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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)
Larry Bird may never climb inside an Indy car again. However, Bird was willing to do anything, well almost anything, to help the Indiana Pacers make their successful bid to host the 2021 NBA All-Star game.
Back in April, Bird delivered the city's bid to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in unique style - driving an Indy car in Manhattan. Silver delivered the game to Indianapolis on Wednesday, making the official announcement during a news conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Bird said he was ecstatic the game would return to Indianapolis for the first time since 1985, when Bird played in the game as a member of the Boston Celtics.
"Back in 1985, there wasn't nearly as much to it," said Bird, now a consultant with the Pacers front office, after his tenure as both a general manager and a coach. "Now, the All-Star game is spectacle. Every venue we have downtown will be full. People will be excited, I think it will be fantastic. I know how much work and time people put into this, behind the scenes, Our owner ( Herb Simon) wanted it real bad. He got it. Now we're going to put on a great show."
The 2021 All-Star game adds to the major events coming to the city, and will put the focus of the sports world on Indianapolis for the entire weekend. That is a much different scenario than in 1985, when the game was at the Hoosier Dome.
"I remember in the late '70s when I used to come downtown at 9 o'clock when there was no place to eat, not many people walking around downtown," said Bird. "This city has come a long way in the last 30 years. I'm very proud of it. I know a lot of residents are, too."
Silver said the city's track record of hosting major sporting events successfully factored into the league's decision to accept the Pacers' bid.
"They're in the business of hosting big events," Silver said. "I have personally been here for Final Fours, the Super Bowl, large conventions. On top of that, you have the passion from the organization. Herb Simon has done everything in his life - he had nothing to gain by it, but he wanted to do it for the city. He rounded up the governor, and the mayor, and seemingly everybody who had anything to do with it and delivered the bid. Think about it, you had one of the greatest players of all time, Larry Bird, in an Indy Car on 5th Ave. That was the cherry on top of the cake, but it was symbolic."
The 1985 All-Star game was held at the Hoosier Dome, and Silver said there was some discussion about playing the 2021 game at Lucas Oil Stadium instead of Bankers Life, to accommodate more fans. However, Silver said it seemed more appropriate to hold a basketball game in a basketball venue.
"The feeling is that we're more an arena sport than a dome sport," said Silver. "There's no doubt we could sell out a dome, but we like the intimacy of being at Bankers Life. We belong in an arena. It's where the team plays. We want people to be close to the game.
"But no question, we're partnering with Lucas Oil. We will be using Lucas Oil for practices and large clinics. We want to touch as many people in the community as possible. Having that venue right downtown as well was also an important part of the bid."
Silver said the fact that Indianapolis had not hosted a game since 1985 played into the decision. "We try to rotate the game around the league," said Silver. "That was a factor."
Pacers COO Rick Fuson thought that it was the right time to make the bid, and that Indianapolis was in strong position to secure the game.
"We weren't always qualified because of the number of hotels we had, but now we do," Fuson said. "I think the fact the governor paid attention, the mayor paid attention, Larry Bird, Herb Simon, myself. We all wanted this game or city. It was the right time."
Fuson said that he and the planning committee would attend future All-Star games before 2021, looking to see what works well, and what doesn't.
Bird said he hoped that by 2021, the game itself would be played with more intensity, similar to when he played.
"It's the best players we have," said Bird. "They should go hard for the time they're out there playing. Dunking, no defense, scoring 180 points is not what people want to see. It's up to the players to bring the game back to what the people want to see,"
During one All-Star weekend before he won the three-point shooting contest, Bird predicted victory, asking the other competitors - "Which one of you is going to finish second to me?"
"Yeah, I did," said Bird smiling. "I don't know why I did, but I did. It was the first year - Everybody was sitting there not saying a word. It just came out. Thank God I won."
Now Indianapolis has won the bid for the All-Star game. Which means Bird can retire from Indy car driving.
Follow IndyStar sports writer Clifton Brown on Twitter @CliftonGBrown
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