Slap Shot or Slam Dunk?

After the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in game 7 of the NHL Western Conference finals, a majority of the talk centered around a lesser known player on the LA Kings named Justin Williams. With the victory last night, Williams ran his personal record in game 7’s to a perfect 7-0. This stat alone is very impressive, but what takes his feat to historical levels is that he also became the all time leading scorer in game 7’s. He has put up two points per game for a total of 14 points in the game 7’s he’s played. Bottom line is this guy shows up in games that matter the most. Thus he’s fully earned the nickname “Mr. Game Seven”.

While discussing Williams and his record, the comparison to the NBA’s Robert Horry was made. Robert Horry is better known by his nickname “Big Shot Rob” and is famous for his ability to take and make big shots in clutch moments. A comparison can further be made that although both were never stars, they were valuable contributors on their teams and seemed to raise their games in the playoffs. Both guys have helped more than one team win championships. (Williams has two Stanley Cups with two different teams, and Horry has an incredible seven NBA championships with three different teams.)

This got me thinking about other players in the NBA and NHL who have had similar careers or are perceived in a comparable manner by fans. I also enjoyed the idea of discussing some non hockey content.  While I recognize my blog and readership (all 13 of you! Hi Mom!) is very hockey-centric – those who know me, know I’m a huge NBA fan.

One caveat when considering these comparisons – it is often suggested that the Stanley Cup is the hardest championship to win and hold on to, and the stats definitely back that up. Over the last 15 championships given out by each league, six NBA teams have won the Larry O’Brien trophy. Only six! In fifteen years! Meanwhile in the NHL, 11 teams have won the last 15 Stanley Cups. Basically, if you end up on a championship team in the NBA, there are very good odds that you’ll be winning more than one. Not the case at all in the NHL – the best example being the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins, whom many thought would be the next dynasty in the NHL and have not been to an NHL finals since. Which leads me to my first comparison.

Lebron James vs. Sidney Crosby:

This one might be the most obvious comparison simply based on the fact that they both broke into their respective leagues at the same time, and both were considerably hyped from a very young age. Statistically, they both measured up right from the get go. Crosby won the Art Ross (leading scorer) in just his second year, and Lebron become the youngest player in league history to average 30 points per game in ’06. Both were on the losing side of their first finals matchup (Lebron lost his first two). Crosby struck oil first, winning his first Cup in 2009. Lebron followed suit in 2012 with his first ring. While Crosby is generally well “liked” by fans and media, he has turned off many with his constant whining to the refs. I’ve detailed the public perception of Lebron in the past; needless to say, “the decision” did not go over well with…anyone. However, both are squeaky clean in terms of controversy and maintain a low public profile despite their transcendent fame. There are significant differences; injuries significantly impacted Crosby’s career the two years prior to this past season. Meanwhile, Lebron has flourished in Miami, winning back to back championships and heading to his 4th straight finals appearance. It should be noted that Crosby did bounce back this season, and regained the Art Ross trophy and is a favorite for his second MVP.
In terms of hype, production, fans, successes, and a strange number of detractors, these two have had eerily similar careers and they will both go down among the greatest of all time in their respective sports.

Kevin Durant vs. Steven Stamkos:

It’s hard being second best. Just ask poor Kevin Durant; he won his first MVP trophy this year, led the league in scoring, had one of the best offensive seasons in NBA history…and he’s still considered the second best player in the world.
As far as Stamkos is concerned, Crosby was asked who he thought the best player in the NHL was, and he replied: Steven Stamkos.
Both these young guns have already scored at a prolific pace. Durant has already won 4 scoring titles, and Stamkos has 2 Rocket trophies (top goal scorer) – including an astounding 60 goals in 2012 season.
Despite all that success, neither player has been able to translate it into championships. Stamkos has only been to the playoffs twice in his six year career, but pushed the eventual champion, the Boston Bruins, to game 7 in the 2011 conference finals.
Durant made it to an NBA finals in 2012, only to lose to Lebron’s Heat. At the time, it seemed like the Oklahoma City Thunder were about to take the next step to becoming an elite team. In the process, Durant vs. Lebron would become our generation’s version of Bird vs. Magic.
Alas, due to salary caps, free agency, and rising contracts, the Thunder and Durant have not been back to the finals since. Ultimately, fans are still waiting for something greater from these players, something that will make them love or hate these guys. They are both too good not to get to the pinnacle of their sports and elicit irrational emotions that only sports fans are capable of generating.

Melo vs. Ovie:

It would be easy to say the comparison between these players is due to a perceived selfish attitude, lazy nicknames, and lack of success versus the players they were drafted with. Whether it’s fair or not, both Melo and Ovie are seen as “me first” guys – players who are more enamored with stats than with wins, who chase the almighty dollar instead of the almighty championship.
What we do know is both these guys have put up some impressive stats and been on good teams; however, both have disappointed in the playoffs. Neither has ever been to a finals. Neither seems to be able to live up to the players they are most often compared to (Lebron for Melo – Crosby for Ovie) even though in both cases they really are a different type of player. While they are easily two of the most talented players in the world in their respective sports, there’s always been “something” missing, They’re both still young enough that they can change their destiny and go down as legends in their sports. Instead, they seem headed to being the answer to the question: “hey, who are the greatest players never to win a championship?”.

Nathan Gerbe vs. Earl Boykins:

Let’s keep this one…short…really…short…

Get it?

No?  

Ok then…let’s move on…

Westbrook vs Subban:

If there is any player in either sport who generates a more polarizing reaction from fans than these two guys, I’d like to hear it. Both players and their teams recently ousted in the conference finals of their sports. Both had tremendous playoff runs in which they were often their team’s best player. Both players have been called out for putting themselves ahead of their teams. Both have been told they are too free wheeling and that this deters from team success. Both have also been described as incredible teammates. Both have been described as world class athletes. Both may arguably be the best players in their respective positions but not considered as such due to the fact that they are seen as selfish at times. P.K. Subban and Russell Westbrook have had more bad press written about them than any other elite players in their respective leagues.
Ultimately, both guys don’t care; both are unique and have honest personalities, a refreshing change amongst the plethora of cliché spewing robots.
They may not be the best players at their positions in their sports (yet), but they sure are the most exciting.

Tim Duncan vs. Martin St. Louis:

This one may the biggest stretch, but when you take a look it, it may not be as ludicrous as you’d think. Tim Duncan is one of the top ten players in NBA history. He’s the best power forward in NBA history. He’s about to play in his 6th NBA finals, he has won 4 NBA Championships, and has been the finals MVP in 3 of them. Martin St. Louis is a great hockey player, a surefire hall of famer, but historically he doesn’t measure up to Duncan relative to his sport. He’ll never be considered top ten of all time, probably not even top fifty. However, this is as good a time as any to mention an important factor to take into consideration when comparing the two sports: the NHL is substantially older than the NBA.
Regardless, St. Louis has been one of the top players in the NHL over the last decade, and he’s done it as a small man in a big man’s game. While he can’t match Duncan’s rings, he has a cup of his own with Tampa Bay in ’04, and is about to play in his 2nd Stanley Cup Finals. He’s been the league MVP once and led the league in scoring twice. He is one of the most decorated and top scoring wingers of the last 20 years. Yet despite all that, you guys are still saying: “Dude, you’re crazy.”
Here’s where the comparison comes into play; everyone is pulling for these guys. Both guys are in the twilight of their careers, and have amassed a tremendous amount of goodwill throughout their careers. I know there are a ton of Heat and Kings fans out there who want to win this year and would hate it if they lost. But no true fan of either game would begrudge these two gentlemen winning one more ring at the tail end of their hall of fame careers. They are revered and deeply respected by their teammates, fans and media. I suspect that means as much to either guy as all the points they’ve put up in their careers.

So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed that comparison and I hope you enjoy both the NBA and NHL finals. Give me a follow on twitter (@wolverine_z) if you want to see random thoughts on either sport from yours truly.

Habs in 7.

Oops.

I meant…
Rangers in 6.
Heat in 7.

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