The NBA has changed over the years but unlike other sports where athletes are able to show off their sculpted physiques and the results of their advanced training, basketball has removed much of the contact once permitted in the sport. One of the players credited (or blamed) for this is Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, whose rainbow three-point shots became the iconic image of the sabermetrics revolution that turned a half-court game into a sport played outside the arc. What if, however, a jump shooter from the 1980’s had chosen to change the game decades before Curry did; could that player have jump started a revolution a generation earlier than it actual came? What if Larry Bird wanted to be Steph Curry and make the three-point game his main focus, would the NBA have followed suit?
The Boston Celtics of the 1980’s was one of the NBA’s best built teams in league history. They could beat you on the fast break without the ball touching the court, they could win in the halfcourt game, and if needed, could play lockdown defense at will. One of those well-rounded players was Larry Bird, the “Hick from French Lick” who was a major part of the franchise winning three titles during the decade and would have won more if not for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Larry Bird was as good in the paint pulling down rebounds as he was taking outside jump shots; he never shied away from contact and didn’t mind earning his points from the free throw line and enjoyed hanging an “and one” on any defender he could. Now, while Bird could shoot three-pointer, in the era he played in, shooting 37.5% from behind the arc was considered a waste of an opportunity to make one more pass and obtain a better look at the basket. Yet, it was that 37.5% (which is making three out of every eight shots) that earned Bird a chance to compete in the All-Star Game’s Three Point Shooting contest in its earlier years … and true to form, Bird did not disappoint, winning the first two and showing up in Chicago in 2018 looking for a three-peat.
“Which one of you is finishing second,” Larry Legend said as he entered a locker room filled with All-Stars looking to capture his Three Point Shooting crown. Of course, Bird went took to the floor without even taking off his warmup jacket or pants and won the contest.
The three-point shot was added to the NBA game during Larry Bird’s 1979-80 rookie season, and over the course of his career he attempted 1,727 shots from beyond the arc, making 649. To put that number in perspective, Steph Curry once made 402 three points shots in a season, and earlier this season was on pace to sink 450 shots from behind the line; something that, for better or worse, is a symbol of how the NBA has changed between the Larry Bird and Steph Curry era.
The image of Larry Bird at the All-Star Game winning Three-Point shooting contests is embedded in my mind forever, but to call Bird a three-point shooter is almost laughable. Everyone in the NBA knew Bird could shoot from anywhere on the floor, but Bird knew the value of making that one extra pass or putting the ball on the floor, getting to the basket, drawing a foul, or both.
Trust me when I tell you that Larry Bird could have been Steph Curry if he wanted to be; but not only would the Boston Celtics have forbidden it, Bird probably never thought about becoming a sharp shooter since it would have taken away from other parts of his game. That’s the problem with being really great at something, you have a hard time finding something else you can dedicate yourself to doing and being great at that too. That’s why Larry Bird will always be a better player than Steph Curry, with Golden State fans always believing that their guy started a revolution when the plain truth is Larry Bird could have been doing what Curry does, but knew better and chose to be a “team” player, not a “me” player.
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Could Larry Bird Have Done What Steph Curry Is Doing? | TooAthletic.com