Donovan McNabb, everyone! (Courtesy Getty Images)

Preview-Palooza Continues! Explaining The NFL With A Little Help From The NBA

After three days of talking football, Andrew Sharp found himself missing his first love—the NBA. But how could someone fit basketball into NFL preview week, you ask? Well, who's the LeBron James of the NFL? Let's talk about this.

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Preview-Palooza Continues! Explaining The NFL With A Little Help From The NBA

So far this week, we've run down the 10 most annoying humans in the NFL, along with the league's 10 coolest humans. And Wednesday, I immersed myself in the Oakland Raiders, almost as a challenge to my sanity. It's been good so far. But with the first three installments of my five-part preview-palooza now in the books, it's time to come clean. I'm not really an NFL guy. 

Football is awesome, and the NFL's probably the coolest game on earth, but for whatever reason, I got hooked on the NBA early on and never really looked back. It's not to say I can't talk and write about football to no end—that's the plan for the next six months, actually—but if it comes to a choice between the two, I'd prefer to talk basketball.

So in the interest of transparency, and as an excuse for me to squeeze in some basketball to my football orgy this week, let's try something. Who is the LeBron James of the NFL?

To answer this, we need someone who's supremely gifted physically, performs poorly in big games, talks in the third person, covets attention at every turn, and acts like he's accomplished a lot more than he has. Sadly, Lebron James is the most talented basketball player on earth, too, so our answer can't be Jay Cutler, even though that'd be an excellent dig at LeBron, and a perfect way to indict Cutler along the way.

Cutler's LeBron-like off the field, and we know this; but he's simply not good enough as a player. And that's the biggest problem with any LeBron comparison. Ordinarily, an athlete of his stature wouldn't be such a whiny baby; to get to where LeBron is, it takes a struggle. It takes triumph. The sort of things that build character.

(Jay Cutler is probably Joe Johnson, by the way. Impressive physical gifts (arm strength) but always a step away from being "Great." Not terrible all the time, but definitely not a franchise savior. And gradually, he's turned him into a running joke among knowledgeable fans. Jay Cutler and Joe Johnson are going to put the Bears and Hawks over the top? HAHAHAHAHA.)

So who's football's LeBron James?


(...Brett Favre's too old and ineffective, plus he won a Super Bowl...)

(...Peyton Manning doesn't choke anymore...)

(...Kellen Winslow isn't good enough...)

(...Jeremy Shockey is too awesome, in a drunk way...)

(, this is tougher than I thought it'd be...)

Oh, wait. I got it:


"Do you enjoy this table as much as I do? So smooth. But of course it is. It's mahogany, you know."

Donovan McNabb!!!! Let's check the measurables...

  • Supremely gifted? Yup.
  • Good enough to single-handedly make a team relevant? Sure.
  • Covets attention? Probably.
  • Comically disingenuous? Most assuredly.
  • Takes himself too seriously? See above photo.
  • Crowned a Hall-of-Famer without winning anything, ever? By many, yes. 
  • Performs poorly in big games? Even LeBron never vomited on the court.
  • Tendency to pout and deflect blame? God yes.
  • Coddled by the media? Certainly.
  • Talks in the third person? Can't be sure, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Bottom line: Even though we can't prove whether Donovan McNabb talks in the third person, there's just too much evidence to ignore here. Nobody's saying he's not a good quarterback, but we can say that his only great season came with another superstar (Terrell Owens), and he's been coming up short because of "bad receivers" for his entire career.

What would have happened if LeBron stayed in Cleveland this summer? If he didn't win a title, wouldn't we have talked about him exactly the same way we talk about McNabb on the Eagles?

If you gave Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant the teammates that LeBron had the past two years, wouldn't they make at least one NBA Finals? If you gave Drew Brees or Peyton Manning the teams that McNabb's had, wouldn't they have won a Super Bowl?

Nobody fits better than Donovan. While we're here, my favorite McNabb breakdown:

...these flaws that he has are never gonna go away. They're two-fold.

One, I don't believe he reads coverage well. And to read coverage well, that is to know where to go with the ball based on what the defense does, based on what play-call is.

And then secondly, he's not a consistently accurate thrower. And I just think that in this league, against good -to-great defenses - and there's not that many of them -- but when you play Baltimore or you play Dallas or you play Pittsburgh, you better be sharp with the football. Now he does a good job of taking care of it, but sometimes I think it's because he doesn't really trust what he sees, and so he won't make the throw.

That comes from Brian Baldinger of all people, transcribed by the Washington Post. Against good defenses, McNabb's as helpless as LeBron vs. the Celtics this year. Anyway, let's move on...

Who's The Kobe Bryant of the NFL?

Oh come on. That's just too easy.


Everything fits here. Both grew up with fathers that played the sport, and were groomed from an early age to follow in their footsteps. Both are pathologically competitive, to the point where it actually hurts them sometimes. Both of them are late-game assassins at this point in their career, with success seeming almost inevitable. Neither one of them seems very interesting, but both overcompensate by trying to appear overly-gregarious in interviews and commercials. There was a time when each man faced doubts about his ability to win championships ("Can Kobe win without Shaq?"), but they've rendered those question irrelevant in recent years. And finally, both men are so talented, we forget about all the talented teammates that play alongside them.

The only difference here is that Peyton never had a massive sexual assault scandal that shattered his public image. But given the other parallels, maybe that's still in the cards for ole number 18.

Wait A Second, How Can Roethlisberger NOT Be Kobe?

My apologies. You're absolutely right.


Okay, So Who's Vince Carter?

Interesting. For this one, we'd need an insane athlete with very little courage, a propensity for melodrama, and poor performances in big games. Basically, we need a player that's so talented physically, it's enough to make teams overlook the fact that he plays the game like a woman might. And frankly, at the worst of times, even a woman would probably be better than Vince Carter.



Never has a .gif so brilliantly encapsulated a person's career.

The injury parallels aren't there, as Braylon's actually been pretty durable throughout his career. But that doesn't mean he's not a complete sissie that avoids contact, drops passes, and talks the talk before he walks, trips, bobbles a pass, and then gets up expecting a flag.

Who's Ron Artest?

Hmm. I thought long and hard about this one, because bestowing an Artest comparison on anyone cannot be done lightly. It's tempting to pick someone like Shawne Merriman, but do we really know if Merriman's insane? He's cuts a terrifying figure for the Chargers defense, and he certainly seems to embrace the role of "unhinged maniac", but at least some of that has to be chalked up to steroids and marketing. 

Merriman wants to be terrifying and crazy; Ron Artest just is terrifying and crazy.

So I'm going with Joey Porter.


See, Merriman pretends to be crazier than he is; Joey Porter's actually as crazy as he looks up there. Merriman had that domestic dispute with Tila Tequila last year, but in the end, it was determined that Ms. Tequila was not being entirely truthful. On the other hand, back in March, Porter had that assault charge on a cop outside Taco Bell, and it was determined that, oh yeah, HE ASSAULTED A COP OUTSIDE TACO BELL.

(I love sports.)

He's an aging lion, and just like Artest, his reputation is probably his best asset at this point in his career. But that still counts for something, and like Artest, his lunacy will be pissed when he finally moves on. Finally, who said the following?

"Yeah, I got something to say to [George] Bush, I'm going to have a swagger when I walk in there. I'm looking forward to it. ... I don't like the way things are running right now. I feel like he has to give me some of my money back, so I got something to tell Bush."

That was Porter in 2006, but it just as easily could have been Ron-Ron.

Every Year, It Seems Like The Spurs Are Good.

Um, that's not a question.

Who runs that team? And who is that guy in the NFL?

Who's the guy that runs the Steelers? Kevin Colbert? He's RC Buford, Spurs GM.

Who's Mark Cuban?

Put it this way: If Jerry Jones were an NBA owner, he'd sign someone like Erick Dampier every year. "Roy Williams from the Lions for a first round pick? Then we can sign him to $45 million contract! What a steal! YEEHAW."

What's the equivalent of the NBA's officiating crisis?

You mean the problem that nobody talks about? The problem that might be impossible to fix? The problem that could ultimately ruin the sport for good? Well, concussions, obviously. From the New York Times:

A 2000 study surveyed 1,090 former N.F.L. players and found more than 60 percent had suffered at least one concussion in their careers and 26 percent had had three or more. Those who had had concussions reported more problems with memory, concentration, speech impediments, headaches and other neurological problems than those who had not, the survey found.

A 2007 study conducted by the University of North Carolina's Center for the Study of Retired Athletes found that of the 595 retired N.F.L. players who recalled sustaining three or more concussions on the football field, 20.2 percent said they had been found to have depression. That is three times the rate of players who have not sustained concussions.

As scrutiny of brain injuries in football players has escalated in the past few years, with prominent professionals reporting cognitive problems and academic studies supporting a link more generally, the N.F.L. and its medical committee on concussions have steadfastly denied the existence of reliable data on the issue.

Hmmm... Sounds a lot like the Stern mantra: "We have the best officials in the world."

Who's Steve Nash?

It'd have to be Drew Brees, right? Both guys are aging, undersized, and by any reasoning, shouldn't be nearly as successful as they are. And yet... Year-in and year-out, they keep producing, and do it with a joy that's obvious to anyone paying attention.


Neither one of them seems particularly interested in drawing attention to himself, and both seem beloved by teammates. Basically, if you're actively rooting against Steve Nash or Drew Brees, there's something wrong with YOU.

Who's Sam Presti, Boy Genius Oklahoma City GM?

Scott Pioli, boy genius Kansas City GM. Both operating in small markets, using similarly conservative philosophies to build, both came of age working for teams that became dynasties (Spurs, Patriots) and most importantly, "Presti" sounds like "Pioli". This isn't rocket science, people.

Who's Mark Jackson, Worst Announcer Ever?

Oh, God. So many to choose from with the NFL, but really, given Jackson's propensity to ramble on incoherently, not to mention the occasionally invented words, we have to give a posthumous nod to Emmitt Smith's tenure as NFL commentator. It's just too perfect.

What About Dwyane Wade?

Tom Brady. Kind of Hollywood, sure, but each player recognizes the importance of bringing in talent, and doesn't care about sacrificing attention for the sake of winning. Also: both of them will be injured on-and-off for the rest of their careers.

So, Wade is Brady, Bron is McNabb... Bosh?

Probably Tony Romo.


Do you think Chris Bosh owns a hat like that? I think Chris Bosh owns a hat like that.

Why Does Memphis Have A Basketball Team?

Why does Jacksonville have a football team?

Are The Raiders The Jail Blazers, Or Isiah's Knicks?

Tough call. With the Blazers and Knicks, we're talking about the two of most heroically dysfunctional teams in the past 25 years, and serious candidates for their own 30 for 30 documentaries. But here's the thing—the Raiders were just unwatchable the past five years, and the Jail Blazers were good.

Even though the lawlessness in Oakland bears a closer resemblances to Portland's late-90s teams—and lord knows Zach Randolph is basketball's Jamarcus Russell—the Jail Blazers were simply too good to merit juxtaposition with any group as hapless as the Raiders. The beauty of those Portland teams was their ability to emerge from the chaos into a cohesive, dominant basketball team. The Raiders spent the last five years puttering around like idiots.

Which brings us to Isiah's Knicks... Not only are the parallels alarming when you look at the underwhelming performance on the court and on the field, but Al Davis and Isiah Thomas are cut from the same cloth when it comes to managing personnel. Their philosophy could be summed up as such: "Talented? Hey, here's $30 million dollars!"

One traded for Stephon Marbury, the other for Randy Moss. One signed Jerome James, the other signed Warren Sapp. One gave $60 million to a big man with a heart condition and a weight problem, the other drafted a quarterback and gave him $60 million. That quarterback was Jamarcus Russell, who... Yeah, you get the point.

By the way, Zach Randolph was an integral part of the Jail Blazers teams and Isiah's Knicks teams. Even Stephon Marbury is impressed.


Who's The Kevin Garnett Of The NFL?

Ray Lewis, who's just as polarizing and washed up at this point in his career. And yet, both Ray Ray and KG continue to anchor the most badass defense in their respective leagues, and even as injuries and aging has robbed them of their bite, their bark remains unequaled by anyone in the entire league. Of course, Kevin Garnett annoys the crap out of me.

So the question is: After realizing that these two are the same person, does this make me appreciate Kevin Garnett more, or enjoy Ray Lewis a little less? ... Neither.

It makes me realize that football and basketball are still different sports, and what's cool on a football field isn't necessarily awesome during a regular season NBA game. Kevin Garnett's routine may get old after a while, but this will never stop being awesome:


Jesus. Basketball's cool, but... Excuse me while I go run through a brick wall. It's football season.

For more, check out Andrew Sharp's The Ham Sandwich.

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