Jermaine O’Neal spent eight years in Indiana, and they were the best years of his career. It’s no secret that the move to Pacers from the team that drafted him, Portland Trail Blazers, rejuvenated his career. O’Neal blossomed as a Pacer because they saw him as the future of the franchise: from All-Star teammate Reggie Miller allowing him to shine to head coach Isaiah Thomas trusting him with heavy minutes to team executive Larry Bird sharing nuggets of wisdom to a young player on the verge of superstardom. O’Neal explained why Bird was a better GM than Magic Johnson was.
From intense trash talker to laid back guy
O’Neal shared what it’s like to have Bird as one of the bosses in his interview with Basketball Time Machine. Larry was known as a fierce competitor in his playing days. There are numerous highlights and stories of Bird being a savage and eating his defender for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One of the most clutch players in NBA history, Bird knew he was good, and he let the other team know about it.
However, with age comes wisdom. In the case of the Celtic legend, Jermaine claims Bird was laid back as a team executive. In his first year with the Pacers, O’Neal had Isiah Thomas as head coach, and Larry Bird transitioned to being the president of basketball operations. When asked how it was playing for the French Lick, Indiana native, the former All-Star recalled Bird was unexpectedly calm. He gave advice when he thought it was needed, but the former All-Star 3-point champion remained on the sidelines and evaluated things from a distance.
“He was more laid back. You know he talked occasionally but he was really laid back, very quiet person. You can tell he’s kind of he’s from a small town so you know he doesn’t have that, he’s not the Magic type where Magic comes into the room and everybody knows Magic’s there right because he’s so vocal.”Jermaine O’Neal, Basketball Time Machine
Magic vs. Larry
It was a stark contrast for O’Neal, comparing the Celtic and Laker legends. When Johnson enters the room, his presence would light up the place, and he would command your attention with him being vocal and opinionated. For Bird, from a former trash talker to a laid-back boss.
Legendary players transitioning to head coach, general manager, or president of basketball operations is nothing new. Aside from Magic, Bird, and Thomas, there’s also Michael Jordan, Elton Brand, and Doc Rivers, to name a few. Most of them carried their tenacity as a player to being a team executive. The most competitive of them all, Michael Jordan challenged Charlotte Hornets players in practice and even played 1-on-1 with some of them.
The rivalry between Magic and Bird will be remembered forever. For some, it changed the NBA for the better. Both led their teams to finals appearances and championships as big bosses. While you can debate who was the better player, there’s no doubt who was the better coach and GM.
While Magic was still Magic as an executive, Bird understood he wasn’t meant to be in the spotlight anymore. That’s why The Legend had a lot more success once he moved from sweats to a suit. It’s a players league, and they weren’t players anymore. Bird was cool with it, Magic not so much.