If I’ve got the first pick in the draft, out of all the sports, if I can take anybody and start a team, I go with LeBron, just because it’s always going to be easier for a basketball player to dominate, because it’s only five to a side.
What we’re basically talking about here is picking the guy you think is better than everybody in team sports the way Serena Williams used to be better than everybody else in women’s tennis.
And if we’re just talking about basketball? I love Steph Curry, have loved his game all the way back to Davidson, knew what the Knicks had missed out on the year Don Nelson took him with the pick right before New York’s. But here’s the deal: If I take LeBron and you take Steph and we keep picking from there, my team will beat your team.
On Christmas week, why not try to unpack the best in everything? The beauty of sports is always conversations like these. Young Mays or young Mantle? Williams or DiMaggio? Bird or Magic or Michael? Russell or Chamberlain or Kareem? Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson? On and on.
I once put it to Auerbach this way: If all the players in the history of pro basketball were down at the playground and he could only pick one to start a team, would he take Michael or Russell?
The old man paused and finally said, “Michael.”
And I said, “Hold the phone,” or maybe just dropped the phone because of all the winning Auerbach and Russell had done together. He laughed and said, “You gotta be realistic.” He wasn’t just the coach of the old Celtics in that moment. He was the guy who later became the greatest basketball executive of all time.
“I want to win,” he said. “But I gotta sell tickets, too.”
You can do both with LeBron and Steph. But as thrilling a talent as Steph Curry is, and with all the winning he has done already with the Warriors, LeBron — to me — is the most complete player of all time, one who influences any game in which he’s playing in more different ways than any player I ever saw, including Magic.
Now let’s expand the conversation. I’d take Mike Trout first in baseball and think most baseball fans would, even knowing that Trout will never be able to influence his sport the way the very best basketball players on the planet would. Seriously? Look at what the kid from Jersey does year after year and look at where his team is, which means Nowhere, Calif. He can’t do for the Angels what LeBron does for the Cavs. Just can’t.
Of course, there are so many other gifted young players in baseball at this time, as rich a time for young talent as I can ever remember, and that means after we talk about Trout: Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant and Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa and Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado and Jose Altuve and, well, the list is a lot longer than that.
By the way? If I lose the first pick in baseball and somebody else gets Trout, I take Bryant second, not Harper. That’s another conversation, for another day.
It’s just as interesting in pro football, too. Maybe if you’re drafting for the long run, you’d take one of the hot kids, Jameis or Mariota or Cam — despite the free fall Cam has had this season. Or Dak Prescott. Or Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown. But it’s a quarterback league, and if you want to win right now, it’s either Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. I wrote the other day about how Brady is the MVP this season, and performing at a high level as well as any athlete ever has at his age, which is 39.
But if you made me pick, I’d still pick Rodgers first. You saw what he did even on no good legs against the Bears on Sunday after the Bears came back from 27-10 down to tie their game against the Packers at Soldier Field. It’s third-and-long, just because it always seems to be third-and-long for Aaron Rodgers, and he looks like his legs are moving underwater as he moves to his left. Then he throws one deep down the middle of the field and there is Jordy Nelson to catch the ball and the Packers kick a field goal and they win.
I don’t know that Rodgers will ever win another Super Bowl. He is stuck with this defense in Green Bay, in his prime. But in a throwers’ league, he’s still the best thrower.
When you add it all up, Sidney Crosby is still the best kid in hockey, even with a lot of other hot kids coming along.
So now I’ve got LeBron and Trout, Rodgers and Crosby.
But what if we include coaches and managers, without going sport by sport? Who’s the best out of all of them? Would you take Gregg Popovich or Coach K? Or Geno Auriemma? Or Brad Stevens, whom I think is a basketball Mozart? Or Coach Cal from Kentucky, if you really want to give yourself your best right-now chance to win?
Would you take Joe Maddon or Buck Showalter from baseball? (And spare me or the yelling about Buck not bringing in Zach Britton against the Blue Jays, or not having ever won it all.) Would you want Bill Belichick or Nick Saban or Urban Meyer from football? Who’s the very best at what he does?
Personally, I think it comes down to Belichick or Saban. Belichick is going for five Super Bowls this year, in the salary-cap era of the NFL. Saban is going for his sixth national championship. Belichick’s dynasty in Foxborough. Saban’s dynasty in Tuscaloosa. Both still going strong. This might be as tough a call as LeBron or Steph.
There was never supposed to be a better pro coach than Vince Lombardi. I know Chuck Noll won as many Super Bowls in the 1970s as Belichick has. And I know how so many people outside of a six-state area in the northeast love to hate Bill Belichick. I still go with him over Saban. To me, he’s the best example going of what Bum Phillips said about both Don Shula and Bear Bryant:
“He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.”
If we include executives who can beat your’n, nothing to see here, move along. Theo Epstein wins going away. Red Sox in ’04. Cubs in ’16. Next case.
You’re allowed to try to talk me out of any of my guys if you want to. In fact, you’re practically obligated to try. On Theo. Or Belichick. Or LeBron. There’s a name for it, too: Sports.