ISIAH VS. LARRY WILL BE HEATED
By MARC BERMAN
February 2, 2004 -- Isiah Thomas won't discuss rival Larry Bird and the looming Pacers' showdown until today.
But Knicks developmental coach George Glymph, Jermaine O'Neal's high school coach who spent three seasons in Indiana before following Isiah here, knows emotions will bubble at the Garden tomorrow.
[size=18:a38a71b7ab]Bird runs the Eastern Conference's dominant team that Isiah built for him[/size]. Tomorrow, the Pacers (35-13) face Isiah's upstart Knicks, who are tied for the seventh seed with Boston, in a preview of a potential first-round matchup.
"You know [Isiah] is looking forward to it," Glymph told The Post. "Just like those Pacers are going to look forward to seeing Isiah and saying, 'This is what you built, and this is what we're going to do to you.'
The Isiah/Bird rivalry is well-documented, dating to their '80s playing days when Thomas made the infamous remark that Larry Legend would be just another player if he were black. When Bird took over the Pacers in mid-July, he and the Pacers coach shook hands at the podium, but neither could manage even a forced smile.
Bird fired Thomas on Aug. 27, citing Isiah's failing to communicate with him. Glymph, O'Neal's high school coach, was soon on his way out too, along with Knicks assistant Mark Aguirre. Bird declined comment yesterday through a spokesman, who said the Pacers executive "doesn't want to get caught up in it."
"Larry had his game plan," Glymph said. "It's not about a person's feelings. It will be emotional. They are a great team. It's gratifying to feel part of building that and there's gratification if you could beat them."
During his introductory press conference as Knicks president, Isiah said of Bird, "I wanted to beat him as a player and I want to beat him now."
O'Neal believes Bird kept Isiah around just long enough for the Pacers' All-Star big man to re-sign as a free agent. In this month's "Slam" magazine, O'Neal said, "If I would've known that Isiah wasn't going to be back, I would have signed with San Antonio. That's a fact. I was pretty upset. But time heals everything."
Said Glymph, "Jermaine looks at Isiah as a father figure. He was buried on the bench in Portland and Isiah traded for him. He'll never forget how he believed in him."
Glymph, a high-school coaching legend in South Carolina, has never been on the opposite side of O'Neal — from Eau Claire High School, where he coached 27 years, to the Blazers, where he worked one season working with O'Neal, to the Pacers. "I've never been in this situation before, I don't know how I'll feel," he said.
When Isiah got canned, Pacers prez Donnie Walsh kept Glymph on, re-assigning him to the scouting department. "I never got an assignment, then I got the call from Isiah," Glymph said. "He said to me the day he got fired, 'If I go someplace, I want you to join me.' "
Isiah has certainly ruffled feathers here.
"Whenever you come into a situation and make changes, there's going to be bruised feelings," Glymph said. "He's done what he thinks he had to do. People second-guess whatever you do, but it's working."