I watch a lot of TV. No need to bother counting the hours; just know that when I’m working from home the TV is on pretty much all day, I usually watch basketball games at night, and I usually need the soft light of a nearly-mute TV to go to sleep. And that’s not to mention the “couples” shows I watch with my fiancee, who can be a TV beast in her own right.
That said, at any time of the year, there are a good 4-5 shows that I’d call “my favorite show.” And after this weekend, I’m moving “Deadliest Warrior” to the top of the list.
(For those who know the show already, excuse the blatant plug: “Deadliest Warrior” is a Spike TV show where two historic warriors are matched up in a hypothetical 1-on-1 battle. A team of scientists, doctors, historians and combat experts break down what each warrior brings to the table in terms of weapons, fighting style and intangibles, and then put all the measurable data into a computer program that simulates the battle 1,000 times to determine a winner. Some of the matchups they’ve done so far are Ninja vs. Spartan, Apache vs. Gladiator, and William Wallace vs. Shaka Zulu. And yes, it really hurt my heart to see Shaka fall onto one of Braveheart’s gigantic Claymore swords.)
So naturally, during Sunday’s “Deadliest Warrior” marathon, I started thinking that somebody needs to do this show for sports. What fan hasn’t argued Randy Johnson vs. Hank Aaron, Gale Sayers vs. Ray Lewis, or Al Davis vs. Sanity? Years ago, The Ring magazine put out an issue dedicated to dream boxing matchups — Tyson vs. Ali, Dempsey vs. Louis, etc. — that I still have to this day.
Taking it to basketball, I thought about it, and one DW-style matchup stood out above the rest: Oscar Robertson vs. Kobe Bryant.
Put each player in his respective prime: Kobe (circa 2003) is a 6-6, 200-pounder putting up 30 points, seven boards and six dimes per night. He can drive, hit from mid-range and hit threes, and can be an amazing defender. Oscar (circa 1964) is a 6-5, 205-pounder putting up 30 points, nine boards and 11 assists. He can post you up, hit from mid-range, and get to the bucket. Both guys are elite athletes, both have sky-high basketball IQ, both are determined to win at all costs.
Over the last couple years, as Kobe moves into his 30s, it seems appropriate to start putting his career and legacy in historical perspective. Is he closer to the 20th-best player of all-time, or the 10th-best player? Is he the second-best shooting guard to ever lace ’em up behind Jordan, or is he more in the 5th-6th range? Are his three championships as a #2 option enough to put him above a guy like Larry Bird, who won three rings as the top dog?
Kobe has clearly benefitted from coming up in the age of the Internet, YouTube, 24-hour sports TV, overhype and knee-jerk judgments where everything is either “the best” or “the worst,” with no in-between. Not saying Kobe himself is overhyped, but 21st century players are routinely given more credit than old-school types because there’s just more visible evidence of their dominance, there are more and more experts in more and more outlets to sing their praises, and their performances are fresh in our minds.
Meanwhile, I’ve always thought Oscar was overlooked. I’d consider myself a guy who appreciates the forefathers and respects the elders of the game, and even I remember watching a VHS tape in college called The Big O: The Oscar Robertson Story and thinking, “Damn, I didn’t know he was THAT good!” Do yourself a favor and look him up.
Bottom line: Kobe may not be as good as a lot of people make him out to be, while Oscar may be better than he gets credit for. Overall, though, they are inarguably two of the greatest players to ever grace a basketball court.
But who is the deadliest warrior?