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Friday, July 29th, 2011 at 12:57 pm  |  104 responses

Legend of the Ball

Larry Bird is one of the greatest to ever play the game.

Originally published in SLAM 118

by Alan Paul

The Legend of Larry Bird is so great that it’s easy to lose sight of the basketball player who helped revitalize the NBA while starring for the Celtics from 1979 to ’92. The NBA was at a low point, a distinctly minor major sport, when Bird and his doppelganger Magic Johnson came to the League after squaring off for the NCAA title in a hugely hyped and widely watched game. Bird and Magic immediately brightened the fortunes of professional hoops, revitalizing two of the NBA’s most storied franchises. In the years to come, Bird’s Celtics won three titles (’81, ’84, ’86) while Magic’s Lakers won five, in a gripping decade-long rivalry that captivated millions of old and new fans.

As a white man playing in the whitest of major American cities and starring in a game increasingly dominated by black men, Bird became a great white hope. Some thought he could do no wrong; others were sure that he could do no right. Many saw a symbol instead of a man and they viewed him on the court through this prism. And that is a shame, because it obscures the cold, hard facts of how great Bird was and how much fun it was to watch him play.

The remarkable numbers begin to tell the story: three consecutive MVPs, two-time Finals MVP, nine straight All-NBA first teams, career averages of 24.3 ppg, 10 rpg and 6.3 apg. But they are just the outline. Bird played with supreme confidence and his own kind of definitive, endless grace. He could control a game in every possible way—scoring, passing, rebounding or defending. Bird could score inside or out, break your will with a rebound in traffic, a thread-the-needle pass or an eyes-closed three pointer. And he played with a manic intensity and endless hustle. You couldn’t take your eyes off him.

Teamed in Boston with Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, Bird helped form one of the best frontlines ever. They peaked in ’85-86, going 67-15, including a 40-1 home record. They rampaged through the Playoffs that spring, going 15-3. Bird bagged a triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists) in the Game 6 clincher against the Houston Rockets to win his third NBA Championship.

Bird was just 30 but he had a lot of mileage. He never won a fourth ring, but he was far from done. He averaged a career-high 29.9 points in ’87-88, and became the first Celtic to record a 40-20 game, with a 42-point, 20-rebound performance. The next year he had surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels and only played six games. He returned for 1989-90, averaging 24.3 ppg, but then his back began giving him problems. He played just 60 games in ’90-91 and 40 the following season after an operation failed to stop the pain from a swollen disc.

As co-captain of the original Dream Team in ’92, Bird helped the US win gold in Barcelona. A few weeks later, he retired. Having coached the Indiana Pacers to the NBA Finals in 2000, the 51-year-old Bird is now the team president. But when we got him on the phone, the convo stuck to the glory days.

SLAM: When did it first strike you that you had an opportunity to be really good at basketball?

BIRD: Not until I got to the pros.

SLAM:  That’s hard to believe.

BIRD: I really didn’t. I have always been confident in my skills and once the game got going I knew I was probably the best player on the floor most of the time whether it was junior high, high school or college. I knew I had control of the game. But I still didn’t know what it meant because I went to such a small high school and college.

SLAM: You started school at Indiana under Bob Knight and left in less than a month. Did you have a problem adjusting socially, academically or basketball-wise?

BIRD: It was all money. My parents couldn’t afford it. I had a free ride scholarship but I had no money for anything else, nothing to live on. My folks couldn’t give me any money at all, so I left after three or four weeks. It was tough. I went back to French Lick. I worked at a company that built motor homes and worked at a boys club and then for the town. I did that for a year and then went to Indiana State.

SLAM:  You won three rings in the NBA—was any one of them more memorable than the others?

BIRD: They all were memorable. Our ’86 team was probably the best and we knew it could be that from training camp on. But I don’t really remember the wins. I remember the losses. That’s what I carry with me. I always expected to win. I can remember ’87, when we lost to the Lakers in six after McHale got hurt. If he stayed healthy, maybe we win. We got beat in ’85 by them when we lost a home game we should have won. Them games stick out more than any of the wins. They stick in the gut.

SLAM: You once called the late Dennis Johnson your greatest teammate. Why did you like playing with him so much?

BIRD: I called him one of my greatest teammates, and it was because DJ was just special, a two guard who could get the ball up the court, hit a shot or find an open man and defend anyone. But what really elevated him was the fact that in big games, he was always the guy who had the ball in his hand while also guarding their best player. During the regular season he always did well but in the Playoffs he stepped it up and the bigger the game, the more ready he was to go. I really respected that. Me and DJ had a bond. I sort of knew what he was thinking and I just loved playing with him from the moment he arrived in Boston [in ’83].

SLAM: One of the great examples of your chemistry was when you broke the hearts of every Pistons fan and Celtics hater in the world, stealing the ball from Isiah Thomas and passing to DJ for the winning layup in Game 5 of the ’87 Eastern Finals, just when you seemed about to pass the torch to Detroit.

BIRD: [Laughs] It was just a reaction play. Them things happen so fast that you don’t have time to think it out. I was getting ready to go foul Laimbeer because they had the ball and were up by one with five seconds left. When I took off over there, I was heading for Laimbeer and the ball was floating in the air and I just went for it and I knew DJ would be coming for it. I didn’t even look for him. I was always a reaction player. When I made passes to get out of the double team, it was gone before I thought about it. Tip passes off of rebounds, hitting the lane for a steal—things like that just happen. You don’t see it and think, “I need to do this.”

SLAM: You had tremendous rivalries with the Sixers, Lakers and Pistons, and each team had continuity from year to year, with the same core players. Do you gain a lot by keeping a core together for a long time?

BIRD: There’s no question about it. You build a commitment to each other and an understanding and new guys coming in to fill roles pick up on it and find their places more easily. Also, the more you win, the better you’re gonna get. It grows on itself. We played together really well and had great ball movement and that’s the kind of stuff that gets easier and easier with familiarity. I played with McHale and Parish for 11-12 years, DJ for 6-7. Our core group was very stable for a long time. We were pretty close in the sense of really knowing each other on the court and having close basketball relationships.

SLAM: Did that transfer off the court?

BIRD: As far as being professional, yeah, but going out to eat all the time, no. It wasn’t like that and it doesn’t have to be for a team to be close. That’s a misunderstanding. I remember one time Robert saying, “When my career’s over, I don’t want to see any of you guys ever again.” We spent a full nine months together pretty intensely every year.

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  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    Bird was so stoic.
    Cryptic looking. Look into his eyes…
    Anyways, more and more I see and hear people. What they say about Joe Bird. They don’t know.
    Yes, there are all kinds of videos, footage, etc.
    One would have had to see Bird night in and night out to truly discern and understand the greatness that was Larry Bird.
    THE VERY first of his kind. An original. A genius with the basketball. One of the most cerebral players to ever lace up some sneakers.
    Underrated as an athlete. Just look at the picture. Do not take my word for it.
    Anyways, it is a toss – up, for Larry Bird can be considered the greatest player who’s ever played in the NBA. I said that for Kareem on the legendary Schneezy’s video. But Bird…
    Although I am biased towards Earvin for obvious reasons.
    1. Magic
    2. Bird
    3. Kareem
    My bad, SLAM.

  • Tom

    Larry Legend!! I think my fav. story about him came from that book “when the game was ours”. It was Boston playing in LA but magic had to sit out for whatever reason, when Bird got there and saw Magic not suited up he goes “oh you got front row seats? well then I’m gonna put on a show for you then” and then he went on and dropped some ridiculous line like 40pts, double digit boards and a gang of assists….I miss the old rivalries.

  • DieselMechanic

    The best thing about Bird was his trash talking and the way he backed it up. Calling his shots and things. Watch “Bird’s 50 greatest moments” if you haven’t seen it already.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    By far the baddest white boy to step on any court.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    ….And this is one of the reasons I find it nearly insulting that SLAM ranked Tim Duncan ahead of him on the Top 10. Tim is great, but skillfully he can barely even hold a candle to Larry Legend.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    ^on offense, maybe. On defense, he makes Larry look like a toddler.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    BPhantom, I could see why though. TD’s the better defender, won more chips while carrying lesser talented squads than Bird’s celtics. I mean if you were starting a team from scratch and had to choose between a dominant 3 or a dominant 4/5, I think most people would pick the dominant big.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    Bird’s underrated defensively.
    Very few players in the History of the Game are better than Bird when it comes to help defense.
    He was always in the right place at the perfect time.
    Just ask Lord Thomas III…

  • http://www.slamonline.com Alan Paul

    Thanks for posting Slam. Love seeing my Old Schools up here.

  • http://nba.com GP23

    One of the greatest passers of the ball may i add.

  • DieselMechanic

    @Philosopher: and what a knack for the ball. He seemed to have a real sense for steals and deflections if the ball came near him.

  • larrylegend

    :-)
    @AllenP: Man, come on! when they played the Lakers, and LB took a shoot or anyone else and it clanked, the LA fastbreak rolled at it best. The 1st player back was always Mr. Bird. Also, he was the Man for the C’s, so no need to pick up dump fouls. And what about his rebounding!?

  • Armando

    I agree. Way too many players get labeled “superstar” nowadays. Each decade seems to have around 3-4. Now it seams to be one on every team. I sadly doubt we’ll ever see a rivalry like Bird-Magic ever (the top two players going at each other in that manner).

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    I think people forget how good TD was in his prime…especially in the playoffs.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Larry Bird was not a bad defender. He wasn’t great or anything, but he was above average. Defense is about effort. Knowing that, I think it would be impossible to say Larry Bird wasn’t good defensively.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    No one’s saying that Larry was a bad defender but he looks like KLove when compared to TD’s D.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    Cosign JTaylor. Bird was a pretty good defender…Duncan is/was a GREAT defender…dominant in fact. He could change the game with his D as much as he could with his offense.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    Larry Bird was one of the greatest defenders ever, he has a defensive rating higher than Jordan, Magic, Lebron, Kobe and Pippen. He is also 24th all time in steals per game. Larry Bird led the league in Defensive Win Shares 4 times in his career: 1980, 81, 84 & 86. He is also 25th All Time in Defensive Win Shares. (That’s the description from the YouTube Video connected to my name, which highlights how good Bird was Defensively. – Certainly was no “Kevin Love”)

  • http://dsjfklf.com Jukai

    NOTE: -OPINIONS BELOW- -NOT FACTS-
    Yeah, Duncan’s passing is sizably better than Birds… Duncan is one of the best defensive fours in league history… but I think the gap between Bird & Duncan’s offense (both scoring wise and passing wise) is pretty sizable too.
    In my opinion, when you look at everything, Bird is the better option over Duncan… but it is easier to build a team around a big man, especially a big who can play the four and five totally seemlessly (something that Duncan actually doesn’t get enough credit for). So I can understand people who would take Duncan over Bird, you’re taking the slightly worse player who you can build a team around slightly easier. It’s all about options. I honestly might take Duncan over Bird if I was a GM.
    I don’t really understand Tim Duncan being ranked higher than Larry Bird.
    If we’re looking at the players, Bird is better. Bird scored more on a more variety of shots, was certainly better than Duncan at passing… Duncan was a superior defender but the rebounding is the issue and I’m just not sure Duncan was the dominant rebounder. Better yes, but also simply had a role on the team closer to the basket. So, I’d cast my vote to Bird.
    Expanding to their careers as ball players, Duncan has that one extra chip but Bird has the greater number of MVPs, greater number of Finals appearences, and far greater impact on the NBA. In their current careers, they’ve played just as long so longevity isn’t a factor… I don’t see how one can say Duncan had a better career.
    But I love debates like this.

  • sean b

    Nice interview. Even though I’m a Lakers fan til the day I die, how can you not like Larry Bird?

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    @Jtatlor, Michael Jordan: The baddest black dude to step foot on the court.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    No one’s saying that Bird’s just as bad a defender as KLove, never that. All I’m saying is that the gap between TD’s defensive ability and Bird’s is so huge that it makes Bird look like Love when compared to TD. Bird was a decent man to man defender/very good help defender but Duncan’s an all-time great defender right up there with Hakeem, Rodman, Pippen and GP.

  • bike

    Stealing the inbounds pass from Isiah Thomas and passing to DJ for the winning layup–that play alone makes Larry a great defensive player. Period.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    Kevin Love is horrible. — Saying Bird is like Kevin Love compared to Duncan is like saying Duncan is Bruce Bowen on offense compared to Larry Bird….it just isn’t true. I get what your trying to say, but your exaggerating

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    I think several people are overrating Bird’s defense. Yes, he was a great help defender. But I wouldn’t even say “average” isolation defender. He was mediocre on a good day. He just had a backcourt of Maxwel, McHale, Parish and Walton to always keep slashers honest, which allowed Bird to do what he did best: abuse the passing lanes, weakside block, help on cutters and deep post players and lead people into the guys who could actually stop you.
    If Larry Bird had been on a lousy defensive team, no one would remember him for what he did defensively cause he would not have been able to do it.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    “IF” Larry Bird was on a different team he wouldn’t have played Small Forward, and wouldn’t have been guarding guys way more athletic then him like he had too do in Boston. But IF, IF, IF, Duncan got drafted by the Clippers and was surrounded by Ricky Davis and Darius Miles we wouldn’t be having this conversation….

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Alright, I’ll take that back. Bird looks like Dirk when compared to Duncan on defense.
    Also you have to take into account the defensive abilities of the players around TD and Bird. Bird for the majority of his career played with two of the greatest defenders of all-time (McHale and DJ) while TD played with a past his prime DRob for a few years and a very good but not great defender in Bowen. TD had to be the anchor year after year for a spurs squad that depended on his supreme ability to defend the rim while at the same time being able to shutdown his man. Bird on the other hand could gamble and play the passing lanes a little bit more because he had guys like McHale/Parish back there and DJ on the perimeter to handle quicker cats.

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    NBK: Overreaction much? Next time I wont use examples because you’ll get angry and just say “he was not a good isolation defender, can’t elaborate cause NBK will get angry”

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    That’s fine, I don’t know why I really even care, it’s just your opinion..I just didn’t want someone to read this conversation and then go on to all their little friends born Post Jordan Retirement I about how Bird was not a good defender and gets all his credit because of his offensive exploits. I don’t want Larry Bird to look like the White Amar’e Stoudemire to the kids. lol

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    And I don’t know why you’re so sure Larry would have been a PF, but if he had been guarding fours, he would be more in the post and wouldn’t be able to help out as much. Just throwing that out.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    lol are you butthurt or something? How did I overreact? You think I’m upset because I said IF three times in a row Jukai? Or because I took your argument/opinion and responded?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    He was 6’9″ 220. Its not like Bird was small, he would have been a big small forward in todays NBA, he was a huge one back then. Its part of what made Boston so hard to deal with, they had 3 guys on the court that were 6’10″ or smaller, all could help around the basket, all were good defenders. — And basically I am “so sure” he would have been a four because of how many more issues he would create as a four without a super team around him then he would have as a three. And I realize its my opinion, I just think its right, so I present it as such.

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    You either overreacted or misunderstood. I’d explain, but I don’t want you throwing a hissy fit again so you’ll have to take my word for it.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    6’9″ or taller* haha my bad.

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    Look, I’m not gonna get into the three/four debate because it’s dumb, I’m going to end it with this logic bomb: Larry Bird liked playing the three because it gave him the ability to spread the floor or go into the post, a perfect middle ground for him. So are you, as a coach or a GM, going to get a lot of wings on your team or a lot of post guys on your team if one of the top-5 players of all time wants to be a three?

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Hysterical!
    Now that we have gotten that surge of aggression out of the way, who’s the better defender, Bird or Magic? I leaning towards bird but it’s closer than people think. Bird was a better help defender but not by much and both guys were average man to man defenders.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    I understood and meant what I said. Bird’s defensive problems were from isolation situations (the isolation era hadn’t even started by then anyway) when he was guarding a player he otherwise would not have been guarding on any other team during the 80′s. He was a good defender, much better then he get’s credit for (even though he may have been overrated at somepoint, not anymore), especially if the perception was he’s Kevin Love compared to all time defenders.

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    JTaylor: Bird was a better defender. Done. Next question!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    Jukai: I’d Assume Larry wants to win, and doesn’t give a sh*t about what position he plays. So I would build the best team possible around him depending on who is available. He’s too versatile too try and pigeon-hole him into one position full-time. I am not arguing against what Boston/Red Aurbech did with Larry Bird, infact it’s exactly what I would have done with that personnel. I just don’t think I would play him as a Small Forward more often then as a Power Forward with the majority of lineups in the league then and now.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ixy8Uttq0 nbk

    Oh yeah and Bird was a better defender then Magic IMO. Magic was just a great piece cuz he could guard 4 positions against most teams.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Aight, fair enough. Here’s an even better question; why do people rate Bird and Magic as equals and at times claim that Bird’s the better player when those Magic-led Laker squads beat Bird’s Celtics in the 2 out of 3 Finals they met in and won 5 chips to Bird’s 3 in the 80s?
    Bear in mind that I believe that Bird’s a slightly better player than Magic (based on skill set and ability to dominate a game 3 different ways (scoring, passing and rebounding).

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    I always just felt like Magic is a better winner. And as a point guard plays a more important role in winning. Basically they are so even the only reason i have had Magic as better is cuz he was involved in more possessions. But idk who was actually better at basketball.

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    NBK: Remember when Magic was so intent on winning that he said he wanted to be traded if they moved him off the ball? Remember when Jordan was so intent on winning that he threw a big sh*t fit about working in the triangle until Jackson told him he could break it whenever he needed to? Remember how little Elvin Hayes complained about playing center? Remember Chris Webber doing the same?
    Yeah, superstars will do anything to win.
    I believe Bird would play the four if the current team makeup forced him too. I also believe Bird would be more than willing to voice his opinions to the higherups about the need to get more backcourt players so he could slide to the three. You do things to make your star players happy.
    I think in this era he’d 100% be playing the three more than the four, and that’s because this era is chocked full of star fours… in other eras of basketball, you’d have a good argument.

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    JTaylor: In my opinion, Magic was more valuable. He literally could get anyone to play his style, it was contagious. You watch a lot of the 80s all-star games and when Magic gets on the floor, it’s the Showtime Lakers no matter who is on the floor.
    I’d also say Magic’s teams were less injury prone then Bird’s, and Magic was less injury prone than Bird, which really helped the 5-3 scorecard.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    The only thing that held Joe back defensively was his lateral abilities. He had his finest moments defensively AND offensively in the moments of clutch.
    And Larry was intelligent and versatile enough to be able to play all five positions on the floor. Effectively.
    But we’re getting into the “if” games, in which I have been humbled in using that angle…
    In any other generation that Larry Bird plays in other than the one he did play in, he is a big man.
    Can Tim Duncan come out on the perimeter and distract someone with merit and prestige? Can he distract a perimeter player out there, period? Regardless of fame? Not saying that Joe is Derek Harper, but…
    Bruce Bowen is among the premier defenders of his generation.
    Back to Larry;
    I frequently go back to this, but Larry’s day was the Golden Age of NBA basketball. There are only a handful of players today who can even make someone’s bench in those days.
    Some people just don’t know, man.

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    Philo: I wont usually tip my hat to you, but the Duncan point on his inability to go far out is a very good point. Dirk always schools the Spurs because Duncan simply can’t guard him and they have to put someone else on Dirk.

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    I have never heard Larry Bird complain about his own situation on the court for any reason. As long as he played heavy minutes and touched the ball i genuinely doubt he cared what position he played. He isnt Michael Jordanhe never showed a sense of entitlement and was a workhorse for indiana, b*tching isnt in his DNA

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    From* indiana.

  • http://dsjklff.com Jukai

    nbk: Agree to disagree. I don’t think Larry Bird felt any less entitled than Magic and Bird.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    Shoutout@ Jukai.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Slick Ric

    I have always believed Bird is better than Magic. His stats are very comparable to lebrons as well without the crazy athleticism.

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    I agree Jukai. That we disagree lol

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Philo: I usually tip my hat to you, but the Duncan point on his inability to go far out is a very bad point. When was TD ever a perimeter player like Bird was? TD has always been a 4/5 that rarely left the paint due to his ability to protect the rim with the best of them. That’s like questioning McHale’s ability to defend on the perimeter or asking why Prime Kareem never ventured outside of the paint. TD is a true big, whose job is to defend the rim and rebound, so questioning his ability to defend on the perimeter is a baseless argument.
    Not every big has the same abilities and skills Hakeem possessed and that points to just how great and rare a player the Dream was. BTW, Hakeem’s better than TD and Bird.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    This is what makes Earvin better than Larry at the end of the day.
    As was alluded to earlier in this conversation, Magic can guard more positions more effectively than Larry.
    Or even Michael, for that matter. (y’all know me…)
    Earvin was the better pure athlete of the two, (Bird) so it allowed him to be able to do more things off the ball, and in conclusion create the shock and awe of the Fast Break that because of Magic, the entire Laker team of that decade were known for. “Show Time”.
    In fact, Magic was so good that often times, whether off of a rebound, or a steal, Magic would execute the fast break with himself, and only three other guys, for Jabbar was old, and couldn’t always keep up with Earvin and the young guys.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    JT:
    My bad, I just pressed “reload”. lol
    But Bird was able to guard more kinds of players than Duncan was able to guard. And they are both considered players who play primarily in the paint. Offensively or on the defensive end of the ball.
    Regardless of Bird’s perimeter tendencies and habits.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    Woah woah woah…all this talk of defense has me so lust in the shuffle I think I might be Carmelo Anthony(I’m totally kidding). but seriously I just don’t see b*tching and Larry Bird being in the same sentence and being accurate.(I don’t care that I typed them that way)Larry was a warrior on the court.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    Larry has some history with the Celtic organization. Red Auerbach.
    He also called out his team, saying that the whole team was playing like “sissies” during a Playoff series.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    @ JT: Where does Hakeem rank all-time to you?

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    That is totally different then b*tching about the position your coach has you playing. I dont know what about Larry and Red your refurring too but the teammates thing is different.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    Well, were they playing like sissies? There’s a difference between b*tching and telling the truth.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    @BlackPhantom:
    Understood, but sometimes one can tell the truth while sounding like a malcontent.
    nbk:
    Understood, also.
    To me, when it hits the wires for the world to see, it is different than it being kept in house. When we don’t hear about it, then the jury is out.
    One’s cup of tea, I contemplate…
    If that makes sense.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Teddy, in all honesty, Hakeem comes in 3rd behind KAJ/MJ. The man was able to do things that no other player in history has come close to doing. Being able to dominate the game on both ends like no one else can and utter destruction of his peers during that back-to-back title run in ’95/’96.
    I understand that other greats won more rings, more MVPs and scored more points but no one comes close to matching Hakeem’s all-around greatness.

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    I see you philo

  • http://basketbawful.blogspot.com/2008/06/worst-of-celtics-lakers-part-7.html nbk

    I feel like Larry did that too motivate his teammates though. I know if someone ever said that aboit LB he would have proved them otherwise and told them about it. I bet he was arrogant enough to think his teammates viewed themselves in a similar way. IMO From what I have read and seen about/from Larry Bird there is no way he did anything that he thought would deter his team from winning. And he was definitely smart enough to realize that him say criticizing a coach about the definition of his position would hurt the team. He wasnt an egomaniac like Magic and Jordan, Magic was making demands before he even got to the league. Jordan treated everyone like he was better then them for the majority of his life apparently. And can anyone answer to whether Birds words led to wins or losses? It led to “the clothesline” anyone remember that? Oh everyone…. Boston won that series in 7. (click my name)

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    nbk:
    At the end of Bird’s tenure with Boston, there was some animosity between him and Auerbach that had nothing to do with the positions that players played.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    @nbk you talking about that play when Kurt Rambis got completely abused? Man i was surprised he could actually get up when I first saw that.

  • Heals

    Bird’s greatness will always live on through the stories those who played with him, against him and watched him share…

  • http://basketbawful.blogspot.com/2008/06/worst-of-celtics-lakers-part-7.html nbk

    Yeah that was the game after Bird called the Celtics sissies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    Well dang, now I actually understand the cheap shot.

  • http://basketbawful.blogspot.com/2008/06/worst-of-celtics-lakers-part-7.html nbk

    Lol

  • http://jksldf.com Jukai

    One correction to JT: McHale ventured out of the paint to guard people more often then people think. He generally guarded the best player on the other team, any position from three to five. I remember McHale complaining during the Bird vs Dominique duel… Bird was matching Nique point for point and Nique was trying ever harder to keep the game close, and McHale was assigned to guard him. At one point, McHale turned to Bird and said “for chrissakes, you’re making him angry and he’s taking it out on me, stop scoring!”
    I’ve heard people refer to McHale was a subpar defender and I don’t know where that came from. He was actually an incredibly versatile and sharp defender, he just occassionally stopped playing defense cause he didn’t care to hustle 100% of the time.

  • http://jksldf.com Jukai

    And yeah, the sissy comment was a pretty big turning point because up to that point, Bird had never called out his team in his entire tenure of being a Celtic. So all the Celtics were like “oh boy, Bird must be pretty mad…” and manned up pretty quickly.

  • Armando

    Bird and Magic were great. Inseparable in my opinion. Bird hustled more and never complained about having to have the ball, despite playing with a black hole like McHale and an often ball-dominating DJ. Bird was the better help defender, both were average on the ball (although I would say that Bird’s intensity would give him the edge in defensive clutch situations). Magic was the better ball handler and won two more rings, plus he had tons of flair. Bird: Better shooter, rebounder and defender, plus he hustled more, but was more injury prone. Magic: Better passer (slightly), playmaker and athlete. Both had great supporting casts. Ranking players is really impossible, but it’s fun (more or less based on what they did in their eras, trying to not compare them to each other too much):
    1. Jordan
    2. Russell
    3. Chamberlain
    4.-6. (alphabetical order): Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, Johnson.
    7. Robertson
    8. O’Neal
    9. Duncan
    10. Bryant
    11. Olajuwon
    12. West
    13. Irving
    14. Havlicek
    15. Malone (Karl)

    Pettit, Baylor, Stockton, Thomas, Barry, Gervin, Mikan, English, Sam Jones, Moses, Barkley… Yeah, well…

  • BostonBaller

    If I were choosing a team from scratch I’d take Bird b/c regardless of what position he played he’d make everyone better and he can control the game as opposed to a center having to wait for the ball on offense. Late game daggers from deep and down low became so common that people forget Bird’s knack for killing teams. As far ad defense goes I give the nod to TD mainly b/c it’s a bit easier to sit back and block shots when you have a size advantage plus he didn’t have a night in and night out battle b/c there weren’t that many dominate 4/5′s. Unfortunately LB had a major challenge 9 out of 10 games at his position (you can go back to when the Bucks were relevant on up to when he retired.. I understand why ppl say it’s easier to build around a big but that’s not always true..I’d take the impact player, the one that can change the game, win the big ones and literally make teammates better. MJ isn’t a big..LB never got dominated in the playoffs unless you consider The Human Highlights scoring onslaught in which LB did the same in the same game and won. If you list all of Duncans one on one competition league wide and do the same you’ll see a difference (then check their hall of fame competition) Both players would have been just as good in each others era but LB had more good to great teams to go against, teams that prided themselves on defense. Passing is a joke, it’s one thing to pass out of the low post to a waiting 3 pt shooter (in my opinion it’s not an assists when you give it to a jump shooter but I digress) although TD is excellent it dishing to cutters from his low post position but did you actually see LB pass and the variety? (not the flare). To say LB was overrated on D is funny since most ppl say he didn’t play any. lol Yes he had DJ, McHale, Parish and others but they didn’t cover Dr. J, Dom, Bernard King etc on the wing. Duncan had a few good defenders also in Bowen & Horry to name the obvious ones. As far as more chips, yes TD has more but who did they beat (Knicks in a short season, the Nets, Detroit and the Cavs lol) Does that sound like NBA Royalty? A chip is a chip. The C’e beat the Rockets, Lakers, Lost to Lakers, Rockets, Lost to Lakers. 3pt contest in jacket, calling out his moves and making them…All that to say Bird was indeed a top player for any era.

  • http://slamonline.com Flint tha Hustla

    Everybody on this thread knows their hoops. Impressed.
    I’m mad that I missed a good debate. Kudos to The Philosopher and Jukai. BostonBaller has that knowledge too. This site ain’t bad.

  • http://jksldf.com Jukai

    BostonBaller: I mean, Dr. J did kinda light Bird up a lot… but I certainly get your points. When choosing between TD and Bird, it really is what you want in a team.

  • http://slamonline BossTerry

    Yeah, Bird was great and all, not gonna take anything away from him. But I have him on my 2k11 team, and he kinda sucks.. VERY slow release on his shot, not a great shooter, runs the court as if he’s in a swimming pool, injury prone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    @BossTerry…..you really judging his basketball skill from a video game?

  • http://slamonline BossTerry

    Haha, no.. I’m 32 years old, so unlike many people who comment on here, I actually Saw the man play back when the Celtics were a powerhouse… However, he does kinda suck in 2K11, but on NBA live 94′, dude couldn’t miss a shot..

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    Lol. That’s probably change on 2K12

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    *That’s probably gonna change on 2K12

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    I think his shooting form is the problem on 2k11. I remember using him one time, dude missed every shot but I think it has more to do with how weird a release dude got not his shooting ability. Hopefully 2k12 tweaks his form and makes it a little easier to use him.

  • BostonBaller

    BossT: Dr. J did his thing as many others did but yes the point was that he went against legit all stars and future (present) all stars night in and night out and held his own on D.. whether it was weakside help, getting steals in the passing lane or poking the ball away as they tried to drive by him. He knew he couldn’t catch them if they got by him. lol. PLUS LB knew how to cut corners by holding shorts & jerseys where no one could see him do it..he’d even tickle a guy.

  • http://slamonline BossTerry

    I’m sure by now, everybody has heard, about the bird, the Bird, Bird, Bird, he wore thirty-third…

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Boston Baller
    Come on man. When Duncan came into the league, power forward might have been the deepest position in the game.
    Webber
    Kemp (albiet fat Kemp)
    Vin Baker
    Garnett
    Dirk
    Coleman
    Tyrone Hill
    Elden Campbell
    Gugs
    Gasol
    And don’t forget he used to go to war against a prime Shaq too. I’m sure I forgot some other quality four men, but let’s be clear, Duncan was dominant defensively when the league was stacked at his position. Kind of like being a great defensive point guard right now.

  • BostonBaller

    I stand corrected AllenP, TD did have some battles but not nightly epics where it was must see tv. I agree to a certain point on your power forwards but you listed VBaker who was only relevant for a couple of years when he “battled” TD, THill was in the East & ECampbell was only out West for about two good years while Timmy roamed the paint. They were all solid but not year in year out all-stars. Dirk was young and not yet polished when TD was put’n in his best work. (I may be wrong) Gugs was a tough cover but not the man, Gasol is 4 years younger than TD and wasn’t the Gasol we know now until he got to the Lakers. DColman was a beast from time to time but he was on the East Coast. Yes kemp was fat by then and truth be told was more of an intimidating dunker than a formidable foe for TD. TD Battled CWEBB for about 8 years when he was on the West Coast. How many of those guys will be in the Hall (Shaq & KG for sure) (maybe Dirk & CWebb) Then again, the way the L keeps stats and the surge of media, marginal guys get blown up nowadays. I should of taken the time to go into my memory bank before writing this but I’m close to accurate (I hope) lol

  • BostonBaller

    B. King 11yrs in East Dr. J, Bobby Jones, Moses & a young Barkley…Marquis Johnson, Dominique W, Reggie Theus, O Woolridge, a young Reggie Miller, Larry Nance late 80′s, Terry Cumming’s for 5 yrs, Dennis Rodman, Pippen & H Grant for a few years..(Dan Roundfield, Jr Bridgeman, Cliff Livingston, Paul Pressey, Jeff Ruland, Rick Mahorn) just a few names of some solid to all-star to HOF players in the LB era not yo mention TEAMS that were tough year after year. We can agree to disagree on some points but I’m sure neither of us would scream injustice regardless of which one we had on our team.

  • http://jksldf.com Jukai

    ^^^
    Why are you naming guys out of position for Larry Bird but not for Duncan?
    Look, I love Larry, but lets get some facts straight: Dr J dominated Bird very early in Bird’s career. They knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs three out of the four years when Larry first came into the league (and each time, the Celtics had homecourt advantage). Now those Phili teams were great, but a big issue was that Bird simply could not contain Dr. J.
    When McHale became a main force for the Celtics, KC would literally make McHale defend the three against guys like Wilkins and Worthy because a) he wanted Bird roaming but also and more predominantly b) Bird would get lit up if these guys tried to iso Bird.
    Bird was a fantastic team defender because of his incredibly high basketball IQ, quick hands, and hustle. But he wasn’t lockdown, and he wasn’t anywhere near the level that Duncan was on defensively.

  • http://jksldf.com Jukai

    To stress this point, please see 8x all defensive first team and 5x all defensive second team compare to Bird’s paltry 3x all defensive second team in an age of no-defense small forwards like Alex English, Bernard King and Kiki Vanderweigh.

  • BostonBaller

    We all know LB was a help defender and not a one on one guy, the names are of guys his size or position of the time that he went up against and yes McHale (Don’t forget Cornbread) were the main forward defenders but those guys were named b/c they were threats and LB did indeed have to guard them from time to time and they had to guard him and they could not do it. (The 6ers bounced Bos out early on but LB held his own.) There are several names for TD also but in or out of position the names are just not as prominent. Don’t get it wrong, TD is one of my top players and I’m not trying to say he couldn’t defend or wasn’t a great defender (He was)..the translation that was lost was mainly to show those who thought LB was a total slob on D that he indeed did defend so pretty good players (not all game but who does?) TD didn’t always light up or shut down/contain his opponents either early on in his career. (Hakeem, Shaq..I know, Shaq was a traditional Center but they went head to head and he was mentioned earlier.) Think about it…how many top players guard the other teams top player at their position unless they have too..?

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    I thought Duncan guarded Shaq better than anyone in the League early in his career. I also forgot to put Rasheed on my list, which was a constant battle for Duncan back in the day.
    Basically, from watching them play, I feel Duncan was an elite defender. Bird was average. Maybe saying “toddler” was too strong, but I wanted to make the point that if Bird has the edge offensively, which he does, then Duncan has the clear edge defensively. So it basically comes down to your feelings on the way they impacted the League and stacked up to their peers. And it’s really not ridiculous that SLAM had Duncan higher than Bird on its list.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    No one can consistently guard Julius Irving. I mean…
    And, at least Bird’s defensive acumen and abilities were finally properly addressed. In my opinion.
    Tim Duncan’s, as well. For he cannot guard anyone on the perimeter.
    Garnett and Bird can. Garnett in his prime… never mind. We already know.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Saying Bird can guard on the perimeter is a stretch.
    Guard who? Quick 3s? Um, no he can’t. Duncan guarded Garnett. He guarded Webber. No, he couldn’t guard small forwards and shooting guards regularly, but he would show on screens and make them work for their buckets on switches.
    Garnett is one of the top five greatest defensive players of all-time and might be the best big man of all-time. Expecting everybody to do what he did is ridiculous.
    Duncan was much, MUCH better than Bird as a defender. I’m not sure why this is arguable.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    All that I am doing is getting back to my original point, which was, Bird can distract perimeter players. Duncan cannot distract any perimeter guys. I thought that that was established.
    Of course Bird can’t GUARD a guard…
    But he can distract him. Make him think a little.
    Duncan shows up on the perimeter, a guy like Rick Brunson takes him off the dribble.

  • BostonBaller

    TD much better on defense LB played just enough D to annoy players. LB killed dudes on offense and TD more than held his own on O. As far as impacting the game, LB and Magic came along when the game was in a bit of trouble and breathed life into it. I still think TD has some quality game left in him, not a total impact player/game changer on a nightly bases but I believe he can get it done when it counts. I rank guys like LB & Magic higher than TD & Shaq b/c of the whole resurgence thing along with them being beasts on the court…again, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

  • http://jkasflf.com Jukai

    @Allen: I’m with you a thousand percent on everything except the Duncan/Bird ranking on SLAM… I’ve stated before, Duncan has that one extra championship and as players they were pretty equal… but Bird has the stats, the personal achievements (more MVPs and such), he’s been to the Finals seven times (compared to Duncan’s four) and had an impact on the league which far obliterated Duncan, who was considered boring and bad for the league.
    And Duncan slowed down Shaq better than anyone. That includes Hakeem.

  • jimmer

    Hmmm. Is Duncan not just Hakeem but with less athleticism, slower feet, with poorer rebounding and shot blocking acumen? Good player and all, but other than Shaq, his peers in the paint have been a cakewalk, and two of his championships were gimmes. A pot luck knicks team after half a season, and a ‘representative from the eastern conference’ to put it politely, in 2007. Larry ledge went up against some of the greatest dynasties in history to get his titles, every.single.year. An NBA title has relative value, folks. Duncan’s great and all, amazing all round robot game, did some great stuff in ’03 and ’05, but its easy to be the tallest guy in the room when everyone else is short.

  • BostonBaller

    Let’s not sell TD short..instant HOFer. I just watched NBA trash talkers on youtube and of course LB was on that list but some of the stuff was classic.

  • Armando

    Jukai, I wouldn’t call 3 all-def 2nd teams paltry (even compared to TD’s achievements)… you have to be more than decent at at least some aspects of defense to be considered among the 10 best defenders in the league three times… nevertheless, TD is by far a better defender although I do rank Bird higher than him overall. Both are top ten and to compare them is rather meaningless. That being said, this response thread is among the best basketball discussions I have seen in quite a while. Serious arguments backed up by hard facts, and no trolls.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Um, Larry Bird also had the benefit of getting his titles with cats like Parrish, McHale, DJ, Walton and Archibald riding shotgun.
    Duncan had Parker, Manu and Robinson, but none of his teams were EVER as stacked as the Celtics. So yes, he faced inferior comp, but he had an inferior team as well.
    I think Duncan is clearly underrated on offense by many people. His post game is so incredibly subtle that most people don’t appreciate the brilliance of it. Dude was a beast offensively and defensively. That’s why I give him the edge.
    MVPs are nice, but y’all know I have serious issues with how they are handed out. Duncan was All-Defense for like 12 straight years! that’s incredible.

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    Well, at least Bird is seemingly no longer underrated defensively.

  • Harvey

    Wow I’m loving this discussion. I’m only 16 but I’m a HUGE basketball fan. Most of my knowledge is secondhand but I still think I have a decent knowledge.

    Anyways, all of the points have been very valid. Duncan definitely has Bird by the short ones on D, but Bird’s still better, and has always (seemingly) been an underated defender and athlete. Young Bird was definitely no slouch. The problem I think is that when people imagine Bird they imagine ’92 Bird when he was overweight and broken down.

    Beyond that, imo Bird was a better player than Magic, but Magic’s higher on my goat list. (Jordan, Kareem, Magic, Bird…Russel would be #2 but I think it’s hard to include him based on the era)

    Bird at his peak was, I think, the GREATEST player to ever touch the ball. There literally wasn’t anything he couldn’t do (besides athletic things…). He got bored during games because he was so freaking good. Who else can you say that about? Sure guys will have a hot game and throw up crap to see if it goes in, but who does it all season long? I think that if his back hadn’t gave out on him he’d have been the greatest of all time.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading all of your points and arguments, and I’m glad I found this site, I’ll be sure to check into it in the future as well. Hopefully none of you disregard what I have to say because I regretfully never got to see him play live.

    -Harvey

  • Mooney10

    Guy is way better than Duncan, no contest! 24, 10 & 6. What are duncan’s numbers like? Less talented guys on the Spurs, rediculous comment Robinson, Parker etc. They had guys, Bird is the man!

  • golakeshow

    Larry bird sucks. Magic johnson FTW

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