Bird: 'Guys that are playing now are just as good as what we were'

Larry Bird's rookie deal (five years, $3.25 million) made him, at the time, the highest-paid rookie in sports history. Getty Images

Hall of Famer Larry Bird sat down with ESPN.com recently and opened up about how he thinks the current era of NBA players compare to his era's stars. And yes, even Larry Legend is surprised at just how much money is pouring into the game now.

Q: What's changed in this league, obviously, is the financial and economic impact of it all. When you guys talk to each other, guys who played 20, 30 years ago, are you as stunned as fans at all the money that has come into the game?

A: I'd be lying if I told you I thought it would get to this point. I never thought that. I'm happy it has. That means the league's doing well, the owners are doing well, the players are doing well. That's what it was all about. But you got to remember, when I came into the league, the guys before me were bitchin' about how much money I made. So it just goes down the line, so that's how it works.

Q: As a former player, do you look at these guys and go, "Do you know how lucky you are?" Given all the money pouring into the league.

A: No, I always tell the kids that you get what you deserve. Just leave the game better than you found it. And it's good for everyone when it happens.

Q: I saw you said recently in a New Yorker article, "My era, you always think that's the greatest era, but I'm not so sure anymore." Why do you believe that now?

A: Because everybody that plays, no matter if it was '60s, '70s, '80s, they think their era's the best. Well, prove it to me. Like I said earlier, I think we have more stars than they do now. On every team, they had at least one, maybe two. I'm talking about Dominique Wilkins -- you just go down the line. But in saying that, I don't think our era's any better than anyone else's, when it comes right down to it.

Q: Do you think there are better all-around players before the current era?

A: I don't know. There's some guys I really like to watch play. Draymond Green is fun to watch. All of those [Michigan] State guys are because they defend, and they play, they play together -- that's how I like the game to be played. Move the ball, cut, pass; if you do the right things, you'll get it right back. I don't know, I hate to compare eras. It's been so long since I played, but I liked to play the total game. Magic liked to play the total game. Some guys are just scorers. Some guys just defend and rebound. But the guys that are playing now are just as good as what we were when we played.

Q: You've been around the game your whole life. What would you do to put the game in a better place than where it's at now?

A: I don't know. It's hard, and we work on it continuously, is how the game's called. The one thing I've always been disappointed in is guys driving, jumping into the defensive player and getting calls. It's a league of points. They love to have points on the board. But I think good defenders get beat down sometimes because they don't get to play. Some guys in this league are in here because they play defense. I just wish they would clean up some of the areas in the officiating. It's really not the officials. It's really how the rules are written. But it's getting to where guys are just driving, getting bail-out calls by jumping into defensive players, and that's not how the game, in my mind, is supposed to be played.