A little under a week ago, Mark Jackson was giving the play-by-play commentary during the Heat vs. Pacers game, and he made a comment that blew up all over social media. He said that LeBron James is the best small forward of all time. Once he said it, the world of Twitter was polarized beyond belief, some agreed with what Mark Jackson said, and some, myself included, found it nothing short of laughable. I ask a simple question: Is LeBron James really a better player than Larry Bird? The answer is clearly “no”.
I want to preface my comments by saying that I can’t stand the “X is a better player than Y” debate; it may be fun to talk about, but it serves little to no purpose whatsoever. However, I feel obligated to defend the legend that is Larry Bird by mentioning how disrespectful it is to even mention James in the same breathe as Bird. It’s not because I don’t believe LeBron is a good player, it’s because I believe Bird’s legacy is being tarnished by us being prisoners of the moment.
I am not going to deny that we are watching greatness take place when it comes to LeBron; he’s on his way to his fourth straight NBA Finals, with a chance to three-peat, but the circumstances that it took for him to get there shouldn’t be ignored. When LeBron was in Cleveland, everyone knew that he was the best player on the team by far, he carried a bunch of no-names to the NBA Finals, but he couldn’t get it done. He then went to Miami in the famed “Decision” and got to the finals again, this time against the Dallas Mavericks, who got to the finals in the most shocking of circumstances; by sweeping the two time reigning and defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers four games to nothing. What happened in that series was unbelievable, the underdogs Mavericks beat the highly favored Heat with their star LeBron simply collapsing under the pressure of the moment in all four quarters of every game of that series. I have another question to ask: Has Bird ever shown any inclination of cracking under any sort of pressure?
It’s obvious that the answer is “no”. Bird has lost in big games before, but who beat him? The greatness of the Showtime Lakers with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the legendary 76ers with Dr. J and Moses Malone, and the Bad Boy Pistons with Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas. Bird fought his hardest in every high-pressured situation, and did all he could to win those games. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, but Bird was never at fault of disappearing in the fourth quarter of any game in his career, especially against underdogs with only one player who could barely be considered a superstar in Dirk Nowitski.
LeBron has all the ability in the world to be considered the greatest ever, but he simply has to get his head straight. Last year, people talked about how he won his second ring against a San Antonio Spurs team that was easily superior, but did he really lead his team to victory in the now infamous Game 6? He had three key turnovers in that game that almost cost his team the championship only to have Ray Allen hit the most important shot of both Ray and LeBron’s career. If LeBron finally plays to his ability, especially in late game situations, I may change my mind, but until then, I’d rather build my team around Bird, not only on his great skill, but his unbelievable intangibles.
— You can follow Hosam Kateb on Twitter @HosKateb