While Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has gone out of his way to reject the comparisons between his power forward, Dirk Nowitzki, and Hall of Fame forward Larry Bird, the latter has actually embraced the connection, according to ESPN.com.
Bird, who had a successful career with the Boston Celtics, admitted to rooting for Nowitzki's Mavericks over LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
"He's had a great run [in these playoffs], but I've always been very impressed with him," Bird said in a phone interview, "His work ethic, his loyalty to his country. It's really an honor for me to have people compare us."
"He rebounds. He plays at his own pace," Bird continued, "He sort of controls the tempo on offense. It'd be nice to be about seven foot and when they run plays and switch [defenders] on him, it doesn't bother him at all.
"I understand [the comparisons]. I've always felt it's an honor when they compare anyone to me, because I haven't played ball for 20 years."
In an interview on Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio, Carlisle actually hinted that Nowitzki's career may ultimately be more impressive than Bird's.
"I played with Larry Bird… when he was the undisputed best player on the planet," Carlisle said, "But he had four Hall of Fame guys to play with. I don't believe that anybody in the history of this game has had to shoulder as much responsibility to score the ball, to get rebounds, to facilitate and try to get other teammates involved as much as Dirk has. And if you think about the nature of his game, to me, it's even more remarkable."
In a second interview, Carlisle pointed to the players playing different positions and being different sizes as a reason to discredit the comparisons.
Regardless of Carlisle's comments, Bird is still rooting for the Mavericks' coach.
"I'm so happy not only for Dirk, but for Rick to get an opportunity to win the ring," Bird said, "A lot of people think Miami's going to win, but I think [the Mavericks] got a great chance."