Isiah Thomas was named to coach the National Basketball Association runner-up Indiana Pacers, Thursday, taking the place of another legendary NBA player with Indiana ties, Larry Bird.
And just as Thomas' Detroit Pistons followed Bird's Boston Celtics as the dominant team in the NBA's Eastern Conference 10 years ago, the guard who led Indiana University to a 1981 national college crown follows Bird once more.
"Here I go again, following in his footsteps," Thomas said. "Everything I learned about winning in the NBA came from basically two people, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird."
Thomas, who signed a four-year deal worth a reported 20 million dollars, must complete his divestment of the nine-team minor league he owns, but he plans to complete that within 90 days.
The hiring of Thomas leaves the lowly Los Angeles Clippers as the only team with a coaching vacancy.
Bird guided the Pacers to three straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals and their first trip to the NBA Finals last month, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. The Pacers were 147-67 under Bird.
As with Bird, the Pacers get a coach with a great history as a player but no experience as a coach. Thomas was a former Toronto Raptors executive and served as a television commentator.
"I will leave my heart and soul out on the court from a coaching standpoint," he said. "Basketball has a strange way of taking you on journeys to places that you never thought you'd go. Basketball has taken me here."
One of the best small guards in NBA history, Thomas was a 12-time All-Star with the Detroit Pistons and was recently inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He led the Pistons to back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.
Thomas would take over a veteran-laden team, which reached the NBA Finals for the first time, but has six key free agent players, guards Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson, forwards Jalen Rose and Austin Croshere and centers Rik Smits and Sam Perkins. Smits and Perkins have considered retirement.
Thomas spent some time during the NBA Finals getting acquainted with some of the Pacers and plans to continue that process as soon as possible - (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)