Roughly a year ago, Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl championship. A few months earlier, LeBron James held aloft the National Basketball Association (NBA) trophy for the fourth time. Both events marked important milestones, and both had occurred against all odds. Neither athlete was expected to reach the heights of his sport for various reasons. Yet, there they both stood, towering over their professions as exemplars of grit and determination. As a means of evaluating the worth of these renowned athletes, this essay assesses their exploits from the perspectives of likelihood, magnitude, and longevity.
If one subscribes to conventional thinking, s/he agrees that the odds of success were stacked heavily against Tom Brady and LeBron James. Brady graduated from the University of Michigan in 1999. He was subsequently selected in the 6th round of the 2000 National Football League (NFL) draft by the New England Patriots. NFL prospects who were expected to attain greatness in the league at the quarterback position were customarily chosen high in the draft; for instance, notables like John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Trevor Lawrence were each selected as the top choice in his respective draft. Against this stark backdrop, Brady arrived in Foxborough, Massachusetts, in virtual anonymity, and few pundits held any expectations for his success. However, if Brady’s start in New England was below the radar and without fanfare, consider LeBron’s James’ early life. Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1983, he was surrounded by poverty; and the outlook was bleak. James relates stories of how he and his mother scurried from neighborhood to neighborhood and town to town as a matter of survival. Little is known of James’ father except that he played little to no role in his son’s life. Presented with such a somber portrait, few insiders would have predicted that NBA greatness lay in the youngster’s future.
In truly ironic fashion, however, these two unheralded athletes would climb to the pinnacles of their professions, the magnitude of their greatness almost too marvelous to contemplate. Following an injury to starting Patriots’ quarterback Drew Bledsoe, Brady assumed the reigns in Foxborough in 2001. He would proceed to lead the New England Patriots to their first Super Bowl triumph at the end of the 2001-02 season. In patriotic terms, the victory followed the cataclysmic terror events of September 11, 2001, and it established Brady as something of a national hero. The hero was just getting started, and Brady would advance to lead the franchise to five more Super Bowl conquests. The accomplishments hardly marked the end of the quarterback’s championship run, for Brady would leave the Patriots at the end of the 2020 season and sign-on as a free agent to quarterback the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In true superstar fashion, Brady led the team to its 2nd Super Bowl crown (Scipioni), which amounted to number seven for Brady.
In the NBA draft of 2003, LeBron James was chosen as the number one overall pick by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. The event reflected a sharp turn from early life and presaged a historic career filled with achievements. James won the Rookie of the Year award for the 2003 season to reach his first NBA milestone The phenom would then proceed to claim league Most Valuable Player (MVP) four times (Cohen). Almost as if to trivialize that achievement, the player known as the King would move forward to win NBA titles in 2012, 2013, 2016, and 2020. As an added twist, the athlete distinguished himself by becoming the first player in league history to win championships with three different franchises. Perhaps one of James’ most startling achievements is competing in the NBA Finals across a span of eight consecutive years (2011-2018). During that span of time, it became a given that if you wanted to see LeBron, you could find him in the finals. The only real question concerning James is if he is the very best to ever play the game. Sports’ fans are divided on the issue with some proclaiming Michael Jordan as the best while others insist that James is the best to ever suit-up (Herring et al.).
The value of each athlete is almost inestimable because each has demonstrated remarkable longevity. Brady and James, as opposed to merely hanging on, both still excel at their crafts. Each is under consideration for MVP in his field of distinction. Brady, in his 22nd season, again have the Buccaneers in position to make a run at another Super Bowl. James—though his Lakers are struggling this campaign—continue establishing new standards of greatness. Few experts are willing to count the Lakers out this season because the team features LeBron James, who has made championship appearances a hobby. James at 37 years-of-age and Brady at the ripe old age of 44 show little signs of slowing down. The two athletes daily give credence to the assertion that age is just a number. In truth, both men have already achieved immortality because their exploits will always burn brightly in the firmament of greatness. Any value judgment is almost an insult to greatness.
The value judgment comes with emphasis on the brutality of pro football. While James seems as intent as Brady with respect to defying Father Time, the difference is that Brady competes in a sport where devastating injuries are a normal part of doing business. Broken bones, concussions, spinal cord injuries, and mental health maladies are all common occurrences in the NFL, yet Brady persists in compiling legendary numbers and competing for championships at an age when most football players have decided that a rocking chair was their greatest possession (Connolly). Though James may be the best to ever play professional basketball, other greats such as Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Kobe Bryant have also enjoyed this degree of longevity in the NBA. While a scant few NFL players have weathered the storms for as long as Brady, none have done so while performing at such an elite level. These facts set Tom Brady apart as the most valuable athlete the American sporting world has ever known.
Cohen, Ben. “A New First for LeBron James: A First-Round Loss.” Wall Street Journal, 2021-06-04. www.wsj.com/articles/nba-lakers-suns-lebron-james-11622808073. Accessed 2022-01-09.
Connolly, Oliver. “In a Down Year for QBs, Will Tom Brady’s Humdrum Excellence Win Him MVP?” The Guardian, 2021-12-02. www.wsj.com/articles/nba-lakers-suns-lebron-james-11622808073. Accessed 2022-01-09.
Herring, Chris, et al. “What Makes LeBron James the Goat.” Five Thirty Eight, 2020-12-22. www.fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-makes-lebron-james-so-great/. Accessed 2022-01-11.
Scipioni, Jade. “Tom Brady on What Motivates Him: It Comes Down to This One Question.” CNBC, 2021-02-02. www.cnbc.com/2021/02/02/tom-brady-on-what-keeps-him-motivated.html. Accessed 2022-01-10.
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