The sports of basketball and football (soccer for American readers) are the two most free-flowing and creative sports in the entire world. Both sports exhibit quick developmental tactics that leave more room for moments of real creativity from the players and impressive technical abilities from the coaches. They are the most graceful and mesmerizing of our sports, because they are not clouded with statistics that are less significant than the whole frame of work, which is the production of the entire team.
For the past three years, Pep Guardiola's Barcelona side has captivated the world with their seamless and tantalizing football which has disposed of England's best clubs in crushing fashion and has left their rival Real Madrid in a state of panic and controversy. To their name, they can claim two Champions League trophies and three consecutive La Liga titles.
This past summer, one of the most acclaimed basketball talents of this generation welcomed a player whose talent can only be described by his nickname, King James. Chris Bosh is the underappreciated leg of the tripod that has taken the NBA by storm and threatens to win a title in their first year together. During the playoffs, the Heat have elevated their basketball to a level that cannot be imitated by their opponents. Their defense is fierce and seemingly impenetrable, while their scoring ability is relentless all game.
I have a deep interest in the two sports, and with the extensive viewing time I have of each team in their high stakes games to serve as my reference, I would like to start the obviously unnecessary, but undeniably interesting, comparison between the two juggernaut teams and a final decision on which one of a kind assembly of talent will leave the largest imprint on their sport.
Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta
The three players were all finalists for the Ballon d'Or, the award given to the top footballer of the year by FIFA. Their passing and vision dictates the pace of all games, and their chemistry is something that has been forged over long years of practice and experience together.
It is difficult to imagine any trio of players having the telepathy these three giant names in world football display with one another. Their performances against Manchester United in the two champions league finals in 2009 and 2011 is all the evidence that is needed for their case. Xavi is the heartbeat, Iniesta is the instigator with his intelligent runs and Messi is the marvelous football genius who can do anything, anywhere, on the pitch.
LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh
If any two of these players are on their best game, it must feel seemingly impossible to defeat the Miami Heat. The Heat's "Big Three" have rolled past the original Big Three and have formulated a style of basketball that is difficult to stop once it gets rolling. The versatility that all three players possess pries open the tightest of defenses and delivers more standing ovation moments than they were projected to in their first year.
Watching the playoffs has been a real treat, because when James and Wade start clicking, expect to see a half dozen jaw dropping dunks, with big jump shots peppered in.
Barcelona gets the nod here. Maybe I am being too kind to their tall list of accomplishments, instead of focusing on their delectable style of play. Fact of the matter is, the Heat's Big Three will grow into a much more impressive and challenging trio to defeat, simply because of the smaller number of players on a basketball court. However, right now, you could put the Barca Big Three on a pitch for 3-on-11 football and see the same mistake-free football. That is true cohesion.
This team is in their very prime, and their window of opportunity for titles is very long, considering Xavi is the oldest of the young trio at 31.
Right now, the trio of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi have won three consecutive La Liga titles, two European Championships. Their crowning achievement is their treble season in 2009, and were it not for a late winner from Cristiano Ronaldo in the Copa Del Rey Final, Barcelona would have earned another this year.
With the rise of Jose Mourinho's young and extremely talented Real Madrid squad, Barcelona's stranglehold on Spain may begin to loosen. While the Barcelona team is seemingly superior, any number of circumstances will tilt the scale of power to Real Madrid in at least one of the three major competitions, making a second treble seem not as automatic as some Barca fans would have you believe.
Their reign over Europe is likely to continue, while Real Madrid may snatch a Spanish title or two over the remaining years Xavi plays. However, the dominance of this team and the brilliance of Messi, is so incredible that I will project at least another three La Liga titles, an additional Copa Del Rey and three more European titles. Bringing their totals to a staggering six La Liga titles, two Dopa Del Rey and five European titles. That goes without mentioning the pending run of FIFA Club World Cup scrimmages.
I will never forget LeBron James counting his championship dreams to over seven NBA titles with Bosh and Wade. Were they to accomplish this, they would be regarded as the best basketball trio, ever. This is their first year together, and I do predict they will win this year's finals, and they will likely have another seven to eight years playing together—the last half of that will include a thirty year old Dwayne Wade.
This will make winning over seven titles very difficult and very unlikely. However, LeBron James has passed his "superstar" phase and will become the leader of a championship team, which must be scary for the rest of the NBA.
Teams like the Celtics and Lakers will not be heavily competing for championships after the next three seasons, and the Bulls must vastly improve their defense if they hope to challenge the Heat for the Eastern Conference. Much hangs with Dwight Howard's free-agency decision after this season. If Howard joins Chicago, there will be a dangerous challenger for the remainder of the Heat's championship prime. Of course, with the Heat having room in their salary cap next season, it would be possible for the Heat to acquire Dwight Howard if the current big three were to restructure their contracts.
But with James about to enter his prime, I will bet no less than six NBA championships, with an extra finals appearance or two.
If the Heat win six championships, or more for that matter, it will cement their place alongside the greatest teams in NBA history. Barcelona has already placed their name in the long list of incredible attacking sides over football's long history. I assure you, both of these trios will carry an insurmountable legacy once they are broken up.
However, the NBA championship is essentially the champions league of basketball, and with the spotlight of the World Cup altering the public's opinion on each of the three players, poor World Cups could shadow the mystique of each player's legacy.
I do not see that happening, and while it is worth noting how considerable the legacy of the Miami Heat will be, Barcelona will ascend to a level not seen in this generation, regardless of the vacancy of a World Cup title for Lionel Messi.
Right now, it the number of bandwagon Heat fans that are sprouting up in Florida are only being outnumbered by the number of nationwide proclaimed "Heat Haters." Most of this animosity is directed towards LeBron James' decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers. Still, the majority of these Heat Haters are just standing against the bandwagon rush.
This trio is already respected across the league, and after their string of championships, it is likely the greater basketball community will see them with the same respect as Michael Jordan's Bulls. Their reputation with the media will reach heights never seen before by our 24/7 media coverage. The Heat craze started the minute LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland, and with each NBA championship, the regard for this team will grow, and rightfully so.
Some of football's greatest minds have conceded that Barcelona is one of the greatest sides to ever take the pitch. Some analysts have gone as far to say they are the greatest team of all time. King Leo Messi, does not have the notoriety of King James, because he has stayed at Barcelona his entire life since moving from Argentina, and he will likely stay there for the remainder of his career.
Iniesta and Xavi are Spanish heroes. They have captured Spain's only World Cup championship, as well as their first European championship in 40 years. Because of their reverence as national heroes, only the most devout of Real Madrid fans can bring themselves to hate the midfield duo.
The controversy surrounding LeBron's move to Miami will always hang over his legacy, especially in his hometown of Cleveland. Bosh also abandoned his first team. Only Dwayne Wade will stand as a true hometown hero.
Messi, Iniesta and Xavi will have statues erected at the Camp Nou as their rise to stardom started at Barcelona's youth academy, and the three of them worked up the ranks to earn their spots on the starting eleven, and eventually their place in history.
Both teams will win a considerable amount of championships, but in the ever changing opinions of the 24/7 sports media, the most consistent of the two teams will reign supreme.
Barcelona by a mile on this one.
Their style of football cannot be imitated and certainly cannot be used against them. The way Xavi keeps possession in the center of the pitch makes stealing possession almost impossible for other teams. With the intelligent runs of Messi and Iniesta, the only solution to defeat them must be to park the bus inside your own penalty era and cling for dear life.
As for contributions to the evolution of football, the game is always ever changing, with championship teams adding their own personality to the most effective of football strategies. They are not the first team to dominate three consecutive Spanish seasons, and they will not match Madrid's nine European Cups.
There is one very special distinction that I find sets this team apart from other great champions of European football. It is that their most important and inspirational players all came from the youth club. In the day and age of the richest clubs shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars for players, it must bring true fans of the sport real pleasure to see that champions can still be made with hard work and dedication—and not just a checkbook.
Speaking of checkbooks, the Miami Heat are a team that was bought. There is no shame in this, as they will be having the final laughs when they are counting their championships with two hands. The Heat followed the example of the Boston Celtics in forming a trio of superstars. Therefore, they cannot be credited with the new trend of stacking your team with super stars. The Knicks are the latest team to try and forge a Big Three.
The fact remains that the rest of the Miami Heat are not very good. Mike Bibby is a shadow of the strong point guard he used to be, and players like Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers cannot be counted upon every game.
The fast break and free flowing basketball we have seen this season will only get better as the three superstars grow more comfortable with each other and head coach Erik Spoelstra.
This is actually a very tough decision. The versatility of James, Bosh and Wade will lead other teams to pursue the same type of players, rather than to find the right role players to supplement scorers. The chemistry of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi is one of a kind. Even other football teams with a "Big Three" core cannot mimic the possession and passing of Barca's.
I give the edge to the Heat, because we will see many teams (try to) mimic their style. While Barcelona and the Heat will both be peerless for some time, the style of hammering to the basket all game is a style that has yet to be proven a perfect tactic for winning championships. I think the Heat will prove that not only can it win championships, but it can win many of them.
Whenever the Heat are firing on all cylinders, they are a spectacle. The powerful statement dunks that James and Wade produce are supported by Bosh's interior play. It is beautiful basketall, and it can only get better.
Many of my friends are Heat fans, and all I have heard during these playoffs is how the Heat are playing just like they imagined they would when they made the signings. They play tough and impenetrable defense which leads to turnovers and fast break points, which are usually capped off with a thunderous dunk.
James and Wade are more than effective from beyond the arc, and they are known to deliver a huge three-point shot during the course of the game. Three-point shooting is not their primary game, but without their dangerous shooters, their primary tactic of making hard runs to the basket would be less effective.
The Catalonian club can make somewhere between 600 and 800 passes in a single game. Most of which are in the midfield between Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. Their long runs of possession can last for many minutes at a time, which can lull defenses to sleep, as well as viewing fans. That is until the one opening is found, and the perfect pass is put into a Barcelona striker, who usually challengers the keeper with a wonderful strike.
The brilliant runs of Lionel Messi alone are enough to captivate an audience for 90 minutes. Their free-form, possession-keeping style is attractive to even the most casual of football fans. They have seemingly mastered "the beautiful game."
The other wordly talent of LeBron James and Lionel Messi equal each other out, leaving the decision to hang on the rest of the teams. Wade is essentially another LeBron James, while there is no second Messi. Even though Barcelona's midfield maestros can make opposing defenses cringe with their beautiful passing, I am not sure it is equal to the Miami Heat when they are playing around with alley-oops and two-handed slams.
The Heat are a whole different kind of basketball, and I give them the edge.
The only word to describe LeBron James is incredible. He is the most versatile player on offense, and he can shut anybody in the league down when he is playing defense. He flies to collect offensive rebounds and block shots.
He has two MVP awards already and should have won his third this past year. After he claims the Finals MVP award this year, LeBron James will have passed Kobe Bryant as the best player in the NBA. People have always looked ahead in James' career, many predicting he will be the best basketball player of all time, and many saying he will never win enough rings.
He is too young for us to judge him by his list of accomplishments and rings, so we must judge him by his pure basketball talent and performances on the court. If these are the benchmarks for our judgments, we can decide that James has been the most dominant basketball player since Michael Jordan retired.
When he was 19 years old, Messi scored a hat-trick against rivals Real Madrid, including an injury-time equalizer to force a 3-3 tie. Since then, we have been witness to some of the most breathtaking football since Diego Maradona. His blistering runs can split any defense into pieces, and he has the ability to strike from outside the penalty area.
In 2007, at the age of 20, he came in second for the FIFA World Player of the Year award, and he was second again in 2008. But in 2009 and 2010, he claimed the top award, and he is again the front runner for the 2011 award.
Let me put into perspective just how incredible the career of Lionel Messi has been so far. He is 23 years old and has been the best player in the world twice and has been ranked every year. He has won a historic treble, and this past season, he broke the Spanish record of goals in a season with 53, as well as 24 assists. His numbers are unbelievable, and LeBron James has no claim to Messi's throne.
Messi by miles.