Greatness In Two Leagues: WSL X NBA

Many years ago, there was a Surfline article comparing Kelly and Kobe. Not the comparison I made, but still cool to see surf media try to branch out.

There are really only 2 sports I follow closely. First, and probably the easier one to guess, is surfing. It’s been the sport and lifestyle my existence has revolved around and something I have known since the beginning of my life. I follow the sport in all realms-competition, trending surfers, the next big things, and anything else you can think of. I work in the industry, which also helps keep me pretty tapped into the latest and greatest. But the other sport I tend to enjoy watching and try to follow a bit is basketball. Now, it’s definitely not at the level of surfing. In surfing, I watch events from the QS and tune in when I can. This would almost be the equivalent of watching a G league event (at least at the QS1000s). But I do watch a decent chunk of hoops and do like to follow the NBA. There are so many great players (much like surfing) that it’s just enjoyable to watch no matter who’s on the court (with slight exceptions). 

I feel like I recall seeing this exact article, but last Saturday as I was milling around my house I got the idea stuck in my head. Let’s compare some of my favorite or most iconic surfers to those in the NBA. It’s pretty easy to draw comparisons in the sphere of elite athletes, as no matter how different the activity could be, the mindset and work ethic stays the same. Read below if you enjoy surfing, basketball, the NBA, the WSL, or none of it and just want to read some recent words from me.

2 GOATS- MICHAEL JORDAN AND KELLY SLATER

I could go into detail about the accolades of both of these athletes-but I don’t think I really need to. If you’ve had an ounce of interest in either sport of basketball or surfing-these are the two household names. Although their accolades are slightly different (Kelly being the leader by a mile of most world titles-Jordan not having the most titles but putting on crazy performances), the way they transcended the sport and have become larger than life is what puts them at GOAT status. Jordan blitzed the field on the court and then built one of the largest shoe empires in the world. Kelly was the first surfer to mingle with superstar status, collect the most world titles and wins ever, and still competes to this day at a high level. To me, their greatest of all time status is undeniable. 

2 PROLIFIC PLAYERS- KOBE BRYANT AND ANDY IRONS

On first glance, you may think this comparison might be linked to the fact that we lost both of these legends of the sport at an earlier age than we might have liked (both due to very different circumstances). As tragic of an ending both of these suffered, I think the thing that really puts these two icons in the world of comparison is how they performed in their respective jerseys. Andy and Kobe were both killers. No matter how nice they might have been outside competition or how close of friends they were with their opponent-when it was game time all bets were off. Raw talent mixed with this undeniable will to win made these two legends challenge some of the best athletes in their sport and come out on top. Both had an insane reign of dominance during some of the golden eras of their respective sports, and won’t be forgotten as they etched their names into the history books of surfing and basketball. 

THE GOATS OF THE PRESENT-LEBRON JAMES AND JOHN FLORENCE 

If you took a poll of 100 surfers and 100 basketball players and asked them who has been the most dominant player and surfer in the last couple years-you’d probably get ¾’s of the answer to sound like this: Lebron James and John John Florence. While it’s hard to compare the household nameness since basketball has a much broader audience-you’d be hard pressed to meet a surfer who doesn’t have JJF in their top 5. Both are super likeable and have put on jaw dropping performances over the last couple of seasons. While Lebron has more competition success, John John is no slouch and has dropped some of the gnarliest freesurf clips and insane, full production movies of recent memory. As well as becoming a back to back world champion-which is no easy feat in the world of surfing. . At the start of the WSL and NBA season, no matter what’s going on in either league, one question is always posed: Can they win another?

UNDENIABLE ABILITY (WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT) KEVIN DURANT AND GABRIEL MEDINA

In every sport, some off the field (or court [or surf]) antics can really make fans have a bitter taste in their mouth. I can’t think of two more perfect people in their respective sports for this than Kevin Durant and Gabriel Medina. Medina has been heralded as one of the greatest competitors since Kelly Slater. Some seasons, NBA analysts will claim Durant is the best player in the NBA. Both have less than ideal ways they have gotten to their championships-but you would have to be a casual fan or in denial to not believe these two are not some of the best in the sport. Whether you like it or not KD and Medina are here to stay and push the sport like the people before them did. 

THE BEST TO NEVER WIN THE CHIP- ALLEN IVERSON AND TAJ BURROW

Always the bridesmaid, but never the bride. These two are heralded as absolute legends of the sport, but will always have a chink in their armor of never winning a championship. Most fans can overlook it for the sheer impact both these athletes have had on their sport, but you have to think that it’s gotta hurt that both have gotten so close but never tasted the number one spot. 

X FACTOR THAT DOESN’T TRANSLATE TO WINS- RUSSEL WESTBROOK AND JULIAN WILSON

Much like the two above, Julian Wilson and Russell Westbrook have explosive styles during their time of play. Heralded to both be future champions, things just haven’t worked out. Julian has gotten so close he could taste it, Russell has almost made it many times. Both have put out crazy highlight reels and stats in their careers, but these accolades and numbers have not equaled a championship-yet. Julian has tapped out, but with Russell’s new teammates, I think his time is now. 

CONSISTENT EXCELLENCE- TIM DUNCAN AND MICK FANNING

The players favorite players. It seems like a lot of the current crop of top 10 surfers would cite Mick as one of their favorite surfers-thanks to a combo of solid foundational technique and competitive prowess. To be honest, I’m not sure how Tim Duncan’s peers viewed him, but the bond he had with his team and coach led him to 5 championships, all from pure fundamentals and a keen understanding of the game of basketball. Like the title says-these two just produced consistent excellence throughout the length of their careers. 

THE GREAT WITH ONLY 1 CHIP- DIRK NOWITSKI AND PARKO

One is better than none. Two top level performers of the 2010s and both retiring around the same time, Parko and Dirk both were considered masters at their strong suits in the sport-but the elusive world championship win had eluded both for a large chunk of their career. There are plenty of players that never win a championship, but the willpower of both Dirk and Parko is what drove them both to their maiden victory. Funnily enough-Parko would end up defeating Kelly Slater to earn his world title, while Dirk and his team defeated the red hot Miami Heat-led by Lebron James.

More Kobe. The time he spoke with the USA Surfing Association in leading up to the Olympics.

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