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As we end our Challenge Madness Tournament and with the NBA playoffs on the horizon we present this timely comparison piece from friend and podcast guest Tim Koskuba. Hope you enjoy the read and feel free to hit the comments section below the post. Make sure to give Tim a twitter follow @KO_Skuba, can't thank him enough. --D
"The Challenge: Battle of the Exes" has concluded and what ESPN's Bill Simmons calls "the fifth major sport" will go on it's familiar offseason. While the wondrous minds at Bunim-Murray contemplate the next insane Final and craft the dysfunctional roster for the newest season of "The Challenge", the NBA playoffs will get underway and take the spotlight in the sports world. Millions will watch to see stars like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard try to reach greatness and capture the NBA championship. While these are two different sports, two different kinds of athletes, and two very dissimilar audiences, I can't help but notice many similarities between a few of the biggest NBA superstars and some of the Challenge's greatest competitors...
Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio - Kobe Bryant
It's very easy to make the case that Johnny is this era's best Challenger. He has more championships than any other competitor (Darrell also has four) and even if he doesn't win the title, he's always contending. This is very similar to Kobe Bryant, who's got five rings on his resume and is universally seen as the best player of the last ten years. The similarity that I find the most intriguing between the two is the fact that both Johnny and Kobe were seen as someone that was an elite competitor/player, but their first few championships were a product of being paired with other dominant competitors/players. Kobe Bryant won his first three titles with Shaquille O'Neal. Johnny won his first two Challenges with a combination of Kenny, Evan, and Derrick. Many in the NBA community doubted Kobe's ability to win titles on his own following the trade of Shaq, but he proved them wrong when he won back to back rings in 2009 and 2010. In a near mirror image, most Challenge fans saw Johnny as just a very good role player. However, without Kenny, Evan, or Derrick on his team, he won two straight Challenges on "Rivals" and "Battle of the Exes". The real question is, what's a better nickname? "Bananas" or "The Black Mamba"?
Paula Meronek - Dirk Nowitzki
Entering the Challenge, no one really knew what to expect from Paula. There were questions about her mental and physical toughness, would they be able to translate into a competitive environment like the Challenge? Very similar doubts were casted onto the lanky German, Dirk Nowitzki, who entered the NBA Draft in 1998. European players were typecast as "soft" by the fans and media at the time. Over time Paula turned into a female competitor to be reckoned with, like Nowitzki had developed into a serious top player in the league. Despite their personal ability, both Paula and Dirk have seemingly always been underrated by media and most fans throughout their respective careers. Paula had been labeled mentally incapable of winning a Challenge after the infamous "Island" finale. After Dirk and the Mavericks had gone up 2-0 in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat and ended up losing the series, his mental fortitude was also called into question and his future title hopes were all but dismissed. However, 2011 was a big year for this duo, as they both proved their respective doubters wrong. Paula finally captured her first Challenge win with Evelyn on "Rivals" and Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat for the NBA title. Can lightning strike twice (or I guess four times)?
Chris "CT" Tamburello - Lebron James
The most polarizing Challenge personality has to be compared with the most polarizing athlete in the world. C.T definitely has more fans than haters, but there's no one luke warm on C.T. You either love the guy or you can't stand him. Lebron is the same way. He may have over four million Twitter followers, but there's probably twice as many people that insult him for calling himself "King James" despite not having one championship. Here lies another glaring similarity between the two. C.T is arguably the most physically gifted Challenger in the series history. He shows flashes of just absolutely terrifying strength and agility, but despite those abilities, he's never been able to win a Challenge. His mental game was what many considered his downfall, much like Lebron's, who most clearly illustrated those flaws in last year's NBA Finals. Both have gotten close to their goal. C.T has gotten to four Final challenges and Lebron has gone to two NBA Finals, but neither seems to show those flashes of athletic brilliance when the pressure is at it's highest.
Leroy Garrett - Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose is seen as "The Next Guy". The next guy to start dominating the league at his position. The next guy to bring back the NBA madness to Chicago. The next guy to start racking up multiple championships. Rose is relatively new in his NBA career, only being in his fourth year, but he's already taken his team to one Eastern Conference Finals and already has been a league MVP Leroy is in the infancy of his Challenge career like Rose is in his NBA tenure, and he's already reached a Final of his own, in his first try none the less. If there was a "Next Guy" vote for the Challenge, where the fans voted on what relative newcomer would be the next great Challenge contender, I guarantee Leroy would win outright. Much like Rose, Leroy has a good head on his shoulders. Neither gets caught up in the nonsense that comes with their territory. They are both physical specimens and come to compete in the purest form possible. Who wins a championship first? D-Rose or RoyLee?
Emily Schromm - Blake Griffin
Most people see Blake Griffin as just a highlight reel, a lot more style than substance. The media said it about him coming out of college as well. I'll admit, this is what I thought about Emily when I first saw her walk in to "Cutthroat". I expected another girl that would be a lot of fun to watch on my television, but really not go too far into the real competition. Identically like the NBA media that bit their tongue about Blake, I did the same with Emily. She's much more than a pretty face (and a pretty rest-of-her to be fair), like Blake is a lot more than a bunch of pretty dunks. Emily has shown to be one of the best female competitors in Challenge history, and she just completed her sophomore season. She's a perfect 5-0 in elimination rounds and has made two straight Finals. Blake Griffin hasn't quite made it to any Finals or even playoff appearances, but he is now considered a top three to five power-forward and has been named to two All-Star games. The future looks very bright for both of these athletes.
Wes Bergmann - Kevin Garnett
The super-heel of the NBA, meet the super-heel of the Challenges! For those that don't know, Kevin Garnett is almost universally hated by all NBA players. It's not for his lack of skills or accolades by any means. He won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics and was an elite player for most of his fifteen plus year career. He'll likely be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame when he calls it quits. The hate for him all revolves around him being considered a fake tough guy and being a dirty player. Garnett has started multiple fights during games and always plays the "hold me back!" routine, which the NBA players have seen through for a number of years now. KG has also been known to intentionally flagrant foul players and has even gone as far as hitting a few guys below the belt. How does this tie into Wes? It's certainly no secret that Wes isn't exactly the cleanest competitor. His consistent back-stabbing tactics and his lack of loyalty (Danny. Fresh Meat 2. Remember?) are about as much evidence as one would need. The fake tough guy thing is just a personal opinion, I suppose. Every time Wes has tried to make himself seem like some sort of alpha-male, such as him threatening Johnny or Darrell on "The Ruins", it always seemed so rehearsed and ungenuine. All character flaws aside, Wes is still a very talented competitor and has won "The Duel" so that's why he gets compared to an accomplished vet like Garnett.
Laurel Stucky - Dwight Howard
Initially, it'll appear that this comparison is only a physical one. Laurel is the tallest, most imposing female competitor. Dwight Howard is the most dominant center in the league. Pretty easy to understand. Once I dove a little deeper, I noticed something. Despite making it to the Final in each of her Challenge appearances, Laurel has yet to get over that championship hump. Some have said that she hasn't done so, not because of her own ability, but due to her teammates. The closest she came to a title was with Kenny on "Fresh Meat 2", which was the only time she had an All-Star teammate. The closest Dwight Howard ever came to a championship was in the 2008-2009 season, the only season he had All-Star teammates (Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis). That year, the Magic made it to the NBA Finals, but eventually lost to the Lakers. Obviously both Laurel and Dwight are huge talents and have all the physical ability to win, but a lot of their future success lies with their future partners in crime.
Kenny Santucci - Tony Parker
There's not a large assortment of NBA players that fit the "Mr. Beautiful" mold. Enter Tony Parker. He's won three championships with the Spurs. Obviously not as many as Kenny himself, but that is a lot in this current NBA. I don't know about comparing them looks wise, but Parker was married Eva Longoria, so he can't be too hard on the eyes to pull that off. The biggest similarity is the fact that both guys get underestimated in terms of their pure level of ability. Kenny is appropriately dubbed the greatest social game player in Challenge history, but what goes untalked about is his ability to compete. No one ever won a Challenge with just their social game. At some point, everyone is forced to bring it physically. Whether it's in the Final or the mini-challenges, Kenny is certainly in the upper-echelon. Tony Parker doesn't get mentioned in the elite class of point guards along with Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams, but his abilities to drive to the basket and come up big for his team when needed should be considered as such. Now I just wonder which "Desperate Housewives" star will Kenny land?