From on court battles, “freeze outs”, and Dream Team controversies Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan are at a minimum, rivals.
BEFORE GAME 3 OF THE 1993 NBA FINALS
Thomas was being interviewed before the game. Bob Costas was breaking down how tough and how well Isiah’s clubs played Jordan years earlier.
Isiah responded, “The thing that amazes me about Michael Jordan compared to any other player in the league is his stamina and his endurance. The thing that I wasn’t able to do and Magic wasn’t able to do, we had to succumb to injuries. We didn’t seem to have the type of energy level and stamina he seems to possess. Every single night whether he’s playing against the worst team in the league or the best team in the league….He has an energy level that is unmatched by any other player or any other athlete that I’ve seen in professional sports. Whether it be basketball, football, baseball, track, or tennis. His energy level is so much greater than ours it seems that night in and night out, he’s there performing at a level that we quite frankly weren’t able to reach.”
After Isiah said this, Jordan won four more NBA championships.
Trying to compare LeBron James to another player I’ve seen is impossible. There has never been anyone quite like him in pro basketball. He’s so unique it took these six great players to explain how I see him.
KARL MALONE (30%) Have you ever seen the 6’9″, 260 lb. Karl Malone filling the outside lane on the fast break? Scary! His body was a weapon and nobody delivered at the rim like “The Mailman”. When you look at LeBron in transition you see something similar. He’s a freight train and it might be smart to move aside. I watched Karl score 37,000 points and many of them were playing “bully ball” like James has. They each seal defenders off down low, and guys bounce off their muscles. They both hit about 74% of their foul shots. LeBron is durable and sometimes seems bionic. He will get hurt, and will be running full speed a few minutes later. Malone played 80 or more games an incredible 17 times.
EARVIN “MAGIC” JOHNSON (25%)
Among the greatest passers, my favorite was Magic. He was the ultimate conductor and it seemed he had four guys on a string. LeBron, like Magic before him is obsessed with making his teammates better. They both lead with joy. James was a share first guy from day one, and is one of the elite passers in his own right. He comes up with crafty stuff, especially getting the ball cross court. The King and Magic are also a perfect match as rebounders. LeBron seems to go the Finals every year, a place Johnson found himself 9 times over 12 seasons.
SCOTTIE PIPPEN (20%)
It’s the point forward thing. Mostly it’s that Scottie Pippen was a defensive terror with athleticism and length. He could matchup all over the floor. LeBron can check anyone in the league in a pinch. His defensive versatility is arguably his most impressive trait.
MICHAEL JORDAN (15%)
Michael Jordan took what he wanted when driving to the hole. He’d pull up and go glass, go around you, over you, and even through you. LeBron James is unstoppable driving to the basket. Finesse and power come together in harmony. Nobody had energy like Jordan. He only slept four hours a night during his prime. Dropping 22 in the final quarter, while shutting down his man was just another Tuesday night for Mike. King James is producing a new kind of energy. He has a body and a skill set that has him on pace to be great at an older age than anyone in NBA history. In my lifetime, LeBron is the only player outside of MJ to be the worlds best player for a significant amount of time.
CLYDE DREXLER (5%)
LeBron also has a smooth side. I think of Clyde “The glide” at his best. Drexler would spin and lay it in pretty. He may dunk it from 10 feet out, or swoop in for a timely finger roll.
DWYANE WADE (5%)
On a proffesional and personal level LeBron and D Wade are close and share a lot of beliefs and history inside the game. Both guys are explosive scorers. Their similar styles were evident in the alley-oop connection they displayed in Miami.
In 2016 Steph Curry was named the NBA Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive season. He was a unanimous choice and that was a legit result. When someone gets this good, it’s natural to compare them to Michael Jordan. Steve Kerr is uniquely qualified to talk about these two guys. He played with MJ and currently coaches Curry. Kerr broke it down this way to Dan Patrick:
“It’s a different feel. Michael was so dominant, physically, emotionally. I always got the sense everybody was afraid of him-the opponents, the referees, his teammates. He was so dominant just with his presence. With Steph it’s totally different. He looks like your little brother. He’s just out there running around and firing away and hitting these incredible shots. He dominates with his skill. Michael did too, but Michael dominated with just his very presence. I think it’s just a different feeling with Steph. It’s one of the reasons he’s so popular. I think people can actually relate. Not so much to his skill, but his physical stature and just the fact he looks like a normal guy. It’s remarkable he can dominate the way that he does at that size.”
The greatest player of all time was his most productive from 1990 to 1998. You often hear about Michael Jordan’s six championship rings and the six Finals MVP’s that came along with them. His Chicago Bulls compiled two different “Three-Peats” and were never pushed to a game seven. Jordan won 25 of his last 26 playoff series.
From November 3rd 1990 to June 14th 1998, no Michael Jordan led team lost three games in a row. That covers a span of 628 games (502 regular season-126 post season games). He was that good kids!
Tony Romo leaves the game of football as one of its most polarizing characters. He was all time talented, and highly criticized. Some of the heat was fair because he and his teams did not win enough big games. He also could melt down with the best of them over his first seven seasons. Truth is, Romo’s overrated Cowboys teams helped him become the most underrated quarterback of his generation. While he had a handful of star level seasons, 2014 was his finest work. This was the best offensive team he ever played on. This effort was more than just Romo’s remarkable peak. You’ll soon agree it was one of the most efficient, clutch seasons in the 97 year history of the National Football League.
SETTING THE SCENE
Tony was coming into 2014 off his second back surgery in as many years. He was now 34 years old and his health was a major question mark for the first time in his career. He was held out of practice on Wednesday’s all year long. Dallas had the worst defense in the league the previous season. This Cowboys team was “expected” to win 7 games.
In the season opener at home I didn’t expect Romo to have his legs. He struggled to push the ball down the field. He threw three first half picks. The 49ers had their way with the Cowboys 28-17.
Week 2 at Tennessee. I thought Tony’s body looked stiff and his ball was coming out wobbly. He was like a shell of the young, spry athlete he once was. It went overlooked because Dallas won, number nine did not turn it over, and the ground game was elite.
Week 3 at St. Louis. After Romo throws a pick six late in the second quarter, It’s 21-3 Rams. In that moment, this season was looking very bleak for Tony and his team.
Week 8 vs the Redskins. Romo receives a knee in the back. The result was two fractured transverse process and a cracked rib. He comes back to play late in the game in an eventual Redskins victory. He misses the next week (28-17 loss to Arizona). He comes back 12 days later in a flak jacket.
(These are the three areas every QB is harshly judged in the ultimate team sport).
Romo was 12-3 as a starter. (League best winning percentage).
He was 8-0 on the road. (Fourth QB to accomplish this. Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, and Joe Montana did it twice).
With the NFC East crown at stake, the Colts were the Cowboys opponent. Romo was on fire, converting on 16 straight passes. He had 4 touchdown strikes in a 42-7 route. Tony finished 18-20. It was only the 24th time in NFL history a player completed 90 percent of his attempts.
Playoff game vs Detroit: The best defense in the league belonged to these Lions. They beat Tony down and sacked him six times. Detroit was up 20-7 with under three minutes left in the third quarter. Romo made multiple plays in crunch time and hit Terrance Williams for the game winner.
Playoff game at Green Bay: Tony goes 15-19 throwing the ball. With four plus minutes remaining, Dallas was down five points on the 33 yard line. The intense situation was fourth down and two. On an incredibly daring play, Romo threw a beautiful ball 35 yards down the field. He gave Dez Bryant the right opportunity. Things did not work out, and the Packers advanced to the NFC championship game.
The Cowboys faced a deficit in 13 of his 17 games.
Tony tied for a league high, five game winning drives.
He had a passer rating of 133.7 in December. The best mark of all time for the month.
His completion percentage in December was 74.8%, the second best mark ever for the month.
Over the last six games (4 reg season, 2 playoffs) his TD to pick ratio was 16/1.
When trailing, in the last four minutes of games…Romo was 11 of 15 passing. This included seven first downs, three touchdowns, and zero picks.
Look at where Romo finished in the following crucial categories:
Number one in passer rating (113.2). (Only six seasons have ever been better).
Number one in QBR (81.5).
Number one in completion percentage (69.9). (Only seven seasons have ever been better).
Number one in yards per attempt (8.5).
Number one in touchdown percentage. He threw a td pass on 7.8% of his throws.
Only player to ever have six games in a season with a rating over 135.0.
From week two of the season to the Cowboys second playoff game, Romo had 37 touchdown passes and 6 interceptions.
NFC Offensive Player of the Month for December
He was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl.
Named Second-Team All-Pro
Finished in third place for NFL Most Valuable Player (with teammate DeMarco Murray).
This was a competitive MVP race. Aaron Rodgers may be the most talented QB ever, and was a fine choice as the winner. JJ Watt was in his most dominant form. DeMarco was a beast, and helped muddy the voting waters. Tom Brady’s legend was also in the mix.
Tony didn’t sniff a Super Bowl ring. I think he will come up short of the Hall of Fame. He never got the credit for the heavy lifting he did for mostly average teams. He was a low-level star with issues, not the bum many painted him to be. There is a reason this QB himself, and his fans can be at peace. For an 18 game window in 2014, nobody on earth played professional football better than Tony Romo did. Respect that.
It was Sunday night, November 23rd 2014. The Dallas Cowboys had come to Metlife Stadium to take on their rival the New York Giants. Early in the second quarter Eli Manning threw a deep ball and what happened next was amazing. Beckham Jr. snagged the ball out of the air like Spider-Man. This 43 yard touchdown was better than spectacular. I remember appreciating it while being disgusted at the same time. It put the Giants up 14 to 3. This play is a big deal two years later. I think it deserves the hype, and remains one of the great catches I have ever seen in the NFL.
However, I’m a Cowboys fan.The Odell grab is so celebrated and replayed, It’s often used to mock Brandon Carr and the Dallas defense. Please remember how this contest ended. Tony Romo completed six straight passes on his teams final drive. Dez Bryant caught the go ahead score with a minute to play. Unbelievable catch Beckham. You are scary good. My biggest memory from that night was the final score. Cowboys 31 Giants 28.
The original “Dream Team” remains the greatest, most impactful group in basketball history. They are so iconic, they have cast a shadow over a team that could have hung with them on the floor. The 1996 version of Team USA was on the level of the 1992 squad. They are not given much credit for their sensational roster. Even “The Redeem Team” in 2008 gets more love because of their storyline. “Dream Team 3” is the most underrated basketball team of all time.
1992 VERSE 1996 THOUGHTS
I’ts close. I’d guess the 1992 squad would be a two or three point favorite each time. The reason would be Michael Jordan and Earvin Johnson, who was still Magic enough. It should be noted Larry Bird had a broken NBA body and was doing Americans a favor by suiting up. Christian Laettner (a good pro) as a rookie would be the worst player on either squad.
1996 UNITED STATES MEN’S OLYMPIC BASKETBALL TEAM
CHARLES BARKLEY (Age 33)
KARL MALONE (Age 33)
JOHN STOCKTON (Age 34)
DAVID ROBINSON (Age 30)
SCOTTIE PIPPEN (Age 30)
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (Age 24)
HAKEEM OLAJUWON (Age 33)
PENNY HARDAWAY (Age 24)
GRANT HILL (Age 23)
GARY PAYTON (Age 28)
REGGIE MILLER (Age 30)
MITCH RICHMOND (Age 31)
COACHES: Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Bobby Cremins, Clem Haskins
“Dream Team 3” had five players from the 92 group. Then add Shaq at his peak of running fast and jumping high. Next is merely Olajuwon who had just been the best player in the world for two years. Penny and Grant Hill were superstars, right in the middle of putting their versatile stamps on the NBA. Gary Payton was at the top of his game. Reggie Miller had already proven he was a clutch legend. Oh my goodness Mitch Richmond could ball. They won by 32 points a game on the way to gold. This team got lost between the “Dream Team” breaking ground and the “Redeem Team” having to overcome struggle. For how good the 96 team was, it’s like they hardly exist in fans memories.