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Takin' a T/O with BT: Sidney Crosby and Kobe Bryant—Criss-Crossing Stars

xx yySenior Writer IJune 16, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 12:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins hoists the Stanley Cup overhead in the midst of fans and photographers after Game Seven of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. The Penguins defeated the Red Wings 2-1 in the seventh game to win the Stanley Cup Finals series 4 games to 3. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

In just one weekend, two superstars met destiny and changed their outlook forever.

One superstar proved the doubters and one very large nay-sayer wrong.

Another reached the first of many lofty expectations put before him, and got the leg up in the race to the title of "best player of this generation".

While both are at different points in their careers, they're soon to become intertwined thanks to coinciding championships.

Kobe Bryant and Sidney Crosby—who knew.

Both are at different points in their careers: Kobe is a sure-fire Hall of Famer at this point, and is merely climbing his way through the all-time rankings while adding to his accolades. He is still building a legacy that's seen him mentioned in the same sentence as some of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood; and he just captured his fourth championship to boot.

Sidney Crosby, meanwhile, has been crowned "The Next One" for a long time. Just four years into his NHL career, many are expecting, some pleading, for Crosby to break Wayne Gretzky's stranglehold on the NHL's offensive record books.

Like it or not, Crosby's talent has brought a new generation of fans to the game. When a league was in dire need of a network-wide superstar, he delivered alongside Alexander Ovechkin. Instead of markets relying on their Mats Sundins and Joe Sakics—players who drew fans in their own backyards and a few more on the road—Crosby is the kind of talent that sells out opposing buildings no matter where it is.

Whether the fans are there to see him pull-out jaw-dropping moves, or hoping they get to see him man-handled, he is still a draw and that's all anyone can ask.

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The two superstars though shared a more unfortunate commonality—many wondered when, or if, they'd ever put their name on a championship trophy.

In Kobe Bryant's case, the question ended with the word 'again'. Many believed--and, despite my lack of basketball expertise, I stood amongst them--that Kobe couldn't win without Shaquille O'Neal.

The belief was that Kobe needed a big man of Shaq's ability to win, and that he couldn't carry a team when it mattered. The 2008 NBA Finals had many asking that question as the Boston Celtics gutted out a win against the rival Lakers, demolishing them in game six.

Kobe was held to just eight points in the second half of that game.

Shaq then proceeded to ask Kobe a very public question.

For Crosby, many people were asking the "when" question rather than the "will he" question. It seemed that the common train of thought was that Crosby's skill could only be contained for so long before he won a championship, but if there's one thing that sports have taught us, it's that foregone conclusions are often wrong.

Ask Dan Marino about that one.

The more people saw of Crosby, the more they decided he needed to grow before he could lead a team to a championship. Many pegged him as a diver and a cry-baby and said that even though he was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he had to develop more to be able to lead a team to a championship.

We saw that last year in the finals were Crosby tried, but couldn't get his team over the hump as he sat and watched the Detroit Red Wings skate off with hockey's holy chalice.

This year was different. We saw a Penguins team that struggled early on in the season and was in danger of missing the playoffs. A coaching change and a momentum shift later, Crosby and Co. were sitting in the playoff picture and ready to compete.

Crosby didn't do himself many favors early on though, as a few of his incidents led to harsher criticism of his play and maturity. Most of it came to a head when word got out he complained to an official about the length of time it took to clear hats off the ice following an Alexander Ovechkin hat trick in the second round.

He still fought on though, and saw it through to the Cup final for a second straight year and for a second straight year his performance in the first two games was lacking, especially on the scoresheet. In his career, Crosby is a minus-2 and has zero points in four opening Final games (Games 1 and 2).

Crosby and Kobe became separated in their performance over the course of the finals though. Crosby scored three points and ended up with a minus-3 rating and one game winning goal over the seven games of the finals, although a leg injury in game seven limited him.

Kobe meanwhile, went off to finally prove the critics wrong putting up 32 points per game in the NBA finals and winning finals MVP.

Both ended up with championship rings, which gave each what they needed: credibility.

Kobe proved that, with a strong enough supporting cast, he can will a team to a championship minus Shaq.

Crosby simply proved that he can win, even at his worst.

Two championships and two stars vindicated in one weekend.

But the commonality doesn't stop there.

Many see the Penguins as the mid-80's Edmonton Oilers which featured Gretzky and Mark Messier. Many questioned if Messier could win a championship without Gretzky. Messier did, winning with not only the Oilers but the New York Rangers as well.

Now Kobe's won without Shaq.

The natural question and progression we very well may see is if Sidney Crosby can win without Evgeni Malkin, this year's leading scorer in the playoffs and Conn Smythe recipient. Maybe it never comes to that, maybe the roles become reversed, or maybe we just have to wait and see.

As we saw this year, if you wait long enough for something, eventually the answers will come one way or the other.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile or email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. You can also check out his previous work in his archives.

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