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Kobe Bryant and LeBron James battled each other for the vaunted title of the league’s best player for several years. It created a fiery debate around which held the proverbial upper hand. The discussion led former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird to chime in and humble James using Bryant’s championship success.

Larry Bird picked Kobe Bryant over LeBron James

An image of former Celtics forward Larry Bird speaking onstage at the 2019 NBA Awards next to an image of Lakers forward LeBron James wearing his warm-ups before a game
Former Celtics forward Larry Bird in 2019; Lakers forward LeBron James before a game. | Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Turner Sports; Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Throughout a significant stretch of James and Bryant’s careers, the two competed against each other as the league’s best players. The constant comparisons created heated debates. During an interview on The BS Report with Bill Simmons in February 2012, Larry Bird voiced he would choose Bryant over James due to the championship success, according to ESPN.

“Probably Kobe,” Bird said. “Well, of course, he wouldn’t be shooting as much now, but his desire to win, his dedication in the offseason to get better, and he is just tough. He is a tough cat. But if you wanna have fun like I did with Bill Walton, you play with LeBron. It’s probably more fun to play with LeBron, but if you want to win and win and win, it’s Kobe. Not that LeBron is not a winner. It’s just that his mindset to go into every practice and every game is to get better.”

At that moment, Bird’s selection of a 32-year-old Bryant over a physically primed LeBron James wasn’t a surprising choice. The Lakers star was less than two years removed from winning back-to-back NBA titles while still playing at an elite level.

Meanwhile, James was in his second campaign with the Miami Heat. He was the subject of plenty of scrutiny after failing to win an NBA title in his first year alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. However, it’s also fair to note that Bird stated in the same interview that James was the best player in the league.

“LeBron James is by far our best player in this league,’ Bird said. “I don’t think there’s really anyone next to him.  I think he’s there [top spot] then you go down the list.” That said, the Celtics legend’s comments didn’t take long to get back around to the star forward.

Larry Bird once humbled LeBron James with a single comment about Kobe Bryant’s rings

Around that time, a few other all-time greats shared Bird’s stance regarding the Bryant-James discussion.

However, the former Celtics great’s remarks quickly made their way to James, and he flatly agreed with the perspective. “It’s simple; Kobe has five rings, and I have none,” James said, according to Bleacher Report.

James knew that regardless of how great a player he is, his legacy would ultimately be defined by championship success. That aspect alone has elevated the likes of Bird, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Bill Russell to legendary status.

At that moment, James hadn’t won an NBA title, while Kobe Bryant had earned five championships. He had no ground to stand on in comparison to his rival. He could have taken a much different route but instead showed maturity and humility that has since helped push him toward championship success.

LeBron James experiences championship success after Larry Bird’s remarks

Since Bird’s comments, James has added an impressive near-decade of sustained success to his illustrious career.

James has earned four NBA titles while playing in 10 Finals. He established himself as the only player in league history to win a championship and Finals MVP award with three teams. The Ohio native led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first championship, breaking a 50-plus-year title drought for the city of Cleveland.

James then guided the Lakers to their 17th NBA title during his second campaign in LA. He has also pushed himself toward numerous other NBA records, including becoming the all-time leading scorer over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Time will tell what will unfold ahead, but James has undoubtedly cemented his place in the argument alongside Bryant and other all-time greats.

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