I've got a friend who doesn't watch the NBA much but has caught the first three games of the Finals and proclaims that LeBron James isn't as great as everyone says. Never mind that mind-numbing argument, here's a vintage Bill Simmons Page 2 column on what it was like growing up watching Larry Bird:
Ever since I was little, I loved basketball more than just about anything. Randomly, inexplicably, coincidentally, the greatest team basketball player of my lifetime landed on my team, in my formative years, and I had the privilege of watching him, day in and day out, for 13 years. His work ethic and his competitiveness rubbed off on his teammates. He always rose to the occasion when it mattered. His passing was contagious. When you watched him long enough, you started to see the angles he was seeing; instead of reacting to what just happened, you reacted to the play as it was happening. There's McHale cutting to the basket, I see him, get him the ball, there it is ... LAYUP! Bird gave that to us.
So that's what I grew up watching — basketball played the right way. People looking for the open man. People making the extra pass. People giving their best and rising to the occasion in big moments. Even years later, I can rattle off the classic Bird moments like I'm rattling off moments of my own life. Like the time he sprung for 60 against Atlanta, when the Hawks were high-fiving on the bench. Or the time he dropped 42 on Doctor J in two-and-half quarters, frustrating Doc to the point that they swapped punches at midcourt. Or the famous shootout with Dominique in the '88 playoffs, when they combined for 34 points in the final quarter. I have a hundred of them.
The best thing about attending games during the Bird Era? That moment when everyone in the Garden collectively realized, "Hmmmmm ... something good is about to happen here." You never knew when it might happen, you just realized it as it was happening. Suddenly there would be a steady murmur in the arena, like what you hear at a rock concert right before the show is about to start. As soon as you felt The Buzz, you knew something special was in the works. You probably think I'm a raving lunatic, but I'm telling you, anybody who attended those games knows exactly what I'm trying to describe. You could feel it in the air. Larry's taking over.
[Photo Credit: Manny Millan/SI]