My Take on Bird

Kevin Garnett's Boston Celtics hearken back to the Bill Russell Era. Russell won the first 11 Celtics titles, Garnett the most recent. Over the last year of Celtic hoopla, the five titles in between have been overlooked to some extent.

Speaking of titles, Kareem and Jordan have 6, Magic 5, and Duncan and Shaq 4. Then there is Larry with his humble three. Again, the temptation is to minimize and diminish #33.

Even I have succumbed to this temptation. I look at Hondo with his eight and wonder why he's always ranked third behind Russell and Bird on the list of all-time Celtic greats. The titles suggest he should be ahead of Bird.

On Bird's behalf, however, I find two arguments particularly persuasive.

First, at the height of Bird's power, observers who had seen both Russell and Bird play declared Bird the best all-around player in Celtics history. This would include both Bob Ryan and Red Auerbach.

The second argument is that the list of the ten best regular season records compiled over a five-year period is populated with six Celtics teams, five of which are from the Bird Era. In fact, Larry's teams own four of the first six slots. This would seem to counter, if only partially, the extra titles won by the others.

Nor are titles the be-all, end-all measure for evaluating the all-time NBA greats. If that were true, Shaq and Duncan would be better than Wilt and a number of Celtics (Hondo, Sam Jones) would be better than MJ and Magic. I'm not buying.

I don't have any way resolving the debate. Nor does anyone else. But I am pretty confident Bird deserves to be at the table when the question is asked. Michael Jordan isn't sitting at the table by himself, and I don't think he's sitting there alone with Bill Russell either.

In conclusion, I will take one stand.

Larry Bird was the greatest forward in NBA history, and on that count I'm not gonna budge.


The Kid said...

The thing I take from Red Auerbach and Bob Ryan calling Bird the best Celtic during the height of his career, is that sometimes you can't give that kind of perspective on an active player's career. There's a tendency for people to call something that's new or current better than something that is old. As time goes on it's easier to put things in a historical perspective.

There's 2 examples of this I can give, I was reading a Sports Illustrated from the 1954-55 season when I was looking for info on the Celtics from around that time and a writer called Tom Gola the best college basketball player of all time at the beginning of the season. By the end of that season Bill Russell who got no coverage at the beginning of the season would make a name for himself and Gola's praise went down. In 1989 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Brent Musberger mentioned some people were already calling Michael Jordan the greatest player ever which is incredible considering he only had 1 MVP and won virtually nothing by that point. Imagine if he suffered a career ending injury the next year, that talk was too premature.

Lex said...

Yeah, the latest and the greatest always gets the most attention.

What role does longevity play?

Is pete rose a better hitter than rod carew?

Russell's dominance lasted the longest--is he the best?

Wilt only won two titles--is he automatically disqualified from being the best?

For bird, the critical period was 1979-87.

He did some astounding things during that period.

All I'm saying is he deserves to be in the conversation.

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