NBA: LeBron James vs Larry Bird – Who is the best small forward ever?

LeBron Sits

The Heat star is one of the most dominant players of all time, but has he surpassed the Celtics legend?

During the broadcast of the Miami Heat's Game 4 crushing of the Indiana Pacers, former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson boldly proclaimed that LeBron James is the greatest small forward in NBA history.

LeBron's transformation over the past 3 years has been remarkable, going from playoff choker to comfortably the best player in the league. He is now considered among the greats, but is he really better than the man generally seen as the greatest small forward of all time, Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird?

Scoring

We start with perhaps the toughest category to call. Both players have had classic scoring games, such as LeBron's 25 straight points against the Pistons in 2007, or Bird's 60-point demolition of the Hawks in 1985. If these two simply focused on scoring, both could easily have averaged 35 ppg over the course of their careers. We'll call it even.

Edge: Tie

Athleticism

This one is not so close. LeBron is the most dominant force in the NBA since Shaquille O'Neal, with the frame of a center and the speed of a point guard. Athleticism was never Bird's game, and this category is a walkover.

Edge: LeBron

Facilitating

As dynamic a scorer as LeBron is, he is equally adept at getting his teammates involved, and averaging almost seven assists per game at his size speaks to his extraordinary ability as a passer. But Bird is the best passing forward of all time, and this ridiculous video alone is enough to win him this category.

Edge: Bird

Defense

Bird was always a pretty good defender, and was named to the NBA all-defensive second team three times in his career. In fact, he is almost identical to James in terms of blocks and steal per game. However, LeBron is a perennial defensive player of the year contender, and his ability to guard all five positions sees him take this one.

Edge: LeBron

Clutch

LeBron has come a long way since his 2011 Finals meltdown against the Mavericks. He is now comfortable taking games over in the playoffs, as he demonstrated in picking apart the Celtics in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. James just does not, however, have the sheer number of clutch moments that Bird has in his arsenal. Epitomised in the famous steal against Isaiah Thomas's Pistons in 1987, Larry Legend came through time and time again for Boston.

Edge: Bird

Legacy

To be the greatest of all time takes more than stats or measurables - it is as much about swagger as points and assists. LeBron is an incredible athlete and has an air of untouchability right now, but Bird built a career on an aura of greatness. James's decision to defect from Cleveland will always count against him, whereas Bird is still seen as Basketball Jesus in Boston. LeBron will need a few more classic games and moments of magic to well and truly surpass Larry Legend.

Edge: Bird