With Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan selected for our Legends team, it is time to identify some possible candidates to partner these two Hall of Famers. Today we select the starting Small Forward for the Legends team.
Legends: Small Forward:
Small Forwards come in all different shapes and sizes. It is a position where you can really create a mismatch with your opponents. Throughout NBA history there has been SF who were strong scorers, others who were great defenders and rebounders. As always, we are looking for the outstanding player at this position. The shortlist of candidates for the starting SF of the legends team is Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Elgin Baylor (honourable mention to John Havlicek and Rick Barry)
Larry Bird was drafted sixth overall by the Boston Celtics in 1978. When he was drafted many people said he was more suited to the 1950’s NBA. Bird was considered slow and not athletic enough to succeed in a league which had spent the past decade being dominated by athletic black players. While Bird may have been slow in terms of foot speed, when it came to the mental side of the game there are not many players in NBA history quicker. Any highlight clip of Larry Legend is bound to include some of his incredible behind the back or over the head passes to teammates for easy scores. These passes require excellent vision and quick thinking to complete.
A famous highlight of Birds show’s him taking a shot (from approx. 10 foot). As soon as it leaves his hand Bird realises it is going to hit the right hand side of the rim and bounce out. Before the ball reaches the basket Bird has moved to where the ball will arrive. Sure enough Bird rebounds his own missed shot and makes the put back.Bird was always a step ahead of his opponents.
Even more famous than Bird’s quick mind was his quick mouth. Bird is widely regarded as one of the premier trash talkers in NBA history (Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller may disagree). Time and again Bird managed to get his opponent out of rhythm through his trash talking.
Bird is renowned as a great scorer, making all types of shots, especially in crunch time. Legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach points out that Bird was a far greater defender, rebounder and passer than he was given credit for. More than anything Bird was a winner, claiming 3 NBA championships, 2 Finals MVP awards and 3 league MVP awards throughout his NBA career. Bird’s best three year span was from ‘85/’86 – ‘87/’88 where he averaged 27.9PPG, 6.8APG and 9.4RPG. He also had had two 50-40-90 seasons in that span. He was often considered a 1950’s style player who dominated in the 1980’s NBA. There are not many players from previous eras who could compete in today’s NBA. Larry Bird could compete in any era.
Julius Erving is one of the most iconic players in basketball history. Erving is considered the founding father of the slam dunk. Before Erving the slam dunk was considered a show of force by massive, non-athletic centres. It was basketball taboo. However, in his days playing ball at Harlem’s famous Rucker Park, Erving realised that the dunk was a high percentage shot with a small chance of being blocked and used it to finish many of the high-flying, above the rim moves he is famous for.
Erving’s professional career has to be considered in two separate parts. First you have the high flying, big-afro, dunking days of “Dr.J” (a nickname Erving coined at Rucker Park) in the ABA. Erving spent 5 years in the ABA and is widely considered the greatest ABA player. He won 2 ABA championships and 3 ABA MVP awards. His best three years in the ABA were from ‘71/’72 – ‘73/’74 where he averaged 28.9PPG, 4.5APG and 12.9RPG.
After the ABA-NBA merger Erving joined the Philadelphia 76ers. It is with the 76ers that Erving moved from high flying, highlight reel dunks to more team-oriented play (his afro also diminished significantly). Erving matured as a player in the NBA. He was still the most athletic player in the league who was capable of big finishes every trip down the court. That wasn’t his only weapon though. He became a more polished player, finally leading his 76ers to the NBA championship in 1983.
Erving’s best three-year NBA stretch came between ‘79/’80 – ‘81/’82 where he averaged 25.3PPG, 4.3APG and 7.4RPG and also picked up one league MVP award. Erving was a stylish, above the rim player with spectacular athleticism and finishing ability. Don’t let the razzle dazzle fool you though, there was plenty of substance to go with the style.
Considered one of the most creative shooters of all time Elgin Baylor was drafted number one in 1958 by a Laker organisation that was looking to recapture the glory of years gone past. At 6’5” Baylor was considered small for his position. It was this apparent lack of height that made his shot-making ability so much more impressive. Often giving up more than six inches to opponents, Baylor was comfortable shooting the ball from all distances and all angles. Opponents would marvel at the often unorthodox way the ball would come off Baylor’s hand with different spins and trajectories.
The one fairly consistent thing about Baylor’s shots was that they tended to find their target. Baylor tailored his quick release running floater to combat taller defenders trying to block the shot. It was Baylor’s energy and shot making that did manage to turn around the fortunes of the Lakers (Minneapolis for two seasons before moving to Los Angeles). During his career with the Lakers Baylor would help the organisation reach eight NBA finals. This run of success, unfortunately, coincides with Baylor’s greatest non-achievement.
Baylor is widely considered the greatest player never to win a championship ending with zero wins and eight losses over his career in the NBA finals. In sport, a career is so often measured by its success. While nobody would argue that reaching 8 NBA finals is not impressive, failing to win any of these finals leaves a glaring void in Baylor’s resumé.
Baylor’s best three-year span in the league were the Lakers first three season in LA, ‘60/’61 – ‘62/’63, where he averaged 35.7PPG, 4.8APG and 17.6RPG (and he was considered small). The fact that he never won a championship leads some people to dismiss Baylor immediately. I promise you, Baylor’s opponents never dismissed him.
Small Forwards come in all different shapes and sizes, and the three candidates for this position are proof of that. In Dr. J we have a high-flying highlight-reel player who creates a buzz around the arena two hours before the match even begins. In Baylor we have a player who gets the ball into basket in a multitude of ways and a player who plays much bigger than his 6’5” listing. In Larry Legend we have a player who seemingly defies everything we know about basketball. This is a sport played by the fastest, strongest, most athletic people on the planet, everything Larry Bird is not. In fact in a straight up comparison between Bird and Erving it is hard to imagine two players more different in every way.
This Legends team is not concerned with appearance, or opinion. This team is looking for the player that will be the difference between winning and losing a close series. That player is Larry Bird. The accolades speak for themselves. He has won everything there is to win. He can play defence, he can score and he can create for others. An ultimate competitor who immediately makes a team better the starting Small Forward for the legends team is Larry Bird.
Come back tomorrow to see who will be the starting Power Forward for the Current All-Stars.
Eoin Purcell, Pundit Arena.