Do you want to know the biggest reason Larry Bird never left the Boston Celtics in his prime?
Free agency as we understand it didn’t exist until 1988, that was after Bird had won his MVPs and titles. Before 1988, even if your contract was up, you could only leave your team if they let you and the team signing you sent them compensation (more of a trade than free agency). Good teams didn’t have to let their best players leave, so they didn’t. We’ll never know how Bird (or Magic or any superstar pre-Jordan) would have handled true free agency as it exists today.
Of course, that’s not how Bird remembers it. No doubt he’s as competitive as anyone who ever played the game, and in speaking with on “SiriusXM NBA Radio” with hosts Mark Boyle and Chris Spatola Bird compared his era with this one and what Kevin Durant did in free agency.
“Well, it’s hard, Mark, because when these players get together and go play it just makes them a lot stronger. But that’s why we have free agency. If they stay within the rules I have no problem with it and I’m happy for them but you like to be on a team where you can be competitive. I know back in the day I couldn’t imagine going to the Lakers and playing with Magic Johnson. I’d rather try to beat him. But, you know, these guys are different and I understand a lot of it and it’s within the rules so they can do whatever they do. I can remember years ago we were fighting, when I played, for free agency, you know, pure free agency so there’d be more movement. But I could never imagine myself going and joining another team with great players because I had great players and I was in a great situation.”
This will be fuel for the “Durant took the easy way out” crowd, even though with this move Durant put more pressure on himself. Durant had earned the right to choose his working environment, and the same people who will judge him on how many rings he won now complain he took the best route to getting himself those rings — which makes these people hypocrites. Welcome to the Internet.
We’ll never know how Bird and Magic’s careers might have been different — and how the super teams they were lucky enough to be drafted into and were built around them would have changed — in the kind of free agency we have now. Different eras in the NBA are hard to compare for those reasons. But take to the comments and tell me how I’m wrong and everything used to be better back when you were younger — “Make the NBA Great Again.”