Bird making presence felt with Pacers

Larry Bird isn't walking through that door.

Unless, of course, you're the Indiana Pacers.

As we're all well aware, Bird has been a part of the Pacers organization for quite some time, as head coach from 1997-2000, and president of the organization since 2003.

For Celtics fans, Bird will always be remembered as truly one of the greatest Celtics to ever put on the jersey, and one of the greatest NBA players of all time. He was the definition of a Celtic, and embodied everything good about old school basketball.

But who is Bird to current Pacers? These are the guys who Bird has singlehandedly chosen to represent and play for his team.

After years of cellar dwelling, it looks like Bird has assembled a legitimate team, one that was certainly too much for the Celtics to handle Friday night.

And while Bird can take credit for assembling the team, by all accounts he's not trying to coach them too. Bird is much more of a very constant presence than voice.

"Larry's great. If I wanted to go the whole season without having a conversation with him I could do that," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said with a smile. "He believes in letting his coaches coach, but he's a heck of a resource and I call him frequently and he's got some great stories, great experience both as a player and as a coach, and he's a big part of what we're doing."

So how did Vogel explain Bird's role in the team's success?

"He's like Darth Vader. He walks in the room and he has a presence, everybody feels him. So they know he's there. And he grabs guys too individually and he says, ‘You're not pulling your weight.' ‘You are.' ‘Try this.' ‘Try that.' He'll work with guys. He sort of mentors them, he mentors me; he's a big part of what we're doing."

Bird's presence is clearly felt throughout, as each and every Pacers player talked about how he's at every practice. As Vogel said, Bird doesn't say much, but when he does you can bet it sticks.

"He's a man of few words," Roy Hibbert agreed. "He'll come in and he'll just say, ‘We need to pass the ball to the open guy, set screens better,' and that's all he'll say, but the way he says it, everybody listens.

"It's Larry Legend. Whatever he says you do because he's been through the grind. I always respect people who have been through what I'm going through. I've only been from A to B, he's been from A to Z so whatever he says I listen."

Another guy who listened to Bird was newly signed power forward David West, sought after by Danny Ainge and the Celtics too.

West was one of the highly coveted free agents going into the 2011 season, and Bird was more aggressive than anyone else in landing him. That attention stuck with West, and ultimately - along with other factors - led to him choosing the Pacers.

"Well he was one of the first people I spoke to about getting here, and knowing the type of basketball mind he is, he's trying to build a solid ball club," West told CelticsBlog. "Obviously I have to respect what he was as a ball player, respect what he did."

It's one thing to be wanted, but to be wanted by someone like Bird means a little something more to West.

"Yeah, it was cool," he said. "I mean, I met him before. But after speaking to him and hearing what he thought of me as a ball player I thought was pretty good, and again I just thought that this was a good situation for me."

So did Larry steal West from Danny and the Celtics? Not quite. West said that the reports of his coming to Boston were greatly exaggerated, but he also said that with Bird on the other end of the phone, the attraction towards Indy was greater, and could be for other free agents too.

"Maybe in a way. Because you know he's a great basketball mind. He has a vision for what he wants this team to be, and he's trying to find the pieces to get it here."

Bird also added guard George Hill to the mix this season. The Pacers traded the draft rights to No. 15 pick Kawhi Leonard and two other players for the Spurs' Hill in this year's draft, and it hasn't taken Hill long to realize what Bird wants.

"He's just trying to bring his toughness mentality," Hill told CelticsBlog. "We remember him playing for Boston and the edge he brought to the game - him and Magic. Just bringing that mental toughness and that winning mentality to the game and that's what we try to do now."

Hill doesn't remember watching Bird play live - he was born in 1986 - but thanks to Vogel, the team got to see Bird in his heyday - which is where Hill most likely was introduced to that toughness and edge.

"Quite frankly, I showed our guys a tape from the Magic vs. Larry video that they all did, talk about how they played the game rough physically," Vogel said. "Showed some of his fights and stuff. I'm not encouraging fighting, but I'm looking for our team to sort of establish an identity, and our identity is right upstairs from where we're working everyday. Play the game hard, physicality, hustle, and selfless passing, and that's what we're starting to become."

Yup, even to this day, Bird continues to make the players around him that much better. With a young core of West, Hibbert, Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George, Darren Collison, and veteran Danny Granger, things are looking up.

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