Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Tom Brady, LeBron James personify sheer greatness

When it comes to watching sports — on television or in a stadium or arena — one of the most enjoyable things about being a spectator is witnessing sheer greatness.

The same can be true about the arts — music, movies, the stage — sheer greatness has to be seen to be appreciated.

As sports fans, we are blessed right now to be watching two of the very best who have ever played their respective games, quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and forward LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Brady reminded us again of his greatness Jan. 21 when he led the Patriots to their eighth Super Bowl in the last 17 years, overcoming 10 stitches in his right (throwing) hand to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20.

Brady completed better than 67 percent of his passes, 26 for 38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns, to lead the Patriots in a come-from-behind effort that saw them trailing 17-10 as the fourth quarter started.

Was anyone out there who didn’t think Brady was going to lead a fourth-quarter comeback? I knew it was going to happen. I just wanted to watch how he did it.

As usual, he did it with precision passes that somehow found a receiver with running space. Brady is always cool, calm and collected, probably because he has soon almost everything in his 18-year career.

Not everyone likes Brady. Raider fans hate him, blaming him for the tuck rule in the 2001 AFC Championship Game. All Brady did was fumble the ball. It was the officiating crew and replay crew that ruled it an incomplete pass.

Brady also was the villain in DeflateGate, the deflated ball controversy in 2014 that cost him a four-game suspension in 2016. Let’s just say that district attorneys face a higher burden of proof that a suspect committed a crime than the NFL requires and leave it at that.

Brady is nine days away from what should be his sixth Super Bowl win. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw each won four.

Of course, Montana and Bradshaw were 4-0 in Super Bowls. Brady is 5-2, losing twice in a five-year to the New York Giants when the Giants defense outplayed the Patriots and Eli Manning hit a couple of late, remarkable, Brady-esque passes.

Brady will never be John Elway, maybe the best overall athlete to play quarterback in the NFL. He doesn’t have Dan Marino’s quick release or arm strength.

You can go back 50-plus years when John Unitas, Bart Starr and the great quarterbacks of those days called their own plays. Starr’s Packers won three NFL titles in five years before the Super Bowl era and then started the Super Bowl era with two more championships. Five in seven years beats eight in 17 years, but that was a much different NFL then.

Getting to eight Super Bowls in 17 years is a remarkable accomplishment in this era of parity and salary caps. And Brady is the man largely responsible for that achievement. I’m expecting a sixth Suoer Bowl title for the Patriots Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.

CLEVELAND’S KING: LeBron James is another great athlete who has more than his fair share of detractors. Like Brady, he is an intense competitor who rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

His decision to leave Cleveland for Miami all those many years ago — and the way he announced that decision — bothered me and millions of others at the time. And he never lived up to his “not three, not four, not five” championship smack he ran in Miami with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

But James is the best player in the NBA again this year, even though his team is lacking a good big man, consistent defense and a few other things. Still, it is hard to predict any team other than the Cavaliers representing the NBA’s Eastern Conference when June’s championship series gets here.

Heck, the Celtics couldn’t beat the Lakers without Lonzo Ball Jan. 23.

On the night the Celtics were losing to the Lakers, James went over the 30,000-point mark in career scoring, a level reached by only six players before him: Dirk Nowitski, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

James can catch Abdul-Jabbar in four years if he wants to play that long. If he gets to that level, he might supplant Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan or anyone else who can argue to be the greatest of all time.

In the meantime, he might want to find a way to add to his three NBA rings.

The best ever should have more than three rings.

Julius Randle (30), soars to the basket in a game against the New York Knicks Jan. 21 won by the Lakers. The Lakers have won seven of their last nine games and are only six games out of the playoff race. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers)

STAPLES’ OCCUPANTS: Then there are the Clippers and the Lakers. Yes, the two teams that play basketball at Staples Center would both miss the playoffs if they started today.

The Clippers, at this writing are a .500 team, 23-23, a half-game behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA West.

The Clippers have been hit by the injury bug much of the year, but are starting to get players healthy for an end-of-the-season playoff run.

Helping carry the Clippers this season has been Lou Williams, who has done a tremendous job replacing Jamal Crawford as the Clippers’ sixth man. Like Crawford, who left last off-season as a free agent, Williams can provide instant offense off the bench.

With Blake Griffin and rookie European point guard Milos Teodosic now healthy, the Clippers are not putting out a patchwork lineup every night anymore.

They still need guard Austin Rivers and forward Danilo Gallinari to return, which would make the Clippers a dangerous first-round playoff opponent. Then again, a slump at the wrong time could see Williams or DeAndre Jordan getting shipped off in a trade at the deadline and the Clippers begin a rebuild.

That’s something that wouldn’t please the Clippers fan base.

The Lakers are hearing their own trade rumors. The players most commonly mentioned are guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Julius Randle.

Both are good players, but have struggled being consistent on an every-game basis.

Clarkson scored 22 against the Celtics Jan. 23 and Randle added 14 points and 14 rebounds in the Lakers 108-107 win.

Clarkson has become the Lakers top scorer off the bench, giving him some value. At times, Randle seems like the best athlete on the team, but at 6-7, he is small for a power forward and his lack of effort drives me nuts most of the time.

I can imagine what Luke Walton thinks.

Although only six games out of a playoff spot right now, the Lakers are on a run in which they have won seven of their last nine games. There is no more talk that Walton has lost the locker room and I think Walton will be back next year when Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram will be another year older, bigger, stronger and more experience.

The Lakers also still hope to make a splash in free agency in the off-season.

I don’t think King James is in the cards for the Lakers but Paul George might make a nice consolation prize and who knows, maybe Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka can lure another star here to help Ingram, Ball and Kyle Kuzma develop.