Comparing baseball and basketball is like relating apples to oranges; very tough to do. Baseball is more of an all-around team sport, whereas one or two players can really dominate basketball. Both sports have their legends, past, present and future. But both sports saw two icons retire recently, who had tremendous impacts on their sport.
In September 2014, Derek Jeter called it a career after 20 seasons in the most historical place in the sport, New York. Jeter was a 14-time All-Star, five-time World Series champion, World Series MVP, five-time Silver Slugger, amongst others. He was The Captain of the winningest franchise in sports history, the face of the Yankees and Major League Baseball for over a decade and played the game the right way. Besides his call up in September 1995, Jeter played in at least 131 games in all but one season. He did what it took to win, and passed it along to his teammates.
Everything he did was magical, whether it was “The Flip,” where he came out of nowhere to get the ball to Jorge Posada, or the Mr. November home run in 2001, or his 3,000th hit being a home run. But his final moment at Yankee Stadium may have topped them all, a fairytale ending to a historical career. A Jeter-esque single into right field, which won the game for the Yankees in comeback fashion. Some say it was scripted, but he did what he always did, which was rise to the occasion.
And that is what we also saw Wednesday night, or Thursday morning on the east coast with Kobe Bryant. The “Black Mamba” hit the go-ahead shot with just 31 seconds left to put the Los Angeles Lakers ahead for good. That, along with his 60 points, which were an NBA-high this season, on an NBA-record 50 shots, was an appropriate sendoff for the future Hall of Famer.
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Like Jeter, Bryant spent 20 seasons in one place and won five championships. He ended up with four more All Star Game appearances than Jeter, won NBA finals MVP twice and was the league MVP in 2008. An impressive career for a man who was passed over by 12 teams, before being taken 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets and then traded to the Lakers.
The accomplishments and awards are a nice comparison, but it’s also what they did for their respective sports. Jeter was a hard-nosed player, who led by example. As the Yankees’ captain, he was forced to deal with egos of players like Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens, amongst others.
He was the face of baseball through the tough steroid era and was an ambassador of the game. Many current stars looked up to him, and future generations watched his evolution. Even after his retirement, Jeter was an ambassador of the game, as he traveled to Cuba to be part of the first MLB there since 1999.
Jeter was even named the 11th greatest leader in the world, according to Forbes. Not baseball, not sports; the world. Pretty amazing that the kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., who wanted to play shortstop for his favorite team growing up, did that, and much more for baseball.
Jeter put winning before personal achievements, even though his career is full of them. His unbelievable catches, clutch hits, jump throws and all-around heads up mentality made him the winner he was.
Bryant was a different type of leader. He played with a domineering mentality, and led through fear, which worked. He was one of those players who intimidated teammates and the opposition alike, resulting in championships. It wasn’t traditional leadership, but it got the job done. Many fans and opponents hated Bryant, but respected him. Bryant wasn’t an easy player to get along with, some would say selfish, but he did what it took to win. He put it all on his back and carried his team.
Bryant feuded with his co-star in Los Angeles, Shaquille O’Neal, but found a way to win without him. Kobe proved that he didn’t need a co-star, and could lead the team his way, which ended with another two championships without O’Neal.
When it all comes down to it, Jeter and Bryant had two great careers in their sport. Both won more than most, were faces of their sport and ended their careers in storybook fashion. They both played with grit, determination and skill that are hard to come by. Whether you think Bryant had a better farewell or Jeter did, both are going to be missed.
And for all of that, we thank you Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant for your time and services to the game. Good luck and enjoy your well-deserved retirement.