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07/04/2006: "Great White Hope? Who Will Be The Next Larry Bird??"

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The Next Legend
Written By Jason Logan
Email Jason Logan

Since the mid-90ís the National Basketball Association and the mainstream sports media have tried to anoint various young stars as the next Michael Jordan. Starting with Harold Minor on down to Dwayne Wade this year during his teamís, the Miami Heat, championship run, the cognoscenti have searched for that rare player who combines a Madison Ave Q-rating, street credibility, and stellar ability on the court that leads to championship rings just as His Airness did seemingly from Day One during his three tours of duty in the Association. Iím numb to that pretty much because I know there will never be another player exactly like Jordan no matter how much people like David Stern, Kobe Bryant, and Stuart Scott wish it were so. No, I pay more attention to who will be the next great white American player in the NBA. The next Larry Bird, the next Larry Legend so to speak who will remind the public that white guys still have game..........

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While writing this column, Iíve received much flak for my observations about the racial politics of the American sporting landscape and the society as a whole. I donít run away from that because I know for all the accolades and dollars players like Bryant, Wade, and even Dirk Nowitzki receive that the larger culture, read White America, wants a homegrown icon with the right skin tone to celebrate. A white player with a killer jump shot whoís not afraid to play through injury and dive on the floor for loose balls. Who plays the game the mythical Right Way that supposedly has fallen by the wayside in these ESPN times of slam-dunks and soundbites. The guy who will maximize his ďlimitedĒ skill set by being a student of the game so as to be able to defeat the athletes gifted with the ďnaturalĒ ability to jump seven feet in the air. The player who will bring team ball back to the league after all these years of prima donnas more concerned with promoting rap albums, baby mamma drama, and drug charges. The one who embodies all the so-called best values from the American heartland that Brent Musberger and his ilk wax so eloquently about that I have to turn the volume down so my ears wonít be filled with a brown gooey crap. The draftee who will be the next Larry Bird, the Hick from French Lick.
I hated, hated Larry Bird and the Celtics growing up because I was and still am a Sixers fan, plain and simple. I hated the way he could get off his shot from nearly anywhere on the floor and even on the rare occasions when he dunked the ball I would throw stuff at my television screen. Under that hate though was a deep respect for what he could do on the court. Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish were beasts on that front line to go along with the contributions Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge made but Larry Legend was the one who led the Celtics to their last championships because he willed his team to victory while playing through injury and tossing daggers when needed. I respect heart and ability and Bird had that in spades during his playing days, which is even though Iíll never wear a green #33 jersey, Iíll never have any qualms about applauding the legacy Bird created during his time.
The funny thing though is that while my esteem for Bird was growing at the same time a myth was growing around him through none of his doing and against his avowed wishes because Bird was never this paragon of American values that the myth-making machine would have you believe. His home life during his younger days was far from ideal culminating in his fatherís suicide after years of alcohol abuse. He married and divorced young with a daughter and has been for most of her life an absent parent. He modeled his game as much as could after Black players, the ones who have natural ability that canít be replicated by those with a limited skill-set. He considered it an insult if another white player guarded him during games. Kevin McHale and other Celtics from the 80ís will tell you with little prompting that he had a prickly personality even going so far as to even try to get the best power forward not named Karl Malone traded. According to knowledgeable sources, he orchestrated a palace coup to get his first professional coach, Bill Fitch, out of Boston. Worst of all for the proponents of the Right Way of playing basketball, he was an A-1, cash money, trash talker during games who could shut up Gary Payton. Now thatís truly saying something.
I donít highlight these perceived failings to tear down Larry Bird but rather Iíve highlighted them to show how wrong it is to project longings and wishes on anyone. Bird was a talented player who has parlayed those skills into successful head coaching and GM positions but like Michael Jordan he was one of a kind and his day is over. Christian Laettner, Keith Van Horn, Rex Chapman, Dan Majerle and other white players had the mantle of the next Larry Legend placed upon them just like Minor, Bryant, Wade and others had the title of the next Jordan placed on their shoulders but none of have been able to erase either player from the public consciousness. Thatís no fault of their own but that of the NBA for not promoting what makes these players unique in their own rights.
Adam Morrison, picked third overall in last weekís draft by the Charlotte Bobcats out of Gonzaga, is the latest choice to carry the white manís burden in the NBA. The NCAA scoring leader for 2005 is a tough, emotional player with a killer jump shot and a good story because of his battle with diabetes. He just plays the game and cares little for the way he looks with that caterpillar mustache and the color banded socks in which he plays. The Bobcats with their new GM and partial owner, Michael Jordan, hope heís the bedrock that will give the still-expansion Bobcats legitimacy in the NBA. Itís kind of ironic that His Airness who typified everything Larry Bird wasnít, talent-wise, during his playing days may have drafted the next heir to the Legendís title.
Ironic indeed.