LeBron James and Tom Brady have asserted themselves as two of the most accomplished athletes ever in the history of sports. When they finally decide to walk away from their days jobs, many will consider the two as the greatest of all-time in their respective fields. Both players are supposed to be on the backend of their careers but their production hasn’t shown any sign of decline. While James is putting together one of the best years of his career halfway through the season, Brady is the favorite to win this year’s NFL MVP at the age of 40. James and Brady have combined for eight championships, six league MVPs, and 23 all-star/Pro Bowl appearances during their careers.
As two incredibly accomplished athletes, there wasn’t much left to achieve in each of their careers. But within a span of eight months, Brady and James have added another notch to their belt. Both of them reached their conference final for a seventh straight year. Brady has now reached the conference title game in 12 of his 16 full years as a starter. The two icons have exemplified what a true winner is in their illustrious careers, but which of the seven-year runs is more impressive?
- 7 wins in Divisional Round (one team)
- 314.0 passing yards per game, 19 touchdows, 4 interceptions
Opponents defeated | Starting quarterback of opponent:
2011: Broncos | Tim Tebow
2012: Texans | Matt Schaub
2013: Colts | Andrew Luck
2014: Ravens | Joe Flacco
2015: Chiefs | Alex Smith
2016: Texans | Brock Osweiler
2017: Titans | Marcus Mariota
- 56-9 in conference quarterfinals and semifinals (two teams)
- 26.8 points per game
Opponents defeated | Star player of opponent
2011: Sixers | Andre Iguodala; Celtics | Paul Pierce
2012: Knicks | Carmelo Anthony; Pacers | Danny Granger
2013: Bucks | Monta Ellis; Bulls | Luol Deng
2014: Hornets | Al Jefferson; Nets | Brook Lopez
2015: Celtics | Isaiah Thomas; Bulls | Jimmy Butler
2016: Pistons | Andre Drummond; Hawks | Paul Millsap
2017: Pacers | Paul George; Raptors | DeMar DeRozan
Verdict: LeBron James’ seven-year streak to the conference title is more impressive than Tom Brady’s.
Yes, LeBron played with superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami but it was clear who the alpha male of the squad was. He led the team in points, rebounds, and assists per game in three of his four seasons in Miami. The Heat were 7-6 without LeBron over his final three seasons and wouldn’t even sniff the title without James. In Cleveland, LeBron’s impact is through the roof. LeBron carried the Cavs for much of their success with some assistance from Kyrie Irving, of course. The Cavs couldn’t function without LeBron on the court and they arguably wouldn’t make the playoffs without him on the court. From 2014-2017, the Cavaliers were 4-23 without LeBron in the lineup. Let that sink in.
Since Brady took over the reigns from Drew Bledsoe, Bill Belichick is 14-6 (3-1 during the seven year-run) without Brady including wins with Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brissett under center. That’s not to discredit anything Brady has done but it’s to praise the whole Patriots organization as a whole and the legend behind the headset. Brady’s ability to ball out in the playoffs separates him from everyone else.
Brady has put up some impressive numbers in the Divisional Round and his entire career but those numbers only affect one aspect of the game and that’s offense. LeBron praised Brady but agrees that his impact doesn’t equate a basketball player’s impact.
“[Football players] only have to play one side of the floor, man. Yes, Brady is unbelievable. Brady is the greatest quarterback I’ve ever seen. But he affects the game one way. And that’s by throwing the ball. And it’s great. He could play 22 years, but he don’t have to worry about certain things like a basketball player.”
Brady is a great passer but James can literally do everything on the court. Whether it’s guard one through five or play one through five, he’s impacting the game on defense and offense, hence why his teams aren’t as effective without him there. LeBron makes nearly every team in the NBA a championship contender. I can’t guarantee that for Brady in the NFL.
Parity and Competition
The most common counter to LeBron’s dominance is that he plays in the Eastern Conference. That’s certainly fair but the lack of parity in the NBA’s East is eerily similar to lack of parity in the AFC East, which has enabled them to get a bye week for the past seven years. The AFC East has been embarrassing. The Buffalo Bills just ended their 18-year playoff drought this season while the Jets haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years. Before the 2016 season, the Dolphins didn’t have a winning season since 2008 and they returned to mediocrity this season, going 6-10. The Patriots have been a lock every because those franchises bathe in trash.
To be fair, the best All-Star LeBron has had to face in the playoffs in the last seven years was probably Paul George or Carmelo Anthony. He didn’t have go through Durant, the Warriors, and Spurs in one year but he eventually matched up with them in the Finals anyway.
Brady’s divisional round competition is just as weak and to add to his comfort, he played all his seven games at the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. The Patriots’ first opponent during the run was the Tim Tebow-led Broncos. You expect the well-oiled machine Patriots to lose to a quarterback who can’t throw? Their most recent opponent, the Tennessee Titans, had -22 point differential in the regular season, making them one of the worst playoffs teams ever. Let’s not forget the subpar Texans quarterbacks in Brock Osweiler and Matt Schaub. The best quarterbacks the Patriots have faced during the stretch are Joe Flacco and a 24-year old, inexperienced Andrew Luck.
Despite the competition, it’s still impressive that the Pats defied the “any team can win on any given Sunday” odds but when you have two weeks to prepare for a team, home field advantage, and the surplus championship experience of Belichick and Brady, you should win every time so it’s just about even in this category.
Although Brady is without a doubt one of the all-time greats, if not the greatest, it’s hard to single out his team’s success without mentioning Belichick. Belichick is the best coach we’ve seen since Vince Lombardi. You’ve seen his record without No. 12. While Brady was a young budding, Belichick was still leading New England to Super Bowls. He’s had his slip-ups with Spygate and Deflategate but he’s been virtually unstoppable for almost 20 years. Brady deserves a lot of credit but we cannot forget the man on the sideline. Belichick can’t win a Super Bowl without Brady (unless he has Aaron Rodgers) and Brady can’t win a Super Bowl without Belichick so they both deserve credit for this seven-year conference title streak. It can’t just be Brady.
On the other side, Erik Spoelstra is the best coach LeBron ever played for in his NBA career and definitely played a major role meshing all the superstars in Miami together but after LeBron rejoined the Cavs, everyone got the notion that he is running the show himself.
The Cavs have been through two coaches in David Blatt and Tyronn Lue since LeBron returned and we’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter who’s on the sidelines. Fans questioned Blatt’s tactics and a lot fans are questioning Lue’s tactics. But one thing remains constant. Follow the King’s instructions and you’ll be fine. LeBron could take the Cavs to the NBA Finals if your high school gym teacher was coaching the team. Don’t be fooled when a LeBron team is struggling in the regular season and everyone is pointing fingers at coaching or teammates. He always has great regular seasons numbers-wise but when the playoffs tip off, he takes his game and the team to another level.
Oh, and this streak isn’t done yet. You’ll see LeBron back in the Eastern Conference Finals this May for the eighth straight year.