Why Larry Bird would be the GOAT if he never got injured
Every once in a while, we fall along a player that is in a tier with the best of the best. These players are able to dominate the game, and are players that will never be forgotten for the rest of basketball history. For 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, from 1979-80 through 1991-92, Bird personified hustle, consistency and excellence in all areas of play. As a scorer, rebounder, passer, defender, team player, and most of all, a clutch performer, Bird defined the persona of a legend. The question is, could he have left an even larger legacy behind him. Bird battled through injuries his whole career, and unfortunately it brought an early end to his time in the NBA. Thus, I will be explaining to you, why Larry Bird would be the GOAT if he never got injured.
Though I normally don't like bringing this into a conversation sometimes it has to be. Comparing to other legends surrounding talent, Bird had it much tougher...
LBJ started off his career with near no talent around him, making the feats he accomplished with his early days in Cleveland are astonishing. But, withstanding that, Miami was a superteam, that many believed should've had atleast a three peat, and his newly improved Cavs were incredible until the 2017-18 season. On Miami playing next to CB4 (or now CB1) and DWade, the Heat were incredible, and were championship favourites every season. This team was easily able to dismantle the Eastern Conference year in and year out, but during the Finals they had struggles that they shouldn't have had as such a strong team. On the new Cavs, he had KLove and budding star Kyrie on his team, which had similar effects in the Eastern Conference as well as the Finals. The one thing that must be remembered is that for all but two of his many finals appearances, he has had other superstars around him.
It's no secret Jordan destroyed the competition, but it's very interesting when they praise Jordan for dominating, but discredit today's competition in comparison. It's interesting because what people fail to realize is that Jordan played in the 90s version of the Golden State Warriors that we see tear apart the league today. Jordan's Bulls were absolutely the equivalent in their era. Of course both teams were built and constructed differently, but their dominance and status were the same and brought the same terror to the league. Jordan played under arguably the greatest coach we've ever seen in Phil Jackson, with one of the best two way players we've ever seen in Scottie Pippen, who was an MVP caliber talent. To add on they had a supreme bunch of role players who were specialist shooters in a time where there were much less than now in Steve Kerr, BJ Armstrong, Toni Kukoc, Craig Hodges and John Paxson, and arguably the greatest rebounder and maybe defender ever in Dennis Rodman. Unlike other superstars, Jordan never faced a team in the playoffs or NBA Finals that had a better team or head coach than he did. Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar was amazing, but one part of his legacy is his 6 Championships. The issue is the fact that those championships were when he wasn't the #1 player, and outside of his ring with the Bucks, Magic Johnson led him to those championships. Even though he picked up a FMVP with the Lakers it was definitely not deserved. All in all, Kareem's biggest case has huge wholes, and his supporting cast of Magic also contained underrated star Worthy as well as many other borderline all stars.
Not to take away from players like Parish and McHale, but in comparison to the stars these guys played with, they're near nothing. Parish was an aging Center that was thought to be lazy and unmotivated before Bird came and McHale was some unknown rookie that no one thought anything about. Though they were definitely wrong about both players, that was much impart due to Bird pushing them and making them better. McHale and Parish were very strong players but were never close to MVP contention. As you can see, Bird's teammates were nowhere close to as good as the other three had, making it much harder to do what he did as a player.
I have seen arguments about how Lebron James played tougher competition than Jordan in the NBA Finals, or that the NBA was tougher when Jordan played. But, as I see it, there is little debate that the 1980s were the greatest time for the NBA. In the 80s, star studded teams were scattered all over the NBA landscape. The Eastern Conference saw teams like the Philadelphia 76ers with Dr. J, Bobby Jones, a young Chuck, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney and Moses Malone. The Milwaukee Bucks brought Sidney Moncrief, Bob Lanier and Marques Johnson, an underrated team not to be taken lightly. The soon to be title winning Detroit Pistons, who started to come into their own in 1985, were building their team as well. They also had to get past MJ's Bulls in the later 80s, a challenge hard for most. And we can't forget about Dominique Wilkins and his Atlanta Hawks or the New York Knicks led by Bernard King.
Larry Bird had to beat these great players and teams just to get to the NBA Finals. The Western Conference was not as deep but you still had the early 80s Houston Rockets, first with Moses Malone and later on with Hakeem Olajuwon, San Antonio Spurs teams led by George Gervin, the Phoenix Suns led by Walter Davis, and emerging teams such as the Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz and Seattle Supersonics. And, you must already be noticing a team missing. The Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were a team loaded with stars, having two of the top players in the league Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They met up twice in the finals with the Rockets, beating them both times, and three times with the Lakers, where they grabbed one title.
Other great players in the GOAT conversation played in eras with much less competition. LeBron has had very tough competition throughout his career in the finals, but since joining the Heat, the Eastern Conference is a breeze to escape. MJ played an expansion era, which very much diluted the talent, as well as caused their record and his stats to be inflated. Kareem began his career in the lowly 70s, where consistency was nowhere to be found, and stars were lost. That was to be said for all outside of Abdul-Jabbar. That caused him to win 5 MVPs with nearly no competition, as well as a championship, and also to inflate his stats. His final MVP was also just when Bird and Magic were rookies, and during his final two championships, he wasn't a huge factor anymore because of his ageing.
Larry Bird Made Teammates Better
Bird led the Indiana State Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA Title game. Yes, I said the Indiana State Sycamores! He then went to a Celtics team in 1980 that was coming off one of the worst seasons in their history and immediately took them to the Eastern Conference Finals. I know that in the offseason the Celtics had added Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale, but McHale was an unknown rookie and Parrish was considered unmotivated and lazy, that is until he got to Boston. Lebron makes everybody better around him also, but Bird, if need be, would take a game over and win it in the fourth quarter himself, which James has not always been able to do. Jordan could also dominate to lead a team like Bird did, but Jordan never really worried that much about getting his teammates involved in the game. Bird is kind of a combination of Jordan and James, the best of both worlds. He was able to take over the game by utilizing all of the tools around him. Larry Legend helped squeeze out every ounce of talent and skill from an aging Parrish and an originally unknown McHale to create a team to not be forgotten.
Bird in the Playoffs
Bird in the playoffs was as clutch as any player who ever lived. In 1981, just to get to the Finals, the Celtics had to overcome a 3-1 deficit against a great Philadelphia 76ers team that would make the finals three times between 1980 and 1983. Then, after dismantling the Sixers, the Celtics took down Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets to win Bird's first title. In 1984, the Celtics won what many feels was the greatest NBA Finals series ever played against one of the greatest teams in NBA history in Magic and Kareem's Los Angeles Lakers. In '86, the Celtics took down the Twin Towers of the Houston Rockets to win Bird his third title. In those two championship runs, Larry took over every series and brought an explosiveness to the Celtics game that helped them dig out wins over teams that were most likely stronger skill wise.
In the 1987 Conference Finals, the Celtics were losing to the Pistons in a crucial game. With Boston down by a point and Detroit in possession of the ball in the closing seconds of the game, those famed Celtic leprechauns decided to make an appearance. As Detroit's Isiah Thomas prepared to toss the ball inbounds from the sideline, Boston's Larry Bird looked away from his man and stole a glance at Thomas. Bird reacted towards Thomas' eyes, cutting into the passing lane and stealing the ball before it could reach Laimbeer's hands. His momentum looked like it would carry him out of bounds, but Bird somehow managed to gather his balance at the baseline and turn toward the court, where he spotted teammate Dennis Johnson beginning his cut from the foul line toward the basket. There, Bird saved them and ended up bringing them to the Finals, in one of his clutches moments.
Now you might say that some players have won more than three titles and of course you would be right, but the only reason Jordan won more is the fact that Bird had to compete against the Lakers. Either the Lakers or Celtics were in every finals during the decade of the 1980s. Bird's competition was far superior to Lebron or Jordan's. On top of that, clutch doesn't necessarily mean the championships you win but how you win them, and Bird was able to drag along each and everyone one of his teammates to the finals if need be, and when the time was running down they would always call his number, and he would always succeed.
I will now be explaining how without injuries Larry Bird would've been much greater...
Larry Bird was so dominate, that when his back started to act up in the 1987-88 season all fans could tell something was wrong. He simply wasn't moving right, and always seemed distant while playing. Even though it was his most productive season until that point, it was even more obvious in the playoffs something was wrong. Bird, though never a fast player, always displayed quickness while being light on his toes. During this post season Larry's feet looked very heavy. He often looked distracted and out of the flow of the offense. On many occasions, Bird rushed his shot and, dare I say, even forced more then a few bad shots. On top of that, uncharacteristically Bird's Points, Rebounds and Field Goal percentages drastically dropped during the postseason.
In the Conference Finals of that season, the Pistons defense took over, for the first time in their history making the finals, shutting down the Celtics four straight finals appearance streak. Many heralded the Detroit defense for holding Larry to 10 ppg in the conference finals. What many didn't know was that Larry Bird was hampered by painful bones spurs in both feet. As the 1989 season began the Boston Celtics kept their starting five intact but with little bench help added it looked as if Bird would be, once again, forced to play extended minutes. After just 6 games, Larry elected to have surgery on his feet that would sideline him for the rest of the season. After that, Bird was never the same as injuries plagued the realist of his career. Though once in while we would see the glimpses of the star in him, as he finally retired in 1992.
If Bird never retired, we can expect that they once again beat out the Pistons, before going on to what would be his fourth and final championship. Stats wise, his next two seasons would see him averaging around 27 PPG, 9 RPG and 6 APG, before finishing off his career with six more seasons where he would average around 22 PPG, 9 RPG and 7 APG. That would leave his career championship number at 4, as well as boost his career averages. He would also collect four more all star appearances and a few more All NBA Appearances. All in all, if Bird never got injured he would have more championships, a more impressive longevity, as well as more all star appearances and All NBA spots, possibly enough to skyrocket him to #1 on more basketball fans respective lists.
Bird helped rebuild a Celtics franchise that had been suffering from subpar play and poor attendance in the late 1970s. With Bird as the focal point of a well rounded squad, the Celtics won three NBA titles and 10 Atlantic Division crowns. In addition to his three championship rings, Bird piled up an astounding collection of personal achievements. He was a 12-time All-Star, a two-time NBA Finals MVP and a nine-time member of the All-NBA First Team, and as you can see he had more in him. If Bird was able to stay healthy, who knows what he could've done. I believe, with the evidence to back it up, Larry Bird would've been the GOAT.