DALLAS, Texas (105.3 THE FAN) – Yesterday, a question was posed in our pre-show meeting: Is LeBron James better than Larry Bird?
I immediately answered, “No,” then pondered for a moment, “I mean … um … no, no,” and then I paused again and said, “Well … maybe.”
The question was tough and I really needed to figure this out – who is the best small forward of all time?
And what was the conclusion I came to? C’mon people, simply look at the title of the article (unless it’s been high jacked by our webmaster) or just read the rest of this blog.
The two have staggeringly similar accomplishments.
James has a career average of 27.5 points per game, 6.9 assists per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. That’s a total of 41.6. Compare that to Bird’s total of 40.6 (24.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, 10 RPG). Too close to call – what about NBA Finals MVPs, well both have two – so that’s no help. And both were named Rookie of the Year (Bird in 1980 and James in 2004).
What about other impressive achievements?
Bird helped the Boston Celtics improve 32 games from the 1978-79 season to 1979-80 (his rookie year), which is the biggest increase in NBA history. But James single-handedly took the 2006-07 Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, which I think we can all agree is a monumental accomplishment as well.
Looks like we’ll have to dig deeper into the numbers.
James has more regular-season MVPs than Bird (4-3), but Bird holds advantages in both All-Star game nods (12-10) and All-NBA first-team selections (9-8). Bird was named one of the top five players in the NBA for nine consecutive years while James’ current streak is at seven. So, perhaps that is enough for Bird to slightly outshine James’ edge in MVP awards.
But if it is, James can swing the pendulum back in his favor with defense.
Bird was named to the NBA’s All-Defense second team three times, but James has been on the first team five times.
So … that pretty much leaves the two even in overall career accomplishments once more.
Perhaps intangibles will help us figure this query out. Bird is probably the guy you would want shooting the ball with the game on the line and, of course, had the better McDonald’s commercials, but James clearly has a better fitting uniform and an ability to impact the game in more ways.
And no, I don’t think level of competition should be the determining factor. I know people will point to the 1980s NBA as the league’s glory years and that’s perfectly fair, especially considering Bird faced one of the top 10 players in NBA history and the greatest point guard of all time (Magic Johnson) in three NBA Finals. Then again, James has now faced one of the top 10 players in NBA history and the greatest power forward of all time (Tim Duncan) in three NBA Finals.
And therein lies where Bird holds the tiebreaker.
Bird went to the NBA Finals five times and won three championships, including his run with the 1985-86 Celtics, which is widely regarded as one of (if not the) greatest teams of all time. James is now in his fifth NBA Finals and seeking title No. 3. To me, that makes Bird the superior player.
But then again, check back with me in a week or so.
If James has won his third title at that point and captured his third Finals MVP (giving him one more than Bird), then King James might just have the advantage.
So, while the comparisons between James and Michael Jordan may be premature, let’s not ignore the fact that at the age of 29, James is on the precipice of surpassing Bird (one of the six or seven greatest players in NBA history) and becoming the best small forward ever.
And he’s only 29!
I know there are still plenty of people that hate James, but you gotta respect that game.
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