LeBron James and Tiger Woods walk into a bar. Upon seeing them, the bartender drops everything that he’s doing to attend to his new customers. After all, they are the greatest customers that have ever set foot in this bar. Or at least they’re supposed to be.
Sports fans, in addition to having the propensity for telling lackluster jokes about people walking into bars, are consistently intrigued by the concept of greatness. If the end goal of sports is to be victorious, then this makes quite a lot of sense. For a person to be the greatest at a particular endeavor means that they have probably been the most victorious at that endeavor.
We consider Michael Jordan the greatest of all-time not because he’s got the most championship rings of all-time, but because he’s set this abstract barometer of excellence in every component of the game. We’ve put Tiger on the fast track to greatest ever not because he’s good at giving people death stares, but because he was consistently doing things on the golf course no one had ever done before. Winning more Majors than anyone else would be a concrete confirmation of this, but a confirmation of something we were already well aware of.
LeBron’s greatness has always been more of a prophecy than a reality, but the sheer nature of having a prophecy about you means that there is a destiny to be fulfilled, and that this destiny means business.
LeBron James never asked to be the greatest ever, but by simply being The Chosen One that We Are All Witnesses, he never exactly denied it. This is why most of us hated LBJ’s guts when he took his talents to South Beach. Before the Decision, he was clearly the protagonist of this epic journey that was going to be kind of similar to Michael Jordan, but that much more epic. We were given this teaser-trailer of LeBron vanquishing greatness, and LeBron only.
LeBron was to battle Greatness in the way Harry battles Voldemort — a seven-round fight to the death where two men enter, one man prevails, but neither are ever the same. Sure, Harry needed help from his friends to vanquish his eternal foe, but it was always going to be Harry who killed Voldemort. It couldn’t be any other way.
Going to South Beach not only compromised this narrative tremendously, but it also removed LeBron’s greatness from being an abstract concept. By going to Miami, LeBron has defined greatness solely by the number of rings he acquires. In short, he’s arguably lost sight that sometimes the journey more meaningful than the destination.
Tiger Woods offers us a different story. He’s essentially trapped in the breakup stage of Rom-Coms, the one where it’s suddenly not all roses, and the quest for true love (or in this case, greatness), is in serious jeopardy. Tiger’s journey may not result in a classic Rom-Com ending, but he’s certainly setting the stage to do so. His recent win has given him the most momentum he’s had since Thanksgiving 2009. Winning the Masters next weekend will not give him the official title of the greatest ever, but that’s arguably no longer Tiger’s inner need. His inner need is simply to be Tiger Woods again.
He needs to be the guy whose Sunday Red was the modern day equivalent of Genghis Khan on a golf course. The guy with the unmistakable fist-pump whose unparalleled focus and voracity give you the impression that he could easily grow fangs, and it would somehow not be that surprising. This is Tiger Woods, and this is what he stands for. Tiger being Tiger is undeniably its own strain of greatness, and the most important tool for him to have if he’s ever going to challenge Jack Nicklaus.
It’ll be interesting to see how these two quests’ for supreme greatness unfold, if they do at all. I think we’re all rooting for both of these guys in some capacity, because it’s undeniable that they both have a story worth telling. And hopefully, when the epics are complete, they could celebrate in style with the barkeep.