Larry Bird began his short-lived head coaching career in 1997 and immediately led his home team, the Indiana Pacers, to the top of the East. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds as you remember Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls were around. After facing Jordan as a player, Bird had some great advice for his players.
Michael Jordan versus Coach Larry Bird
Jordan joined the league when Larry Bird was in his prime. MJ was in his prime when Bird was at the end of his career. And so, in a strange way, Bird saw Jordan grow over the years. And that included not only developing physical gifts, but also increasing his mental strength.
Reporters were curious how Bird planned to use that knowledge against Jordan, this time as the head coach of a basketball team. His answer perfectly summed up Jordan’s skills, especially in the clutch.
“The thing about Jordan is you can lead by 10 and two minutes later the game is a tie. I’ll tell my guys if they can stay close until the last two minutes, then we have a chance. Who knows? Michael could actually come down and miss a shot. I doubt it but he might‘ Bird said, according to Sports Illustrated.
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Speaking of the devil
Bird uttered those words when he was named the Pacers’ head coach. He had not yet coached the team in a high-octane environment. But Bird knew what he was talking about. He led the Pacers to a 58-24 record in his first season as head coach. He would lead his team to the Eastern Conference Finals against Jordan’s powerful Bulls.
Bird’s players took his words to heart. Yes, they didn’t win, but they extended the series to a Game 7. It was only the Bulls’ second series to stretch to a Game 7 during their consecutive 3 goals. The first was the 1992 conference semifinals against the New York Knicks.
Another consolation prize is that they got Jordan’s seal of approval. In “The Last Dance,” Jordan called the Pacers one of the toughest teams he’s faced.
“Indiana was probably the toughest outside of Detroit. You were tough. Every time I got in and out of this damn game, I got a new scratch. For me it got personal‘ Jordan said.
Since Jordan and Bird were good friends, they met backstage right after their series ended; Her heartwarming hug can also be seen in “The Last Dance”.