Erving knew Larry was a special player
If you were are an older NBA fan, you probably remember the fierce rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers that was going on throughout the first part of the '80s. Some of the most memorable games, moments, and plays from that era in NBA history happened when these two teams met, and it was Julius Erving, and Larry Bird who led the charge for their respective teams.
They were the best small forwards in the game during those years, and whenever these two teams played each other, the matchup between Erving and Bird was the one that raised the most attention. Over the years, they got to know each other really well, and in his autobiography, Julius Erving details everything he learned about Bird as a basketball player. Bird came into the NBA in 1980 when Erving was already an established player, and soon, Erving realized what made Larry better than all the other young players in the league.
"What I notice right away about Larry, even as a rookie, is that not only he can get his shot, and he has amazing range for a big man, but he will make it too. He may be the best shooter I've ever seen. And he is a smart passer, able to thread the ball through inches of daylight. And he will not stop working."
Bird had no flaws in his game
Bird was known as a player with no flaws in his game, and his versatility set him apart from all the others in the NBA. Erving was able to break down his game and, throughout the years, learned that he can never completely stop him but only slow him down to a certain degree.
"Bird and I have an interesting relationship on the court. When I defend him, and when the Celtics draft Kevin McHale and move Larry to the small forward, that becomes a regular matchup for me. If he puts the ball down on the floor, then I think I have him. I can poke the ball away and maybe get a steal. Larry's game doesn't have any weaknesses, but among his relative strengths, he's least skilled as a dribbler. When he's guarding me, he can't stay with me. But I'll be honest, I can't really stop him, either. And at that point in my career, he's a better rebounder than I am. But remember, he's ten years younger."
The Sixers and the Celtics were guaranteed members of eastern conference finalists in the first part of the '80s, and usually, the team that won went to the NBA Finals. Bird came on top from these matchups more than Erving did, even though all of those series felt like true battles because both teams couldn't stand each other and the rivalry between them was something that doesn't exist in today's NBA.
Erving is dissapointed in Bird for not giving him proper respect
To this day, Erving is disappointed because Bird thinks the best player he ever faced was Michael Jordan because of that one playoff series between the Celtics and the Bulls when Jordan completely took off, putting up monster numbers in each of those games. Erving believes Bird didn't give him enough credit and somewhat disrespected him by saying Jordan was the greatest player he ever had to go up against in his career.
"We have some great wars over the years. We'll match up in the playoffs four times between 1980 and 1986, with the winner going on to the finals every season. I feel like those rivalries, Sixers-Celtics, Sixers-Lakers, and Celtics-Lakers, are the most hard fought of that era. So when Larry says, as he has, that Michael Jordan was the best player he ever faced, I find it a little disrespectful. We beat them up pretty bad in some playoffs, and they got the better of us in others, but those are the toughest matchups for both of us. I don't think it's fair for Larry to say Michael is the best based on one great playoff game, the 63-point performance in Boston Garden. But then, Larry is always playing mind games, so he's probably still trying to psych out Magic and me."
On the other hand, Larry admitted in his autobiography that he had massive respect for Erving. Bird even said he never really trash-talked him because he was afraid that would fire up Erving, which is something he knew was dangerous if he wanted to beat the Sixers. The matchups between these two superstars and their respective teams were a joy to watch because they featured so many unbelievable plays and moments that make a good argument why many fans consider the NBA was the best in the '80s.