Alex Ovechkin and Kobe Bryant, a Tale of Two Stars

This piece is written by Adam Koscielak. You can follow him on twitter @adamkoscielak. He’s Polish and funny and a good person. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the points of this article, which discusses my favorite athletes of two different sports but it’s worth a read.

One, a high school player with question marks all over him, the other, a Russian young superstar with exclamation marks everywhere. One, chosen thirteenth, ever a motivation, the other, chosen first, ever a burden. One, a basketball Shooting Guard, the other a Hockey left winger. Both of them, absolutely stellar, both of them turning a team game into an individual skills display.

What can you say about both of them that hasn’t been said already? Kobe shoots too much, Ovie shoots too much. Kobe is overconfident to a fault, so is Ovie. From that perspective, they’re pretty similar, but when push comes to shove, they are different. Kobe, ever the overachiever in a sense, Ovie, ever the underachiever.

Kobe Bryant never really had all the physical tools to be a dominant player in the NBA. Sure, in this prime he had wicked athleticism, but he was also hellishly skinny. Perhaps, his success early on was Shaq, or perhaps, it was just his will. We will never have the right answer for that, perhaps because there isn’t one. The Black Mamba does, as the Black Mamba pleases, I guess. But what he could do with that high school frame, what his hard work turned him in to, is unquestionable.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin was a monster from day one. Physical, with a wicked slapshot that would send shudders down your spine. Ovechkin was the next big thing, a big thing that was put on pause by a lockout season, and had to compete with another big thing in Sidney Crosby. Ovechkin, a physical specimen and a seemingly unstoppable beast, fueled by fire. Crosby, a thin kid that just happened to have the craftiness of a mid-income man’s Wayne Gretzky (which means, he was pretty fucking crafty). Ovechkin’s war was with the future. Kobe’s meanwhile, was with the past.

Kobe could only be compared to one player, really. Not because of sheer greatness, I mean, there are better players on the all time list, contrary to what some delusional fanboys would believe, but because of style. Kobe visibly idolized Jordan. Kobe visibly came up in high school, wanting to be like Mike. And his game reflected that. Never afraid of taking the big shots, never afraid of going to the hole, or shooting a three. Kobe was the premiere wing player, until LeBron James came along, and even so, the narrative between them only started around 2006 or 2007. From then on, Kobe was battling two opponents. Ghosts of the past in Jordan, and future spectres in LeBron. The thing is, that in this rivalry, LeBron was the more physical one. LeBron was the Ovechkin, to Kobe’s Crosby, even if LeBron’s game was more like Crosby’s, and Kobe’s, like Ovechkin’s. Kobe was always the “skill guy” while LeBron was the “brute force” killer. Just read commentary from that time. Sure, bloggers knew better, but the public always saw LeBron as a guy who did it all with his athleticism, and Kobe as the guy who outsmarted his opponent (by taking contested post-up shots, nonetheless).

But Kobe has something that Ovechkin, in today’s star-studded NHL may never get. Championships, or as one would say if he were to be obnoxious; RINGZZZZZZZZZZZ. A few years back, I even went as far as equating Ovechkin with LeBron, when it comes to scrutiny. Both never got it done when it all came down to getting it done, at the time. Both seemed to be absent when the minutes waned, both had their embarrassing moments, with Ovechkin having an unforgettable loss to the 8th seed Habs in his resume, ever a stain. Kobe rode the shoulders of a giant earlier, and later became a giant himself. Part of it is Mitch Kupchak’s genius. Part of it is sheer luck (see, Artest, Ron, putback) but Kobe found a way to win, and for that he will always be revered, just as Ovechkin will be scrutinized.

Then again, can you compare basketball and hockey, when it comes to winning those elusive rings? Hockey is a fluke sport in many ways. Sometimes, a goalie turns into a immovable object (see, Halak, Jaroslav) other times, a forward turns into an unstoppable force (see Toews, Jonathan). The unpredictable world of a sport where goals are random occurences, is hard to compare with the paced and repeatable sport of basketball. After all, it’s hard to beat a basketball on fluke that doesn’t involve injuries or suspensions. Sure, there are the Ron Artest putbacks, but they are still products of hundreds of other possessions, a regularity. In hockey, there’s no regularity. There are games spent in the neutral zone. There are games, where you bombard the net, but the puck will refuse to go in, and the other teams takes advantage of the one chance they get. A bounce, a powerplay, a breakaway, or one simple play. There are 18 players rotating on the ice, and each of them has the potential to make or break the game with a stupid play. (see, Conklin, Ty; Smith, Steve) Basketball’s chaos is organized, regular. Hockey has the regularity of an arhythmic heart. In basketball, a player can easily take credit for his greatness, after all, rarely does the 10th man radically shift a game, usually, it’s the first man. In hockey, the only true hero is the goalie, a man with as much pressure as praise. The rest is a crapshoot. And in this crapshoot, it’s kind of impressive that Ovie in his great seasons, managed to emulate what Wayne Gretzky done, and make an extremely team based sport take on the look of individual heroics. And not far behind is Kobe, who, in a sense, highlighted the individuality of the NBA. His teammates were mere helpers on his quest, and only know, playing with the ultimate teammate in Steve Nash, no less, he’s beginning to understand what it means to be a team player, even if he does so with a bit of selfishness.

And so, the main difference will always be, the achievements they made. Some of them, due to pressure. Some of them, due to work ethic. After all, Kobe can spend hours in the gym, if he feels he’s fucked up, while Ovie hangs around in clubs, ever confident in his abilities on the ice. Is Alex Ovechkin the Kobe Bryant of the NHL? No. Is Kobe Bryant the Alex Ovechkin of the NBA? No. They are quite the polar opposites of each other, but they will always be among the most polarizing figures in their respective sports. Perhaps, in 20 years we’ll have a debate. “Was Kobe greater than LeBron.” Perhaps, in 20 years we’ll ask what the hell  happened with Alex Ovechkin at some point. Or we’ll be fighting over him and Crosby until we rip each others throats out. While Kobe’s legacy is slowly nearing to a conclusion, Ovie has another ten years or so to show what he is about. Are his great years just a fluke, a wildcat offence of the NHL? Has everyone finally adjusted to the way he plays, neutralizing him in large part? Or will he bounce back after a weak year, with renewed passion.

Just like that, the tale of two superstars closes with as many questions as before. Different questions, perhaps, but questions. The future will determine, what the legacies of the two will be. Will Kobe be one of the ultimate winners, or will generations ahead prove his achievements to be nothing of note? Probably the former. Will Ovechkin ascend back into the competiion with Sidney Crosby, or will he fall into the “a few good seasons” category of a player? Everything is ahead.


About Skyler Gilbert
Follow me on Twitter @skylerjgilbert

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