By 90Min
October 25, 2018

The comparison between footballer extraordinaire Neymar Jr and NBA superstar Kyrie Irving is not a novel one. It was hard to ignore that at the same time Irving, then of the Cleveland Cavaliers, issued a trade request, Neymar was issuing come-and-get-me pleas of his own from Barcelona - with the Boston Celtics and Paris Saint-Germain ultimately the most willing listeners. 

Two of sports' greatest talents, leaving the confines of a successful team in order to forge their own destiny, away from the GOAT-shaped shadows of LeBron James and Lionel Messi.

It's an easy parallel, made even easier by the fact that the duo's styles are startlingly similar. Both are ethereal tricksters with the best footwork/handles around, seeking to thrill with every touch they get - perfectly placed for the condensed highlight reel world that they came up in.

Xavier Laine/GettyImages

Each being 26 years old, with only 47 days separating their days of birth, their rises coincided nicely. For every teenager in Brazil and beyond that was drooling over Neymar's latest pirouette, there was one similarly salivating in the U.S., or Australia (Irving's birthplace), over Kyrie's latest crossover. 

They were two precocious sensations, bashful in their arrogance, but consistently backing it up with gargantuan talent. Having been thrust into the online limelight from an early age, they were more than ready when the world stage beckoned in real life. For both, this came in the form of a high profile move, with each game's greatest player involved - the Brazilian moved to Messi's Barcelona in 2013, while LeBron moved (back) to Kyrie's Cavs in 2014. 

And, just as you can compare their ascents, you can align the moments they both seemed to outgrow their lofty surroundings, at least in their eyes. The footballer's came in that surrealist of nights in March 2017 at the Nou Camp, against *Irony Klaxon* PSG. 

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With the Blaugrana facing the insurmountable task of scoring three goals in two minutes plus injury time, it was Neymar, not Messi, who hauled them to the impossible, scoring twice and assisting the third. Of course, he had won things for his side before, but not like this. 

No one had. It was as close a footballer could get to matching Reggie Miller's eight points in 8.9 seconds against the New York Knicks in 1995, to further the NBA-Football crossover (excuse the pun).

The Basketballer's came in game seven of the 2016 Finals, and though it was one singular action, in many ways it was no less impressive. 

Because, while Neymar's exploits earned his side a place in the quarter finals of the Champions League, Kyrie Irving's 'shot' - it is now his definitive career shot - sealed his side's first ever NBA Championship, following a similarly unprecedented comeback from 3-1 down in the series.

To decisively confirm all of the above, Irving himself has cited the comparison. Speaking to Sportsmail before the NBA London Game in 2018, as quoted by the Daily Mail, the point guard pronounced: "If I could compare myself to any footballer it would be PSG star Neymar. He scores goals man."

For good measure, he even added: "I'm glad to see that he's happy now [after joining Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona]. Neymar is my favourite player – he's my boy."

But it's the parallels that have persisted between them in the proceeding years that is most astonishing. Because, after making their aforementioned switches - Neymar on August 3rd 2017, Irving on August 22nd - they were both improbably over-shadowed by generational youngsters.

Image by Wilfred Dutton

Step forward Jayson Tatum and Kylian Mbappe. Now, both had excelled before, but still, they were supposed to be the handy, raw, eager to learn, sidekicks - one of them worth £166m, admittedly. Oh, and they're also only seven months apart in age, born in March and December of 1998. 

That all changed when the headline acts succumbed to injury. Again, the timing is eerily mirrored - with the Brazilian going down on February 23rd 2018, and the American just a month later on March 24th. 

With the business end of the season approaching, there was no choice but for each side to lean on their teenagers. In the four games proceeding Neymar's injury, the 19-year-old scored four goals, despite missing out on one himself through an ankle issue. Meanwhile, having broken through the renowned 'rookie wall', Tatum ended the season strongly, averaging 15 points, 2.1 assists, and 45.3% from the three point line after the All-Star break. 

But it was in the "post-season" that both truly transcended their ancillary roles. Admittedly, this post-season came in different forms - Mbappe's was with his country, after all - but they were each imposing in their brilliance, and crucially in the face of their teammate's lack thereof.

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Tatum, as the third pick in the 2017/18 draft, was a veritable play-off MVP candidate, straddling new stratospheres of rookie performance levels to haul his side to the Eastern Conference Finals without their feted point guard, where he would go toe-to-toe with that man LeBron James in an ultimately noble 4-3 series defeat. 

Excelling in the heightened tension of the play-offs, he eclipsed his previously mentioned stats by 3.5 points and 0.6 assists per game.

In the following month, the former Monaco man would become the face of France's triumphant World Cup campaign, blistering defences with his unparalleled velocity, and propelling himself front and centre on the world stage. This was all while Neymar was toiling, mostly impetuously from the floor, in his attempts to do the same for the Selecao after returning from the sideline.

Image by Wilfred Dutton

With the 2018/19 season upon us in both leagues, the upstaged are attempting to convey complete calm, even joy, at these upstarts. But there's no getting away from the fact that their situations have indelibly changed. 

Whether they now deem this mountain big enough for the both of them remains to be seen.

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