Donnie Walsh’s Time in New York and Return to Indiana
Few saw the exit of Larry Bird from the Pacers front office as a major surprise. Many more did a double take, however, when it was announced that the architect of the franchise’s best NBA teams, Donnie Walsh, would return.
How did it all happen? Why bring the old man back? Can’t Kevin Pritchard handle Indiana’s front-office duties by himself? Do they really want to go back to the two-chefs-in-the-kitchen approach they used throughout the mediocrity-tinted era following the Brawl?
According to a New Yorks Times piece this weekend, it’s all very simple. Donnie Walsh wanted to return, in some capacity as his age and health would allow (“At my age,” he says, “I’m no long-term solution”), and owner Herb Simon was happy to welcome back his “favorite person.”
When Walsh had eyes for New York, the Pacers’ attitude was, more or less, go right ahead, painfully aware that even the most tenured and loving relationships come to a crossroads.
“Everything in life is timing, and our team was at a tough point, in the years after the fight,” said the Pacers’ owner, Herb Simon, referring to the November 2004 brawl with the Detroit Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich., that turned Walsh’s Pacers, his pride and joy and continuous playoff contender, into a veritable N.B.A. pariah.
“The Knicks gave him a lot more than the Pacers could pay him,” Simon said, “but even if the New York job hadn’t come up, he needed a change of scenery. It was a good time for him to go on a sabbatical.”
If leaving temporarily wasn’t the original plan, it is surely how the homecoming appears to have worked out. When Simon picked up the telephone to comment on Walsh, he said, “You want to talk about my favorite person?” Visitors to the reception area outside Walsh’s office are greeted by Susy Fischer, his longtime executive assistant.
It is as if the Pacers left a candle burning for Walsh in the window.
Read the whole thing, obviously. It’s an excellent piece that details Walsh’s rationale for clearing the decks in New York for a run at LeBron, discusses Larry Bird’s penchant for not cleaning his bathroom and talks about how bad Walsh’s back was when he had to try to recruit the biggest free agent target of the modern era.
“At my age, I’m no long-term solution.”