Are there two more polarizing athletes in American professional sports than Alex Rodriguez and LeBron James? People either love them or hate them and there are not many people who fall in between. So let's take a closer look at each of them.
Alex Rodriguez was one of the best prospects in baseball history. Taken with the first pick in the 1993 draft by the Mariners, Rodriguez did not disappoint. He was supposed to help the struggling Mariners, along with Ken Griffey, Jr. and Edgar Martinez. A-Rod blossomed into a superstar. He is one of the key reasons Safeco Field was built to replace the Kingdome.
A-Rod was too big for Seattle, though, and signed the biggest deal in baseball history with a 12-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers in 2001. A-Rod won his MVP awards in Texas while the Rangers were stuck in last place.
Finally, A-Rod wanted out. After he was willing to give up money in his contract to be traded to the Boston Red Sox, the union said no. The Yankees then came about and traded for him. This is where the real fun begins.
He had joined Derek Jeter's team. In books written by Joe Torre and a book by Ian O'Connor about Jeter, both say that A-Rod was obsessed with Jeter and how he was perceived. By being traded to the Yankees, A-Rod switched positions and gave up a claim to being arguably the best shortstop of all time.
A-Rod was the king of postseason chokes. He was put eighth in the batting order in Game 4 of the 2006 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers, a game that eliminated the Yankees. A-Rod finally got over the hump in 2009, overcoming his postseason chokes to lead the Yankees to their 27th championship. He finally had his ring.
A-Rod is no stranger to controversy. Among the many controversies are the slap of Bronson Arroyo in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, being seen with a stripper in Toronto, dating Madonna (who is almost twice his age) and most notably having been a steroid user.
The steroid issue makes A-Rod different from LeBron because LeBron has never been caught cheating the game of basketball. A-Rod is a known cheater, a fact that will be brought into the spotlight again as he chases Hank Aaron for the home run record (that's right, Hank Aaron, who will still be the king until a clean player beats him).
So now onto LeBron.
James was of course the next Michael Jordan from his days at St. Mary's in high school. He was drafted No. 1 in the 2003 NBA draft by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. He was always close to bringing the Cavs to the promised land but could never quite put them over the top.
He has been the one of the faces of the NBA since he was drafted and we have all been in awe at some point of his career. Most people wanted him to do well in Cleveland, the hometown kid saving the franchise and taking it to a place it's had never seen before.
And then "The Decision" happened.
His national TV diss of the Cavaliers did not go over well with anyone outside of Miami. The LeBron lovers were quick to defend him but some of those who had been his fans turned their back on him. He joined Dwyane Wade's team. He sacrificed his legend as being one of the best of all time to win.
This season he was under more scrutiny than anyone. In the playoffs, he was solid until the finals. That's where it all fell apart, particularly in the fourth quarter. He had choked, again.
So let's look at the similarities between these two athletes.
They both have egos that would take up a whole room. A-Rod has to be Mr. Popular and in the middle of the spotlight, and oftentimes he makes himself look stupid by doing so. LeBron craves the light too, with the case in point being "The Decision."
Both went to someone else's team in order to win. A-Rod was traded to Jeter's team, where he was never going to be the fan favorite and he was going to be the scapegoat for losing. James went to Wade's team, conceding that he wanted a better supporting cast for his talents.
Both gave up their legend in the process. A-Rod could have been one of the greatest shortstops of all time, which he gave up in order to play third base and have a chance to win every year. James could have gone down as one of the greatest players of all-time, an accomplishment he can still achieve. Having said that, he definitely took a chance by playing with two other All-Star players.
Both are chokers when the spotlight is on them. Rodriguez finally overcame his problem by being a main reason the Yankees won in 2009, but before that he batted .133 in the 2005 postseason and .071 in 2006. In 2004, A-Rod did not show up for the final four games of the ALCS against Boston, one of the reasons Boston came back.
LeBron has his own problems, especially in this year's finals. He flat out did not perform in the fourth quarter when his team was relying on him. This comes after the 2010 playoffs, when LeBron supposedly stopped trying in his final game for the Cavs against Boston.
On the positive side, both were willing to take pay-cuts to win. A-Rod was willing to take money away from his contract in order to go to Boston, a move which did not work out. And then he opted out during Game 4 of the World Series in 2007, a move that was criticised by almost everyone. LeBron took a cut in order to play with Wade and Bosh in Miami, a move everyone would have commended if it wasn't LeBron.
They both started in small markets where they were supposed to carry the load, where both failed. Both left to go play with other stars for a chance to win, conceding that they could not do it alone.
Both are bad with the media. LeBron famously said after this year's finals:
All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.
A-Rod is known to be bad with the media, so much so that one of his Yankee coaches and a bullpen catcher told A-Rod he would have to give them each $100 every time he said something stupid to the media a few years ago (Ian O'Connor, The Captain). This is one of my favorites:
Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him. He's never had to lead. He can just go and play and have fun. And he hits second—that's totally different than third and fourth in a lineup. You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie and O'Neill. You never say, "Don't let Derek beat you. He's never your concern." (Esquire)
For some of you, this is a really easy choice to make because you like one of the athletes more than the other.
For others, this comparison provoked thought.
For the rest of you, like myself, I bet you were thinking the same thing: Pick your poison.
So now I pose the question to you: Who is more likable?
Alex Rodriguez or LeBron James?
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