The Indiana Pacers made it official Wednesday morning: They are parting ways with basketball operations president Larry Bird and bringing back Donnie Walsh.
Owner Herb Simon announced the move, one day before the National Basketball Association draft. He said Bird will stay on for the draft, when the Pacers are scheduled to pick No. 26 overall in the first round.
“This is not the best-kept secret in the world,” Simon said in announcing the move. “We’ve been working on this for a while.”
The move had been the subject of speculation for months, as Bird had stayed with the team on a season-by-season basis.
Bird attributed his decision to leave the team to an ailing back and a shoulder that needs surgery, noting also that nine years is a long time to be at one job.
The 55-year-old Bird served as Pacers coach from 1997 to 2000, taking the team to its only NBA Finals appearance before returning to the front office in 2003. He took full control of basketball decisions after the 2007-08 season, when Walsh left to become president of the New York Knicks.
“Sometimes you can be at one place too long,” Bird said. “Sometimes it’s just time to go.”
Walsh is returning as the Pacers' president. Kevin Pritchard, the director of player personnel, is being promoted to general manager, replacing David Morway, who resigned Tuesday after 13 years with the team, including the past four as general manager.
Walsh spent 24 years with the Pacers before taking the Knicks job. He first arrived at the Pacers in 1984 as an assistant coach, and was elevated to general manager two years later and named president in 1988.
“When it looked like Larry was not gonna be here, Herbie called me up,” Walsh said. “And I thought, ‘yeah, I’d like to come back.’”
Bird said his job in the team’s front office was his toughest challenge in professional basketball.
“This job is a little tougher,” he said. “We started off slow, but you have to be patient.”
Bird said just a month ago that he wanted to stay with the Pacers and expressed interest in a three-year deal rather than the annual "handshake" agreements he had with Simon. Bird recently was named the NBA Executive of the Year after building a tough, young team that lost to eventual champion Miami in six games in the playoffs.
The former Indiana State player won three MVP awards and three NBA titles during his Hall of Fame career with Boston.
Bird said he would participate in the draft Thursday night and also in summer league activities before officially calling it quits.
One of the lighter moments of the announcement occurred when Bird was asked whether he would be interested in ultimately buying the team from Simon. Herb Simon and his late brother, Mel, bought the team for $11 million in 1983.
Bird said that owning the team once was a goal of his, but not anymore, but “that depends on how much Herbie leaves me in the will,” he quipped.