White and blonde. That is as far as the comparison between Dirk Nowitzki and Larry Bird should go. In fact, "white and blonde" may be the only two reasons the comparison was ever made to begin with. What else could explain why analysts equate a German, 7-foot tall, moderately successful, occasionally magnificent scorer to the legendary 6'9" hick from French Lick who dominated the NBA for 10 years in almost every possible way that the league could be dominated?
After Dirk had sub par games 3 and 4 in this year's finals, Dan Patrick had the nerve to turn to Mark Jackson and ask: "So, Mark, are we realizing Dirk is not the next Larry?" Uhmm, guess what Dan...Dirk was never remotely -- at any point -- the next Larry.
Attention all NBA analysts: These parts arenot interchangeable, unless...
...you collect bobbleheads.Jesus, could you even tell if I switched these heads? Is that Nowitzki or Granny from The Beverly Hilbillies?Dirk will humbly accept any accolades, but if you plunked him down in a plain wooden chair beneath a hot spotlight and adopted a menacing German accent, it wouldn't take long for him to admit the comparison is ridiculous (unless he enjoys that treatment, as many Germans do). Speaking of abrasive tactics, anyone who considers Nowitzki comparable to Bird needs to be tied to a chair with their eyelids pried open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange and force fed a continuous spool of highlights from Larry's career.
Forget that Larry's career has the advantage of being complete. Forget that his Celtics won three championships and contended for countless others battling teams led by Dr. J, Akeem, Kareem, and Magic. Larry's career was legendary, but this isn't about that -- it's about one man's game vs. another man's game.
Larry was an incredible scorer, as is Dirk. But Larry could score 10 points and still control a game with extraordinary passing, tenacious rebounding and unquestioned leadership, which he did regularly. When Dirk goes 2-for-15 in a game, that's about it. He has very little else to offer, other than [insert David Hasselhoff joke here].
Look, I watched basketball in the eighties. I was born in Boston and lived there during that time. I went to Larry's games. Hell, I was in attendance at The Duel. Am I biased? Absolutely. Bird is my favorite player of all time. But I am more than capable of looking past my favoritism here. The Nowitzki-Bird comparison is ludicrous, even if Nowitzki goes on to win multiple championships...and maybe bring sweaty, bouffant hairstyles back into vogue.
"You know who you look like? That 8-year-old standout German basketball player."Larry Bird played basketball in a way that affected the entire flow and movement of a game. When he wasn't scoring well, he knew how to get his teammates more involved with an amazing variety of passes that would lead to easy buckets and make his teammates better. Bird's passing was on such a sublime skill level that NBA basketball was actually frustrating to watch in the years after he retired. In every game I watched, I could identify a plethora -- you heard me, a plethora, El Guapo -- of missed passing opportunities..."Bird would've passed there...and there...and there...and there."
Nowitzki scores, drives and moves extremely well for a big man. He has a smooth shooting stroke and nice follow through. Once in a while, he even makes a nice looking assist. Very little of his movement or his game, however, is reminiscent of Bird. Nowitzki is incapable of distributing the ball or controlling a game the way Bird did. His lanky frame gives him a more lumbering gait and a more awkward drive to the basket (and if you're about to reply with "Well, Bird was awkward too," find the old games and start watching. Bird was fluid, fast and precise in his prime. His "awkward white guy" reputation is a myth furthered by those who didn't watch close enough -- or only paid attention during his "Fat Elvis" years of '89 through '91).
Now don't go thinking I have reasons to tear down any player compared to my beloved Basketball Jesus. The fact is, I would love to come across another player like Bird. I long to recapture even a hint of the emotions I felt watching Bird play. But Dirk Nowitzki, aside from his shooting accuracy and lack of skin pigment, simply doesn't command comparisons to Larry Bird.
Cedric Maxwell, a critical player for the Celtics in the '81 and '84 championships, recently stated in a Boston radio interview that if starting a team, he would choose Nowitzki over Bird. The entire conversation can be found here.
Maxwell focuses mainly on Nowitzki's height and foot speed, but at one point grudgingly concedes that Larry was better in a number of ways: "...from a physical standpoint, Dirk is a better player. Now [Larry's] will, now all the intangibles that you guys are throwing in, makes Larry Bird the better player. But from a physical, from a purely physical basketball..."
Give it up, Cedric; we know you're just putting us on.
Some might argue that Maxwell's comments are indicative of a man who resented Bird for taking over "his" team, and instantly receiving all of the notoriety. After all, in the very same interview, Maxwell disputed the notion that Bird was a great defensive player: "Who do you think was covering Larry's man from time to time? Who do you think made all-defensive team and I didn't make all-defensive team?"
But I don't buy Maxwell as a grudge holder. I think Maxwell's comments stem more from his feisty, humorous personality than any deep resentment of Bird. Maxwell never took himself very seriously, and was always the type of guy who enjoyed making waves with his mouth. Choosing Larry over Dirk doesn't make news or waves. But choosing Dirk does.
I suspect for weeks after his comments, Maxwell sat on his front porch rocking chair, giggled to himself and muttered "...Dirk over Larry. That was rich..." over and over.
The same thinking that puts Nowitzki on par with Bird is the thinking that puts Scottie Pippen on the list of the 50 Greatest NBA players. Remember that list from a few years ago? That list was -- and as they update it, it will be more so -- heavily weighted in favor of current and recent players. Why? Because who the hell remembers the 50's, 60's and 70's? And because how can you promote a league if you tell the world that its best days are behind it? The NBA needs to prove that it can not only keep producing the magic, but can keep producing the Magic Johnsons. As a result, every young black standout athlete is touted as the next MJ, and any time a white forward can score, he's the next Larry.
As I sit here typing, the Miami Heat are clinching a game six victory over Nowitzki's Mavericks.
Something tells me this Dwayne Wade fellow might just be the next Jordan.