Following NBA TV's riveting and highly entertaining documentary that premiered Wednesday night, showcasing the story of the 1992 "Dream Team" with outstanding behind the scenes footage and stories from the greatest team ever assembled, the oldest basketball argument of my generation has been rekindled.
Is Michael Jordan or Larry Bird the greatest basketball player ever?
I can already see the disgust in your face, scoffing at the thought of someone even posing that question. How could anyone be compared with His Airness, the man with six titles, five MVP awards and 14 All-Star selections?
But Larry Legend can be compared, because in discussing one player's individual abilities, accolades must be left out of the equation. Championship rings can't be counted because it's a team sport. You can't compare role players who all had a hand in winning the titles these two players won. The MVP and All-Star selections are voted on, which takes objectivity away.
So we have just one thing to use to determine the best basketball player ever: the statistics.
You can argue dominance by big men, but they lack an outside game. Clutch shooters have won many games for their teams despite average performances. Other players get the attention of the world by being scorers without possessing an all-around game.
So here comes the statement that will force many of you to post a comment using the words idiot, blockhead and nincompoop.
Larry Joe Bird is the greatest basketball player who ever lived.
Before you get all fired up, just hear me out. Bird's career stats aren't as glamorous as Jordan's because his points per game average isn't as high, but his all-around game was better. Remember, this is about the best player ever, not scorer, winner or clutch performer.
What he lacks in scoring by six points, Bird makes up in other categories. Their career field-goal percentages are tied and The Hick from French Lick has the advantage in both three-point and free-throw percentage. But MJ was a better offensive player, right?
Larry averaged a double-double for his career, adding 10 rebounds per game to his 24 points. Jordan averaged six. And people will blame that on the positions they played, which I understand, but this is a conversation about the best player and to me that is whoever makes an impact on the game in as many ways as possible. Bird also holds the advantage in assists, showing a knack for getting teammates involved since basketball is after all a team sport.
Jordan was and probably still is the most recognized athlete on the planet, with great marketing campaigns and his own line of shoes that still cause riots on release days. But without the attention generated by Bird and Magic Johnson in the 80's, none of that would have been possible. Before those two came into the league, the Finals were shown on tape delay late at night. Now they're receiving higher-than-ever ratings.
I understand he was a polarizing figure, and a country boy from a small town in Indiana isn't exactly a marketer's dream, but when the stats are laid out I find it incredibly difficult to say MJ was the best ever with little or no doubt. I believe he was an extremely close second due to the simple fact that Bird's game was multi-faceted. And the years he didn't win the MVP? Magic was winning them. Jordan just didn't have another single player who posed that much of a threat to him winning awards.
And if you're still hung up on accolades, I can use three specific awards to prove that Bird has a higher basketball IQ than anyone who has ever lived. He is the only person to ever be awarded the NBA MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year awards. Jordan's attempt at being an executive has netted a Kwame Brown top pick and the worst season in NBA history. Advantage: Larry.
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