“You can quote me: This is Larry Bird reincarnated.”
Many people have said this about Luka Doncic. But when it's coming from Cedric Maxwell, a guy who won two championships alongside Bird, it adds another dimension to what would some describe as a projecting attempt.
Then something like the series against the Suns happens. Suddenly, drawing comparisons with one of the NBA's all-time greats makes a lot more sense.
The level of basketball Doncic displayed against Phoenix is enough for the 23-year-old to at least scratch the surface of NBA immortality. It's also his first real postseason argument toward legendary status.
After back-to-back first-round exits to the Clippers -- he averaged 33.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 9.5 assists in the two series combined -- Luka (finally) took the next step, leading his team to a seven-game series upset against the 64-win Suns. He did it by outscoring Devin Booker, outrebounding Deandre Ayton, and outassisting Chris Paul.
Leading the Mavericks to WCF without a second star is a great feat. But it's just a drop in the ocean compared to Bird's portfolio of iconic moments.
Skills-wise, Luka is the closest thing to Larry we've ever seen. But until he can pile up collective and individual accolades, most people will be hesitant to put the fourth-year forward on the same level as the Celtics legend. That's why it's important to listen to what players have to say, especially those who played with or against Larry Legend.
Maxwell's compliments came in the midst of the 2020-21 regular season. John Salley handed out his going into the Mavericks' Conference Finals matchup against the Warriors.
"I would be afraid to play against Luka," Salley said. "That's how good he is. He is (this much) below Larry Bird. But Larry Bird would put fear in me, and everyone else just like Luka does."
It's too early to talk about Luka's NBA career in a historical context. It's also unfair to put him on Larry's level. However, it's also true that the Slovenian forward is on the trajectory of becoming an all-time great. And (if) when he gets there, most people will use Bird as his benchmark for greatness.
Accolades aside, Doncic possesses the Hall of Famer's offensive skillset on the court. He's also equally (un)athletic as the Celtics legend. But perhaps the biggest similarity between the two is the thing Salley pointed out; their fear factor.
Guys were scared of facing Bird. Today's players feel (or are going to) the same way about Doncic -- especially if he can lead his team past the Warriors and into the NBA Finals. Whatever the case may be, Doncic is bound to take over the NBA. Whether he gets to Bird's level, only time will tell.
The trajectory is there. So is the fear factor.