So last week, in an interview while the U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Team was practicing prior to their trip to London, Kobe Bryant made a statement that raised eyebrows throughout the world. When asked how this current edition of “The Dream Team” would fare against the original squad back in ’92, he basically said it would be a tough game, but this team would pull it out against Magic, Michael, and the crew. To say that statement threw countless fans, players, and even the original “Dream Teamer’s” themselves for a loop is a major understatement. Since Bryant made that bold prediction last week, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Larry Bird have all responded, basically laughing off the notion that the 2012 team would even have a chance and could compete on the same floor as the 1992 team. Barkley, never at a loss for words on just about any topic, made it even a little clearer. He said, of the players that are on the team now, only three would have even made that team back in ’92….Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. Like most of what has ever come of Charles’ mouth, this was just as bold as what Kobe said last week. But Charles is absolutely correct. This team this year is very talented, and may be the best U.S. Olympic Team SINCE ’92, but in no way, shape, or form would they beat the ’92 team if both played at their best. Let us not forget, the ’92 team defeated its opponents that summer by an average of 44 points per game. 44 points! Every single player from that team, except Christian Laettner, is in the Hall of Fame. So let’s just put that discussion to bed, because the original “Dream Teamers” are the gold standard, and second place is not close. Very recently, a discussion between myself and a couple of friends was born mainly because of all of this “Dream Team” news. The topic came up of who is the better all-time player, Kobe Bryant or Larry Bird? After a few beverages, and several opinionated statements were made, we had a few very opposite ideas on who the better player has been. Personally, I will admit, I have “hated” both guys during their playing days, and for very different reasons. But, after thorough analysis and personal memories of seeing both guys play, I know which NBA legend is better and why.
Kobe Bryant should, and will, go down as a better player than Larry Bird. To be honest, I am not a fan of Kobe, as he has been one of my most “hated” players ever. Why, you ask? A few reasons. I think he has tried too much to look, act, and be like Michael Jordan. He tries too often to look cool, whereas Jordan just was cool. The whole incident in Eagle, Colorado several years ago was a real black eye for him as well. However, I can separate these things and look at what an unbelievable talent he is, and one of the greatest players of all time. I recall vividly seeing Larry Bird play countless times too, and realizing how special he was back in his day. I hated Larry because I was sort of a 76ers fan back when they had Dr. J, Moses Malone, and a very young Charles Barkley. Boston always seemed to get the better of Philly then, and it was usually “Larry Legend” who did the honors of nailing a back-breaking 3-pointer down the stretch. But over the years, my “hatred” for Bird has softened, and seeing old clips of him winning 3-point contests makes me smile a bit. He was an all-time great and like Kobe, will be remembered as a true legend of the NBA.
So why should Kobe Bryant go down as a better player than Larry Bird? Let’s look at some numbers and accolades, why don’t we? Can you believe Bryant has been in the NBA for 16 seasons already? And he is still one of the best players in the world today. He will be 34 next month, and realistically has probably 3 or 4 good years left in him. Larry Bird played 13 years for the Celtics, as a bad back caused his somewhat early retirement. Bird averaged 24.3 pts/game, and Kobe has averaged 25.4. Bird averaged 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists, while Kobe has averaged 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Bird was an 88% free throw shooter, while Kobe is an 84% free throw shooter. Bird made 49.6% of his field goals and 37.6% of his 3-pointers, whereas Kobe has made 45.0% of his field goals and 33.7% of his three’s. I will concede that Larry is probably the better shooter between the two, and as a bigger player, the better rebounder as well. But as far as accolades and accomplishments, Bryant has the edge big-time here. Defense is the other half of the game, and Kobe has been one of the best ever here. He has been named to the All-Defensive First Team 9 times, while Bird only made the second team 3 times. Kobe is a 13-time All-Star, while Bird was a 12-timer. You wanna talk playoffs? Bird averaged 23.8 pts/game while Kobe has averaged 30.0. Both players have been named the NBA Finals MVP twice. Bryant has been named to the All-NBA First Team 10 times, while Bird was named 9 times. Larry played in 8,976 games, while Kobe has played in 11,616 games. Kobe has 5 rings, Larry has 3. Kobe has 29,484 career points, 7th all-time. Bird has 21,791 career points, 34th all-time. Kobe should move past Julius Erving and Moses Malone on the all-time scoring list next season, into 5th place. Did I happen to mention that back in 2006, Kobe scored 81 points against Toronto? Larry’s most points ever in one game was 60.
“Larry Legend” and “The Black Mamba”, in my opinion, both belong on the list of Top 10 greatest NBA players ever. But its Kobe Bryant’s longevity, generally better career accomplishments, and more championships that make him the better player between the two. The scary part is, he isn’t done yet either. As I said, I don’t especially like Kobe, but I can recognize what an impact he has had on this game. Simply put, when his career is over, Bryant will go down as one of the Top 5 greatest players in NBA history.
Denver Sports by J Simp