A Unique Debate: Lebron James vs Lionel Messi


Probably the most crucial aspect of Journalism is knowing your audience.

Writing to a certain audience brings with it advantages and disadvantages. Writing for Irishcentral has allowed me to cover a cluster of different sports over the past few months. The mixture of Irish Americans that are spread around the world allows me to write about sports on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

As such we are able to host a unique debate like you've never seen before...

As athletes you cannot compare Lionel Messi and Lebron James(although they both defy physics: http://tinyurl.com/6hhr8px) However you can compare their talent and who is better at their relevant sport.

Why should we?

Why shouldn't we?


Messi and James headline the best of a hugely talented group of professional athletes. At only 23 and 26(Messi is the younger) the pair are already the most dominant players in their own games. They both have contenders to those crowns with Cristiano Ronaldo often touted as Messi's main rival while James must contend with future hall of fame guard Kobe Bryant.



The current spread of professional athletes spread across the globe is startling;
• Tiger may be down right now but remains the greatest golfer ever.
• Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis are striding towards the top of NFL History's totem poll.
• Usain Bolt is literally running through every record ever set in his sights.
• Sidney Crosby has brough back stardom to the NHL.
• Dan Carter is all time as an all-black.
• Manny Pacquaio's tirade through the boxing ranks has put him in consideration as the best pound for pound boxer to ever step in the ring.

One thing needs to be pointed out from the start, when critiquing these two, you have to understand that it is seriously in depth scrutiny and both players are considered the best in their sports by this writer. They both make my job much easier!

No time like the present.

Talent
Splitting hairs...
Trying to separate Lionel Messi and Lebron James talent levels is like trying to chose between Rihanna and Beyonce in a swimsuit contest...Odds aren't great that I'll get the second option so we may as well dive into the first.

Lionel Messi
Messi can do things that nobody else in the world can. His agility is better than any wide receiver or running-back in the NFL while no soccer player can even come close to touching him. More often than not he eases past defenders as if they were not there.


What really separates Messi is his all round attacking game. His awareness to find his teammates in any situation often leads to vital goals for his team. He doesn't always look to beat his man like many forwards do, he looks to make the right decision that will benefit his team. Messi's understanding and football brain only furthers his value to Barcelona. It ultimately separates him as far as talent goes compared to other soccer stars.

Lebron James
Talent? Just watch this guy for one minute. Lebron James was taken first overall in the 2003 NBA draft straight out of High School as a 19 year old. James instantly took the NBA by storm averaging over 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in his rookie year. His ability to take control of his team's offense completely is startling.


James is a physical freak. He uses his incredible speed and quickness combined with his huge frame to dominate defensively and attack the basket while also leading transition offenses regularly. James' talent level is unmatched throughout the NBA. He has the body of an olympic swimmer combined with the hands of a surgeon. James awareness on both offense and defense sets him apart, not only from the rest of the league, but also from Lionel Messi.


Supporting Cast
Supposedly when you play with better players you become a better player. So that's why Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas are so good for Arsenal, it's all Nicklas Bendtner's influence...you know the self proclaimed "best player in the world"?

Lionel Messi
Messi plays on what is potentially the greatest ever club football team. Of course his presence is a huge reason why however if you take him out of that team, it is still probably the best team in Europe. More often than not Messi lines up as part of a front trio alongside David Villa, world class striker with 44 goals in 71 international appearances, and Pedro, young spanish star who won a world cup for Spain and treble with Barcelona.
Honestly Messi is not a hugely integral part of the Barcelona system. He is a great player to have but Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta are both more important to the team. Iniesta and Xavi control the midfield for both Barcelona and Spain and can work the ball through almost any defense while showing the necessary strength and fight to defend their opposition.
Messi plays with an all star cast. He definitely makes the players around him better but he is not the beginning and end of Barcelona's success.

Lebron James
James moved to Miami this season after 7 long seasons in Cleveland with the Cavaliers. During Lebron's last season in Cleveland the team had the best record in the league. They held the overall number one seed heading into the Playoffs before losing to the Boston Celtics(infamously, look to CLUTCH) This season, the team's first without James' 23 jersey in the locker room, the Cavaliers are dead last in the league with a 10-46 record as of 22/02/11. The team recently lost 26 games in a row which is an NBA all time record for consecutive losses.
James won the MVP for the past two season on that team which has not lost any other significant players from the roster. James played with a less than stellar cast before taking his talents to South Beach to play alongside fellow all stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The lack of depth behind the Big Three in Miami may prevent them from winning a championship this season but Lebron has already affirmed himself as the leader and star of that team and Derrick Rose's breakout year will be the only thing that can prevent him from his third MVP award.


Ted Williams, the former homeless man come Cav's stadium announcer, is the only winner left in Cleveland.

Importance

Who sells the most jerseys? Who puts fans in their seats?

This one is simple. James used to be the face of the NBA. He still puts people in the seats but now it's for different reasons. The average NBA fan despises Lebron, the average Cavaliers fan hates him. James decision to leave Cleveland has cost him his importance to franchises off the court
Messi is the unquestioned star of Barcelona and football in general. His loyalty to his club and passion for the game has earned him the respect of Real Madrid fans. Anyone who understands spanish football understands the intense rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona fans. For anyone who doesn't, Luis Figo once had a pig's head thrown at him after he left Barcelona for Real Madrid.


Victories
Despite James' lack of Championships and that infamous final game for Cleveland against the Boston Celtics in 2010, both are clutch performers.


James is often berated for his inability to bring a championship to Cleveland but in reality he never had a chance. Basketball is probably the game best suited to relying on one superstar to carry your team however it has been a very long time since a team has won a Larry O'Brien trophy without a second top quality option on their team. Especially when that single leading player had the pressure of turning a whole franchise around from such a young age. Looking back in the past decade, Kobe Bryant won the title with Shaquille O'Neal at the helm before he took over and won it with Pau Gasol. The Pistons relied on the Wallaces to back up Chauncey Billups. Shaq won another title with Dwayne Wade in 2006 while the big three in Boston picked up a title leaving the rest for Tim Duncan's Spurs who had great depth on their teams with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli especially. James averaged 30 points per game in the playoffs and numbers close to a triple double, to say he's not a clutch player is crazy.

Here are Lebron James' career statistics in the playoffs.
RPG8.4 APG7.3 SPG1.6 BPG1.0 PPG29.3

Messi's trophy cabinet is lined with several pieces of silverware. He has 4 La Liga titles, 2 Champions League medals, 1 Copa del Ray and an Olympic gold medal. Messi has also won countless individual awards including 2 Ballon d'Ors. His greatest moment came in the Champions League final when he scored the second goal in the UEFA Champions League Final 2009 against Manchester United before picking up the Man of the Match award. Messi also scored an amazing hattrick against Arsenal in the Nou Camp last season. Messi has scored 31 goals and added 9 assists  in 51 Champions League games. Messi has also scored a hat trick against Real Madrid while routinely has big games in El Classico for the Catalan club


Attitude
Look away now Clevelanders!!!

I'm not going to bash Lebron here even though it would be really easy to do so. I'm going to take a perspective that not many people even consider:

I'm blaming Cleveland.

Well, I'm blaming the Cavaliers specifically. James spent 7 years in a Cavs' uniform during which time he played with a mediocre supporting cast at the best of times. He carried out his end of the deal from day one, winning rookie of the year in 2003 and never looking back. Without even considering the individual awards that attest to his great play James was outstanding in Cleveland. He worked with a poor roster where Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao were the closest things to stars that he ever worked with. In 2007, he brought a team starting Aleksander Pavlovic, currently a nomad in the NBA desert, Larry Hughes, a shooting guard who was last seen averaging 3 points per game for Charlotte, James, Drew Gooden, a power forward who has had 9 teams in 9 NBA seasons, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a reliable if unspectacular center, to the NBA Finals. The Cavs lost 4-0 to the Spurs which is no surprise when you examine the talent around James. The fact that he got his team there should reflect positively on his attitude.

This is why to an extent I can understand his attitude against the Celtics last season in that infamous loss to Boston. James looked like he didn't care. In fairness, who can blame him? He had been carrying that team for too long and wasn't getting any serious help while receiving all the blame when they lost.
Whether Loyalty exists in Sport or not(personally I don't believe it should) Cleveland had not done enough to earn his loyalty. Had his performances dipped far enough he would have been cut, would he not? Just because one club paid his wages doesn't mean he should be tied to them forever. James owed Cleveland nothing.

Because of Messi's type of play and the overall standard of his play, he is repeatedly hacked down and roughed up during games. He rarely reacts to some of the terrifying tackles that come his way, instead preferring to get on with his job and get his revenge on the scoreboard. Messi does not dive like so many players are beginning to between the white lines. His attitude off the field is also spot on as he has consistently proclaimed his loyalty to Barcelona and refused to even consider the notion of leaving the club that saved his career as a child. Messi was too small when he was younger to be considered as a professional footballer as he suffered from Growth Hormone deficiency(http://tinyurl.com/mnusl9) He showed great determination to overcome that obstacle and now exhibits outstanding strength on the field.Lionel Messi on the other hand has consistently lived up to his reputation as an honest and focused footballer.

That's it. They're the facts.

Who are you taking?

Lebron or Leo?

Let me know what you think on sportscentral's twitter account or leave a comment below. You can also suggest future debates through the same means or by sending an email to our address located at the top of the blog banner.

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