Kyle Busch is a phenomenal talent. He is 24 years old and owns 15 Sprint Cup wins. He has 50 wins in the top three series. He does things on the track nobody else does. At the risk of getting all Darrell Waltrip on you, Busch has displayed the potential to go down in history as one of the best.
But where does he rank in the pantheon of contemporary athletes? Who are Busch’s peers? How do we put his talent in context?
The name that comes to mind is LeBron James.
Kyle Busch is the LeBron James of NASCAR. Yes, I am fully aware of how that sounds. It’s like hearing someone say “Paula Abdul is the Sean Young of crazy.” It sounds impossible to believe at first, but the more you study the facts, the more the comparison makes sense.
Both James and Busch are 24 years old. James was drafted out of high school by the Cleveland Cavaliers and played his first pro game in 2003 at age 19. Busch drove in his first professional race in 2001 at age 16. In a strange coincidence, both the NBA and NASCAR raised their minimum age requirements after each began competing.
Both are ascending stars who have yet to peak. Even though James won the 2009 NBA MVP award, many players, coaches and fans consider the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant to be the superior player. Until James wins a title, or adds another dimension to his game, he will continue to be viewed as Bryant’s inferior. Busch, for his part, will have to win a title before he can be considered completely superior to Jeff Gordon (four titles), Jimmie Johnson (three titles) and Tony Stewart (two titles). For James and Busch, this could be the year they finally dominate their respective sports.
Both compete with an apparent disregard for their own personal safety. James elbows his way through defenders on the way to the basket 100 nights a year. He plays the game like an NFL fullback. Busch drives 200 mph and doesn’t use brakes. He plays the game like an NFL kick returner.
Both love the game. In addition to the regular season and playoffs, James played in the 2004 Olympics, 2006 World Championships, 2007 Tournament of the Americas and 2008 Olympics. Busch drives in NASCAR’s top three series, sometimes competing three nights a week. In his spare time, he races remote control cars. He probably sleeps in one of those racecar beds like Ricky Schroder in Silver Spoons.
Both James and Busch love theatrics. James has his pre-game chalk toss. Busch has his post-race bow. And burnout. And victory lap. And reverse crowd dive.
Off the court is where they contrast most.
One of them is beloved and a hero – King James. The other is hated and a heel – Shrub.
The biggest difference between the two is that Busch doesn’t care.