Larry Bird praises Kobe Bryant

Updated: February 8, 2012, 6:27 PM ET
ESPNLosAngeles.com

Boston Celtics great Larry Bird saw the Los Angeles Lakers as the enemy during his playing days, but there's one current Laker he'd like on his side if he were playing today -- Kobe Bryant.

Appearing on "The B.S. Report" with Grantland.com's Bill Simmons, Bird said that LeBron James is one of the greatest players and we should all sit back and enjoy what he can do on the basketball court. He even calls him the best player in the league, but he's not the player he would go into battle with.

If he could choose any current player that he'd like to play a season with, who would it be, Bird was asked.

"Well, probably Kobe, because of the fact that ... well, of course he wouldn't have been shooting as much as he does now ... but his desire to win, his dedication, to always get better, uh, and he's just, he's just tough," Bird said. "He's just a tough cat.

"But, if you want to have fun, like I did with Bill Walton, play with LeBron. It would have probably been more fun to play with LeBron, but if you want to win and win and win, it's Kobe. Not that LeBron's not a winner, just that [Kobe's] mindset is to go into every practice, every game, to get better."

Bryant called Bird's comments "a huge compliment for me."

"I was a real student of the game," Bryant told the "Max & Marcellus" show on 710 ESPN on Wednesday. "I remember watching an interview that Tommy Heinsohn did and he's talking about Larry Bird and he's talking about his drive and he's talking about how Bird is a self-starter. He's a self-motivator. He doesn't need anything to push him to get going.

"As a kid, listening to that, listening to that interview I said, 'You know what? That's how I need to be. I need to have that. That's how I should be.' So, that was kind of an inspiration for me. Even though I hated the Celtics, I admired Bird for his work ethic and for his determination. So, to hear those comments come from him now is great."

Bryant has won five championships with the Lakers, one short of the legend he's most often compared to, Michael Jordan. James joined the Miami Heat last season and fell short in the NBA Finals, leaving him searching for his first title.

The interview took place before Bryant passed former teammate Shaquille O'Neal and moved into fifth place on the NBA's career scoring list on Monday night.

The 33-year-old Bryant, the NBA's leading scorer with 29.4 points, has 28,601 career points.

Bird, who is president of basketball operations for the Pacers, won three titles, one of them over the Lakers. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1998.

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