Even though now Larry Bird is regarded as one of the best basketball players ever, and for a good reason, back in the day, Bird's presence and the game drew a lot of doubt from people outside of the NBA. The reason was simple but bizarre. It was all about race and the color of his skin.
Bird could do anything on the floor
Fans were skeptical and wondered if Bird's talents were being elevated and exaggerated because not many white players dominated the NBA back in the 1980s. So in order to draw more white fans and have diversity at the top, Bird was the perfect guy for the NBA at the time. But everyone who played against Bird knew that interpretation was very wrong.
At 6'9'', Bird was the perfect example of a basketball player that could do it all on the basketball hardwood. He scored from everywhere, distributed the ball, rebounded, played defense when needed, and even had solid athleticism in his early days. But his skills were valuable because of his high basketball IQ and confidence, which brought fear into his opponents. That type of game impressed even some of the biggest names in basketball that came before him, as the iconic Wilt Chamberlain also had to praise Bird.
Wilt believed Bird played the game in the right way
Back in the day, while making a guest appearance on the Howard Stern Show, Wilt was asked if Larry Bird was only considered a great player because he is white, hoping to get a controversial answer. But Wilt shot down that narrative quickly and shared his compliments for Bird.
"Well, I think that may be in the minds of many, but this man also is very, very talented. I think he epitomizes what a forward is supposed to do, especially in the game he played because he was technically correct. He was a correct type of basketball player, and most people today don't play the game correctly, and he did."
Wilt was short but simple with his statement. For a guy that never really liked to talk nice about anybody but himself, seeing him give praise to a particular player was a special thing. A fundamentally sound and skilled guy like Bird was the recipe for three championships, 12 All-Star appearances, and many more accolades that graced his Hall-of-Fame career.