The Great White Hype
Maybe they meant the next Bird, based on how Larry would play today?
Magic Johnson once said, “There will never, eva be another Larry Bird.” Tell that to the media. Every couple of years, a successful white player enters the NBA and instantly becomes anointed as the second coming of Larry Legend (I’m looking at you, Tyler Hansbrough). Forget about Bird’s underrated court vision, defensive anticipation, leadership, and downright cockiness — the only prerequisite for drawing a comparison to the legend is being tall and Caucasian. While some players, such as Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Mullin, carved out Hall of Fame-worthy careers in Bird’s shadow (even Tom Chambers had five 20-point seasons), most haven’t fared quite so well. Here’s a look at the ten worst players who were once labeled as “The Next Larry Bird.”
1. Adam Morrison: A 6′8″ white guy with floppy hair and a prebubescent mustache is bound to draw comparisons to Bird. Morrison averaged 11.8 points per game as a rookie on 38% shooting, placing him last among regulars in John Hollinger’s PER rankings. After missing the entire 2007/08 season with a torn ACL, he was traded to the Lakers because he “couldn’t handle the pressure” of being the third pick — completely out of character for a man who once cried on the court. Morrison averaged 1.3 points in six minutes per game for Los Angeles.
2. Andrew Gaze: The greatest Australian baller this side of Luc Longley was cut by the Sonics in favor of the legendary Scott Meents in 1990, and went on to play 26 games in the NBA with the Bullets and Spurs, scoring 46 points — total (1.7 per game). He was given a championship ring by the Spurs despite being left off the playoff roster 1999, putting him somewhere between Jack Haley and Darko Milicic on the all-time undeserved ring recipients list. But according to Donn Nelson, Gaze has “the full international package,” which if nothing else makes him the Aussie Dirk Diggler.
3. Eric Montross: Prior to the 1994 Draft, Boston general manager M.L. Carr said the 7′0″ stiff was “cut from the same cloth” as Larry Legend. Yes, that Eric Montross, who put up 12 points, seven rebounds, and zero three-point attempts at UNC. Even more remarkable is the fact that Bird himself was working as a Celtics special assistant and gave him a strong evalutation. Montross averaged 4.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.6 blocks over 11 seasons, and Carr’s Celtics won 35, 33, and a franchise-worst 15 games in his three seasons as GM and head coach.
4. Danny Ferry: You know it’s a sad day when Danny Ferry comes in fourth on a “worst” list. After refusing to play for the Clippers, Ferry signed an absurd 10-year, $37 million contract with the Cavs, and averaged seven points and three rebounds per game in 13 seasons. He was tall, painfully slow, and had an ugly lean-in set shot. While Bird wasn’t afraid to fight Julius Erving and Bill Laimbeer, Ferry’s career-defining moment was *****-slapping Marcus Camby and ducking behind Jeff Van Gundy to avoid a retaliatory roundhouse punch.
5. Austin Croshere: Croshere averaged career highs of 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in 1999/00 while playing under Bird in Indiana. He was rewarded with a cap-killing, seven-year, $51 million contract, making him the second highest-paid player on the conference champions. He predictably fell out of the Pacers’ rotation and never came close to living up to his contract. Shockingly, he’s still in the league, putting up 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 14 games with the Bucks and Spurs last season.
6. Wally Szczerbiak: Once described as having a “Larry Bird game” along with “a Tom Cruise smile” (I feel a little dirty just writing that), Szczerbiak made one undeserved All-Star appearance in 2002. He’s since bounced around the league and put up career lows of seven points and 3.1 rebounds per game with Cleveland last season. But at least both Szczerbiak and Bird played for the Celtics and wore double digits on their jerseys, which is more than most of the other guys can say.
7. Troy Murphy: Murphy might’ve ranked higher had it not been for his career season in 2008/09, when he averaged 14.3 points (45% from beyond the arc), 11.2 rebounds (second in the NBA), and 2.4 assists. It’s probably no coincidence that Bird brought him to Indiana, either. While he’ll still never come close to Larry Legend territory, I should admint that I’ve had an inflated perception of Murphy ever since he demolished me in a high school pickup game.
8. Keith Van Horn: The second overall pick in 1997 had his best years with the Nets, even appearing on the cover of NBA Jam ‘99, before playing for four teams in his final four years in the league. Van Horn averaged 16 points per game for his career, and is best remembered for wearing high knee socks. While Bird had a guaranteed contract when he retired and forfeited his last two paychecks, Van Horn came out of “retirement” to accept $4.3 million to stay home. Because that $73 million contract he once signed couldn’t feed his family.
9. Mike Dunleavy Jr. / Mike Miller: After putting up 5.7 points per game as a rookie, Dunleavy shed the bust label by registering a career best 19.1 points in 2007/08. Last I checked, however, he’s still a Dukie. Miller is a solid role player and has established himself as a terrific long-range shooter. Then again, I can say the same things about Pat Garrity or Jason Kapono, who (hopefully) never drew Bird comparisons. Either way, I’m grouping Dunleavy and Miller together because they share their sisters’ hair bands.
10. Christian Laettner: Laettner never emerged into the superstar many expected, putting up 13.3 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game for six teams. A one-time All-Star reserve in 1997, he was inexplicably selected to the 1992 Dream Team based on his collegiate accomplishments, leading Charles Barkley to note that “the only thing Christian Laettner has in common with Larry Bird is they both pee standing up.” Yep, that’s why we love you, Chuck.
*Joe Alexander: It didn’t take long for Alexander to get compared to both Larry Bird and Jerry West in one ESPN telecast. This is just a classic example of announcer idiocy.
*Eric Piatkowski: I’m not sure if Piatkowski was ever actually referred to as a Bird heir, but it wouldn’t be surprising. I just wanted to show some love for “The Polish Rifle,” who was once fined for wearing his shorts too low. Dude’s as gangsta as Larry.