Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Greatest Athlete?

There's been a lot of talk the past few days as to whether Michael Phelps is one of the best athletes of all time. No doubt Phelps deserves to be in that conversation, but how do you determine something like that?

It's nearly impossible to compare a guy like Phelps with others in the same conversation, like Lance Armstrong, Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. First of all, none of those guys play(ed) the same sports so you can't compare career statistics or accomplishments. There's no way to say for certain how one athlete would do in another sport.

All that said, I'm currently watching the USA Men's Basketball Team against Greece (thanks to NBC's live coverage online) and I think I'm seeing one of the best athletes I've ever seen.

LeBron James is listed at 6'8" and 250 pounds, a pretty good size for a small or power forward in the NBA. But when you watch him, he looks more like a guard. Often he leads the fast break for Team USA and often he finishes it as well. His combination of size, strength, speed and finesse are something I've never seen before.

I feel completely comfortable saying LeBron is the best athlete I've ever seen. He might not do so well in the pool against Phelps, on the baseball field against Babe, on the golf course against Tiger or on a bike against Lance, but I'd bet with the right coaching and lots of practice he would make a pretty decent tight end, wide receiver, defensive end, high jumper, long jumper or volleyball player.

I won't say he's the best athlete of all time because I still don't believe it's possible to make a definitive statement like that, but he's the first one I think of when that conversation starts.


Dan & Nancy Erickson said...

While I agree that Michael Phelps is an incredible athlete and is totally dominating his sport right now, I think it's WAY too much to throw "best athlete ever" superlatives at him. All he has to do is dominate for 2 weeks, and people can claim "best ever." Well, a grand slam tennis tournament is two weeks. Winning one doesn't make you the best ever. Winning two, the equivalent of 2 Olympics, doesn't make you the best ever. Also, swimming and track provide athletes with unique opportunities to win multiple medals, while other sports don't. It doesn't matter of LeBron throws up 150 points a game for the entirety of the Olympics- he's only going to win one gold medal.

Also. I think you're right about LeBron. From a pure athleticism perspective, he's the best I've ever seen. Who knows how that will pan out for him over the course of his career, but it certainly gives him every chance to be successful.

Rob said...

I'd have to include Eric Heiden in the mix. If you don't remember, he was a speedskater who won 5 golds in the 1980 Olympics, sweeping all the men's races there. He won the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, and the 10,000m races and set 4 Olympic and 1 world record in the process. If you want to equate it to track and field, he essentially won the 100m dash and the marathon in the same week. Phelps and his dominance is quite impressive and worthy of all the press he's getting, but I think Heiden's versitility wins out.

As far as LeBron, it's unfair to compare him as he plays a team sport, and his production, no matter how great an athlete he is, will depend on the four others on the court with him.