INDIANAPOLIS -- It's the desk. It really is. There is no more visible manifestation of the transformation of Larry Bird from former player/coach/personnel czar to future omnipotent ruler of the Indiana Pacers. It's huge.
"You could land an airplane on that thing," said current Pacers president Donnie Walsh.
Bird explains that he needed a taller and wider-than-usual desk to accommodate his knees. He notes with pride that the desk was made in Paoli, Ind., which is near his hometown of French Lick. On the desk is an item that one finds it hard to envision being a part of Bird's life: a spiffy laptop with a even spiffier-looking mouse. Can a cellphone be far behind?
"I have one," Bird shrugged, "but I left it in my car."
Welcome to the new world of Bird the executive. If there ever was one NBA player who seemed not destined for a job behind a desk, whatever its size, it would be Bird. But, then again, he fooled us once when he decided to coach -- something he once said he'd never do -- and now he's back as, officially, the Pacers' president of basketball operations.
He's now learning about the business of basketball, the pick-and-rolls -- and flagrant fouls -- of the boardroom. He's going to meetings. He's calling meetings, for goodness sakes. He's overseeing budgets.
"I'm always under budget," he says proudly. There's a shocker.
He attended the Competition Committee meetings, a consortium of general managers and coaches who go over rules. He just returned from the NBA Board of Governors meeting with Walsh, a longtime NBA executive, rubbing elbows with the millionaires and billionaires.
"I wanted to give him an idea of how the league works," Walsh said.
Offered Bird, "It's a good opportunity for me. It's all new. It's all interesting. I like new things."
Make no mistake, Bird's priority is still the product on the floor. And in his first year on the job, he's done a pretty good job, judging by the Pacers' NBA-best 61-21 record. But he didn't come back to the Pacers solely to run the basketball operation. At some point, Walsh, who has been here 20 years in many capacities, will step down. The plan is for Bird to take his place.
"In the job he's in," said Walsh, "you've got to be here, do a lot of planning. For his future, it's important to understand how the franchise works, financially, in every way. As a result, that requires that you're in here a lot and becoming aware of all the issues, not just the basketball issues, but the business issues, too. When the time comes for him to make the decisions he is going to have to make, he's going to know the whole inner workings of the franchise. That's the plan -- to replace me."
Bird knows that, but it's not something he scripted. If he had his druthers, he'd be in Charlotte now, preparing for the first season of the expansion team known as the Bobcats. But that opportunity was denied him -- he still his scars from that one -- and he ended up here, back in a zone with even more comfort than Boston.
"When I got out, I was staying out," he said. "It was Dave Gavitt who convinced me that I needed to stay in the game, that it would be good for the game and good for me. And I had to have something to do."
He and Walsh coexist seamlessly. Walsh gladly ceded the basketball duties to Bird, although his office is next door to The One With The Desk and Bird enthusiastically bounces thoughts off the former general manager. This week, for instance, Bird was salivating over some unnamed draft prospect who scored a lot of points -- always a big plus for No. 33.
Eventually, basketball will be only a part of the job description. Bird will need to know about broadcast rights and signage and all the other silly stuff that has turned the NBA from a basketball league into a marketing showcase. Walsh made it clear that he is more than happy with the choice of his successor and is confident Bird will be more than up to the task.
"You know, when you ask him for an opinion, it always surprises me that he's more informed than he should be," Walsh said. "I think he must be doing his own investigations. I like the way he looks at things, which is on a very straight line, concise and clear. And I think that really helps you as an executive. A lot of people can be all around the issue and not see the main issue. He sees the main issue right away. And that's what you expect out of somebody at this level."