When you think of some of the great basketball players in history, you immediately have to mention the names of and Larry Bird in that conversation. Although MJ is the consensus GOAT in the eyes of the majority in the NBA world, Bird and his legacy are right there behind him. But if you ask some of the players that had the chance to compete against both, they would tell you guarding Larry was the more difficult task. At least NBA legend James Worthy thinks so.
Larry and Michael had their fair share of battles, but Jordan came into the NBA realistically while Bird was still in his prime and dominating with the Celtics. Boston would smoke Chicago in the playoffs during Jordan's early years, but as time went by, Bird slowly faded with age, and Michael took over the torch and became the face of the NBA.
They were vastly different in the way they operated on the court, but each of them dominated in their own unique way. Jordan was just more athletic than everyone, while Larry torched you in every way possible with that sweet shooting touch. When you compare the two, their games, and their legacy, many would agree Jordan is better. But if you look at it from the standpoint of an opponent that had to guard those guys, the story changes a bit.
NBA and Lakers legend was also one of the better players in the NBA, while Bird and Jordan reaped havoc on the league, as he had the chance to play them and guard them more than once.
"I would much rather guard Michael Jordan than Larry Bird, because you have to play the game as a thinker when you're playing [Bird]. You have to get inside his mind. Larry wasn't quick, he couldn't jump really high, but there were just some sleepless nights,"James Worthy, ESPN SportsCentury
With the infamous Lakers-Celtics rivalry that stretched out to numerous Finals in the 80s, Worthy spent a lot of time in close quarters with Bird. Also, Worthy saw Jordan during his rise to greatness and even faced him in the Finals on the way to his first out of six championships. So who better to judge who was harder to guard out of these two legends?
Sure, MJ was an athletic freak that slowly built an all-around game and became unstoppable. But you knew what you were getting with him. He was either trying to beat you with his speed and athletic ability or settling for mid-range jumpers and high post action that Jordan thrived in.
On the other side, was more of a mystery. Despite not being the most athletic player, he could still get to the rim if needed. But outside of it, he could post, shoot from two and three, create his own shot, spot-up, initiate the offense, and everything else you needed. Just a complete basketball player that made you think hard about what he was going to do because he had the ability to dominate every aspect of the game on a given night. That is probably why "Big Game James" found it more challenging to stop Bird than his college teammate in Jordan.