Buck Harvey: Someone won’t be Bird, MJ for long

In the span of a month, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James have come a long way. One is Larry Bird, the other Michael Jordan.

That’s some rise for two guys who, over a combined 21 years in the league, have won two games in their NBA Finals history.

But that’s the way of the tweeting, blogging, 24/7, everybody-has-to-say-something world. Wait a few days, and Mark Cuban might even become likable.

Wait a few weeks, though, and something else will happen. Either Nowitzki or James will lose, and the reaction will be harsh as one of them returns to what he was before.

That’s the way this world works, too.

Today they are what they have been this postseason, which is spectacular. Each returns to their second Finals at the peak; if Nowitzki hasn’t been the best in the playoffs, then James has.

The Spurs have beaten both in the postseason, but they’ve lost to Nowitzki while appreciating how outrageous his ability is. Antonio McDyess said recently Nowitzki’s signature move, his step-back jumper, is “one of the toughest” shots he has ever faced.

The move is unblockable. Worse for a defender, the difference between the shot itself and the fake is a twitch.

But Nowitzki could always shoot, which is why Rick Pitino compared him to Bird as long ago as 2000. Now Nowitzki is playing with certainty that wasn’t always there.

Just as Pitino went for the easy association — skin color and height — others have, too. “Nowitzki may be as close to Larry Bird as the NBA has to offer,” wrote an Associated Press columnist this month.

And after Nowitzki scored 12 points in the final five minutes of regulation in Game 4 against Oklahoma City, Brendan Haywood followed along. “A lot of people compare him to Larry Bird, and this is why,” Haywood said.

James has heard the same, albeit with different historical references. An ESPN scouting analyst compared him this weekend to Jordan, Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen and, just for fun, Derek Fisher.

That’s more impressive than merely being another Bird. “He did not win the regular-season MVP,” the analyst wrote of James, “but anyone who does not see James as the WBP (World’s Best Player) after this postseason is simply not being objective.”

But it’s what someone else said last week that made news. “Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to play the game,” Pippen said on ESPN radio. “But I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game because he is so potent offensively that not only can he score at will but he keeps everybody involved.”

That’s one opinion, and here’s another: Had Pippen played without Jordan in, say, Atlanta, Pippen would never have been named one of the NBA’s 50 best.

And when they rename the top 50? James and Nowitzki will be there; Pippen won’t.

Still, the way James is playing draws these kinds of superlatives. As it is with Nowitzki, these are men dominating the game as only the best have.

That’s why what Jason Terry said about Nowitzki last week applies to both. “I don’t think anybody is questioning his greatness right now,” Terry said.

But that’s “right now.” Wait until one of them fails. Wait until everyone is reminded that Nowitzki went out in the first round in three of the previous four years. Wait until the clips are shown again from last season, when James appeared to quit against Boston.

Losing will crush one of them. There will be tweets and blogs, 24/7. Everybody will have something to say, and this much is guaranteed.

One of them won’t be Bird, or one of them won’t be Jordan.


Leave a Reply