LeBron James and NBA Equivalents to College Football


LeBron James landed in the cross-hairs of Bret Bielema’s tendency to speak without perceivable forethought Tuesday. Here’s what the Head Hog had to say at the morning session of the SEC meetings in Destin:

Curious, given LeBron’s reputation for team-first basketball, to such an extent hot-take merchants have accused him at times of being too unselfish. Moreover, if you’re a head coach implementing a physical brand of ball, the powerful LeBron James makes for a more fitting parallel than the speedy, finesse Steph Curry.

Little wonder, then, Bielema admitted to following very little NBA. Hey, at the least comparison is timely!

Were Bielema a more astute NBA pundit, he might have made one of the following parallels between the NBA and college football.

LeBron is Ohio State. Duh.

Earlier this spring, LeBron revealed he’d have been a Buckeye had he opted to play college basketball. Considering his talent as a prep football player, perhaps Jim Tressel could have borrowed him for red-zone sets in the early 2000s?

The closest we came was LBJ appearing on College GameDay during a visit to Columbus in 2008.

While LeBron never donned the scarlet-and-gray, the current, Urban Meyer-led incarnation of Buckeye football does share traits with the King.

Neither can be defined as purely finesse, nor exclusively power. Meyer brought a much-needed modernized facelift to Ohio State’s offense, transforming a stodgy look into one of the most potentially explosive in the game. At the same time, Ohio State didn’t sacrifice the physically imposing defensive style that made Tressel’s teams so successful.

The result is a perfect hybrid game, capable of contending for championships for the foreseeable future.

The Clemson Tigers are…

…the Golden State Warriors. Both finished the past regular season with the top win totals in their respective sport, and Clemson came very near winning a title, which Golden State will begin its pursuit of Thursday against LeBron’s Cavaliers.

Philosophically, the comparisons are natural. Clemson’s offense ranks among the nation’s most explosive, with quarterback DeShaun Watson flourishing as something of a Steph Curry for the Tigers. Each team can rack up points in bunches and overwhelm opponents with deluges of points. Their respective success disproves long-held beliefs that uptempo, spread football schemes and jump-shooting basketball strategies couldn’t stand toe-to-toe with an old-school, physical style.

However, prolific offense alone doesn’t compete for championships. Clemson succeeded with its high-scoring offense, but the 2012 Orange Bowl put Dabo Swinney on notice: the Tigers needed defensive chops to go along with Chad Morris’ offense.

Brent Venables’ implementation of a more aggressive defense took Clemson to the next level, in much the same manner Golden State’s recent success owes gratitude to the role of great defenders like Andre Iguodala and Shawn Livingston.

The Oregon Ducks are…

…the Oklahoma City Thunder. The last half-decade brought plenty of great memories to both outfits. Kevin Durant’s MVP win and Marcus Mariota hoisting the Heisman serve as reminders that good guys can reach the top.

Both teams employ fun, uptempo styles, and have come achingly close to championships in recent years. Oregon played in the BCS Championship Game to culminate 2010, then in the first College Football Playoff to close the 2014 season. Each ended in Duck losses.

Oklahoma City’s been just as close, playing in the Finals in 2012 and having defending champion Golden State cornered this year, but the Thunder failed to claim a title either time. OKC’s loss this year leaves NBA experts wondering if the Thunder’s window for a championship is closing; a similar question hangs over Oregon in the wake of coaching departures and player turnover.

Alabama Crimson Tide are…

…the San Antonio Spurs. The two most recent dynasties in their respective sports, the Spurs and Tide combine for nine championships in the last 17 years.

Their paths to titles follow similar patterns, building off stifling defense and relying on traditional offensive styles to complement. It’s a brand of football, or basketball, that sometimes gets unfairly labeled boring.

And, to a certain extent, both teams have had to make adjusts to keep up in changing times. Lane Kiffin coordinating Alabama’s offense is akin to the Spurs building around LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard: modernized tweaks without compromising the soul of their strategies.

Nick Saban is…

…Gregg Popovich. Self-explanatory given the comparable success, but driving home the parallel is their demeanor when dealing with media.

Jimbo Fisher is…

…Mike Budenholzer. The Atlanta Hawks head coach soaked up knowledge as a longtime assistant to Popovich, then parlayed his experience into success as a head coach.

Jimbo Fisher worked under two of college football’s great minds, Nick Saban and Bobby Bowden. He’s translated his lessons as an assistant into a impressive run as a head coach.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are…

…the Boston Celtics, and no, not just for the leprechaun iconography — though that doesn’t hurt.


Notre Dame and the Celtics both embody romantic memories of their sports’ formative years. Knute Rockne is a forerunner to Red Auerbach, the Four Horsemen compare to Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, Joe Montana is Larry Bird.

Both teams hit lulls in the 1990s, which carried over into the new millennium. The Celtics returned to the forefront of the NBA recently though, winning a title in 2008 and ousting LeBron en route to a classic Finals against the Lakers in 2010. With Brad Stevens and a young nucleus in place, Boston could be an Eastern Conference contender next season.

Notre Dame’s enjoyed its own, recent resurgence, playing for a national championship in 2012 and coming a Stanford field goal shy of participating in this year’s College Football Playoff.

The USC Trojans are…

…the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers and Celtics have a longstanding, historic rivalry, established over decades of classic showdowns. In much the same vein, USC-Notre Dame contests have left important impressions on the annals of college football, in part because the Trojans have been at the sport’s pinnacle at various times throughout the century.

USC football’s also reached something of a lull, coinciding with its local, NBA counterpart. The Trojans are not in an historic rut like the Lakers, but eight years without a conference championship is a pretty significant drought by USC standards.

Likewise, the Lakers’ six consecutive seasons without reaching at least the Western Conference Finals matches the franchise’s longest since since ’92-to-’97. When they inevitably miss the postseason next year, it will mark the most futile stretch in their illustrious history.