When you think of the best players in NBA history, three names are often mentioned: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. Jordan is arguably the greatest of all time, and Johnson is almost as famous for his post-NBA life as he is for his playing career.
Despite his successful playing career, Bird is often the most-forgotten player of the trio, overshadowed by the others’ fame. As current NBA fans know, however, Bird did one thing Jordan and Johnson never could. He became a successful NBA coach.
Larry Bird coaches the Pacers
Bird’s 13-year playing career ended with his retirement following the 1991-92 season. The Celtics, the team Bird played for his entire career, employed the three-time MVP as a special assistant to the front office from 1992-97.
That role ended when the French Lick, Indiana, native returned to his home state, where he accepted an offer to become the Pacers’ head coach. The Pacers were 39-43 in 1996-97, and they went 58-24 in Bird’s first season at the helm.
That 19-game improvement helped Bird earn NBA Coach of the Year, as the Pacers reached the Eastern Conference Finals. They made it to the conference finals the next year when the regular season was shortened to 50 games due to a lockout. Bird coached the Celtics to a 56-win season in 1999-2000, when they lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Bird’s intentionally short coaching career
Despite the Pacers doing well with Bird as head coach, he resigned from the position shortly after the 1999-2000 season ended. This didn’t come as a surprise as Bird always intended to coach for a short time. In fact, he promised he’d leave the position after three seasons, which he did.
This was brought on, in part, by a heart ailment Bird was dealing with. The end of Bird’s coaching career wouldn’t be the end of his time with the Pacers, though. When his health improved, Bird returned to the team in 2003 as President, a position he held (in two stints) until 2017, when he stepped down as president but stayed on as an adviser.
Did Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan ever coach in the NBA?
Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan both remained active in the NBA long after their playing careers ended. You may think neither ever coached in the league, which is the case for Jordan, but Johnson had a short tenure as the Lakers’ coach more than 25 years ago.
The Lakers hired him for the position on March 23, 1994, replacing the fired Randy Pfund and Bill Bertka, who served as the interim coach for two games. Johnson coached the team for the final 16 games of that season, going 5-11.
He resigned as coach at the season’s end and wouldn’t spend another game as a head NBA coach after the failed experiment. Johnson remained involved with the NBA in the ensuing years, with various stints as president or part-owner of the Lakers.
While Jordan never coached, he spent time in the Wizards’ front office. In 2006, he became a minority investor in the then-Charlotte Bobcats. In 2010, Jordan’s group acquired the majority stake in the team, renamed the Hornets.
This made him the first former player to become the majority owner of an NBA team, as well as the first American-American to hold such a stake. Jordan remains the Hornets’ majority owner to this day.
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