Latest Award Leaves Bird On Top

Bird’s determination as a player has served him well as Pacers’ president. AP photo

To even suggest anyone was better, more successful or more important to the NBA than Michael Jordan opens up the speaker to contempt and verbal abuse.

Scottie Pippen was widely disparaged for saying LeBron James was a better all-around player than his airness.

Fans of Kobe Bryant are tolerated but eventually discounted for any comparison to the former Bulls great.

Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Oscar Robinson? Please.

So large is the cult of Jordan that message boards and commentators openly called for an update of the NBA logo, this one featuring Jordan at his sneaker-selling best.

One would think the drafting of Kwame Brown would have been enough to squash any such silly notions. If not, the Bobcat’s 7-59 record this year should be enough to convince even the most thickly domed fan than transferring success from the court to the boardroom is not easy.

I use this history lesson not to degrade perhaps the greatest player in NBA history, but to put into context the accomplishments of Larry Bird, who, with winning the NBA Executive of the Year, has taken his place atop the Mount Olympus of the NBA. No one outside of Jerry West, with his Hall of Fame career and his six titles as Lakers GM, comes close to matching Bird in overall success.

That’s saying something. History tends to dim the mind, requiring regular visits to the record books – West was wicked and his post-playing career was nearly as memorable. But Bird stands alone.

The former Celtics forward is the only person in history to win the league’s top individual award as a player, coach and an executive. Add in the three NBA titles, rookie of the year, 12 All-Star appearances, nine AllNBA First Team selections, Hall of Fame, resurrecting a sport, winning every college award minus an NCAA championship (his Indiana State team finished second in what is still the highest rated game in NCAA history), providing the best cameo in a Toby Keith video, and you’ve got an incomparable resume.

Not bad for the self-titled hick from French Lick.

Of all his accomplishments, the Executive of the Year award is the most impressive. When Bird became the Pacers’ president of basketball operations in 2003, he inherited a club high on talent but also highly dysfunctional. The Pacers were a mess of ego, irrational behavior and legal problems. To survive, Bird had to clean house and bring in players who would play hard and keep their mouths shut. That can take years, and it did.

Bird slowly got rid of the dead weight and proved adept at drafting young talent. This year, his team has shut down Miami and is poised to make a run at an NBA title.

Bird wasn’t the player Jordan was, he lacks the commercial business success of Magic Johnson and is not the larger-than-life superhuman that is Shaquille O’Neal. What he is is a brilliant basketball mind with few predecessors and even fewer contemporaries.