David Lee: The Contemporary Larry Bird?

Patrick MauroAnalyst IAugust 28, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 16:  David Lee #42 of the New York Knicks shoots a foul shot  against The New Jersey Nets during their game on January 16, 2008 at the Izod Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  Photo By Al Bello/Getty Images.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

After a 1987 NBA playoff game between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons, Dennis Rodman made the comment that “Larry Bird was overrated because he was white in a league full of black players.”

When asked about Rodman’s statement, Isiah Thomas responded, “I think Larry is a very, very good basketball player.  He’s an exceptional talent, but I have to agree with Rodman. If he were black, he’d be just another good guy.”

In retrospect, Rodman’s statement seems way off, but it’s true that Larry Legend was a bit of an anomaly. He flourished in the NBA like no other Caucasian before or after.

Bird was one of the best to ever play the game and certainly the best American-born Caucasian to suit up in the NBA, with Mr. “Tight Shorts” John Stockton second on the list. Super old-school readers may throw out the name George Mikan as well.

But what about today?

Plenty of white guys not from the states are having huge success. Spain’s Pau Gasol just won an NBA title, Canada’s Steve Nash is a two-time NBA MVP, and Dirk Nowitzki from Germany is one of the better offensive players in the league.

But what about domestic born Caucasians?

We still have a media that wants to compare any good white player to Larry Legend the same way they tried to crown Harold Miner, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, and others the “next Jordan.”

Remember when they were calling Adam Morrison the next Bird? I don’t ever remember Larry sitting at midcourt crying.

A bunch of Duke guys—Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Mike Dunleavy Jr.—at some point, by some so-called expert, were dubbed “the next Larry Bird” or “possessing Bird-like skills.”

Charles Barkley said about his 1992 Dream Team teammate, “the only thing Christian Laettner has in common with Larry Bird is they both pee standing up.”

Eric Piatkowski, Mike Miller, Wally Szczerbiak, Keith Van Horn are just some of the non-Dukies I think Sir Quotable would describe with similar, if not more demeaning, rhetoric. Like Laettner, they have been compared to the Celtics great, simply and foolishly because they're white.

Which brings us to David Lee.

He’s currently un-signed as New York Knicks' training camp begins in about a month.  He’s coming off a good statistical season (his numbers may look a little large because of Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo offense) and could be considered, by a small margin, the best American-born Caucasian player in the league.

Today’s Larry Bird?

Not that there’s much competition.

Who else is even close? Troy Murphy and Kevin Love are the only two players who put up comparable numbers.

Consider each player's 36-minute averages (see below).




Lee put up career highs last November versus the Warriors with 37 points and 21 rebounds. He became the first Knicks player with 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game since Patrick Ewing in 1997, and he had a stretch of 10 straight double-doubles.

Murphy takes nearly five shots from beyond the arc every game, but he did have Danny Granger as the focus of the offense, allowing for many offensive put-backs and wide open threes.

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