Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were two of the greatest NBA players of their time. Both Hall of Famers helped bring the NBA to a new level. Another Hall of Famer, one in the MLB Hall of Fame, had a chance to play with both Jordan and Bird. He said he preferred playing with Jordan and the reason is surprising.
Michael Jordan and Larry Bird combined for eight MVPs
Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were two completely different players who had a tremendous amount of success in the NBA. Jordan is widely considered the greatest to ever play the game, while Bird is considered one of the game’s best shooters and passers. Both were also considered winners.
Jordan won six championships with the Chicago Bulls, including a pair of three-peats. The Boston Celtics won three titles with Bird. Jordan finished his career with five MVPs. Bird had three straight MVPs from 1984-86. The two also combined for 26 NBA All-Star appearances.
Jordan and Bird, along with Magic Johnson, were the faces of the NBA in the 1980s. Jordan turned things up a notch in the 90s. Bird was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998, while Jordan followed in 2009.
Lee Smith played basketball with both Jordan and Bird
Lee Smith, one of the best closers in Major League Baseball and a 2019 Hall of Famer, also had a passion for basketball. He played college basketball at Northwestern State. Although he didn’t win up pursuing a career in pro basketball, Smith made it big in Major League Baseball. Despite his baseball success, he always loved basketball and was able to play against Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.
“Well, you know what, I liked playing a lot more with Michael because he passed,” Smith said as he laughed on the GM Files podcast with Jim Duquette and Bobby Evans. “He passed more than Larry did.” What? Jordan passed more than Bird? Bird was one of the NBA’s greatest passers of all-time, while Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times.
“You just think about the names that we’re talking about, these guys right there,” Smith said. “But I think the one dude that really drove us all out there was Danny Ainge because he had the Lee Smith going. He couldn’t guess which one he wanted to do.” Smith, of course, was referring to the Celtics GM, who was also drafted in baseball before making a decision to play pro basketball. Smith also had ties to another former Boston Celtics star. “I actually played high school and college basketball against Robert Parish,” Smith said. “He’s from Shreveport, Louisiana.”
Lee Smith clearly made the right decision
Lee Smith spent 18 years in Major League Baseball. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound closer was an intimidator on the mound. He was a seven-time MLB All-Star and he led the big leagues in saves four seasons. Smith finished his career with 478 saves.
Smith often said basketball was his first love. “He loved basketball more than baseball,” said Tynes Hildebrand, Smith’s head coach during his one year of basketball at Northwestern State. “He had trouble understanding how valuable he was for baseball and that his future was in baseball. If he had devoted his career to basketball, he would have been one of Northwestern State’s all-time greats. Same with baseball. If he had played here, he would have been the greatest baseball player in school history.”
Instead, Smith went on to become one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball.