With their exits from the game, Bird and Magic Johnson were leaving behind a legacy of great rivalries, but more importantly a void at the top of the NBA food chain. Jordan was quick to snatch up the role of basketball gatekeeper, and the history of the league was immediately changed forever.
Six NBA titles in six-straight seasons for Jordan — if it weren't for a two-year baseball hiatus and it could've been eight. He was selected to 14 All-Star teams, won 10 league scoring titles and is a five-time NBA MVP. Needless to say, Jordan's status as "the greatest" can't necessarily be argued.
But on Wednesday, Larry Bird did something that Michael Jordan has never and likely will never be able to accomplish. The former Celtics legend and current Pacers president of basketball operations was named the NBA's 2011-12 Executive of the Year, just months after a reported departure from his hometown Indiana franchise seemed imminent.
With the newest honor, Bird becomes the first NBA player to ever win an MVP (three times, 1984-1986), coach of the year (1998) and executive of the year award. The feat puts Bird not among elite company, but in a basketball stratosphere all his own.
Larry Legend's playing career was one for the history books. Maybe his three NBA titles, three MVPs and mere 12 All-Star nominations don't quite compare with that of Jordan's incomparable success. But considering all of Bird's accomplishments in his post-playing days, it becomes all the more apparent that Jordan's passion and knowledge for the game is just inferior.
Jordan racked up plenty of accolades during his days on the hardwood, but his time in upper management has been a disaster in both of his stops. Things got so bad in Washington that the then 37-year-old Jordan, who at the time was the Wizards president of basketball operations, felt the need to insert himself into the back court for the team to have any chance at success.
Now it appears that the new owner of the Charlotte bobcats is finding the same sort of trouble in both selecting and developing winning talent, starting with the coaching staff.
On the other side of the coin, Bird only continues to prove his impressive eye for talent and ability to not only scout but to develop the type of talent a team needs to succeed. In the 2009-10 season, Indiana was a dismal 32-50. Two years later, Bird's made all the right adjustments and has the Pacers as the No. 3 seed and into the Eastern Conference semifinals after grinding out a 42-24 record in the regular season.
The turnaround in Indiana is an impressive one, given their lack of true star power for many years and even in these playoffs. But rather than going all in on high-priced free agents or clamoring for a Big Three of their own, Bird crafted this Pacers team around a strong front court and a deep bench.
Additions like David West, George Hill and Darren Collison over the past few years have paid off in full for the Pacers, while draft picks such as Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George continue to contribute to the team as solid role players.
Bird's eye for talent obviously sets him apart from the majority of general managers and basketball operations folks around the league. His value of role players and in-depth understanding of team chemistry give him a clear advantage over other league talent evaluators and remains a major reason behind Indiana's resurgent success.
But it isn't just Bird's evaluation skills and knowledge of the game that separate him from Jordan in a management role. Bird has the unique opportunity of guiding the direction of his hometown franchise. Jordan, while he is situated near his college roots in Charlotte, still doesn't seem to have the same commitment and drive to succeed that can be seen from Bird.
While Jordan continues to pour his time and efforts into the development of his multibillion dollar shoe brand, Bird focuses his passion into the development of a championship caliber basketball team. The epic failings of the Bobcats this season may be pushing Jordan more than ever to finally build a successful franchise, but it just seems that Bird is far more engrossed in his venture each season than Jordan will ever be.
MJ's abilities and motivation on the basketball court are nearly incomparable. Even so, Bird's drive couldn't have fallen far behind. But in their post-playing days it is all but obvious that Bird has the upper hand.
In the grand scheme of things, the executive of the year award may not save Larry's job if the Pacers fall on hard times once again next season. But the honor certainly solidifies the prominence of his talents and abilities as an elite basketball mind.
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