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Kevin McHale explains why he thinks Larry Bird would “terrorize this league in today’s game”

Not just passing and shooting, Bird would dominate because “his innate toughness and his innate competitive nature in today's, like, everybody-get-along, I-hope-you-like-me league would really stand out.”
Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird and Kevin McHale

Larry Bird and Kevin McHale

One of the persisting questions is how retired legends would fare in today's NBA. According to Kevin McHale, Larry Bird would dominate the opponents if he were playing today.

It's hard not to agree with his statement, especially when he explains why he holds onto that belief.

Offensive versatility

"Oh, good lord, Larry would terrorize this league in today's game," McHale told Heavy Sports. "First of all, Larry could pass his ass off. With all the space and everything today, his passing would stand out even more. And it would have been easier for him to move with the ball. Larry played straight-line basketball until he got older and couldn't. He had that pump fake and quick dribble that got him into the paint whenever he wanted to."

Anyone who saw The Legend play will most likely agree with McHale's analysis of his Boston Celtics teammate. The three-time MVP could do nearly everything on offense, from being a floor general to creating his own shots.

Today's top stars share that kind of offensive versatility, including Luka Doncic, to whom Bird has often been compared due to their play style, physical profile, and relative lack of athleticism. 

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3-point threat

McHale added that Bird had a weapon that would have made him even more unstoppable today.

"But his ability to shoot the ball would be ridiculous with all the 3's they take now," McHale continued. "He didn't really work on his 3 that much. Nobody did. He shot like 35 3's to end his practice session. Now, before the All-Star Game, he would shoot a whole bunch. He went there with one expressed purpose, and that was to win the long distance shooting contest and put the money in the bank … and be able to talk s**t to everybody and tell them to kiss his a*s."

Bird would have killed it from beyond the arc if he were playing today. For his career, he shot 37.6% from the 3-point line. But because not much emphasis was given to the outside shot then, he only attempted 1.9 shots from deep.

Furthermore, the Celtics icon made it rain in the 3-point shootouts on All-Star weekends from 1986 to 1988, dominating the first three iterations of the contest. He even confidently went to the 1988 contest wearing a warm-up jacket.

Toughness and competitiveness

On top of his offensive talents, Bird had another aspect to this game that would have helped him thrive today, according to McHale.

"There's a lot of reasons, but he would be really, really good because he was so rugged and tough," McHale said. "He'd handle the big guys they threw at him. Just his innate toughness and his innate competitive nature in today's, like, everybody-get-along, I-hope-you-like-me league would really stand out. If Birdie came in with the same attitude — you know, he didn't get changed by AAU and everything — if it was the same Birdie that came in back in '79? Oh, my God …"

Bird was rarely intimidated by his opponents - and he played in an era where physicality was at its peak.

Would the "the Hick from French Lick" still be a superstar if he played in the current NBA? All things considered, the answer is likely yes.

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