Larry Bird‘s time in the NBA spanned across five decades. The first part saw Bird become a three-time MVP and world champion with the Boston Celtics. The second saw the French Lick native work for the Indiana Pacers for close to 20 years. But what if Bird also had “NBA owner” on his storied resume? It almost happened in the early 2000s, when Larry Legend fought hard to own a stake of the league’s newest expansion team.
Larry Bird was part of a bid to purchase the new Charlotte NBA team
After 14 seasons in North Carolina, the Charlotte Hornets received approval to relocate to New Orleans. But the team-sized gap in the Queen City was not going to be empty for long. Assuming a deal for a new arena was reached, the NBA planned to bring an expansion team to Charlotte.
While several groups placed bids to own the league’s newest franchise, the biggest name in the running was Bird. The Hall of Famer, who two years prior resigned as Pacers head coach, joined businessman Steve Belkin and former Celtics teammate M.L. Carr in an ownership group. In addition to owning a stake in the team, Bird would have also become the team’s director of basketball operations.
“Larry Bird has been great on everything he has done in this league,” NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik told USA Today. “So there’s no doubt about it, it would be good to have him back.”
Bird was gutted after losing the bidding war
Even though Bird would have brought a big name and massive credibility to the new franchise, his ownership dreams died in December 2020.
While Bird, Carr, and the millionaire Belkin put forth a respectable bid, they were outmatched by Black Entertainment Television co-founder and billionaire Robert L. Johnson. Johnson, who won the bidding war with a sale price of $300 million, became the first Black majority owner in major professional sports.
It’s unknown how much money Bird’s group put forth in an attempt to buy the team. But the NBA great made it known how disappointed he was after the league accepted Johnson’s bid.
“I’m heartbroken,” Bird said in a statement via ESPN. “It’s hard to realize that the dream I’ve had for so many years is not to be, and that an awesome opportunity, which would have been the greatest and most exciting challenge in my life, will not come to pass.”
“It’s difficult for me to properly express how deeply disappointed I am that we did not get the opportunity to build a championship team in Charlotte.”
The Indiana Pacers reaped the rewards of Bird’s itch to run a team
Bird may have lost out on owning the Charlotte franchise, later named the Bobcats. And it was perhaps a punch to the gut seeing longtime rival Michael Jordan buying a minority stake in the team in 2005. But the Bobcats’ loss wound up being the Pacers’ gain.
In the summer of 2003, Bird was hired as Indiana’s president of basketball operations. He would hold the position for the better part of 14 years, guiding the Pacers to nine playoff appearances and three Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, the Bobcats largely flopped during Johnson’s run as owner, finishing above .500 one time. Jordan took over as the majority owner in 2010, eventually re-branding the team as the Hornets.
It’s interesting to wonder how Charlotte would have fared if Bird was in charge from the jump. The team’s identity and roster likely would’ve been completely different from what actually took place. Also, would Jordan still attempt to purchase a stake in the team, resulting in him and Bird co-running a franchise?
Things worked out for Bird in the end. But his unsuccessful attempt at owning a team might be his greatest defeat.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.