I’ll Still Take Larry Bird Over LeBron James

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It is a good time to be a LeBron James fan. Having won his third NBA Finals MVP, and leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a historic Championship, the LeBron “lovers” (seems only fair to call them that since they call anyone who challenges the LeBron is a demi-god narrative a hater or a troll) are understandably pounding their chests, and elevating LeBron’s historical place in the game.

According to some of the loving talking heads at ESPN, LeBron is clearly a top three to five player, maybe one, and with this latest championship, definitely the best small forward ever, over Larry Bird.

Here are two ways to talk about the best ever and demonstrate why the lovers are wrong:

  • One, if you were to start a team with one player, who would it be?
  • Two, if you could put together the best starting five, who would it be?

The difference is the best five ever can have two people playing the position, best starting five asks for the best at each.

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So, who is my best starting five?  At the point guard I am going with Magic Johnson.  At power forward, Tim Duncan. At shooting guard, do I really have to say it? Okay, Michael Jordan.  With respect to Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlin who I didn’t see play, I’ll take the underappreciated Kareem Abdul Jabbar at center.

Now before I say why I will take Bird over James at small forward (the title of the blog was kind of a spoiler), let me ask you, as great as my starting four is, what is one glaring weakness in this lineup?  Ding ding ding, three point shooting!  Give all the readers who got it a prize.  Given the other starting four, Bird is simply a better fit in this all-time lineup.

Just to show the lovers that I am not a hater, if Steph Curry continues on his trajectory and manages to somehow supplant Magic as the starting point guard, then there becomes a better argument to put James in the starting five over Bird.  I’ll get back to you after Curry retires on that one.

Okay one part down.  As far as who I would want to start a team with, first let me say as far as talent goes, and from what I have seen, LeBron is top three of all time. However, to use the often used Batman/ Robin metaphor, he has Batman talent but Robin mentality.  If I was guaranteed to have a team with two alpha dog stars there is a good chance I would want LeBron to be one of them. For example, I think a young LeBron would have done better with an in his prime Shaquille O’Neal than Kobe Bryant.  Conversely, if I was guaranteed to have one star, there are others I would take before him.  Larry Bird being one, and Kobe Bryant another.

I can hear the lovers screaming about LeBron’s back to back 41 points in the finals and other pretty statistics.  I’m not saying LeBron can’t be clutch or can’t ever close, I’m saying those are skills just like passing and rebounding, and when compared to the best of the best, others do it better.  His former teammate Dwyane Wade being among them.

Between Bird and LeBron, both are all-time great passers, but I’ll give an edge to LeBron. Both can rebound the ball, but edge Bird. Both can score, but three point shooting, foul shooting, and late game foul shooting, big edge Bird.  LeBron is a much better defender, ball handler and driver to the basket.  As far as being clutch, leadership (can’t imagine Bird writing “sub-tweets” about teammates) and intangibles (such as more likely to make a steal versus turn it over) solid edge Bird.

So, it is not a landslide or anything but after reviewing the tale of the tape, as of now,  I’m sticking with Larry Legend.

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Why Mariano Rivera Is The Most Valuable NY Yankee In The Last Forty Years

MriveraNow that Mariano Rivera has announced his retirement it is the right time to start putting in perspective what he has meant to the most storied franchise in all of sports.

Without question he is the most valuable NY Yankee in the last forty years.  You can make arguments for others but for the sake of this blog, I’ll boil it down to Mo versus the Captain, Derek Jeter.

Of course they are both off the charts valuable and the Yankees would not have been the same without either player.  They are winners and class personified on and off the field.

But here is the question:  What do Raul Ibanez, Scott Brosius, Jose Viscaino, Aaron Boone, Luis Sojo, and Chad Curtis all have in common?  They have all gotten huge clutch hits or home runs to win playoff and or World Series games.  I specifically didn’t mention any of the major stars that have done likewise.

And lest you think anyone can get lucky once, Scott Brosius was the World Series MVP in 1998.  True, you can counter that the first of five rings won by Rivera and Jeter, Rivera was the set-up man and the MVP was closer John Wetteland.  Wetteland, already having notched seasons of 43 and 37 saves prior to joining the Yankees was more accomplished than any of the aforementioned hitters.  But as the future unfolded, history now reflects Wettleland was far from a Rivera.

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And while Jeter did win a WS MVP in 2000, (Rivera won his in 1999) there have been plenty of other stars that have helped carry the load.  From Bernie Williams, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Tino Martinez, Darryl Strawberry, and Paul O’Neill, just to name some, Jeter has had a lot of help doing what he does as far as getting to the post season and clutch hits and game winning plays once there.  Rivera has been a part of some great bullpens but for the majority of the current Yankee run, he is the closer.

Personally, I don’t get why closing is so hard.  In the modern-day game it is one lousy inning most of the time.  (Although Mo would often go two in the playoffs.) Clearly it is the pressure.  With apologies to Trevor Hoffman who could not get it done in the postseason, part of the greatness that is Rivera is his unmatched combined consistent greatness in the regular and post season.

As iconic as Jeter is, there have been more consistently great shortstops than closers.  And since there are eight position players, if you have a weak or injured star shortstop you can balance it out with the production of other players (and the DH).  If you don’t have a lock down closer, you can’t hide that weakness.

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In other words, if you replaced Jeter with an average shortstop, you can get offense, defense and leadership from other players.  You replace Rivera with an average closer and you’re not going to win.

If you start a franchise with Mo, you don’t have to worry about closing games for fifteen years.  You start a franchise with Jeter, and your offense is just beginning.  Unlike Bugs Bunny, one position player can’t do it alone.

One of the things that make bad teams worse is not being able to close the games that they are leading in.  One of things that make good teams great and great teams legendary can boil down to the team that has the closer versus the team that doesn’t.

The inability to close puts more pressure on starting pitchers, the offense, everyone.  On the other hand, having “The Hammer of God”, in Rivera, at your disposal, is pretty comforting.  It has a ripple effect beyond the limited innings a closer pitches.

When David Justice came to the Yankees he said, of his Atlanta Brave teams of the nineties, that they would have won four or five championships if they had Rivera.  Even if it meant trading Chipper Jones or any one of the better position players, those Braves teams likely do better than one WS with Rivera.

It must be noted that if Jeter goes on to win more World Series’ after Rivera retires, and surpasses four thousand hits I may have to revisit.