One of the most interesting debates in sports is how players would perform if put into other eras. It usually leads to an intriguing debate, because it is impossible to actually come up with an answer. Some people will always defend players in the past, maybe because they saw them play when they were younger. Their bias is towards nostalgia. While others will always back the players who are playing today. They are using recency bias. In no other sport is this debate more prevalent than in basketball.
I believe Larry Bird would be great in today’s NBA. His skill would absolutely transfer over into modern basketball. A 6 foot 9 forward that can shoot the lights out, make any pass, and rebound better than most at his position still plays today. While he would not be one of the most athletic on the court, he would be one of the smartest.
An excellent shooter, Bird would have benefited greatly from the emphasis on the 3 point line. While he finished his career with a solid 37.6% 3 point percentage, he only attempted 1.9 3’s a game. For context, Stephen Curry has averaged 8.2 shots a game. Bird did not practice with a 3 point line growing up, and yet still found a way to make it an important part of his game.
While Bird was not a shutdown defender, he found ways to contribute on that side of the court. He averaged 1.7 steals a game, and just a tick under a block per contest. Not to mention, Bird was a terrific rebounder in an era where centers and power forwards were prominent. He averaged 8 defensive rebounds per game.
He was also terrific at getting in the passing lanes of the other forwards. While Kevin McHale would guard the more offensively gifted forward, Bird would roam around like a Tiger in the brush. Guarding the less skilled forward, Bird could focus on steals and helping out on rebounds. So while he was not the best one on one defender, he could absolutely help a team defensively.
Lastly, injuries derailed Bird basically his entire career. It would be fascinating to see how Bird’s back, achilles, and elbow would have recovered with modern medicine. Not to mention all the other benefits athletes have now with personal chefs, the best shoes, and more sophisticated exercise programs.
One thing that irritates me about this argument in general is discrediting any athlete that played in the past just because they played in the past. For context, Larry Bird retired just five years before Kobe Bryant made his debut. Superstar athletes who played 1 to 2 generations ago would be great today. While I would try to argue the same for great athletes of any era, the conversation is more difficult the further back in time you go.
There are more reasons to wonder if Honus Wagner or Bob Cousy would have as much success, because their leagues were not as established.
However, Larry Bird played into the 1990’s. He was dominant in the 1980’s. Bird arguably had one of the best decades an athlete enjoyed in the 20th century. I do not believe a player goes from MVP, Hall of Famer, a legend of their sport to barely making the league in less than 30 years. Larry Bird, with his 24 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists per game would be great in today’s NBA. Honestly, in some ways he would be even better.
Story by Chad Jones
Follow Chad on Twitter @shutupchadjones