Tiger Woods trails Jack Nicklaus by four major championships, 18-14.
LeBron James trails Michael Jordan by four major championships, 6-2.
But it's LeBron, not Tiger, who has the best chance to scale the mountain. And who saw that coming?
Fifteen minutes ago, LeBron was a bum. A loser. A neurotic narcissist who couldn't win the big one.
Not much more than 15 minutes ago, Tiger was the world's most prominent athlete. A messiah, his dad had called him, and danged if we didn't wonder if ol' Earl was right. Tiger was Babe Ruth. Tiger was Elvis. On top of, and even bigger than, his craft.
Now, both need four more championships to reach the ghosts they chase. And the smart money is on LeBron, not Tiger, to catch the mark. The tides do change.
Five summers ago, Tiger beat Rocco Mediate in that memorable U.S. Open duel at Torrey Pines, and Tiger's major total hit 14. Nicklaus' once-invincible record seemed doomed. Tiger was 32 years old, and surpassing Nicklaus was not a case of if, but when.
Tiger ruled American sport.
Last month, LeBron James and the Heat won the NBA championships with that memorable duel against the Spurs. Now LeBron wears the mantle. And the King James version of this story is not just that LeBron is the hottest athlete on the American stage. LeBron, trailing Jordan by the same number of crowns by which Tiger trails Nicklaus, has a better chance to reach the summit. Dare we say a much better chance.
Talk about stunning. In 2008, Tiger seemed capable of not just catching Nicklaus, but lapping the Golden Bear. Twenty majors. Twenty-five. Nothing seemed impossible for Tiger, who won 13 of 35 majors stretching from the 1999 PGA Championship through the 2008 U.S. Open.
But when Tiger crashed his car into his neighbor's fire hydrant and his career back to Earth, he brought parity back to golf. Now anyone can win a major, and a lot of anyones has.
Going into the British Open, which starts Thursday at Muirfield, eighteen golfers have won the last 19 majors. The sport has become an equal opportunity game. Keegan Bradley is as likely to win as is Phil Mickelson. Webb Simpson has more majors than Lee Westwood. Lucas Glover the same as Ernie Els.
Tiger is the favorite at Muirfield, not because he's the Tiger of old, but because someone has to be the favorite. And should Tiger win this British, or a major sometime soon, does anyone think he's got three other majors left in him?
But who wants to bet against LeBron winning four more NBA titles, either with the Heat or some fortunate future franchise?
The NBA is a closed society and has been for most of its seven decades. And it's not just a dynasty-induced factor, like the Celtics winning 11 titles in the 13 years from 1957-69. In the last 30 years, only eight franchises have won the NBA title. In the last 15 years, only six franchises have won it all.
Most of the golfers at Muirfield, and at Oak Hill for the PGA in August, and even Augusta next April, go into the tournament with at least some scant hope of winning.
Not so into the NBA season. The Magic can't win. The Suns can't win. The Bucks can't win. The Blazers can't win. Less than 10 teams have any shot at all.
Hot golfers win majors. Great basketball teams win the NBA. And any team with LeBron has a jump-start on being great.
LeBron in two postseasons, capped by Finals conquests of the Thunder and the Spurs, has transformed into not just a champion, but a player for the ages. Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. And quite slick with the ball in his hands.
Barring a roster of inept teammates, which seems unlikely, LeBron is going to be an NBA contender into the foreseeable future.
Can he win four more titles? I know we all hissed when LeBron uttered that “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five…” quote. But truth is, LeBron could easily win four more championships.
It won't be easy. Never is in the NBA. But it's possible, when you've got the best player, and he's in his prime at age 28-29.
LeBron might catch Jordan. Tiger's not catching Jack.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.