Even though now Larry Bird is regarded as one of the best basketball players ever, and with 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.
Fans were skeptical and wondering if Bird’s talents were being elevated and exaggerated due to the fact not many white players were dominating 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. 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 can do it all. Score from everywhere, distribute, rebound, play defense when needed and even have solid athleticism in his early days. But what made all his skills valuable was the high basketball IQ and confidence that 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.
Back in the day, while doing an interview with Howard Stern, 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 Chamberlain, The Universe Galaxy
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, that was the recipe for three championships, 12 All-Star appearances, and many more accolades that graced his Hall-of-Fame career.
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