Larry Bird was an 80s icon, pushing his Boston Celtics to three titles from the forward position. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant is a modern scoring master who helped the Golden State Warriors hang two banners as he reigned terror in the frontcourt. Bird and Durant are two of the best forwards to play the game.
Larry Bird wasn’t an athletic monster like many of his peers. Instead, he used one of the most intense work ethics in the NBA’s history to hone his craft and become an all-around player capable of hitting difficult shots from every level of the court. He also flashed excellent vision, rebounding, and disruptive defense throughout his 13 NBA seasons. Bird finished his career as a three-time MVP and a Hall-of-Famer behind his two-way excellence.
Kevin Durant has morphed from an uber-athletic rim-slashing wing who got to the rack at will during his younger days to the best shooter in the league. KD uses his 7-5 wingspan to launch unmolested jumpers from across the floor, and his ranged shooting percentages are like video game splits. Durant also has an MVP award to his name and four scoring titles.
Who is the better forward?
Scoring - Kevin Durant
Larry Bird is one of the best scoring forwards of all time. He ended his career by averaging a monster 24.3 points per game off 37.6% from deep and 49.6% overall from the field. Larry Legend entered the league at 23-years-old and made an immediate impact for the Boston Celtics. During Bird’s first campaign, he was voted onto the All-Star team, mixing a sweet outside stroke he’d carry throughout his career with an assortment of mid-range off-the-dribble jump shots he improved upon every season until becoming an assassin when left in one-on-one coverage.
Kevin Durant might be the best pure bucket-getter in the NBA’s history. He has a 27.1 PPG career average along with a 38.4% career clip from deep and a 49.6% mark from the field. Kevin Durant is an unstoppable offensive force. He combines point guard handles with his 6-10, 240-pound frame to blow by opposing defenders who crowd him on the perimeter for an easy two at the rack, and when you lay off him, he rises up for a smooth J from anywhere on the court.
Athleticism - Kevin Durant
Larry Bird was famously un-athletic. Watch old highlight clips of Larry Legend, and the first thing you’ll notice is that he only got three inches off the ground for his dunks. Larry Legend knew he wasn’t as fast or athletic as the competition, but he didn’t care. He prided himself on his incredible work ethic, hitting the lab after contests or grueling practices to get up more shots. Bird worked tirelessly on his jumper, pouring in effort that paid off big time during the postseason for him, giving him the muscle memory to hit dozens of huge shots for the Boston Celtics.
Kevin Durant could be the most athletic power forward ever. He’s so agile it’s easy to forget he’s 6-10. During KD’s younger days in the league, he blended an explosive first step with a killer crossover to get into the lane at will, where he assaulted the rim, routinely finishing over 75% of his attempts from 0 to 3 feet.
Defense - Larry Bird
At the beginning of KD’s career, he was toothpick thin and was routinely bullied by bigger forwards on the block, hemorrhaging points for his OKC Thunder. Durant hit the gym every summer and eventually bulked up, becoming an excellent all-around defender capable of harassing smaller guards on the perimeter and protecting the rim. Still, Kevin Durant has never been named to an All-Defensive team, and the advanced metrics don’t rate him in the top 10% of the league on the less fun end throughout his career.
Larry Bird didn’t feature the length or athleticism of Kevin Durant on the less glamorous end, but he brought mayhem with his basketball I.Q. and 110% effort. Bird ended his career with an excellent average of 1.7 steals per game and countless deflections. Larry Legend saw the game slower than the rest of the players on the court and used his mental superpowers to jump passing lanes, creating easy transition baskets for his teammates. He also had a knack for getting huge takeaways in critical moments, sucking the life out of the competition at the end of tight games. Larry Bird finished his career as a three-time All-Defensive selection and became known as the Celtics' roving free safety.
Clutch - Larry Bird
Kevin Durant is a transcendent shooter who lugs his jumper into clutch situations. He came up big for his Thunder and Warriors teams dozens of times throughout the playoffs and has never shied away from taking game-winning shots.
Larry Bird is one of the most clutch players ever. He has four buzzer-beaters to his name, and while that might not seem like a lot, they came during big moments. Larry Legend also seemed to step up his clutchocity in the postseason, seemingly dragging his Boston Celtics across the finish line at the end of tight games, helping secure many tightly contested games.
Leadership - Larry Bird
Kevin Durant is an excellent leader. He’s not vocal like Kobe Bryant was during practices, but he worked as hard as possible on his game, the fattest gym rat in the NBA during much of his career. And when KD’s teammates saw him grinding after long practices or during the summer despite his superstardom, it motivated them to do more. KD has led through example during his career, humbly pushing himself and thus pushing the players surrounding him to become more.
Larry Bird was a New York City sewer gym rat fattened up after eating two doughnuts and a loaf of bread. Larry Legend pressed harder than any NBA player we’ve ever seen (Kobe’s was right there with him), working tirelessly to improve all facets of his game. More importantly, though, was the culture of toughness that Bird instilled with his Boston Celtics. Larry Bird became a legend to fans after hitting huge shots, but he was a mythological creature to his teammates for the way he marched through pain. Bird inspired his teammates to compete hard throughout every possession, no matter what.
Basketball I.Q. - Larry Bird
Kevin Durant is one of the highest I.Q. players in the league. He’s a student of the game who prides himself on stealing from the best modern NBA athletes along with past Hall-of-Famers. KD has an excellent sense of when to get his teammates involved, using his gravity to open space for them to launch open jumpers. He also knows when to switch into killer mode and strap his squad on his back, bringing home the W with his incredible off-the-dribble talents.
Larry Bird might be the highest I.Q. player of all time. He had Chris Paul’s understanding of how to run the offense mixed with Gary Payton’s ability to pick off passes on defense. Larry Legend was the clichéd chess master playing against a group of novices. He saw six moves ahead and used his understanding of the game to dominate against a league of players who were all faster, stronger, and more athletic.
Impact - Larry Bird
Kevin Durant made a considerable impact on OKC. He won four scoring titles as a member of the Thunder and ushered them to the postseason during six seasons, winning one Western Conference title and leading the league in playoff points per game four times. Still, he didn’t win his first championship until he teamed up with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green in Golden State, forming a league-altering super team.
In 1978-79, the year before Larry Bird joined the Celtics as a rookie, Boston finished with a 29-53 record. The next season, during Larry Legend’s first NBA campaign, he led the Celtics to a 61-21 regular-season record and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals. In Bird’s sophomore year, the Celtics hung a banner. Larry Bird helped transform the Celtics from one of the worst organizations in the league to champions in two years. That’s impact. Larry Bird guided Boston to the playoffs in every year of his career, but one, the 1988-89 season that saw him play only six games due to injury.
1 on 1 Game - Kevin Durant
Larry Bird was one of the best team players of all time. He was an excellent playmaking forward who liked nothing more than to set up his teammates with clean looks at the rim or from beyond the key. Still, when the need arose, Bird was an excellent one-on-one player. He leveraged a full bag of mid-range pump fakes to rock opposing defenders on their heels before launching an uncontested J or slow-stepping into the lane for a flatfooted layup.
Kevin Durant is our modern NBA’s preeminent one-on-one player. His 2021-22 numbers are staggering. He’s taking a league-high 13.4 tightly contested jumpers (closest defender is within 2 to 4 feet) nightly while converting at a 52.0 eFG%. KD’s performance this season isn’t an outlier. He’s shown the ability to connect from mid-range and beyond the arc under duress throughout his career. KD’s also a top-5 rim slasher who easily finishes in the lane. Durant’s ability to hit tough off-the-dribble J’s combined with his inside attacks makes him one of the best one-on-one players in the NBA’s history.
Career - Larry Bird
Kevin Durant has had an excellent career. He has two chips in his pocket, along with four scoring titles. He’s a nine-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA member, and he won the 2013-14 regular-season MVP Award. Still, his resume can’t compare to Larry Bird’s.
Larry Legend is a three-time champion and a three-time league MVP. He’s a 12-time All-Star, ten-time All-NBA member, and he made the All-Defensive Team during three seasons. Bird had one of the most impressive careers of any American professional athlete.
Larry Bird vs. Kevin Durant 6-3
Larry Bird and Kevin Durant are two of the best forwards to lace them up. KD’s career is far from finished. He still has time to add to his career resume, and he could pass Bird in our head-to-head matchup over the next handful of years.
For now, Larry Legend is the better overall player. Bird merged his high basketball I.Q. and absurd work principles to dominate the league throughout the 80s, helping bring a struggling Boston team back to life.