Lebron James may be the greatest thing since the Red Zone Channel but he is not alone in the debate of greatest major professional sports player on the planet. Because Sidney Crosby plays hockey and the networks cover it as often as Kate Upton does her boobs he doesn’t get the love he deserves. I’m going to break it down and see if Lebron is indeed in a galaxy of his own or if Sidney Crosby may actually be the greatest player on the planet.
Lebron James and Sidney Crosby have countless things in common. Both were anointed the chosen one before playing a single professional minute and both delivered on those high expectations. Both make their teammates significantly better and have the vision to see them open when no one else does. Both have the same amount of titles (1) and both are currently playing at the highest levels of their career.
In order to really compare the two I’m going to have to dig deep and get to the core of what really matters.
First off, save me on all the advance metrics stuff. I know that there is a player efficiency ranking for the NBA and a point share ranking for the NHL but I’m not going to nerd this out too bad so I’ll leave that stuff out.
How much better are they compared to the next best player?
Late last week Mariano Rivera announced that this would be his last season. The discussion that ensued was not “is Mariano Rivera the greatest closer ever”, because he unquestionably is, but instead at what level of greatness is he at for the entire game of baseball? Just like Jerry Rice is widely accepted as the greatest wide receiver ever, both Lebron and Crosby are without question the best in their sport. Where Crosby has an advantage on Lebron is in comparison to who is second best.
For the longest time it was “Is Crosby or Ovechkin the best player in the NHL?” Ovie fans wanted to make an argument for him based on scoring (valid) but when it came down to it Crosby’s teams always beat Ovechkin’s when it mattered most (the playoffs and Olympics).Include me in the camp as someone who believes that winning matters.
Recently Ovechkin has been a shell of his former self and is no longer in the picture for the best in the NHL. The closest competition for Crosby would then likely be Steven Stamkos or his teammate Evgeni Malkin. Stamkos is a scoring machine but talk to me when he gets on a team that consistently wins and performs in the playoffs. Geno can make some plays that absolutely makes your jaw drop but Penguins fans all know that Crosby is better. It is everything about how he sees the ice, makes teammates better, and does the little things that people don’t often notice that separates him.
For Lebron James he’s got Kevin Durant nipping at his heels. Dude wins scoring titles like Tom Emanski wins back to back to back AAU championships. The biggest hurdle right now for Durant is the Thunder haven’t won a title. You need to win one to get taken to the next level. Otherwise you are Karl Malone (who doesn’t deliver on Sundays).
What really separates Lebron from Durant, and Crosby for that matter, is his physical size. He is so big and so quick that he can do whatever he wants on the court all against the biggest and strongest guys in the NBA. If he wants to drive to the hole no one is going to stop him. If he wants to bust 30 footers in your face he’ll do that too.
To give some love to Nick Bakay, “Advantage….push”. I just don’t see a huge difference between a healthy Malkin and Durant.
How quickly did they become great?
In his first season in the NHL, at the age of 18, Sidney Crosby finished sixth in the league in scoring. He followed that up the next season by leading the league in points, the youngest player to ever do so, as well as winning the NHL MVP award. There is contact in basketball but it is not even in the same ballpark in terms of physicality as hockey. That’s what makes this so impressive for such a young player.
When Lebron entered the NBA at age 19 he threw down a 20.9 ppg, 5.5 boards, 5.9 assists season. That was good enough for the eighth most points scored of any player. He followed that up by dropping a crazy 27.2 ppg, 7.4 boards, 7.2 assists season. That was the third highest points per game average in the NBA. Talk about making your presence known.
While both players entered their leagues at a ripe age and became great pretty much instantly Crosby earned the hardware of “best in the league” first. Because we are talking about the best of the best every part of their career matters. Advantage Crosby.
In terms of awards Lebron has more hardware than Home Depot. He’s got three MVP’s, a Finals MVP, a ROY trophy, and has led the NBA in scoring once. Crosby has a scoring title, a regular season MVP, and led the NHL in assists once. Big advantage to Lebron James on this.
Which player makes his teammates better?
There’s no doubt that Lebron James is selfless and makes his teammates better. The dude could take ever single shot in the game and his team would still be the one seed in the East. He’s averaged almost 7 dimes a season for his career which pretty much means that he’s in the top 15 of assists every year.
The question then is how much does Lebron make his teammates better? Lebron assists on 34% of made baskets by his teammates. If you want to put that into perspective Larry Bird averaged just over 6 assists per game but only had a career assist percentage of 24.7. Sure they scored more back then but still. Lebron is getting people involved.
If you play on the ice with Sidney Crosby you get catapulted to a whole new level (just ask Chris Kunitz who is having a career season). Crosby has been in the top eight in assists every full season that he’s played in the NHL. He has 33 assists on the 97 goals that the Penguins have scored this year which is 34% of the time. Since it’s not possible for Crosby to get an assist on a goal that he scores I need to deduct the 12 goals from the team total. That would mean that when Crosby isn’t scoring a goal he is assisting on a goal 38.8% of the time. Advantage Crosby.
Blemish on their Career
No one other than Mr. Perfect and the 72′ Dolphins were actually perfect. Both Lebron and Crosby definitely have black marks on their careers. For Lebron you only need to say two words “The Decision”, and yes, how they deal with the media matters because everything matters.
I can’t think of a non-crime committing athlete that has seen as much backlash from the media for something as Lebron did with “The Decision”. You would have thought that he used PED’s with Pedro Gomez watching for as much coverage as it got.
At the same time, it sure says something about Lebron’s career that the worst thing that happened didn’t occur on the court. Speaking of that, everyone has bad games and I’m not buying the Lebron quit in Game 5 of the Boston series stuff. That’s overreaction theatre.
I also won’t buy the “Lebron had to team up with D Wade and Bosh to win in Miami” talk. Winning is winning (though from a fan perception standpoint I might be in the slight minority on this issue so it could matter to you). In order to be great you have to win. Lebron accomplished this by going to Miami, case closed.
For Crosby the blemish on his career was the year and a half that he missed because of a concussion (and this is a big blemish). Lebron James has not had a significant injury so the fact that he has hasn’t missed time means his greatness has been felt for longer. Crosby pretty much writes the book on how to be perfect in the media but that can’t help make up for his time away from the ice. Big advantage to Lebron on this.
One thing in sports that is very big is hating someone for no good reason other than the fact that they are awesome and not on your team. The gold standard for this is Tom Brady. Titles, bombshell wife, dreamy as hell, no doubt the most disliked player by non-Patriot fans.
Lebron in his being hated on prime (which was after “The Decision”) didn’t have nearly the level of hate that Crosby has received from the second he skated on the ice. The only people who were pissed about Lebron for doing “The Decision” were people from Cleveland (rightfully so). Why would someone who’s a Bucks or Warriors fan really care that much about it? They don’t.
Every opposing hockey arena that Sidney Crosby shows up at he is booed constantly (except for when Penguins fans, who travel well, outnumber the home crowd and drown out the cheers). Crosby could score a hat trick, dish out two assists, and score the game winning goal in overtime and it wouldn’t sway Joe hockey fan even the slightest on their hatred for Crosby. They’d still think Cindy sucks. Naturally if you were to ask every one of those people if they’d want Crosby on their team they’d say yes in a heartbeat.
With Lebron he can perform to such a level that it breaks through the hatred and everyone just appreciates his greatness for what it is. I think that says more about the game of basketball and basketball fans in general. We are enamored with highlights and dunks like a large mouth bass is with a shiny Rapala lure.
With hockey there’s a “if you aren’t with us you are against us” feel but in a good way. No player gets fans blood boiling more than Crosby and that is worth something. I will get people who hate the fact that I am writing an article that involves Sidney Crosby without even knowing what it’s about. That’s awesome. Like intangibles on the court stuff like this matters when talking about the greatest of the great. Advantage Crosby.
Both Lebron James and Sidney Crosby have each won Olympic gold medals. Crosby just so happened to do it in the most dramatic and “of course he’s the one who scored” moment possible by scoring the game winning goal in overtime to win it for Team Canada. That’s pretty much a walk-off.
For Lebron his signature moment was probably when he scored 48 points including the Cavaliers last 25 and 29 of their final 30 in double overtime of Game 5 of the NBA playoffs against the Detroit Pistons.
It’s not often that sort of performance isn’t enough but I have to give this one to Crosby. With the majority of North America (yes the continent) absolutely glued to the TV and everyone beaming with national pride he delivered when it mattered most for his team. Advantage Crosby.
There you have it, four for Crosby and two big ones for Lebron (which probably count for at least two each). I know that many of you are thinking that I’m crazy and that Lebron James is the winner hands down but hopefully this showed you how close the two of them actually are. In order to judge the greatness of a player you need to look at their full body of work and both players aren’t even close to being done. I’m looking forward to seeing what spectacular things these two do in the rest of their careers.
I want to hear from you. Is Lebron better or can you make an argument for Crosby? Put your thoughts below.