Apples and oranges is a proverbial way to compare two entities that are opposites. Oranges are tropical fruits that are rich in citrus, apples grow in various areas and have a more solidified texture. They’re significantly different in color and taste. So which one is better? The beauty of this question is that there is no wrong answer. In the best sports debates, there are also questions of 1 vs 1.
They too, are subjective and do not have the right answer. Part of the entertainment factor in sports is the unanswered questions about those who participated at the highest of levels. Who was better? Who needed who more? Who contributed more? All of the best sports debates have these questions and it’s like comparing apples to oranges. You can’t win the argument and, in most cases, you could argue they needed each other to succeed. So what are the best ones to debate? Here are my favorites.
Some of the Best Sports Debates are Apples and Oranges
Tiger vs PGA Tour
It’s no secret that Tiger Woods changed the game of golf. At his peak, he was truly the best that has ever lived and this cannot be seriously debated. His talent was so immense they had to change whole courses to make it fairer for the field. What can be debated, was Tiger Woods the catalyst for the eventual collapse of the PGA?
Tiger Woods gives damning verdict on LIV Golf pic.twitter.com/JjzXybHDGl
— Golf Monthly (@GolfMonthly) July 12, 2022
Let’s face it, the PGA as a whole is “boring”. We don’t watch sports for the love of sportsmanship and everyone having fun. We watch it for the personalities and dominance of the performers. Woods had the biggest personality and was the most dominant ever.
There were fist pumps, cursing, and running up the score. You had racial dynamics and mega sponsorships. He was one of the first true athletes that the sport had ever seen and just as quickly as he rose to greatness, he fell and it was sad to watch.
Since then, golf has never been the same. Sure, you get your two or three events a year that pop and are must-watch, but there hasn’t been someone who can move the needle like Tiger and the sport has taken a hit. The PGA was the most dominant golf tour in the world until recently. Now, just like its greatest star, it seems to be falling from grace and is becoming sad to watch.
What is the biggest factor in the recent moves of most of the current tour members going to the LIV tour? Money. The last year of Woods’ amateur career was 1996. That year, the PGA tour paid out $101 million in total prize money. At the end of what was the peak grossing year of the Tiger Woods years in 2008, the tour was awarded $292 million. That is nearly a 300% increase in just 12 years.
The reason for that increase was not because of some of the lowest rounds we’ve seen, because every year had great scores. It was simply because there was nothing like prime Tiger Woods. LIV Golf is poaching from a once must-watch tour because of the lack of preparedness in a world without Tiger Woods. He made the field improve to keep up and the rewards for this showed in dollar bills and entertainment value.
The PGA did nothing different and even doubled-down on unpopular stances. For this, the LIV tour has the opportunity to rise above what seemed an untouchable entity. LIV is paying for the top performers in a different style tour and it is because Tiger Woods showed us golf can be peak sports entertainment if you change. The PGA has no one to blame but themselves.
Shaq vs Kobe
There is a real argument to be made that these two may have been the most different of the duos of the best sports debates. They also needed each other in order to be two of the all-time greats.
It starts with the fact that they were teammates on arguably one of the greatest teams the NBA had ever seen. It started in 1996 when the Los Angeles Lakers acquired the rights to high school shooting guard Kobe Bryant from the Hornets. Later in the year, they also acquired center Shaquille O’Neal from the Orlando Magic.
O’Neal was already an established star who was no stranger to pop culture and the bright lights of Hollywood. Bryant was a very serious person who truly believed — and at times proved — that he was the best guard in the league upon his arrival. Bryant’s personality to the team came off as selfish and O’Neal’s was seen as not taking it seriously, but the Lakers had two of the best at their respective positions.
When the legendary Phil Jackson eventually coached them, it showed that the chemistry worked when both parties wanted it to. O’Neal was into hazing Bryant as a rookie and never tried to have a relationship other than that even slapping him midgame. Bryant was quoted in a training camp saying O’Neal showed up “Fat and out of shape”.
This personality clash did do damage to the relationship behind the scenes but didn’t do anything to hurt the success of the team. They won three straight titles together in 2000, ’01, and ’02. The true disconnect these two had was sharing the spotlight and it ultimately ended with O’Neal being traded to the Miami Heat and a day later in true rivalry fashion, Bryant signing a seven-year deal to remain with the Lakers.
O’Neal went on to win a title in 2006 with the Heat and Bryant ended up winning two more titles leaving the pair with four and five titles respectively, but they shared three. The main question here is “what could have been?”.
Had these two stars been able to check their egos, maybe we could have had a Bulls-like dynasty, but instead, we had two great share the stage for eight crazy, controversial years and saw three dominant title wins. Both players are Hall of Famers and prior to Bryant’s passing had rekindled the relationship so there’s a little bit of a happy ending here.
Regardless, the motivation to outdo each other resulted in three additional titles for the duo albeit against each other, and for that, they deserve to be on this list.
Messi vs Ronaldo
If you’re a fan of soccer or maybe just a fan of highlights, you almost assuredly have heard the names, Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo. What you may not know is that both are widely considered the best ever, depending on who you ask.
Wayne Rooney talking about ex teammate Cristiano Ronaldo & Lionel Messi. pic.twitter.com/3XJFGvadxC
— Frank Khalid (@FrankKhalidUK) July 10, 2022
The parallels between the two are uncanny. They’ve won a combined 71 trophies (Messi 37, Ronaldo 34) and they are two of the eight players ever to have 700+ goals scored. Both had long illustrious careers with popular clubs (Ronaldo at Manchester United and Real Madrid, Messi with Barcelona). Both even were the best players for their respective countries and have participated in multiple World Cups.
Of the two, Messi made it the furthest in the World Cup, ultimately losing in the final. Ronaldo is #1 all-time in total goals scored. Messi is five goals away from being third all time. Messi has the record with seven Ballon d’Or’s, soccer’s version of the MVP. Ronaldo has five of these awards.
“Soccer is played in over 210 countries” according to an LA Times article by Kevin Baxter, making this the most participated sport in the world. You have two of the best to ever play still going strong and a debate about who is better that can never be won.
Make sure to tune in to the World Cup in Qatar in late 2022 as each of these two tries to get that first world cup win. Maybe that is the tiebreaker…
Bird vs Magic
Basketball wasn’t always what it is today. It was mostly a niche sport that had little to no professional spotlight outside of a few legendary names. The Finals used to be aired on a tape delay. What may have been the most significant event for the sport of basketball was the 1979 NCAA National Championship Game.
This is still the highest-rated college basketball game ever with 35.1 million viewers. You have undefeated Indiana State, led by forward and college player of the year Larry Bird vs Michigan State, led by guard and Final Four MVP, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. This was a contest that was ultimately won by Johnson and the Spartans to claim the school’s first-ever title.
This was the first time these two players faced off against each other but sparked what can be argued as the sport’s greatest rivalry. In their respective drafts, Magic was taken first-overall to the Lakers, Bird sixth-overall to the Celtics. Now, the rivalry goes from individual college greats to NBA team royalty.
In year one, Bird led the Celtics to a 61-21 record that ended in the Eastern Conference Finals with a loss to the Dr. J-led 76ers. In year one, Johnson helped a star-studded Lakers team to a 60-22 record that ended with an NBA title. In the closeout Game 6, Johnson started at center and had a magnificent 42-15-7 stat line. He was also named finals MVP.
This wouldn’t be the peak of their careers by any stretch of the imagination. Throughout the 1980s, Bird or Johnson competed in every NBA Finals including three head-to-head matchups. They also took home five of the 10 total MVPs of the decade. Bird won the first NBA Finals they played in 1984 but lost the remaining two in 1985 and 1987. Combined, they have eight titles, six regular season MVPs, and 24 total All-star appearances.
You may argue about who you liked better, but you’ll never be able to convince anyone that these two didn’t need each other to change basketball.
Tyson vs Ali
One of boxing’s greatest best qualities is that you truly get a 1v1 and, in most cases, the best man wins. One of the big debates is who is the greatest heavyweight of all time?
Unfortunately, these two never got to fight 1v1. To start, Muhammad Ali may be one of the most influential pop culture figures in our country’s history. Among many other things, Ali was truly a force to be reckoned with in boxing. He was the heavyweight champion of the world for three consecutive years from 1964-67. He was brash and backed up every bit of smack talk he dished out, and he dished out a lot.
He beat some of the best fighters in the world and proclaimed himself as “The Greatest”. He was a combination of speed and power the sport hadn’t ever seen, but he was just as influential outside of the sport. He was a key civil rights activist and a conscientious objector to the Vietnam war. He wasn’t shy about his beliefs and truly embodied what it means to be true to yourself.
So, with all that said, who could be better than a cultural icon? Enter Mike Tyson. Known as “The Baddest Man on the planet”, Tyson was known for his devastating knockout power and quick finishes in his fights. He also was known for his controversial life before and during his boxing career. Tyson was the type of fighter who had a psychological edge in the fight before even entering the ring. The way he spoke about what he wanted to do to his opponents was backed up by a fierce and sometimes volatile fighting style.
Whether it was Tyson biting your ear, or Ali yelling in it, I’m sure you’ve heard that these were the top two heavyweights who have ever lived.
Brady vs Manning
This could be the NFL’s best example of an apples and oranges comparison. Peyton Manning is a highly touted quarterback prospect drafted first-overall in 1998 by the Indianapolis Colts. Tom Brady was sharing time at quarterback in college and was drafted 199th overall in the 2000 NFL draft by the Patriots.
Manning is the immediate starter from day one with the Colts, Brady has to wait his turn and take advantage of a split-second injury to starter Drew Bledsoe. In his rookie year, Manning shattered rookie records including most touchdowns in a season. Manning had the early lead in the debate of who is better but, in typical Brady fashion, he has since made a case some think isn’t debatable.
Brady holds almost every major quarterback record including career yards, attempts, and touchdowns for both the regular season and the playoffs. He has a Superbowl record of 7-3 and has won it in both the NFC and AFC.
If Brady were to win all his playoff games this year and win another super bowl, he would be the all-time wins leader for quarterbacks that have played the NFC teams in the playoffs even though he has only been in the conference three years.
He also had arguably the greatest season on record with his 2007 performance of 4,800+ passing yards and 50 touchdowns. Manning, on the other hand, changed how the game was played at the line of scrimmage. He was known for his ability to manipulate the defense presnap with various audibles and changes including arguably his most popular “OMAHA” code word.
He also had an all-time season that eclipsed Brady’s with 5,500+ yards and 55 touchdowns for the Denver Broncos. Manning is a five-time MVP in 18 years whereas Brady has three in 22 years. The all-time matchup between the two is 11-6 in favor of Brady.
Whether you favor one or the other, the criteria involved in your discussion make all the difference for who “wins” this debate.
LeBron vs Jordan
Ahhhhh… You didn’t think I’d leave out what many consider is atop the best sports debates of all time, did you? Another comparison that isn’t fair to either involved, the Michael Jordan vs LeBron James debate has polarized even the most knowledgeable basketball fans.
Which two players can beat LeBron and Jordan in a 2V2? pic.twitter.com/iI1iuzSIow
MJ was cut from his high school team and used this as fuel to eventually be a D1 player at the University of North Carolina under the tutelage of legendary coach Dean Smith. He wins many accolades and eventually a national championship by way of a game-winning shot that was designed for him to shoot.
He is then drafted third overall in 1984 by the Bulls, where he becomes a sensation almost immediately with individual success more than the team. In the 90s, Jordan finally breaks through the barriers and has team success as well capturing six titles in eight years with no losses in the Finals and is considered no doubt the greatest player who has ever lived.
That is until 2003. Jordan retires the same year as a young prospect named Lebron James is drafted.
Selected first overall by his hometown team directly out of high school, Lebron James has immediately anointed: “The Chosen One”. Lebron sets a myriad of records throughout his playing career including ones once broken by MJ. James had his fair share of team success including four Finals wins on three teams and an eight-year stretch of playing in the championship series from 2011-2018.
Jordan was known for the massive dunks, floating around defenders, and finishing with moves we still haven’t seen again. He hit game-winners in the Finals securing rings and wins. Jordan had a sequence in his last Finals ever that was a layup to put his team down one, a steal of the ensuing defensive possession, and then a game-winning shot en route to his 45-point closeout performance and ring number six.
However, James was a physical force we haven’t seen replicated. He won his only ring with Cleveland after being down 3-1 against the dynastic Warriors and seemingly saved a pivotal Game 7 with arguably the greatest defensive play in the history of the league, a chase-down block against former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
Jordan took the NBA and made it an international league because of his draw. James was the first superstar who didn’t stay with one team, and because of his moves, the league is more transactional. What can’t be debated is that these two are arguably the greatest to ever play and in most cases, who you watched is who you think wins.
I’ll leave you with one final argument on the pro-Lebron James side of this debate. He is the only player in league history to lead the five major stat categories in the NBA Finals: points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals.