Larry Bird is one of the greatest players in NBA history; however, even he admits he never saw anyone like Michael Jordan and believes he was on a different level than any other player in NBA history.
Michael Jordan was on a different level
When Michael Jordan got to the NBA, he was already making an impact for the Chicago Bulls and establishing himself as one of the best individual players in the league. However, during those years, Larry Bird was considered the best player at that time, racking up one MVP award after the other, alongside several NBA championships with the Boston Celtics. Bird was the absolute winner, and his versatility was one of the main reasons the Celtics were an absolute powerhouse in the NBA during those years.
However, Bird's respect for Jordan came pretty soon after their first encounters, especially those in the playoffs when the Celtics had no answer for Jordan. In his autobiography, Larry Bird explains what made Jordan the best player he ever saw and what made him different than everybody else he ever encountered. Even though there were a few highflyers in the NBA at the time, Jordan took it to a different level, and Bird immediately knew a new generation of NBA players would take the league by storm.
"Michael Jordan was and is a completely different type of player from anyone I had seen before. He's literally on a different level. Magic and I do all our stuff on the floor. When I first saw Michael play, I recognized there was a different era coming in. Ten years down the road, you're going to see a lot of Michael Jordans out there. A lot of them will be taking the ball from one hand to the other and switching it around, going underneath, spinning around, and doing all this different stuff."
When the Bulls drafted Jordan, there were a lot of comparisons between him and his idol Julius Erving because of their playing style, which was mostly above the rim. However, according to Bird, Jordan was superior to Erving because of his ability to use both hands equally well, while Erving mostly used only his right hand.
"People asked me to compare Michael with Dr. J., and the difference was that Dr.J usually did everything one-handed. He didn't use his left hand very much, but Michael doesn't care whether he's going left or right. And if you don't stop Michael before he takes off, there is no way you'll do it once he gets into the air."
Bird had tremendous respect for Jordan
During those epic playoff battles in the first round of the 1986 playoffs, Jordan dominated the Bulls, and they simply had no answer for him no matter what they did defensively. Luckily for them, they had a much better squad and were able to win the series in five games, but ever since that moment Bird recognized Jordan as the next big thing in the NBA.
He admired the fact Jordan was incredibly gifted on both ends of the floor, showcasing incredible versatility while being a fierce competitor just like Bird.
"Michael has the whole package. He can run, jump, block shots and play great defense. Most of all, he is a great competitor. It was great seeing a guy like Michael come to the league, but I don't want to see too many more like him, at least not while I'm still around."
Bird was absolutely right when assessing Jordan's greatness because a few years after that, he took the league by storm and, as we all know, became the greatest and one of the most accomplished players in NBA history. Bird and Magic era was soon over; the Pistons took over for a couple of years, establishing themselves as one of Jordan's biggest rivals, but that was the challenge he accepted and succeeded in beating them. After that, the rest was history for Jordan. When someone like Bird says Jordan is the greatest ever to play the game, that has extra value to the whole GOAT debate because of Bird's knowledge about the game and what it takes to be superior to everyone else in the NBA.