Pacers' Bird still mum on his plans for future

Legend could make move to front office, or leave club

NBA notebook

June 20, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

LOS ANGELES - NBA great Larry Bird coached his final game last night, but what he will do now that he is the former Indiana Pacers coach remains largely a mystery.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said during last night's pregame coaches news conference. "It's up in the air. I'm not worried about it. This season has been draining, but it's been great. The guys have really stepped up in the playoffs."

The only thing that is certain is that Bird will not return next year as coach. He probably will have the option of stepping up into a general manager role with the Pacers ... or stepping out for a year to recharge his batteries. There even has been speculation that he eventually will go back to Boston to help return the storied Celtics to prominence.

He told NBC after the game that he was leaning toward not remaining with the Pacers, but would not make a decision for at least the next few days.

"It's really been a great experience," Bird said. "I'm still leaning that way, but I want to talk to Donnie [club president Donnie Walsh] and see who he wants to bring in as coach."

What is certain is that Bird proved to be a very capable coach and will be in demand if he decides to resume his career as a coach or as a front-office executive - or both.

"I've come a long way," he said. "I feel more comfortable with it," he said. "You try to do things so quickly, but I've been fortunate to be with a team that played hard for me. If you have a lot of talent, you've got a chance to play for the world championship. That's what these guys have done."

Crowd turns violent

Dozens of people among the thousands celebrating the Lakers' championship became violent as revelers set two police cars on fire and destroyed two other vehicles, including a TV news van. Several bonfires also were set. No injuries were immediately reported.

Nearly 10,000 people had gathered outside Staples Center by the end of the game, with nearly 20,000 more still inside. As violence erupted, fans still inside the arena were kept there as a precaution.

Thomas as coach?

NBC's Peter Vecsey reported after the game that Isiah Thomas will replace Larry Bird as the Pacers' coach next season.

Thomas, who has been working as an NBC studio analyst, did not confirm Vecsey's report but did not deny it. Thomas' comments suggested he's taking the job. He thanked his NBC colleagues and joked, "Save a seat for me. I might be back."

Thomas has no coaching experience. Pacers assistant Rick Carlisle and Kings assistant Byron Scott also had been considered.

Kobe's ankle

Lakers star Kobe Bryant scored just eight points in Friday night's game and entered last night's game still feeling the effects of the ankle sprain he suffered in Game 2. "He's stiff," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "He still has to do therapy before he does anything. Today, he had to have therapy for the shootaround."

The therapy obviously had the desired effect, because Bryant played without apparent restriction on the way to earning his first NBA championship ring.

Three-point barrage

The Lakers had fallen victim to the strong three-point shooting of the Pacers in Games 3 and 5, but it was the other way around last night. The Lakers hit 10 of 17 three-point shots. The Pacers actually sank more three-pointers (12 of 25), but the Lakers offset enough of them to regain control.

Only in L.A.

The first person to shake Bird's hand after the game was actor Jack Nicholson, whose floorside seat is not far from the visitors' bench. Several Lakers players also approached Bird with words of consolation and congratulation, but the most poignant moment was when college and pro rival Magic Johnson crossed the court to give Bird a hug.

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