Upon Further Review: The Best Players in NBA History, #5
In what will become a daily entry over the course of the next month, Waiver Wire writers Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi will release a list of the the 25 players who they believe to be the best in NBA history. Players were judged on their careers as a whole rather than short stretches of dominance (for example, Bill Walton didn’t make the list due to injuries cutting his career short).
Vinny Ginardi: Three-time MVP award winner. Three-time NBA champion. Two-time Finals MVP. Nine-time member of the All-NBA first team. NBA Rookie of the Year. The list goes on and on.
What makes Larry Legend so special was his offensive ability. And that doesn’t mean that he was just a great scorer, because he was so much more than that. But as a scorer, they don’t come much more efficient than Bird. He was the first ever member of the 50-40-90 Club (field goal percentage, three point percentage, free throw percentage), and he did it twice. He led the league in free throw percentage four different times and finished with a field goal percentage just under 50%.
Bird might be the best non-point guard passer of all-time. In eight different seasons, Bird have six assists or more per game. What says even more about Bird is that he reinvented himself as a facilitator later in his career when he could no longer score like he once could. In Bird’s last three seasons, he averaged 7.5, 7.2, and 6.8 assists per game, his three highest averages of his career. For his career, Bird finished with career splits of 24.3, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game.
Bird’s ability to score, pass, rebound, lead, and win make him one of the all-time greats. While he wasn’t the best one-on-one defender the league has ever seen, his positives far outweigh the negative.
Greg Kaplan: What Vinny failed to mention that makes Bird one of my favorite talents to ever play in the NBA is that he was also the league’s best trash-talker. It was common place for Bird to pick a fight on the court with an opposing player and tell them what he was going to do once he got to the other end of the court. Or, after making a big shot, Bird would turn around to the opponents bench and tell them what he thought of it.
There’s also a fascinating “what if” with Bird that only makes his legend even more powerful. What if Len Bias didn’t pass away before he ever played a professional basketball game? Would his addition mean the Celtics wouldn’t had to rely so heavily on Bird? Would Bird’s back been afforded the time off it really needed to remain healthy deeper into his career? Would Bird’s prime been extended be the infusion of top, young talent? We will never have answers to these questions, but they are easily some of the most fascinating talking points when thinking about what could have been for Larry Bird and the Celtics.
Plain and simple, Larry Legend was one of the all-time greats when he was at the top of his career. His rivalry with Magic Johnson is one of the best in sports history, up there with Ali-Frazier, Yankees-Red Sox and Vaughn-Parkman. Does it help that Bird played in one of the more iconic sports cities and coming from the basketball-crazy Indiana? I mean, it certainly gives him a Hoosiers feel to his career. It helps play up the story line.
Fact is, Bird was amazing. Better than most that ever played the game, and those who grew up while he was playing will keep his legend alive for generations to come. That’s why we have Bird at #5.