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The National Basketball Association (NBA) has throughout the years delivered global sport stars and icons. Some of the greatest players ever to set foot on the court throughout history are Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to name a few.

January 16, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during a stoppage in play in the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports  - RTR4LRQP

But every now and again, the world is blessed when an athlete emerges who surpasses everyone before him and elevates the sport to another level. Pele made football global with his dazzling skills and Muhammad Ali became bigger than boxing with his addictive personality and dazzling speed. Bjorn Borg dominated tennis for decades and Tiger Woods became the highest paid sportsman in the world during his reign as the biggest brand in the world with his association with Nike.

The NBA is today blessed with a ‘freakish’ player. He stands 6ft 8” tall and weighs an impressive 250lbs and could easily be mistaken for a heavyweight boxer. Lebron James is today and has been over the last decade the dominating force in the NBA. Born in Ohio in 1984, James garnered national attention as the top high school basketball player in the country. With his unique combination of size, athleticism and court vision, he became one of the premier players in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers. After leading the Miami Heat to titles in 2012 and 2013, he returned to Cleveland and helped the team reach the NBA Finals in 2015.

Michael-Jordan-Dunk-40His ‘Airness’ Michael Jordan is still regarded by many as the greatest basketball ever. But with James dominating the league in such devastating fashion, is Jordan’s reign as the greatest over?

Michael Jordan retired after the 1997-98 NBA season. Ever since then, we’ve been looking for his successor, the player who would take his place as the best in the game – and possibly surpass him.

Until LeBron James went to the Miami Heat, got a jumper and developed a post-game, Jordan had no successor. There was no player who put a Jordan-esque distance between himself and his peers. Shaq couldn’t do it. In early 2000’s Shaquille O’Neal was an unstoppable monster. But in reality, he only won one regular-season MVP and was often slowed by injury – and free-throw shooting.

Kobe couldn’t do it. Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a game, averaged 35 for a season, and imitated Jordan’s attitude. But he never really dominated the rest of the league.

lebrondunk1-e1388277581455In Lebron James, there hasn’t been a player this far above his peers since Jordan. So, naturally everyone wants to know: Is James better than Jordan? What does he have to do to surpass him as the greatest of all time?

Jordan and James are similar in that they both dominated the NBA during their eras. Even if James never wins another title, we’ll call this the LeBron era in 10 years. And Jordan – do I need to mention the six titles? The 10 scoring titles? The five MVPs? The Defensive Player of the Year award? But that dominance is all they have in common.

It’s not just that Jordan and James are different players with different, if overlapping, skill sets. They approach the game in totally unique ways. They’re both great players, but they aren’t cut from the same cloth. There will never be another Michael Jordan. Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant have spent their careers imitating Jordan, but all they’ve succeeded in doing is paying him a compliment. And if there ever is a LeBron James imitator, another player who seeks basketball perfection the way he does, he’ll do it in a totally different way – and he probably won’t do it as well.

So no, LeBron will never catch Jordan, but he doesn’t need to. He’s doing things to basketball that we didn’t know could be done. And if future generations remember him as the greatest ever, that’s fine. But he’s still no Jordan.

 

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by James Oddy

It’s often felt that the health of boxing is measured by the health of its heavy weight division. Johnson, Dempsey, Louis, Marciano, Ali, Frazier, Tyson and Lewis were all household names during their peak. They broke box office records and transcended the sport.

The Klitchko brothers, Wladamir and Vitali, have made the division their own in recent years. Perhaps they’ve alienated American and British audiences, but they’ve become icons in Germany and the Ukraine.

However, Vitali has retired, and one quarter of the ‘richest prize in sport’ is now in the heavy hands of American Deontay Wilder, the undefeated Olympian with outrageous power.

C_71_article_1597088_image_list_image_list_item_0_imageBut the future of the division could well be in the UK. At the forefront of this is Tyson Fury.

A towering presence, both physically and psychologically, Fury has exhibited deftness both in and put of the ring. His occasionally abrasive style with the press has attracted as many as it has repulsed, but his honesty about his talents, limitations and desires is always interesting. His interactions with his opponents can be respectful, funny, foul mouthed and intimidating, and more often than not a mixture of all of the above.

In the ring, his defeat of Derek Chisora, a good quality operator, at the back end of the year was startling. He dominated the Londoner from the opening round, switching stances for long periods, looking relaxed and sharp. Many claimed following the fights conclusion that Chisora was ‘shot’, but the Londoner gave the likes of Vitali Klitchko and David Haye all sorts of problems in the past, and was in superb shape. Yet he barely troubled Fury, who punished him with his excellent jab.

His knockout of Christian Hammer was expected but Fury again showed his versatility and high ring IQ, minimizing Hammer’s limited yet still dangerous skills.

As the number one contender to a portion of Wladamir’s belt, it’s hoped Fury could earn that shot at some stage this year. In doing so, he would become the first boxer from a travelling background to win a world title.

article-2705995-1EB048C200000578-876_964x563Aside from the historical significance, Fury could ignite a domestic scene already bubbling under were he to become a world champion. Anthony Joshua, the Olympian with Sky sports hype machine behind him, is already exciting even the most casual of fans with his athleticism and knock out power. David Price and Fury have history, and the Liverpudlian regarded by some to be the biggest hitter in UK boxing. Boxing fans have already seen a fight between the mercurial David Haye and Fury fall through twice, but it still has all the elements of an explosive and lucrative occasion. Chuck in the likes of Lucas Browne, comeback kid Dillian Whyte, a still game Chisroa and Fury’s nephew, Hugie, and the possibilities are endless within the domestic heavyweight scene.

There seems to be something of a sea change in boxing match makers thinking, Heralded by the Mayweather Pacquaio announcement. Fans want to see the best fight the absolute best- and over the coming years perhaps the UK will have the best of the best when it comes to heavyweights.

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By Urban Echo reporter

aroosa@urban-echo.co.uk

It is very easy to forget that Manchester United have never really done this before. Between and around the two long reigns of Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, there have mostly been low-profile appointments.

rvp-wayne-rooneyAmongst those low profile appointments came David Moyes. Unfortunately he was unable to recreate what Sir Alex Ferguson magically created over the years. So, United have now done, what they perhaps should have done a year ago and gone for the type of coach who can easily slot into a big club in a new country.

Louis Van Gaal has achieved many accolades before arriving at Old Trafford. He was previously successful with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and as he proudly boasted at his Old Trafford unveiling, together with his time at Ajax, he now reckons he has worked at the number one club in each of the four strongest leagues in Europe. That is no mean feat!

Van Gaal began his career in England with the total respect from all of United’s big-name players and supporters, an advantage Moyes never enjoyed. And, unlike his predecessor, he is a big enough name in the game to attract new players of the highest calibre.

Curing Manchester United after Ferguson’s ‘golden era’ is going to take time and that is clearly evident after spending £150 million on new players in the summer. Whether the new additions will gel as a team in years to come is a different debate but one need patience and you need a man like Van Gaal whose self-confidence knows no limits.

wayne-rooney_2996581bUnited’s performances this season thus far have been sporadic and uncertain. Their defence seem bewildered by the movement of strikers, although, having seen both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand exit in the summer, it was bound to be a season of adjustment at the back for United. The list of injuries have also not helped the cause. At the moment, their opponents seem to be unlucky not to get more out of games. This seems to be a familiar trend under Van Gaal, however, pinning the blame solely on him, seems unfair.

It isn’t his fault that the expensive signings were rushed into the team and expected to adapt immediately to each other. Or that United had failed to fill the void of authority in central midfield by the time he arrived and that, in the absence of the injured Michael Carrick. Using their star man Wayne Rooney as their only creative option is wearing a little thin with the pundits and the fans. It is also not his fault that Falcao has been a shadow of the predatory, prolific striker he once was or that Robin Van Persie is having another poor season. In saying that, Van Gaal has actually done a remarkable job of using his resources wisely and keeping United in the top four consistently.

Win, lose or draw, Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal continues to exhibit the strong personality that makes him the right man to lead the Red Devils out of the dark era of David Moyes and emerge from the tall shadows cast by Sir Alex Ferguson. Despite playing mediocre football, United still remains alive in the FA Cup and sit comfortably in the Premier League.

Ultimately, Van Gaal is a boss in every sense of the word, and that is exactly the calibre of leader United require at the moment. If Van Gaal’s given the right time, support and some luck, Manchester United won’t be far off from climbing back to the summit of the Premier League.

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By Aroosa Munir aroosa@urban-echo.co.uk
By Aroosa Munir
aroosa@urban-echo.co.uk

Since Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in Real Madrid for £80million in 2009, it has been the eternal question: who is better – Messi or Ronaldo? Years have gone by and more than five years later we still don’t have a definite answer, a preference for one or the other largely comes down to personal opinion.

As Real Madrid’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or world footballer of the year award for the second year in a row. The “who is the greatest of all time” debate began again. The Portuguese captain beat Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to the award taking him to three Ballon d’Or’s compared to Messi’s four.

Messi and Ronaldo are the figureheads of Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, and the comparison between the two is far too often used as just another battleground to continue one of football’s most historical rivalries.

hi-res-e79d53cbe3fd32af2319d289f1271ce7_crop_northIt is the greatest rivalry between two players the game of football has ever produced and 2014 saw Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo inspire one another to even greater heights. The goals flowed and the records tumbled as the Portuguese and the Argentinian rampaged through defences all around the world.

But would they be where they are today without one and another? Ronaldo is the epitome of sports entertainment – good-looking and refined physique. Messi though, is about one thing: football – and only football. However, taking the show-biz out of the footballing world and primarily looking at statistics, both players are very similar. You Messi-Getafehave to question whether their statistics would be so unbelievable if one was playing in another league. Their rivalry keeps them going, for example, when Ronaldo scored a hat-trick against Getafe in March 2014, Messi scored four past Osasuna the night after Ronaldo’s hat-trick. Just as a “whatever you can do, I can do better”.

Looking at the breakdown of Messi’s 300 goals, the first 80 goals came in 161 games before Ronaldo graced the La Liga. However, after Ronaldo arrived in Bernabeu, Messi scored an incredible 221 goals in 204 matches. Just to dissolve the doubts and cement the idea that he is the best in the world.

Ronaldo, of course, would never acknowledge Messi’s talent, nor would he say that trying to outplay Messi has taken his game to another level – he scored 118 goals for Manchester United in 292 appearances but, for Madrid, his astonishing tally is 183 goals Cristiano-Ronaldo-5in 182 matches; a sweet ratio of one goal per match.

There is however, one area where Messi has been more successful than his opposite number: trophies. In those five seasons, Messi, part of arguably the greatest club team of all time, won La Liga three times compared to just one for Ronaldo in 2011-12.

However, the tide could be turning in Ronaldo’s favour. Winning La Decima made it 1-1 in Champions League wins since 2009 and the Copa del Rey triumph made it two for Ronaldo to Messi’s one. With Real Madrid currently top of La Liga and victorious in the last El Clasico in October, it may be Ronaldo who is edging ahead in the head-to-head. But as Messi has shown, responding to Ronaldo’s hat-trick’s with his own, there is still a long way to go in this great rivalry.

The argument will continue for decades to come, and we may never reach one answer. Rivalry in sport is nothing new. But who truly deserves to be recognised as the most talented footballer on the planet? Looking over every aspect of each star’s game, the truth is, it is almost too close to call. But what is definitely true is that at the moment, Messi and Ronaldo are playing a different game to everyone else.

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They say that the boxers curse is an inevitable ailment eventually endured by all great pugilists who continue their profession beyond a time that they should. In each generation of boxing greats, we have continued to witness athletes, who in self-denial, continued to pursue a dream without a true end in mind. One of the most chilling reminders of this curse is watching Muhammed Ali’s final heavyweight contest against the young and promising hall of fame fighter, Larry Holmes. More recently, listening to the punch drunk pugilists such as Riddick Bowe and James ‘Lights Out’ Toney articulate themselves, is a chilling reminder of the brutality of boxing and the physical limitations that every human is bound by.

When Bernard Hopkins entered into the ring on 9th November 2014 at the Broadwalk Centre in Atlantic City, no such claims of a punch drunk, delusional fighter were being made against the IBF and WBA light heavyweight champion of the world. Many at ringside favoured the savy and smart Hopkins to confuse and outskill the young and formidable Russian WBO title holder, Sergey Kovalev. Yet what transpired over the next 36 minutes made every boxing fan question the sanity and need for a 49 year old future hall of fame fighter to continue his career that already spans three decades. Hopkins was comprehensively beaten by a younger, stronger and more athletic fighter who outpointed him in every single round to earn a well deserved unanimous points victory. The ‘Alien’ came back to earth with a bump.

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Hopkins, maintains that he would like to have one further fight against a current champion. As a well articulated and outspoken boxer and business man, Hopkins, maintains that he will not let this sport take away his dignity and he will not continue longer than he should. He maintains that he will retire from boxing and boxing will not retire him. What drives this man to continue fighting at an elite level beyond an age which should be humanly possible? What is it in his DNA or in the depths of his mind that continues to motivitate him to obsessively pursue a dream that he has already achieved on multiple occassions?

Early career

To understand the drive and determination of the 49-year-old boxer, the oldest champion (now former) the sport has ever witnessed, one has to trace his earlier career. After losing his professional debut in a four-round bout, the then 23-year-old would go undefeated for the next five years overcoming mostly mediocre fighters. His first real test came in 1993 when he faced pound-for-pound king Roy Jones Jr. for the vacant IBF World middleweight title. Losing a unanimous decision to the more talented and naturally gifted Jones, this particular defeat hurt Hopkins to the core and the loss left him questioning his desire to train and his ability to compete with the elite. A change of lifestyle followed by eliminating the regular late nights and parties and replaced by a strict training regime and a total reconstruction of his life.

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In 1993, Hopkins had decided that he would now dedicate all his time to boxing and started studying past champions such as Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali to further enhance his knowledge of the fight game. He realised that boxing was not only about brawn, as the past champions had shown, it was also about mental strength and strategic planning. This change in his training and general outlook on life would see a dramatic transformation in Hopkins as he returned to the ring a year later to defeat the journeyman, Roy Ritchie in seven rounds.

Undefeated

For the next twelve years, Bernard Hopkins would miraculously go undefeated much to the amazement of the boxing world. A man who had previously lost on his professional debut and totally outclassed by Roy Jones Jr. was now being referred to as a potential future ‘hall of famer’. During his twelve year undefeated streak, Hopkins would overcome stern tests against future greats such as Felix Trinidad (unanimous decision), William Joppy (unanimous decision) and Oscar De La Hoya (round 9 KO). His winning stretch came to an abrupt end in 2005 when he lost a split decision to the flashy and cocky Jermaine Taylor. The split decision merited Hopkins with a rematch and the return was no different as Taylor yet again got the decision, though this time it was unanimous.

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The critics and many boxing fans thought this was the end of the road to a great career of a brilliant boxer but Hopkins had other plans. He returned to the ring eight months later and took on the tough light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver. By stepping up in weight, many thought it was suicide for Hopkins but yet again he shocked the world by defeating Tarver on points to become the new IBO (International Boxing Organisation) World Light-Heavyweight champion at the age of 41.

Roy Jones Jr.

After overcoming Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright the following year, Hopkins then lost to the Welsh dragon, Joe Calzaghe, who was approaching the prime of his boxing skills. Undeterred by the critics, Hopkins wanted to avenge a defeat that occurred earlier in his career. A defeat that he never overcame and haunted him throughout his career. His driving force was Roy Jones Jr. who was also approaching the end of his magnificent career. The long overdue rematch took place in 2010 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. All his ghosts were put to rest as Hopkins outclassed Jones Jr. in a one sided affair resulting in a unanimous decision.

The right time to quit?

In 2011 at the age of 46 Hopkins became the oldest boxer to gain a legitimate title by comprehensively beating a young Canadian, Jean Pascal in his home town of Montreal. Hopkins lost this title the following year against Chad Dawson and then achieved the unimaginable by winning the IBF and WBA light heavyweight titles to break his record and once again become the oldest man to win a legitimate title. On 9th November, 2014, he defended his unified world light-heavyweight titles against the rugged and undefeated Russian, Sergey Kovalev. The Russian, who had previously dismantled Nathan Cleverly in devastating fashion with a fourth round knockout the year before, was always going to put up a tough test for the ageing champion.

After being knocked down in the first round, Hopkins managed to survive the entirety of the match with his ingenious skills but it was not enough to keep the determined Kovalev from pounding him convincingly for the twelve rounds. The fact that Hopkins lost the fight was not a surprise considering his age, it was more surprising as to how convincingly he had lost. He simply had no answers to counter Kovalev’s aggression and tormenting left hooks. By the end of the fight, Hopkins looked tired and every day of the forty-nine years he has lived. If he continues to fight, his next fight will take place when he has turned 50.

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Bernard Hopkins has achieved immense wealth as well as universal respect and admiration from the sport of boxing and has inspired millions around the world. He will be forever remembered as and referred to as a boxing great under the same breath as the likes of Louis, Ali, Marciano, Leonard, Hagler, Hearns and Mayweather.

What Hopkins has achieved in professional sports defies all logic. At the age of 49, his fitness levels are no different to a fully-fit professional athlete in his mid-twenties. He has shown the world that the human body can be trained to its peak regardless of age.

Hopkins insists that he has one more fight left in his long and illustrious career. Only time will tell if he walks away at the top of his game or if indeed he is another victim of the boxers curse. Will history remember him as a great boxer who retired from the sport on his terms or as a familiar tragic story of a fighter who simply could not walk away, i guess only time will tell.

FERNANDO TORRES

The Curious Case

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The shining number 9 from Atletico Madrid is a shadow of his former self…

There was a time when the world’s top defenders would shiver at hearing the name of ‘Fernando Torres’. But what happened and where did it all go wrong?

The name Fernando Torres rang a bell in every football pundit/fan/players’ minds when he was primed for an exhilarating future after being named Atletico Madrid captain at the tender age of just 19. When he moved in the summer of 2007 to Liverpool FC for cool £24 million, he instantly became a Kop favourite. At the celebrated Merseyside club, everything he touched turned to gold. The drop of the shoulder, the amazing burst of pace, the clinical finishing – it looked like nothing could go wrong. The prolific striker went on to score 24 goals in 33 games and netted the winner in the Euro 2008 final to cement his status as one of the elite of world football. His debut season in the Premier League was the most dynamic by a foreign player in the competitions history and he became the first Liverpool player since the iconic Robbie Fowler to score over 20 goals in the league in one season. Maybe this article isn’t long enough to mark all his achievements but he was widely regarded as one of the world’s great strikers.

However, on the 18th April 2010, it was announced Torres was to undergo knee surgery and was set to miss the rest of the season. He also suffered an abdominal strain which saw him miss more than a month between November and December. He was then faced with a recurring cartilage problem in his right knee which required two operations – firstly in the January and then again in April. It was evident to see his pace had been hindered by the injury. Slowly, Torres began to doubt himself as his scoring rate fell dramatically and he was scoring half as many goals as the previous season.

The turning point

Much to the shock of the footballing world, Torres completed a controversial five-and-a-half-year contract move to Liverpool FC’s rivals, Chelsea on 31st January 2011 for a reported fee of £50 million. In the process, he broke [the then] Premier league transfer record and a million Liverpool hearts. However, no Premier League player failed to meet expectations quite like Torres. He scored his first goal for Chelsea against West Ham after 903 minutes of football. It was his only goal for Chelsea that season in 18 appearances. Yes, this was the same 30-goals-a-season Fernando Torres that we all once admired and Liverpool fans fell in love with. Although he had a Champions League and an FA Cup medal to his name, for most part of those two trophy winning campaigns, Torres was just used as a bit-part player with Didier Drogba being the focal point of the Chelsea attack.

Sadly for Torres, and for all those who watched in wonder at his once world class goal scoring vitality, force of nature and brilliance, the injuries tell the overall story. As he turns 30 this year, the point at which Torres’ goal scoring brilliance was shattered appears to clearly trace back to the double knee operations in 2010.

The football world has watched with bewilderment as Torres has endured a long and painful slump. It is almost unprecedented to see such a talented footballer suddenly lose his powers in such a short space of time. His miss in front of an open goal for Chelsea against Manchester United at Old Trafford would come to symbolise his sudden collapse and inability to overcome it.

Since then Fernando Torres has completed a two-year loan deal to the Italian giants, AC Milan.

With flashes of brilliance shown occasionally, the underperforming Torres still lurks and haunts the once brilliant player. Was it the string of injuries in 2010, or the heavy price tag? Or was it just the sheer lack of confidence in Torres? We don’t know but we do miss the number 9, regularly tearing the defences to shreds and scoring goals in abundance. The question still remains – will we ever get to see the real Fernando Torres, amiably known as ‘El Nino’ by his doting fans? Only time will tell but until then, the curious case of Fernando Torres goes on.

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