Isiah Thomas recently got a lot of media attention for criticizing Michael Jordan because of his portrayal in The Last Dance documentary saying their beef will go on for a long time if Jordan doesn't apologize to Thomas. However, in the same interview where he openly criticized Jordan, Thomas also shared a story about how Larry Bird fired him as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers back in 2003.
Thomas thought he and Bird would make a great team together
After his playing career was over, Thomas served in several coaching and executive roles, one of which was as the Pacers' head coach after they made it to the NBA Finals in 2000, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately, during his tenure as their head coach, the Pacers couldn't repeat the same success and were constantly out of the playoffs after the first round, and by that time, it was evident his future with the Pacers was at risk.
Bird was the head coach of the Pacers before Thomas took over, and after taking a break, he came back and served as a President of Basketball Operations. Thomas recalled their encounter at his office one day and how he was trying to convince Bird to give him another chance after unsuccessful trips into the playoffs, saying he and Bird could make a great team that would finally bring success to the Pacers franchise.
"You know Cheesy, he always called me Cheesy; I really like you; you've done a good job here. The team is going in the right direction, but I am going to make a coaching change. I said wait, Larry, before you do that, let me just say this, I think you and I would make a great team here. I don't know who you think of hiring but give me a chance."
Bird was absolutely real with Thomas when firing him
Bird was a very straightforward guy, and he immediately told Thomas Rick Carlisle would take over his position as the head coach of the Pacers. Carlisle served as an assistant coach to Thomas during those years, and when Thomas asked Bird directly what was the reasoning behind his decision, Bird simply said he liked Carlisle much better than he liked Thomas.
"He goes you have done a great job, and it has nothing to do with you, your coaching ability, or anything else. He goes that he played with Rick, he is my assistant coach, he is a good friend of mine, and I will bring Rick in, and you have done nothing wrong. I just like Rick better than I like you."
Obviously, Carlisle and Bird had a long history together when they were teammates with the Boston Celtics, and they remained friends after that, which wasn't the case with Thomas and Bird, who were fierce rivals in the NBA for almost a decade. Carlisle also didn't have much success with the Indiana Pacers, even though he had a good chance of actually making that extra push in the playoffs, but in 2004 Malice at the Palace happened and the Pacers' hope and dreams of winning a championship remained just that.
Thomas also said he believed he would have handled that situation much better than Carlisle and actually utilized that team much better, but as we all know, that didn't happen, and soon after, Thomas found himself in the role of President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks.