friend and associate Larry Brown as the team’s coach in 1993, he helped the young Pacers make the final step. As a No. 5 seed, the Pacers made a surprising run to the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals and narrowly lost in seven games to the New York Knicks. In 1995, the Pacers were one of the East’s elite teams, qualifying again for the Eastern Conference Finals, with another heart-breaking seven-game loss to Orlando.

But starting in 1996, there were cracks in the armor. The Pacers won 52 games, same as the year before, but were a No. 4 seed in the playoffs, and lost in five games in a first round series to Atlanta, a series in which Miller was hampered by injury.

In 1997, the wheels fell off. A dispirited team fell to 39-43 and missed the playoffs. Brown decamped for Philadelphia shortly after the season ended.

“Larry Brown was the ultimate teacher. That’s what he calls himself, but that’s all he did,” said former Pacers center Rik Smits, who played for Indiana from 1988 to 2000.

“He’d teach everyone this, teach everyone that and it was almost too much. He’d make you mad because you were never good enough. You never did this right, you never did that right.”

The Pacers were at a crossroads. Still talented, the potential was there to again scale the heights reached in 1994 and 1995. But several teams in NBA history had suffered a similar bump in the road and never got back on track. If the Pacers made the wrong hire, they could easily have slipped back in the NBA pack.

This was the conundrum Walsh faced in 1997. He knew he needed someone who both commanded and demanded respect.

Enter Bird.

“From the very beginning, I was intrigued [with Bird] because, quite frankly, with the way Larry played I thought he knew the game and I wanted to hear what he’d want to do with our team,” Walsh said.

Bird’s playing career ended in 1992 when he retired from the Celtics. From 1992 to 1997, he served in the Celtics’ front office as a special assistant, but had never been a head coach. Walsh wasn’t dissuaded, and the expectations he had in his initial approach were far exceeded.

“We met for about two hours. He took me from the first day of practice to the finals of the NBA. He went through every player and how he would use them and how he saw the team playing,” Walsh said.

Bird was hired in May 1997 and agreed to coach for three years. On the day Bird was hired, the Pacers wouldn’t have been together as a team, but word spread quickly.

“When I heard we were getting Larry Bird, I was excited,” said power forward Antonio Davis, who was with the Pacers from 1993-99. “He had played with great players and was a great player himself. He knew the game inside and out. Here he was to teach me and give me the opportunity to learn that stuff.”

When Walsh looked back on his original conversation, he realized he had the right man.

“When I thought back on it after the season was over, Larry told me in that two-hour session exactly what he ended up doing … to the letter,” Walsh said. “That’s very unusual. He didn’t do any more, he didn’t do any less. It was exactly what he told me that day. I developed a great relationship with him because I knew when he told me something I could trust him.”

Bird’s day-to-day manner helped build that style.

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SPT041714 WV BB shaffer.jpg

Tribune-Star/Jim Avelis Consistent: West Vigo�s Jordan Shaffer gets a hit and on base for the second time in the third inning, having walked his first time at bat. Shaffer reached base in all four at-bats in their game with North Vermillion.

  • West Vigo baseball wins in rout

    When Brandin Behringer drove in his first run Thursday evening, it gave West Vigo a short-lived lead in nonconference high school baseball.
    The remainder of the Viking senior’s RBIs came four at a time in the bottom of the fourth inning, his grand-slam homer capping the second of consecutive seven-run innings that sent his team to a 15-3 win over visiting North Vermillion.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • College Report: Haley Chambers making noise in OVC softball circles

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    April 18, 2014

  • Colts take another look at Shakir Bell

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    On Wednesday, the Colts took a look at some Indianapolis-area talent, including former Warren Central High School and Indiana State standout Shakir Bell.
     

    April 18, 2014

  • Prep roundup: Vikings get big hits to beat North Vermillion on softball diamond

    The West Vigo softball team improved to 4-3 for the season with an 11-4 victory over North Vermillion on Thursday.
    Leah Morrison busted the game open with a three-run double in the Vikings’ seven-run fourth inning.
    Kenzie Little chipped in with a two-run triple in the sixth and Hannah Harden tossed a complete-game for the pitching win.

    April 18, 2014

  • Prep baseball: Northview beats top-ranked Shakamak

    Damon Bass pitched a three-hit shutout and struck out seven to lead Northview to a 7-0 high school baseball victory over Shakamak.
    The visiting Knights blew open a tight game against Class A’s top-ranked team with a four-run seventh inning.
    Austin Butts and Jake Harden combined for six hits for Northview.

    April 18, 2014

  • PREP ROUNDUP: North girls tennis wins 5-0 at Plainfield

    Terre Haute North’s girls tennis team swept its opening match of the high school season as it defeated Plainfield 5-0 on Wednesday.

    April 16, 2014

  • SPT041614 SMWC jordan.jpg Saint Mary-of-the-Woods sweeps doubleheader over Rose-Hulman

    Over the years, defeating its crosstown rival has not usually been easy for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods or Rose-Hulman when they’ve met in college softball.
    But on Wednesday afternoon at The Woods, the home team made its doubleheader sweep look easy to first-year coach Mark Feller with five-inning decisions of 10-0 and 11-1.

    April 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • SPT 041614 ROSSELLI REX.jpg Rex looking to expand fan base in 2014

    Bruce Rosselli, part of the new Terre Haute Rex ownership group as well as the team’s general manager, hopes to build the fan base in the first year.
    The Rex, who have returning sponsorships from Clabber Girl, Union Hospital and Old National Bank, among others, want to appeal to more baseball fans from outside Vigo County.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • SPT 030714 ODUM 02O'LEARY.jpg Terre Haute North grad O'Leary to transfer from Loyola

    Matt O’Leary is one of three men's basketball players at Loyola recently granted a release from his scholarship from the Missouri Valley Conference school.
    The former Terre Haute North standout told the Tribune-Star he doesn’t yet know his next move.

    April 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • Rose-Hulman, Woods to face off on softball diamond

    The Rose-Hulman softball team will visit a familiar foe today when the Engineers take on crosstown rival Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in a nonleague doubleheader.

    April 15, 2014

Local Interest
  • METRO ROUNDUP: Waltman's funeral Saturday at Indianapolis

    Royce Waltman’s visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at St. Luke’s Methodist Church at 100 E. 86th Street, Indianapolis.

    April 10, 2014

  • METRO ROUNDUP: Burnham leads Woods softball to wins

    After dropping a pair of games to Missouri Baptist on Wednesday, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods beat Lindenwood-Belleville 9-7 and 1-0, both games in eight innings, on Thursday afternoon.
    Sarah Burnham’s seventh-inning homer in the first game tied the score 4-4, and the Pomeroys took a 5-4 lead later in the inning on an RBI double by Brooke Jordan before the Lynx tied the score in the bottom of the inning.

    March 21, 2014

  • METRO ROUNDUP: ISU softball splits pair in Florida

    Pitching dominated Tuesday’s opening day of play in the Rebel Spring Games for the Indiana State softball team, which defeated Bucknell 2-0 before falling 2-0 to Creighton.
    “The girls did a great job in the first game getting a couple runs,” ISU coach Shane Bouman said. “We leaned on [sophomore] Yvette Alvarez who pitched really well. We probably got as much as we could out of her and probably should have changed earlier so put that on me. We have a couple little things we can clean up and get a little better and we will be ready to go tomorrow.”

    March 11, 2014

  • Tony Dungy, wife Lauren signing books today in Terre Haute

    Former NFL coach Tony Dungy and his wife, Lauren, are at Sam’s Club in Terre Haute today, Feb. 12, signing books until about 1:30 p.m.

    February 12, 2014

  • Vigo County Jail Log: Feb. 7, 2014

    The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Thursday, based on jail records.

    February 7, 2014

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College
SPT041614 SMWC jordan.jpg

Tribune-Star/Jim Avelis In command: Saint Mary-of-the-Woods pitcher Brooke Jordan delivers a pitch early in the Pomeroy�s sweep of Rose-Hulman Wednesday afternoon on the Pomeroy�s diamond.

  • Saint Mary-of-the-Woods sweeps doubleheader over Rose-Hulman

    Over the years, defeating its crosstown rival has not usually been easy for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods or Rose-Hulman when they’ve met in college softball.
    But on Wednesday afternoon at The Woods, the home team made its doubleheader sweep look easy to first-year coach Mark Feller with five-inning decisions of 10-0 and 11-1.

    April 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • SPT 030714 ODUM 02O'LEARY.jpg Terre Haute North grad O'Leary to transfer from Loyola

    Matt O’Leary is one of three men's basketball players at Loyola recently granted a release from his scholarship from the Missouri Valley Conference school.
    The former Terre Haute North standout told the Tribune-Star he doesn’t yet know his next move.

    April 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • Rose-Hulman, Woods to face off on softball diamond

    The Rose-Hulman softball team will visit a familiar foe today when the Engineers take on crosstown rival Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in a nonleague doubleheader.

    April 15, 2014

  • ISU baseball holds off Eastern Illinois for 24th win

    Indiana State freshman left-hander Ryan Keaffaber won his first game as a Sycamore and senior catcher Mike Fitzgerald went 3 for 3 as ISU defeated host Eastern Illinois 6-4 in college baseball Tuesday.

    April 15, 2014

  • Top returners lead Cream over Crimson in Hoosiers' spring game

    The Cream team at Saturday’s Cream and Crimson intrasquad game had Indiana’s top returning rusher and receiver and the Hoosiers’ top-rated passer from last season.
    No surprise, then, that Tevin Coleman, Shane Wynn and Tre Roberson guided the Cream to a resounding 24-14 win over the Crimson.

    April 12, 2014

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SPT 041614 ROSSELLI REX.jpg

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza Expanding the fan base: Bruce Rosselli, manager of the Terre Haute Rex, displays the team's new slogan, Wabash Valley's Own, during a press conference on Wednesday at Clabber Girl.

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