LeBron James makes his teammates better. After all, he is the only player in the 30K point, 10K rebounds, and 10K assists club. But just how significant is his impact on the players around him? According to Larry Bird, it's deceiving.
Larry Bird’s comments on James’ teammates
When Bird was the president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, he had the final say as to who the team signs or trades away. During the same time, the team's general manager David Morway was batting to get JJ Hickson to play for Indiana. Celtics legend rejected it on the idea that LBJ’s teammates were just glorified beyond their real value.
In his podcast, Zach Lowe talked about it and quoted Bird in the book entitled “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA.”
“Morway was trying to get me to trade for them [J.J. Hickson and a selection of other teammates of James], but I ain’t takin’ any of them fucking guys up there. I said ‘you don’t understand son. Them guys playing with LeBron James look a whole lot better than what they really are.'”
It could be a pride thing, but we can’t deny there’s some truth to this.
James has been criticized for getting All-Star teammates to play with him. Still, people forget how The King carried the Cleveland Cavaliers with Anderson Varejao, Mo Williams, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. In only his fourth year in the league, he towed the Cavs to the Finals but unfortunately lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
When James left Cleveland to join the Miami Heat, the Cavs started struggling badly. They finished the 2010-11 season with a 19-63 record compared to a year before when the team was the best in the East with a 61-21 record.
The one-hit wonders
So, who were the teammates of James that Bird probably alluded to? Mo Williams became an All-Star playing alongside James, helping him clinch the East top spot. Aside from Mo, the starting five consisted of Delonte West, Ilgauskas, James, and Varejao.
Granted, Mo was just chosen as a replacement for Chris Bosh for the All-Star game, but you can’t tell us he did not benefit from being teammates with LeBron. After all, Williams averaged 17.8 points that season and was James’ best teammate.
As mentioned in the book, the Pacers GM was excited about Hickson. But Bird was right that some of James’ teammates, including JJ, were just glorified. So the Pacers dodged a bullet there, thanks to Larry’s insights.
Many of James' former teammates never made it to the finals or won a championship without The King. As someone who made the NBA finals eight straight years, most of the guys James has played with should be thankful for bringing them there with him, while rising their value on the NBA market.
Some teams took the bait; Bird didn't allow the Pacers to do it.