Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Can We Compare Dirk To Larry Bird?
Dirk Nowitzki (that's him up there looking like the prime suspect in the Long Island Serial Killer case) has catapulted himself into the conversation of best player in the league thanks to his unbelievable play of late. The funny thing is how far away he was from the discussion just a couple months ago. If you had asked just about anyone outside of Dallas or Frankfurt before this years postseason, they would have left Dirk off the list of the top 5 current players, never mind a place amongst the all time greats. This playoffs have changed everyone's (including my own) perspectives on the big German. And as we nostalgia obsessed old fogies are apt to do, we have to begin comparing him to players from the past (as unfair as that is to the modern player), and due to obvious factors, Dirk gets the Larry Bird comparison. During a recent Bill Simmons podcast, Celtic lover Simmons and his guest went as far as suggesting that Dirk has had a better career than Larry Legend because of Bird's injuries. This is crazy.
Kobe and LeBron get the Jordan comparisons, which is mostly because of their own Jordan obsessions. Despite both of them saying how much they hate being compared to MJ, LeBron wore number 23 for most of his career and Kobe is practically a Jordan impersonator. It's creepy how much (particularly in the early years) Kobe would mimic Jordan's mannerisms and speech patterns like the Talented Mr. Ripley or something. Dirk, of course, is white so Larry Bird is the first thing that comes to mind, but unlike with every other half way decent Caucasian player, this comparison makes some sense (Keith Van Horn had nothing in common with Bird other than neither of them had an upper lip). Besides the physical similarities between Dirk and the Hick from French Lick, neither of them can jump over a phone book, both have proven to be late-game specialists and both of them are in the running for greatest jump-shooter of all time, as well as greatest jump shooters over 6'9". Now that we've gotten that out of the way though, let's face facts. There's no way Dirk should be mentioned in the same breath as Bird as far as careers.
Scottie Pippen got rightfully roasted these past couple of weeks for saying that LeBron might be better than Michael, and anyone who says Dirk is as good or better than Bird should also have their head examined. Bird won 4 championships, and hit about a thousand (roughly) clutch shots and game winners in the playoffs. Dirk, thus far in a 13 year career, has one great Finals game and his teams have either been ousted prematurely (including one of the biggest upsets in sports history) or blown a huge series lead every season he's been in the playoffs. Not to mention that Bird was a premiere passer (maybe the best passer over 6'8" of all time) and made all defense twice, both things that Dirk struggles with. Bird may have had a superior supporting cast but that doesn't take away from the fact that the majority of Nowitzki led teams have choked down the stretch, no matter how awesome he has been so far this season.
It's easy to compare current players to the past, but it's usually not fair to either party. Dirk is a great player, and regardless of whether or not the Mavs find a way to win 3 of the next 4 games against Miami, his name definitely belongs in the top 20 players of all time (he's already a hall of famer without a championship ring). But Kobe's not Jordan, neither is LeBron and Dirk sure as hell is not Larry Bird.