NBA legend Larry Bird predicted that LeBron James made his surrounding cast look better during his first stint in Cleveland, and he turned out to be right.
When it comes to overall NBA excellence, it’s virtually impossible to beat Larry Bird. Bird remains the only person to win in NBA history to win Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, NBA Finals MVP, All-Star MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year.
Bird has understood the game for decades, and as a coach and general manager, he was exceptional at evaluating talent, taking the Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals and winning the 2012 Executive of the Year.
But long before he was recognized in 2012, Bird was making moves and avoiding others that would help the Pacers. Bird has long been a fan of LeBron James, but when the Pacers considered trading for James’ early Cleveland teammates, Bird was strongly opposed. Back then, he knew LeBron elevated his teammates to make them look better than they actually were.
“[Former Pacers’ GM David] Morway was trying to get me to trade for them [J.J. Hickson and a selection of other teammates of James], but I ain’t takin’ any of them f—— guys up there,” Bird was quoted as saying in Ian Thomsen’s book, The Soul of Basketball. “I said, ‘You don’t understand, son. Them guys playing with LeBron James look a whole lot better than what they really are.’”
NBA legend Larry Bird has unending praise for LeBron James
Over his 19-year career, Bird has admired James, even when others criticized his then-controversial move to play for the Miami Heat. At the time, James had spent seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, leaving for a better situation in Miami that allowed him to win back-to-back NBA Championships in 2012 and 2013. Since then, James has split the decade between three teams that he was allowed to help build and influence, winning four championships overall.
His perceived lack of loyalty in favor of superteams is widely criticized, but Bird won’t have it.
“LeBron should do whatever he wants,” Bird was also quoted as saying in Thomsen’s book. “He’s as good as any player I’ve ever seen. In fact, when he comes up here to play I just watch him the whole time.”
Unfortunately, there was never an opportunity to have the former Celtics great coach the current Lakers star, but Bird’s early evaluation of James proves that his greatness has been recognizable regardless of his supporting cast.