Michael Jordan

Sidney Crosby Michael Jordan comparison The Last Dance
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How valid is a Sidney Crosby-Michael Jordan comparison?

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During this sports-starved pandemic, “The Last Dance” inspired a flood of Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls-related takes. For those of us who cover other sports, it’s almost inevitable to make comparisons to Michael Jordan, and Sidney Crosby ranks as a fairly obvious choice.

Just because it’s inevitable, and will leave some people rolling their eyes, doesn’t mean it isn’t … well, a lot of fun.

But is the Crosby – Jordan comparison valid?

Current Penguins assistant coach Mark Recchi made the comparison on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central. When asked by David Amber, Recchi cites Crosby’s work ethic. He also states that while Crosby is competitive, he isn’t quite as confrontational as the apparently often-abrasive Jordan was:

Recchi estimates that new teammates take as much as a month to get used to the Penguins’ rigorous practices. Crosby’s competitiveness is a big part of that.

[More: Crosby’s preferred playoff format.]

The basics of Jordan – Crosby

When people compare stars across sports and eras, they often paint with a broad brush. Let’s zoom out before we zoom in, then.

In making a Crosby – Jordan comparison, scale is important:

  • Crosby’s hockey famous, while Jordan is and was a global icon. Also, if people aren’t saying a leader in a field is the “Michael Jordan of ____,” then they’d be using Wayne Gretzky’s name instead of Crosby. That’s not totally Sid’s fault, but it’s true.
  • Crosby piled up plenty of individual accolades, for sure. Jordan just piled up a lot more. (Crosby’s injuries surely had something to do with that.)
  • Both won multiple titles, including repeat championships. Sure, Jordan has more rings (six to three), but both paired individual dominance with team dominance.
  • They both experienced some handshake drama during their careers.
  • Each player created iconic moments, including winning Olympic gold.

“The Golden Goal” is Crosby’s answer to some of Jordan’s best buzzer-beaters:

As unfair as it’s always felt to Scottie Pippen and Evgeni Malkin, you could also say each “Batman” had their “Robin.”

Recchi stated that Crosby isn’t as “confrontational” as Jordan. That might be true, again, in a sense of scale. Even by the demanding standards star players often set, it seems like MJ was on another level.

Naturally, Crosby also hasn’t faced the off-ice drama that hounded the hyper-famous Jordan. (If Crosby made a midnight casino run, would we even find out?)

But there’s no doubt that Crosby can be a downright nasty competitor, yapping at opponents. During his earlier seasons, it made him especially polarizing to many hockey fans.

And, honestly, we only know so much about Crosby. Sure, it seems like he’s wholesome — consider the cheeky hotel room shenanigans from that HBO 24/7 series — but we aren’t witnessing hours of unaired footage of Crosby, behind the scenes.

You don’t need a documentary to see that Crosby is driven in many of the same ways Jordan was, though.

Sneaky strength

Stylistically, you can point to some key differences between Crosby and Jordan. For one thing, Crosby leans toward playmaking, while Jordan’s isolation shooting changed the NBA. (Don’t get me wrong, Crosby can shoot and Jordan most definitely could pass. I’m mainly talking about “first instincts.”)

When you drill down into what made/makes them great, one interesting thing is how they could exert their will.

In watching footage of Crosby and Jordan over the years, it’s striking how abundantly clear how hard they work. To be clear, each star produced some of the flashiest highlights we’ve seen in their sports. Yet, connoisseurs can dig into the details of their games to find even more to appreciate.

Some Jordan clips are secondhand exhausting. Crosby’s ability to possess the puck and overwhelm opponents can often be a delirious sight.

This wasn’t even the sequence I was initially searching for, yet …

Back in late April, P.K. Subban told Sportsnet’s Ron MacLean that strength is what separates Crosby. Subban would know, too, given his multiple playoff battles with Crosby.

Jordan possessed the strength to overpower opponents, particularly as his career went on. Part of that came down to adding 15 lbs. of muscle to combat the Pistons’ “Jordan Rules.” The other part boils down to doing whatever it took to win.

Crosby and Jordan evolve their games

Michael Jordan eventually needed to accept that he couldn’t always be “Air Jordan.” So, as he got bulkier and older, Jordan morphed into a dominant post player.

Much has been made about Crosby improving his face-off skills over the years, and it’s worth mentioning again. But that’s just a part of how Crosby’s found different ways to be dominant during his career.

Despite a predilection for passing, Crosby’s been willing to be more of a sniper at times, too.

Another testament to their will and skill was how proficient both Jordan and Crosby became defensively. It’s unclear if Crosby will ever reach Jordan’s defensive level. Doc Rivers called Jordan “the best superstar defender in the history” of the NBA, after all.

That said, momentum has been building for a Crosby Selke Trophy nod for some time, especially last season.

Final thoughts

Crosby isn’t famous like Jordan. Any GOAT arguments involving Crosby might feel a bit bold considering Gretzky’s impact.

And while Crosby faced mid-career turmoil with his concussion issues, he didn’t face the drama, personal tragedy, and bizarre sojourns that Jordan experienced. In other words, don’t expect Crosby to chase Major League Baseball dreams anytime soon.

… Although:

Personally, I think it’s a fun exercise to explore similarities and differences. How do you feel about the Crosby – Jordan comparison? Is there a better NHL parallel for MJ?

More: PHT picks what could be a hockey documentary version of “The Last Dance.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

With Brady leaving Patriots, remember these hockey legends in places you forgot

Hockey legends like Brady leaving Patriots Orr Howe Hull Brodeur
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As mind-blowing as it is to type this, it’s true: Tom Brady said goodbye to the Patriots on Tuesday. It’s something that’s difficult to process, even if you’re not a Patriots or even a football fan. Yet, as Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra chronicles for baseball, legends donning strange uniforms late in their careers is no new phenomenon, and certainly not limited to the land of pigskins. So what about hockey and the NHL, then?

Hockey fans have been treated to quite a few one-team legends, including Mario Lemieux saving the Penguins more than once.

Even so, there are plenty of legends who ended spent time in jerseys that just felt wrong. Let’s ponder the hockey answers to Brady leaving the Patriots, Johnny Unitas on the Chargers, Michael Jordan with the Wizards, and Babe Ruth on the Boston Braves.

Orr down hockey Brady comparison
(Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque leave Boston with very different results

At least with Brady, Boston-area fans couldn’t reasonably ask for more. Meanwhile, Bobby Orr’s career concluded with questions of “What could have been?”

Knee injuries ravaged his later career, and after 10 seasons, Orr left the Bruins for the Blackhawks. Between two seasons, Orr could only appear in 26 games for Chicago.

In something of a sequel, the Bruins traded Ray Bourque during his 21st season with the team, setting the stage for Bourque to eventually win a Stanley cup inspiring enough to essentially demand a parade in Boston.

Brodeur Blues Brady leaving Patriots hockey comparison
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Brodeur finishes with the Blues

If Orr on the Blackhawks isn’t the Brady comparison you think of for hockey, then it’s probably Brodeur appearing in seven games for the Blues after winning three Stanley Cups, four Vezinas, and setting the all-time wins record over 1,259 games with the Devils.

(That contrast still makes me chuckle, to be honest.)

As awkward as Brodeur’s brief Blues stint was, it lacked the angst of how Orr’s career ended. That might make it closer to a 1:1 hockey comparison for Brady, although the QB could easily prove that his tank isn’t empty.

Much of this list shows examples of players trying to prove that they could still play, with most sputtering out after running on fumes.

(Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hull of a change, and Howe

Bobby Hull already experienced quite a journey going from the Blackhawks to the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets (scoring 303 goals in the WHA alone). Hull’s final hockey and NHL season was especially odd, though, starting with 18 NHL games for the Jets before being traded to the Hartford Whalers, playing nine games for The Whale. Gordie Howe ended up being a Whalers teammate of Hull, which is … yeah, pretty mind-blowing. Bobby Hull also attempted a comeback with the Rangers.

(Howe’s legendary career featured quite the second [and maybe third?] acts after his Red Wings days, including playing with his sons, and somehow managing 15 goals and 41 points with the Hartford Whalers at age 51.)

Bobby’s son Brett Hull experienced a journeyman career of his own. Brett convinced the Coyotes to unretire Bobby’s number 9, but that story ended with a whimper (five games) as Brett realized he couldn’t adjust to the post-lockout style of play in 2005-06.

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Random Red Wings

If you’re playing trivia and “This player finished his career/briefly played for this team …” comes up, blurting out Detroit Red Wings isn’t the worst bet.

Lightning round, sometimes involving Lightning

  • Mats Sundin stunned Maple Leafs fans by joining the Canucks. There was some Alfredsson-like logic of linking Sundin with fellow Swedes Henrik and Daniel Sedin, yet the experiment lasted just 41 games.
  • Brian Leetch playing for the Maple Leafs was a little strange, but Leetch in a Bruins sweater will never look right.
  • Guy Lafleur, Montreal Canadiens legend, as a Quebec Nordique? Yes, that happened. Jacques Plante bounced around quite about post-Habs, too, including eight games with the (gasp) Bruins.
  • Like Plante, Grant Fuhr pinballed around the NHL quite a bit after parting ways with the Oilers, but joining the Flames? Wow. Fuhr didn’t just play for the Calgary Flames, either, as he suited up twice for the Saint John Flames.
  • File Ed Belfour and Igor Larionov under “people you might not have known played for the Panthers.”
  • Olaf Kolzig was persistent in Washington as Godzilla could be in Tokyo, playing 711 of his 719 games for the Capitals. The eight other games came with the Lightning. (Vincent Lecavalier playing for the Kings was strange, but softened by his years with the Flyers.)

Feel free to mention other fish-out-of-water memories in the comments. Also, if you had to guess, which hockey legend will Brady mirror the most?

(Hopefully we won’t ever get that “Halloween Olajuwon as a Raptor vs. Patrick Ewing with the Magic” feeling from Brady’s final act.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Video: Shea Weber channels his inner Michael Jordan/Larry Bird

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You all remember the commercial from back in the day that had Larry Bird and Michael Jordan playing a game of HORSE and doing trick shots all over the arena to win a Big Mac. Nashville’s Shea Weber (along with country singer Dierks Bentley) decided to try it out himself taking a shot on an open net from the upper reaches of Bridgestone Arena.

As you might expect, the Predators captain is pretty good at firing the puck. Weber launched it from the 300 level, the length of the ice, off Terry Crisp’s microphone (OK not really)… Nothing but net.

Someone get this guy a commercial deal already.

Ovechkin could learn from Michael Jordan’s evolution

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With seven goals in 15 games, Alex Ovechkin is on pace to surpass the 32 goals he scored last season. But only barely. At his current rate, he’ll get 38.

In 2007-08, he had 65.

Given the above, CSNWashington.com’s Chuck Gormley wonders if Ovechkin needs to reinvent himself as a player.

“Opposing defensemen and forwards are taking away his shooting lanes, getting their sticks and shin pads on many of Ovechkin’s attempts at the net,” writes Gormley.

It’s hardly breaking news the NHL has a book on Ovechkin; however, it remains to be seen if he can counter the adjustments Washington’s opponents have made to slow him down. I wouldn’t use the word “reinvent” — more like evolve.

The truly great athletes never stop taking their games to the next level. Case in point, Michael Jordan was almost 30 before he became a threat from 3-point range.

“It wasn’t a planned thing, it just happened,” Jordan told the New York Times in 1990. “It makes guys have to play me farther from the basket. If they get up on me, I can go around them. If they don’t, I can take the shot. It opens up our offense and gives the other team something else to worry about.”

More Sidney Crosby/Reebok video trickery? Check out his ‘Pyramid trick’

Ever since Larry Bird and Michael Jordan competed over which superstar player would receive a McDonald’s meal that – let’s face it, at that point would have been ice cold – different sports marketers keep putting their own spin on the “athlete doing unthinkable things” gimmick.

(Who can forget that doctored video of Kobe Bryant jumping over an Ashton Martin car?)

Well, Reebok is throwing their name in that advertising hat with a series of advertisements featuring Sidney Crosby and their new sticks. We already showed you the first spot, which features Crosby’s slap shots “moving” a net and then firing a shot against the glass that must have frightened the camera man (or something).

Even if it’s free advertising and what not, we figure that the spots are entertaining enough to post. Here is the second in that series, which features Crosby aiming a shot at one puck and then powering down a bunch of them after that. This one seems more “realistic” but we’ll leave it to you all to debate the video’s validity in the comments.

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