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I am fully convinced that anyone under the age of 40 will never admit Larry Bird was a better player than Stephen Curry. It’s an era thing. What surprises me more, though, is that former NBA player, 38-year-old JJ Redick, can’t admit that the NBA of the 1980s was more physical than the game played today.

Nearly two weeks ago, Redick caused a stir by saying Bird shouldn’t be considered one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time. Reluctantly, I’ll give him a pass on that one. He then foolishly said there’s no difference in physicality between Bird’s era and today’s game. He doubled down on that statement a few days ago.

JJ Redick slammed by Dominique Wilkins and Michael Cooper for his comments on ’80s basketball

ESPN analyst JJ Redick looks on prior to the game between the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers on March 2, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images.

As a quick recap, Redick made waves when he said Bird shouldn’t be considered one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters when he debated Chris “Mad Dog” Russo on First Take about two weeks ago. Redick admits Bird is one of the best to ever play the game and is one of the best shooters ever. He just said Bird wasn’t one of the best three-point shooters.

“There’s plenty of people that have shot more, made more, and — guess what — made more at a higher percentage than Larry Bird from three,” Redick told Russo. “I’m not saying Larry Bird is not one of the greatest shooters ever. He’s not one of the greatest three-point shooters ever.”

When Russo spoke about the differences in eras, Redick lost some points. He made a foolish comment by saying there was no difference in physicality between the 1980s and today.

“When I watch Steph Curry, off the ball in a playoff game getting grabbed and held by Marcus Smart, they’re attached to him at all times,” Redick said. “Then when I watch Larry Bird coming off a pin-down and no one is within five feet of him. You’re telling me one is more physical than the other?”

Former Atlanta Hawks star Dominique Wilkins and former LA Lakers standout Michael Cooper, two stars who played in the 1980s, blasted Redick for both takes.

“First of all, Redick don’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” Wilkins said on SiriusXM NBA Radio on Tuesday. “I’m gonna say it right now: He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I’m like, what basketball was you watching? To say something as idiotic as that is ridiculous.”

“JJ Redick needs to be quiet,” Cooper recently said on his Showtime With Coop podcast. “I think he’s gotten out of this what he wants to — his name being thrown around, the attention and all that.”

Redick tried to clarify his comments but still didn’t make sense

The only reason I’ll give Redick a pass on his Bird comment is because the three-point shot during the 1980s wasn’t a big part of the game. For the Boston Celtics legend, it played a small role in his all-around game. Redick could’ve said Bird isn’t one of the best all-time dunkers in the NBA, and it would make just as much sense. And do you know why the three-point shot had little value in the ’80s? Because players got physical by pounding the ball inside and posting each other up.

Earlier this week, Redick posted a video of himself trying to clear up any misunderstandings about his comments. It didn’t work.

“My whole point about the segment was that outside of fouls — hard fouls, and fighting — the physicality, the basketball play-by-play, the physicality is not that much different than today’s NBA.”

JJ Redick

First of all, those hard fouls and fighting contributed heavily to the physicality that was a big part of the ’80s. You can’t just take those elements away. That’s like saying, “Outside of his misses, Shaquille O’Neal was a great foul shooter.”

In today’s game, you can’t put a hand on a player. You can’t be in a shooter’s “landing space,” or it’s a foul. The game has gone soft (aka less physical).

In the ’80s, you had post-up centers constantly fighting for position in the paint. Today’s centers, whatever is left of them, jack up three-point shots. There are no more Patrick Ewing/Hakeem Olajuwon post-up battles in the paint. Nobody plays with their back to the basket. The three-point shot dominates, but that’s just the way the game has evolved. It’s a different game than it was 40 years ago. There’s no denying those games of the past, however, were much more physical.

Another reason why those ’80s games were more physical is because there were rivalries — heated rivalries. Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons, and Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons were just a few of the major rivalries that dominated the ’80s. Those teams truly hated each other. After those teams played, the players didn’t hug each other like today. They despised each other and played hard. Sometimes they played too hard.

We saw Boston’s Kevin McHale clothesline Kurt Rambis on his way for a layup during the 1984 NBA Finals. Robert Parish pummeled Bill Laimbeer with multiple punches during Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. No technical foul was given in either instance. It’s all part of ’80s basketball.

Name one NBA rivalry today. There isn’t one. If the Celtics and Lakers met in the NBA Finals today, the pregame show would be highlights from the ’80s battles.

Bird may not be a top-five three-point shooter of all time, despite winning all three of the three-point shooting contests he entered. He was a damn good three-point shooter. Where Redick really was off was the physicality part. Anyone who witnessed both eras will tell you Redick is wrong on that front.


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