Game of Thrones: Professional Athlete Edition (Part I)

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2012

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

HBO's adaptation of the Game of Thrones series has taken television by storm (of swords) the past two years, dominating the Sunday night airwaves like Jose Cano's meatball dominates his son, Robinson.

More importantly, however, is the way Game of Thrones has integrated its way into mainstream culture. We're now at the point where missing an episode will make you a pariah at Monday morning's water cooler. In that sense, it's sort of become the NFL-lite––a 10-week spell during the football offseason where Sundays actually matter again.

This phenomenon shouldn't surprise anybody, though. The only fundamental difference between high-end cable television and sports is that the former is scripted, while the latter's narrative unfolds organically.

In both cases, we're captivated not just by what's happening, but whom it's happening to. We form bonds with people we've never met (or in the case of TV, don't even exist), vicariously inviting them into our living rooms night after night. And if we look closely, we start to recognize certain character archetypes who pop up in both, creating a common thread between them.

So without further adieu, here are some of Westeros' finest characters, complete with their sentient, athletic doppelgangers.


Robert Baratheon: John Daly

Powerful and respected during their physical peaks, these two alpha males both wound up fat and forlorn––an upshot of their prolonged, liquor-addled debauchery.

Daly's alcoholic rap sheet speaks for itself: He's been expelled from an airplane for drunkenly harassing a flight attendant; he's been detained by police for passing out in a Hooters; and if you believe the folklore, he drank a fifth of Jack Daniels every day for a year.

But the eldest Baratheon has Daly beat by a long shot. King Robert––a renowned soldier, whose war hammer earned him a seat atop the Iron Throne––got so zonked on a hunting trip that he was killed in combat by a wild boar.

"Wild Thing" Daly has come close a few times, but he's yet to drink himself into a coma.

Advantage, Baratheon.


Brienne of Tarth: Brittney Griner

Neither Brienne nor Brittney is, how you say...the fairest maid in the realm––but I dare you to say that to their faces.

In addition to being abnormally tall, Brienne and Griner both eschew their lady-like mansuetude, preferring to handle disputes like men. Brienne wields a blade to destroy her enemies; Griner is partial to the roundhouse punch.

As females invading male-dominated spaces, they're subject to a predictable amount of teasing, often having their gender called into question (in jest) by self-conscious menfolk.

When Jamie Lannister is first introduced to Brienne, he's taken aback, reflexively asking "Is that a woman? ... Where did you find that beast?"

Don't feel bad, Jamie; I shouted the same thing at my TV the first time I saw Griner. (Just don't tell her I said that, kapeesh?)


Khal Drogo: James Harrison

If James Harrison took one of those tedious "What Game of Thrones House do You Belong To?" quizzes, I'd lay down money on him ending up with Dothraki. Any takers?

The Dotraki live in a combat-based meritocracy, where only the strongest survive. It's Darwinism at it's finest. There's no politesse, no boundaries and most of all, no suspensions for being too physical.

Khal Drogo was the leader of the Dothraki, undefeated in combat before fatally falling victim to a vengeful witch. In the Season 2 finale, Drogo appears as a hallucination, chastising the realm's more "refined" inhabitants. "These are questions best left for weak men with skinny arms," he riffs, before departing one last time.

In a dark corner of the Steelers' locker room, James Harrison is saying the exact same thing about Roger Goodell.


Theon Greyjoy: Giuseppe Rossi

Theon was raised in Winterfell by the Starks, where he was indoctrinated with values such as honor and loyalty. But when given the opportunity, he betrays the land that raised him––teaming up with his father's foreign army and laying siege to Winterfell.

In similar manner, Giuseppe Rossi was born and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey, where his precocious soccer skills were honed from an early age. But when given the opportunity, he defected back to his father's homeland, Italy, and began a professional career abroad.

After declining to play for the USA in 2006, Rossi joined the Italian soccer program and won the Golden Boot at the Beijing Olympics.

Bad as that was, his ultimate act of treachery wouldn't come until 2009. Playing against his former nation in the Confederations Cup, Rossi took histrionic joy in laying siege to America's defense, scoring two goals in a 3-1 rout.

But America would get the last laugh, advancing from the group over Italy, upsetting Spain in the semis and nearly besting Brazil in the tournament final.

In the play Cymbeline, Shakespeare wrote "Though those that are betray'd do feel the treason sharply...the traitor stands in worse case of woe." As far as I'm concerned, no woe is enough woe for this pair of turncoats.


Joffrey Baratheon: LeBron James

Two Kings who nobody wanted to see crowned.

These villains are alike in that they presently sit atop a throne, but they also shared an annoying, speculative arrogance prior to their coronation. Joffrey has always behaved like a primped, soon-to-be-monarch, while LeBron has answered to the name "King James" since high school.

Joffrey's sadism is more overt than LeBron's, but within the context of reality, The Decision is comparably evil to anything Joffrey has ever done. LeBron ripped out the city of Cleveland's heart in a sordid public display, tantamount to Joffrey's beheading of Eddard Stark.

In the 2012 Playoffs, LeBron's dominance earned him the title of "world's best player," but Joffrey's claim to his throne is far more undeserved and contentious––he's actually the product of his mother's incest, not King Robert's seed.

In some ways, this separates King Joffrey from King James...but then again, the "beloved mother embroiled in a sex scandal" problem is one LeBron can relate to.


Eddard Stark: Pat Tillman

It's awkward comparing the tragic death of a fictional character with the tragic death of a sentient, American hero. The latter is exponentially more devastating, but within the context of their respective worlds, these two warriors stood for very similar things.

Both Stark and Tillman could have taken the easy way out. Ned could have lived out his days on the (subjectively) idyllic grounds of Winterfell, helping his family prepare for the long-foreshadowed winter. But upon hearing the news of Jon Arryn's murder, he begrudgingly trekked south to help his friend Robert control the kingdom. He acted not in self-interest, but in the interest of the collective whole.

Tillman, meanwhile, was an All-Pro safety in the NFL––there are few cushier ways to live a life. But after the 9/11 attacks, he knew he could be better utilized on the Afghani warfront than he could in the Arizona secondary.

In a harrowing twist of fate, Tillman and Stark were ultimately killed as a result of their altruism. They both gave their lives trying to protect their country, attempting to dole out justice to those who threatened it. 

Plus, I mean...look at those haircuts.


Hodor: Charles Barkley

Ah, the lovable half-wits. Neither one has ever said anything of substantive import, but why should that matter? Every second they spend off-screen is one second too many.

They're both famous for their semi-literate, one-word catchphrases (Turrible and HODOR, respectively), but the comparisons don't stop there: Barkley carried the '93 Suns to the NBA Finals, whereas Hodor literally carries Bran Stark around Winterfell.

To gain better insight into Hodor's character, check out this (spoiler-free) excerpt from A Storm of Swords, the third book of the Game of Thrones series:

Doesn't sound discernibly different from Barkley's take on the NBA Finals.


Tywin Lannister: Pat Riley

Probably the easiest call on the list: Riley and Tywin (Rywin?) are nearly identical in appearance, demeanor and function.

Appearance: Look at those solemn grey locks, perfectly coiffed down the back of the cranium. Tywin's hairline has receded noticeably farther than Riley's, but let's be frank: At that age, whose hasn't?

Demeanor: Both men lead with stoic gravitas. Their pointed scowls shoot daggers, reminding everybody in the room whom, exactly, the boss is.

Function: They both serve as austere patriarch figures for dominant organizations. LeBron and Joffrey get to precede their names with the title "King," but everybody knows Rywin is calling the shots from behind the curtain.

On top of that, they both employ massive bodyguards for protection: Tywin has Gregor Clegane, an eight-foot behemoth nicknamed The Mountain, while Riley has 'Zo to keep him safe in hostile territory.


Drogon: Chris Bosh

Alright, I take it back: This was the easiest call on the list.


Brian Leigh is an aspiring television and sports writer from New York. Feel free to contact him at, or follow him @BLeighDAT.