Larry Bird Is Awesome

Larry Bird has been named NBA Executive of the Year. Is there any basketball-related honor he hasn't won?

Larry Bird has been named NBA Executive of the Year. Is there any basketball-related honor he hasn’t won?

SI (“Pacers’ Bird named NBA’s top exec“):

Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird was voted the NBA’s Executive of the Year on Wednesday, becoming the first person to win that award, plus the MVP and Coach of the Year honors.

The Pacers went 42-24 and are tied 1-1 with Miami in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Bird’s moves to strengthen the team during the offseason included promoting Frank Vogel from interim to head coach and signing starting forward David West. He acquired point guard George Hill in a draft-night deal with San Antonio, and traded for Lou Amundson and Leandro Barbosa to fortify the bench for the Pacers, who earned the No. 3 seed in the East and had the fifth-best record in the league.

“This is an honor for the Indiana Pacers, not an award for Larry Bird,” Bird said in a statement. “Everyone in this franchise put in a lot of work and showed a lot of patience as we have tried to get this team to a level on and off the court the fans in Indiana can be proud of. You always believe, and hope, the players you get will fit into a plan and I’m very proud of what our guys and our coaches have accomplished so far this year.”

Bird was a three-time MVP as a Boston Celtics player, then guided his home-state Pacers to a 147-67 record in three seasons and their only finals appearance in 2000. He was the Coach of the Year in 1998 following his first season.

That seriously underplays Bird’s phenomenal record of success. He won every major college player of the year award (John R. Wooden Award, Naismith College Player of the Year, AP National Player of the Year, Oscar Robertson Trophy, Adolph Rupp Trophy, and NABC Player of the Year) and led his team to the NCAA championship game in 1979. He was the 1980 NBA Rookie of the Year. He was the 1982 NBA All-Star Game MVP. He was NBA Finals MVP in 1984 and again in 1986. He won an Olympic gold medal in 1992. He’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame. And that’s not even mentioning such piddly achievements as All-Star teams and 3-point content wins.

Other great stars of his era, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Isaiah Thomas, were awful as coaches and/or team executives. That’s pretty typical; it’s incredibly hard for great players to relate to those without their natural talent and killer instinct. Jerry West, whose visage is on the NBA logo, was a  great player and great GM but he doesn’t have quite the range of achievements of Bird. Lenny Watkins was a very good player and a great coach but was never the chief executive of a franchise.

Has anyone else dominated as a player, coach, and executive at the same level as Bird?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Has anyone else dominated as a player, coach, and executive at the same level as Bird?

    Nope. Pete Rose was on a path to have a similar impact in baseball had he not only violated the sports cardinal rule but lied about it for more than a decade. His playing career speaks for itself and he was doing quite well as a manager until the fall.

    As for Bird, good for him. I’m not really an NBA fan these days. Maybe that’s partly because the game seems so much different from the days when guys like Bird, and Kareem were playing.

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    I’m from the town neighboring Larry Bird’s home (French Lick-West Baden). My dad played against him in high school. As he put it, he couldn’t wait to see who this little sh*t freshman everyone was talking about, and put him in his place.

    My dad’s team lost that night by dozens of points.

    He was already starting to be a ocal legend at age 15.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    Yesterday, on one of these threads, Drew refered to Mitt Romney as a god.
    He was wrong.
    Larry Bird is a god.
    Well…actually…I don’t believe in god. But if I did she would be Larry Bird.

    I have a framed poster in my office at home of the Sweet Sixteen Championship team from ’85-’86.
    The Chief
    And Bill Walton off the bench.

    Best. Basketball. Team. Ever.

  4. Radley Balko says:

    Unfortunately, he’s also kind of an asshole.

    And I say that as a lifelong Pacers fan.

  5. KansasMom says:

    Well, duh.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    Larry Bird is the best combination of player, coach, and general manager in the league since Jerry West. West is the gold standard against which I judge these guys.

    Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas are among the worst I’ve ever seen in the transition to management. Thomas has been a catastrophic failure in management, and Jordan is working on it.

  7. al-Ameda says:


    Jerry West, whose visage is on the NBA logo, was a great player and great GM but he doesn’t have quite the range of achievements of Bird, nor did he ever coach.

    oops, wrong ….

    West was a very successful coach, in fact he coached them for 3 seasons, prior to the Magic Johnson Era. In 1976 het became coach of the Lakers and in 3 years, he compiled a record of 145–101 record, he made the playoffs in all 3 seasons and reached the Western Conference Finals 1977.

  8. Drew says:

    Nice essay, James. I’m from Indianapolis. Went to school at Purdue undergrad. Bird cleaned our clock. Not only a brilliant player, but understands the game at its roots. As fundamentally sound as they come. Bird and Magic. Nicklaus and Palmer. And so on. As good as it gets.

    Hence, it shows as a player, coach and now executive.

    Living in Chicago, been a Bulls guy since 1982. But Bird is one in a million. And of course, being from Indiana, I can’t help but sympathize with the signature “sheee-it.”


  9. Drew says:

    Hey Norm

    Didn’t see your post before I posted. Yeah, Bird is as good at what he does as it gets.

    Maybe you aren’t the flaming asshole I think you are….

    Just kidding. Jest-uh-kidding. Sheee-it.

  10. Rodger says:

    Correction: Bird led his college team to the NCAA championship game. But they lost to Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team.

  11. Franklin says:

    I played lots of One-on-One: Larry Bird vs. Dr. J when I was a kid.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    All that fame, all that money, yet he still can’t afford a decent haircut…
    Just saying…

  13. J-Dub says:

    It’s amazing he could accomplish all that with no lips.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @al-Ameda: Fixed. I didn’t remember West having a coaching stint and didn’t see it in a quick scan of his Wikipedia entry. He was naturally the first name that came to mind, given his phenomenal success as an executive.

    @Rodger: Ah, that’s right. The 1979 game was just a wee bit before my time as a sports fan and I just naturally assumed that the MVP was from the team that won the finals.

  15. Franklin says:

    @Radley Balko: Too bad he has that stain, because his basketball career is indeed the best or nearly the best of all time. It’s interesting, if you look at the time he broke up with the mother and the time the baby was born … they must have had some makeup sex or something …

  16. @Hey Norm: You know what’s amazing about this post? Larry is also one of the most unassuming people on Earth, and would visibly cringe at being called a “God”.

  17. danimal says:

    OK, I’ll buy in. I tried finding players with similar accomplishments, but they almost all had a weak area. Elgin Baylor was a top-level player, and even won an Exec of the Year (with the Clippers!), but not much of a coaching history. Bill Russell was one of the top ten players ever, and won titles as a coach for the Celtics, but was not an executive in the league. Lenny Wilkens was a top-level player and one of the best coaches ever, but didn’t have an executive record for comparison. Jerry West is the closest comparison to Bird; time will tell which of these greats has the better history as a player, coach and executive.