When you’re a sporting phenom your entire career, for better or worse and I choose the latter, is plagued with comparisons. More often than not, these comparisons come before you even begin your professional career. In the 2003 NBA draft, the hype surrounding LeBron James was unbelievable. Before even putting a jersey on, reports heralded him as the next Jordan. They said he will be better than Bird and Magic and he had the potential to challenge Bill Russell’s ring count (yeah, okay).
In case you missed it, and that’s practically impossible thanks to the world wide leader. James captured his third career title on June 19th, eradicating Golden States’ early 3-1 series lead, the first team in NBA history to do so. Then, playing out of his mind in game 7 propelling the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first ever NBA championship.
Love him or hate him, LeBron’s efforts are undeniably the gas that fueled this historic come back. Just a year prior, Golden State controlled the pace of play due to Kevin Love missing to an injury he suffered in round one against the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving being knocked out early in the Finals. Statistically speaking, James was well above average but it just goes to show a title is never a one man show.
Despite two prior NBA Finals victories, this one will solidify James as this generations greatest player. This, despite Steph Curry’s unanimous league MVP crown. We as a whole know who ‘the real MVP’ is. Not many athletes get to end one of sports longest championship droughts in their hometown city. So, please just let him have his moment.
We’ll argue until we’re blue in the face about where LeBron stands on the greatest of all time list. At 31 years old, LeBron is closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning. Currently in the middle of his prime, there’s still a lot of miles still left on those legs. But will they all be spent in Cleveland? Your guess is as good as mine.
Eleven years has passed since the Pittsburgh Penguins won the league wide draft lottery and selected Sidney Crosby first overall in the 2005 NHL entry draft. Similar to James, Crosby was compared to Wayne Gretzky,had the leadership qualities of Steve Yzerman and would win more cups for the Penguins that Lemieux did.
In just three seasons Crosby rejuvenated the then dying Penguins and captained them back to the Cup final for the first time since 1992. While they would lose to the Red Wings in 6 games they would return the following season, same team, different result. From there, Crosby had written his own legacy.
In the subsequent years that followed Crosby and company had a noticeable skid. From 2011 to early 2013, Crosby battled repeated concussion issues and a major dip in production. Repeated playoff disappointments highlighted their struggles which resulted in the firing of two head coaches and major shifts in player personnel.
2015-2016 would be different. Seven years had passed since Crosby’s first title and it was more than evident that he needed some scoring help. The ‘HBK’ line of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin gave him just that. Designed as their third line, the terrific trio overpowered their opposition carving their way back to the Final.
Pittsburgh won in 6 games and despite Crosby winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, his offensive presence was minuscule when compared to that of his peers. Unlike the 2008 and 2009 Finals where Crosby needed to be the guy night in and night out, this year he received invaluable help. Which appeared to be the solution to Pittsburgh’s 7 year Cup drought.
With only two Cups to his name, it’s not fair to compare him to Gretzky (4) just yet however. His sights have been narrowed in and as we’ve seen this past year, that may be the only thing this generations Wayne Gretzky needs.