Jalen Rose Credits Larry Bird for Revitalizing His Career

Exploring the pivotal shifts in NBA coaching strategies.

by Nouman Rasool
Jalen Rose Credits Larry Bird for Revitalizing His Career
© Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In the storied annals of the NBA, few figures are as towering as Larry Bird, both for his exploits on the court and his acumen on the sidelines. Known affectionately as 'Larry Legend,' Bird's tenure as head coach of the Indiana Pacers marked a transformative era for the team, notably steering them to the NBA Finals during the 1999-2000 season.

His leadership was particularly instrumental in turning around the fortunes of the Pacers, a feat more commendable given their status as a small-market team. Among those whose careers he significantly impacted was Jalen Rose, a player who had struggled to live up to expectations until Bird's guidance.

Rose's journey in professional basketball began with great promise following a standout junior year at Michigan State, where he averaged an impressive 21.2 points per game. Entering the NBA amidst much fanfare as the No. 13 overall pick by the Denver Nuggets, expectations were high.

However, Rose's initial years in the league were underwhelming, with an average of just 9.1 points in his first two seasons. His subsequent trade to the Pacers in 1996 did little to change his trajectory initially, as he averaged a mere 7.3 points per game in the 1996-97 season under coach Larry Brown.

Bird's Transformative Impact

The pivotal change came when Larry Bird took over as the Pacers' coach in the 1997-98 season. Bird quickly set about transforming the team's dynamics, guiding them from missing the playoffs to reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year.

Bird saw potential in Rose and was committed to unlocking it. By giving Rose increased playing time and a more defined role, Bird helped him find his rhythm on the court. Rose's performance began to reflect this new trust. In the 1997-98 season, he improved his average to 9.4 points per game, and his ascent continued sharply thereafter.

By the 1999-2000 season, Rose had nearly doubled his scoring to an impressive 18.2 points per game and was named the NBA's Most Improved Player. His performance that year also earned him a spot among the top 15 MVP candidates for the first and only time in his career.

Reflecting on his career turnaround, Rose credited Bird for his revival during an appearance on the 'Jalen and Jacoby' show, saying, "Larry was the guy that helped validate me; my career needed to be refreshed; it needed to be remixed." He recounted how a pivotal comment from Bird spurred him on: "When Larry Bird talks to the media and was like, 'I'm gonna turn Jalen into the player that's gonna live up to his potential,' I cut that out and put that on the refrigerator." Under Bird's mentorship, Rose regained his confidence and established himself as a potent scorer in the league, a reputation he maintained even after subsequent trades to Chicago and Toronto.

Bird's belief in his potential not only revived Rose's career but also exemplified his broader impact on the Pacers and the NBA at large.