LeBron James is on his victory tour and Larry Bird is the latest to offer praise for his performance in the Miami Heat’s playoff run.
Bird had to deal with James firsthand as he averaged 30 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in the conference semifinals against Bird’s Indiana Pacers. After getting up 2-1 on Miami, the Pacers surrendered three consecutive games to lose the series.
But Bird was impressed with more than just that comeback and put James’ playoff performance -- he averaged 30.3 points on 50 percent shooting plus 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists overall -- up as one of the greatest of all-time.
“He actually carried them all the way through the playoffs,” Bird told Jackie MacMullen in an ESPN interview. “If you go back to the beginning of the playoffs, has anyone ever had a better run? It’d seem like you’d have a bad game once in awhile. He never did have a bad game. He was so focused. You just saw his confidence build and build and build. He should go down in history as one of the top players and maybe he can get close to Michael (Jordan).”
Bird resigned as the Pacers’ president last week after he was named the league’s Executive of the Year for his rebuilding efforts. He said he won’t miss having to compete against the Heat, where the Pacers struggle to be contenders every year because of market size. He conceded the champion Heat were built fairly though it was hard to deal with.
“I always say you got to play by the rules and if that’s the rules, that’s the rules,” Bird said. “But to have the best player and probably the fifth- or sixth-best player (Dwyane Wade) and a top-20 player (Chris Bosh), that’s tough to compete against.”
Bird, who also praised Heat president Pat Riley in the interview, did say that he objected players taking pay cuts to go to Miami to play with those stars.
“The one thing that bothers me the most is guys taking big pay cuts for a year to go down there and try to win a championship,” Bird said. “There’s a lot of guys who like to ride the coattails of the best, and they’ll take a pay cut just to have an opportunity to win that ring.”
It isn’t clear whom Bird was talking about. Mike Bibby accepted a buyout, costing himself nearly $5 million, to play with the Heat in the 2011 playoffs. Shane Battier turned down an offer for more money per season from Bird’s Pacers last year to sign in Miami. Battier has said he accepted the Heat contract because they were the only team to give him a three-year offer.
Currently, Ray Allen has an offer of $3 million per season to play with the Heat and reportedly has been offered $6 million for the next two years from the Boston Celtics. Several other teams, including the Los Angeles Clippers, are courting Allen.