As I was listening to a Larry Bird interview from this afternoon, he mentioned the 1986 Celtics team being what he considers the best of all time. So I decided to take a gander at that year's squad, and then the career numbers of Bird. Just a refresher course really. It's always impressive each time you look at how productive Bird was during his 13-year Hall of Fame career. But what really caught my eye this time around was Bird's final season, the 1991-1992 campaign when he was 35 years old.
Let's take a look:
Minutes: 36.9 .. FG %: .466 ... 3P %: .406 ... FT%: .926 ... Reb: 9.6 ... Assists: 6.8 ... Points: 20.2
Of course, Bird only played in 45 regular season games that year. He limped through just about each and every one of them with nagging back pain. But really, 45 games is nothing to sneeze at really considering his age and ongoing back issues. It's not like he just played 20 minutes or so in those games. Bird averaged nearly 37 minutes that year, an incredible number really. Sure, the Celtics were not very deep or talented that year, and they needed every last bit that Bird could give them. But man, that's still quite a high number.
Bird's rebounding and assist totals also stood out to me. Anybody who's a real fan of the game and was old enough to remember watching Bird play knows how special of a passer he was. His rebounding prowess has always been a bit more underrated though. Bird is not considered to be athletic for obvious reasons, but he was far from an unathletic player. When he wasn't crippled by back pain, he ran the floor just fine; his foot speed was sufficient; and he was sneaky strong.
Anyway, after seeing how Bird stuffed the stat sheet at the ripe age of 35, I thought I'd take a quick look tat LeBron James' numbers from this past season. James of course is in his physical prime at 26 years of age. He's also got seven years of experience under his belt, all of which is to say he should be able to easily blow past the stats posted by the 35-year old Bird during the '91-'92 season. Well, let's take a look.
Minutes: 38.8 .. FG %: .510 ... 3P %: .330 ... FT%: ..759 ... Reb: 7.5 ... Assists. 7.0 ... Points: 24.8
Not quite. James played fewer than two more minutes, scored only four more points per game, shot only marginally better from the floor, and left points on the floor by shooting nearly 20 percent lower from the charity stripe. James did play 79 regular season games for the Miami Heat, and he of course had to acclimate himself with new teammates and coaches.
I put this together not to try to diminish James' accomplishments. He was again tremendous for his team during this past regular season. For the third straight year, James led the league in Offensive Win Shares, Win Shares, and Win Shares per 48 Minutes. Instead, I really wanted to highlight just how remarkable Bird was even in his final year in the league. His body didn't hold up come playoff time as the Celtics were defeated in four games by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bird averaged just 12 points a game and only twice played more than 20 minutes. But it was still a magical final year for The Legend when he was able to lace 'em up and give it a go.
I understand why people love to debate whether James will ever turn out to be as great as Michael Jordan. But really, James' game is arguably more like Bird's than it is Jordan's outside of the James and MJ's amazing ability to get to the rim. I suppose because Bird's game was so unique (partly because he is white), he never really gets lumped into those conversations. That's okay so long as fans of the game remember to take time to remember his greatness.