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“I'd love to be that kind of coach” — When Larry Bird named the Michael Jordan of coaching

A few years before he accepted the Indiana Pacers coaching job, Larry Bird found his eyes glued to Miami Heat games.
Indiana Pacers head coach Larry Bird

Larry Bird

Fans and analysts compare their favorite player to another player. But rarely do they compare their favorite baller to a coach. Right after taking on the head coaching job for the Indiana Pacers in 1997, Larry Bird did just that and named the Michael Jordan of coaching.

Coaching GOAT

A few years before he accepted the Pacers coaching job, Bird found himself watching Miami Heat games with a keener eye than usual. He was enthralled by then-Heat coach Pat Riley’s coaching methods and tactics. Riley’s ability to switch styles on cue caught Bird’s eye, so much so that he claimed Riley was the GOAT of coaching.

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Pat adapts to any style that suits the moment,” Bird says. “I’d love to be that kind of coach, to build a team that’s able to run the ball when it has the chance but can also play the kind of rough half-court game you need in this league. Pat Riley is the Michael Jordan of our profession,” Bird said, per Sports Illustrated.

Riley is an interesting choice. After all, he was the Los Angeles Lakers coach during the Showtime era. Bird met Riley’s Lakers in the NBA Finals thrice in the late 80s. The Celtics won in 1984. But in 1985 and 1987, Riley stonewalled Bird and the Celtics.

Perhaps this proves Bird was willing to let go of his pride and hatred of Riley. Past is past. Bird has accepted that Riley’s Lakers got the better of them and knew that if he wanted to be successful as a coach, he had to study the greats that came before him.

Bird’s stint

Bird could’ve had a resume like Riley's. In Larry Legend’s three-year coaching stint, he led the Pacers to two consecutive Conference Finals, followed by an NBA Finals appearance. If he had stayed just one more year, then there’s a good chance he’d figure out Phil Jackson’s Lakers and beat them. But alas, Bird promised to coach for just three seasons. He’s the type of guy who fulfills his pledges.

Bird doesn’t seem to have any regrets. After his coaching stint ended, he stayed with the Pacers in an executive capacity. Besides, Bird doesn’t need to beef up his resume further. He’s already regarded as one of the best in history. Also, he’s the only man in NBA history to win the NBA MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year. That’s a feat that’ll likely never be replicated.

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