I've been teased by Philly friends and relatives about the fact that Larry Joe Bird is my favorite basketball player of all time. Being a fan of the Philadelphia 76ers my whole life, I was taught to hate Bird and the Celtics. I can hate the Celtics. Easily. But I couldn't hate Bird. At all. There's something so pure and magical about Larry Bird's game. One of Bill Simmons' greatest articles was written in 2003 and he talks about Bird's mystique in it. The article is entitled "An Apostle of Basketball Jesus".
To me, Bird is the most intelligent player that ever played the game of basketball. He was so skilled and ahead of the curve compared to almost everybody else that he would get bored during games and invent ways to keep himself busy, like shooting with his left hand for the remainder of the evening, or going bank for the rest of the night, etc. I also think he was the clutchest player in NBA history, just ahead of Jordan and West.
I remember one game against the Atlanta Hawks where he scored 60 points. "He was so good that night, the Hawks were giving each other 'five'" said Cedric Maxwell about Larry Bird's performance that evening. Video footage of the game clearly shows some of the Atlanta Hawks bench players reacting in amazement and high fiving each other in joy! And they were the opponents!! The video below is 7 minutes long, but if you are short for time, go to the 4:00 minute mark and on to watch the Hawks bench players starting going batshit insane with a combination of shock and glee (with some disgust sprinkled in as well) at what they are witnessing in front of their very eyes.
I remember Mike Dunleavy Jr. being touted as the next Bird, as well as Adam Morrison being called Bird-like. Funny how that turned out. It seems like just as many "the next Bird" players have failed as "the next Jordan" players have. Check out this article lamenting the fact that virtually every semi-good white player gets compared to Bird now.
Bird is easily the greatest Small Forward in NBA history. Being compared to those guys is an insult to Bird and the impact he had on this game. However, people have started to make more interesting comparisons about who in today's game is closest to Bird. One guy goes as far as to say that the answer to the question of who is the next Larry Bird is LeBron James. I think that's a step in the right direction towards the respect of Bird's Legacy. When it's all said and done, LeBron James and Larry Bird will be the two greatest Small Forwards in the history of the game. RealGM regulars discuss Bird vs. LeBron over 5 pages.
Some question whether Bird could play in today's game. As someone said on RealGM, "A much shorter and worse version of Bird (Nash) is a back-to-back MVP in today's game". There will be another Jordan. There will be another Chamberlain. I don't think there will be another LeBron, but if there is, chances are 50/50 that it'll be LeBron Jr. And I'm only partially kidding. I can say with certainity, however, that there will never be another Allen Iverson. And as far as I'm concerned, there will never, ever be another Larry Bird, as Magic Johnson said best.
A few years after Bird retired in 1992 due to chronic back pain and was enshrined into the Hall of Fame, CNN/SI ran a feature called "A Rare Bird", and featured the best sports illustrated articles written about him. I'm not sure people realize this, but as recently as 1986, there was a legitimate argument going on about whether Bird was the greatest player in the history of the game. Red Auerbach himself said Bird would be the first person he chose if he were starting a team, which meant Bill Russell was #2 in Red's book. One part of that feature included feedback from readers. Here are some selected excerpts from readers regarding the brilliance of Larry Bird.
"Best ever. Could get the job done without extra steps or phantom fouls that helped to make Jordan 'the greatest ever'."
—Ryan Hull, Casar, N.C.
"I'd put Larry Bird in the top five on my NBA alltime list. And it doesn't matter where. Larry's there because he could have played in any era, fit with the style of play, and been a perfect complement on any team. I'm not sure that he is the greatest player ever. It seems hard not to give that to Michael Jordan. But I'd say Bird is the greatest team player ever."
—William Katerberg, Fredericton, New Brunswick
"Larry Bird is the greatest player to ever play the game. Michael Jordan is a great player, but he's overrated and can't compare to Bird. If Bird wanted to, he could have scored as much as Jordan, but Bird passed the ball around and got everyone involved. Also, the competition Jordan faces compared to Bird is hilarious. The Seattle SuperSonics! Give me a break. If Bird had an off shooting day, he could become a great passer or focus on rebounds. He is the best clutch player of all time, hands down. I could go on and on ... Should I?!?!"
—Yoni Heisler, Ann Arbor, Mich.
"Larry was incredible and he is definitely one of the top five greatest players ever, but can anyone really compare to Jordan and Chamberlain, or Abdul-Jabbar for that matter? C'mon!!!"
—Cliff Sims, Crestview, Fla.
"I would have to put him in the No. 3 spot. At the top of the list is Michael Jordan, because he's the ultimate athlete. At No. 2 I would name Bill Russell, because he is the ultimate winner. Larry Bird follows them as the one that really could and would do it all, the ultimate team player."
—Thomas Heeb, Zurich, Switzerland
"Larry falls sixth on my list, behind Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. If he had springs he may have been the best of all time."
—Steph Cova, Kingston, Ont.
"Not only No. 1, but a No. 1 so far outdistancing his nearest competitors it is sickening. Bird has the clutch shooting of Jordan, the rebounding skills of Abdul-Jabbar, the handle of West, and a drive through the lane that only Erving could match. You said it all when you said he could do it all."
—Ryan McKain, West Hartford, Conn.
"When it comes to athletic ability in the typical sense of the word (speed, strength, quickness and agility), I don't think anyone would argue that Larry is in the top 10 of alltime athletes, or the top 100 for that matter. Larry Bird's athletic abilities transcend the physical attributes of a common athlete. Concentration, creativity, reflex and desire, these are the qualities that make Larry the No. 1 athlete who ever lived. If I could pick any one person to lead my team in any one randomly selected sport, the obvious choice would be Larry Bird. He'll adapt, he'll perfect, and eventually he'll conquer."
—David Bacher, Holliston, Mass.
"Jordan can control a game with his scoring, Magic with the tempo, but only Bird could control a game by any means neccesary — scoring, rebounding, defense, whatever it took."
—Matthew Meagher, Indianapolis
"If I were to start a team today, the first person I would pick is Larry Bird. Even over Magic and Jordan — and I'm a Lakers fan. He took a no-name college team to the NCAA finals, undefeated. Then he took a team that finished last in its division to an NBA title in only two years. He was an amazing player. It's unbelievable how he dominated with no physical talent whatsoever."
—Gregory Jones, Tulsa, Okla.
"Nobody compares to him. If he had the talent around him that Magic had during his career, the Celtics would most likely have 20 banners. He has proved his greatness and basketball smarts as the coach of the Pacers. His value to the players is unmatched. They are fighting to keep the "Larry Bird" clause, aren't they? If he isn't considered the best of all time, he's definitely the best of his era. That's good enough for me."
—Steven Hoover, Flaherty, Ky.
"Top three. When one teaches a son or daughter to play basketball it will be in the Larry Bird style. You can't teach a kid to play like Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Allen Iverson. You can teach fundamentals, though, and that's where Larry and Magic etched their places."
—Joe Pritzky, Winthrop, Mass.
Here are some comments about Bird from his peers:
“Larry Bird just throws the ball in the air and God moves the basket underneath it.”
- Cleveland Cavaliers public address announcer Howie Chizek after Bird set a club record with 60 points in one game and scored 48 in another during the 1984-85 season
“Larry, you only told me one lie. You said there will be another Larry Bird. Larry, there will never, ever be another Larry Bird.”
- Magic Johnson, at Larry Bird's retirement party at Boston Garden on February 4, 1993
“Any living legend can take over a game in the last few minutes. Only Bird can take it over in the first few minutes.”
- Journalist Peter Vescey
Michael Jordan once was asked who he would want to take a shot with the game on the line, other than himself. Before the question could be finished, Jordan quickly responded, "Larry Bird."
"He was playing Chess and everybody else was playing Checkers. He was three steps ahead of everybody else, and you never knew what he was going to do, but you knew it was going to be special.
- Tommy Heinsohn, Boston Celtic Legend
"When I played, the only one I truly feared was Larry Bird. A lot of black guys were at me asked me 'Could Larry Bird really play that good?'. I said 'Man, Larry Bird was so good, it's frightening'." -Magic Johnson
Bird's most famous play will likely be his steal off Isiah Thomas' inbound pass in the closing seconds of Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals.
Bird Steals the Ball:
"Larry Bird - The Best Ever", presented by KBlaze: