Is Bird’s last act a betrayal of Herb Simon?

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Larry Bird has long been a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

Most recently, right when you think he’s about to take his next step into greatness, he simply walks away.

So in some ways the news that broke today that Larry Legend is leaving as Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations is no surprise.

If it’s so, his current exit isn’t unlike his departure as Pacers’ coach. He brought the team close to the title, but didn’t close the deal.

The big question is why did Bird tell an Indianapolis Star reporter his plans before he told anyone else. And especially why did he tell a reporter before he told Pacers owner Herb Simon, with whom he is meeting today.

If you know anything about Bird, you know he’s not the kind of guy who has posers, phonies and cronies hanging around him. So you know no one really close to Bird would leak the news before he wanted it leaked.

And if you know anything about journalism, you know you don’t run a front page above-the-fold story with the news that Bird is “100 percent” certain he is leaving unless you’re 100 percent sure of that source. You can bet that Star reporter Mike Wells had to be darn sure of his source–and his editors had to be 100 percent sure he was 100 percent sure–before the presses started rolling.

In other words, no reporter worth his weight is taking this kind of tip from a ball boy, janitor or even a media relations flack representing the team. This sort of tip has to come from the source itself.

So again, you have to ask, why would Bird tell a reporter on Monday that he’s quitting before he meets with the team owner on Tuesday to discuss his future and that of the franchise?

There are lots of reasons why Bird might be quitting. His sore back might no longer be up to the job. He might be sore at Simon for contemplating bringing back his former boss Donnie Walsh and refusing to go after restricted free agents. Or he may just want to spend more time with his family and improving his golf game. 

But why not give Simon the courtesy of hearing it firsthand rather than waking up and reading it in the local daily? Bird is a consummate professional and as near as I can tell has a healthy dose of respect for Simon. I’m fairly certain Bird didn’t do it out of spite.

We know Simon isn't pushing Bird out of the nest. This month, Pacers Sports & Entertainment President Jim Morris told IBJ: "Larry can stay just as long as he wants. Herb Simon and I have a lot of confidence in what he is doing. We are hopeful he will be here for a long time.”

I suppose Bird, who has spent the last three years working for Simon under a series of one-year handshake deals, could be using Wells as a pawn to put pressure on the owner and pry what he wants out of Simon. But I don’t think that’s Bird’s style.

So there’s only one conclusion. Bird wants the word out there before he meets Simon. He wants this deal—the one where he walks away from this Pacers job—done.

No more handshake deals. No more wait and see. No opportunities for Simon to talk Bird off the ledge.

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