Larry Bird is universally regarded as one of the top 10-15 players of all-time, and clips of Bird calling his shots before hitting them, winning the three-point contest in warm-ups, trash talking, and generally dominating in every conceivable way have become popular among the social media crowd in recent months.
Nobody can take away Bird’s accomplishments, which include 3 NBA titles, 3 MVP awards, 12 All-Star Game appearances, 3 All-Defensive Team selections and much more.
But inevitably, the conversation always seems to center around one topic: how would Bird do in today’s NBA, considering what many deem to be his lack of athleticism?
Questions surrounding this topic have dogged Bird perhaps more in retirement than at any time over the course of his actual career, simply because of the uniquely methodical and cerebral way he played the game.
Derrick Rose, a former MVP and one of the most athletic modern day players ever before suffering serious knee injuries, had the following to say about Bird in a 2013 interview during which he pegged “The Hick From French Lick” as his “player he admires who’s not Michael Jordan.”
“I think for someone to be not athletic like, don’t have a athletic bone in his body and still go out there and score 40 points in an NBA game, that shows how you how hard he works, he just outworks people so I can understand that, I can relate to it.”
But what many people don’t realize is that Bird was plenty athletic enough to dominate even some of the greatest pure athletes the game has ever seen.
From playoff shootouts against Dominique Wilkins to Sunday afternoon victories against the Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, Bird never had any problems getting his famously pure shot off against even the staunchest of defenders.
Now that Bird has been out of the game for nearly 30 years (27 to be exact as of the writing of this article), his accomplishments, and yes, his athleticism, have been hotly debated in NBA fan circles.
Bird Throws Down on Rodman, Arguably the Greatest Defensive Player of All-Time
It was just one play, but one that may be shocking to people who still doubt Bird’s athletic prowess despite the heaps of All-Star appearances, titles, supreme confidence and domination over 13 seasons in one of the most stacked NBA eras of all-time.
Scroll ahead to the 41-minute mark in the clip below to watch Bird throw down on seven-time All-Defensive Team selection and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Dennis Rodman:
The play happened in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where Bird just so happened to drop 31 points to go along with 12 assists and 9 rebounds against one of the NBA’s all-time great defensive teams.
While Rodman was a rookie in this series and he managed to make a big key plays himself, the highlight remains a startling piece of evidence that there was more to Bird than meets the eye: namely the ability to beat even the most athletic players at their own game, when the occasion called for it.
Don’t forget also that Rodman was far from your average rookie: he worked his way into the rotation of a veteran-laden Pistons team, and was actually 26 years old at the time; a far cry from today’s rookie class, which averaged a new low of 20.7 years old in 2018.
Bird was unfazed by The Worm’s usual stifling defense, and managed to show yet again why he should never be underestimated.
It’s a lesson that took decades for millions of NBA fans to learn, and hopefully one that won’t be forgotten as the game continues to evolve and Bird’s basketball genius is placed even further in the rearview mirror.
How do you think Bird would fare in today’s NBA? Would he be a quality player, an All-Star or a the same “Larry Legend” we all grew to know and love? Let us know in the comments section below, or on our Facebook page here.