By Joe Giglio
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Every single athlete who takes center stage on the court, field or ice is unique. There’s never been one who is exactly the same in the past, it’s impossible to locate one identical in the present and there certainly won’t be one with the same talent and personality in the future.
Of course, that doesn’t stop sports fans from comparing, contrasting and expecting these athletes to live up to an ideal that we lay out for them within minutes of laying eyes on their games, reading a profile of their background or imagining a future with their busts in the Hall of Fame.
Full disclosure: I am as guilty of doing it as anyone that I know. Upon seeing a player, reading a scouting report or watching a game unfold, most athletes remind me of someone from the past. As I age — thus seeing another generation of athletes come and go — it’s probably only going to get worse.
That doesn’t mean it’s right, fair or logical.
Each day in the sporting world is unique, but this past week hit home the point of this subject.
Last Tuesday, or, as it’s now affectionately known, “Super Tuesday,” the Mets sent out their two, young, hard-throwing phenoms, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. In the hours leading up to the game, the hopes and dreams of Mets fans were pinned on that day, their future and how great these two neophytes could become.
After their back-to-back outings of dominance over one of the most powerful everyday lineups in the sport, the narrative machine began churning out unreasonable comparisons. Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman 2.0 is humbling for a pair of kids who weren’t even around for the 1986 team, let alone the ‘69 Miracle Mets.
Aesthetically, New York has already seen Harvey’s repertoire compared to Zack Greinke, his demeanor and drive likened to Roger Clemens, and, of course, his impact on the franchise muttered in the same breath as Seaver.
While Wheeler was navigating command and control issues, he was being compared to A.J. Burnett and Edwin Jackson — both, by the way, are scenarios that elicit reactions of disappointment, regardless of the long, durable careers of each — and Koosman.
Having two young and dynamic arms igniting a franchise apparently isn’t enough. Before they completed one day together in the show, comparisons, from the great to the mediocre, were placed upon who they might become.
On Thursday night, the NBA completed one of the great championship bouts in recent memory. In a series full of future Hall of Famers, LeBron James stood above the field, hoisting up his second consecutive championship.
Despite clearly showing the talent, drive and work ethic that landed him atop the sport, a vocal portion of the NBA fan base refuses to either give him credit or acknowledge his place among the great basketball players to ever don a uniform.
The “he’s not Michael Jordan and will never be!” crowd has become old and tired, trying to compare James’ game to Jordan’s, criticizing making the right basketball play in confusion with passivity or fear of the big moment.
As the confetti fell in Miami on Thursday evening, James held up his second consecutive Finals MVP award, another accolade in a career full of them. When he’s finished, he’ll carve out a unique resume that will likely not compare to any basketball player who’s ever lived. How it stacks up to Jordan or Bill Russell’s is ultimately irrelevant.
This loud and crass trend among fans to knock down an athlete for not living up the expectations or comparisons placed upon them is bordering on the ridiculous and taking away from the enjoyment of the competition.
Harvey isn’t the next Clemens, Wheeler isn’t the next Burnett and James isn’t the next Jordan.
Let them be the first Harvey, Wheeler and James.
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