The Spectacular and the Sublime: LeBron’s Block and Mauer’s Grab

After a weekend filled to the brim with impressive feats of athleticism, two stand above the rest. But only one can be king.

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A block to end all blocks. And dunks.

It’s a good bet at this point that most sports fans have already seen Lebron James’ defiant block of the Spurs’ Tiago Splitter during the fourth quarter of Miami‘s 103-84 blowout of San Antonio in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. It wasn’t a spike-the-ball-into-the-stands-and-scream type of block, but it was remarkable for how thoroughly it stonewalled what could have been an easy dunk if the world’s best basketball player wasn’t standing the way. Have a look:

What you may have missed over the weekend was an equally impressive athletic feat from Twins catcher Joe Mauer in the 5th inning of Minnesota‘s 4-3 win over the Washington Nationals on Saturday. Simply saying that Mauer caught a ball without looking after it ricocheted off the brick wall behind home plate doesn’t really do it justice. Here’s video:

It would be easy to say both of these plays are impressive and remarkable, but this is the Internet, so we need to decide which is BETTER, because being better is what the Internet (and sports, for that matter) is all about. Let’s break it down.

SETTING
LeBron: Game 2 of the NBA Finals, at home, already down 1-0 in the series, on national television.

Mauer: Second game of an early-June doubleheader between two teams more than 7 games out of first place. Oh, and the catch was made after the ball had already been fouled off.

Advantage: LeBron, by a fairly sizable margin (though it’s worth mentioning that Mauer’s effort did come in a one-run game while LeBron’s Heat were already up by 19).

ATHLETICISM
LeBron: At first, there’s the immediate “Holy S**t!” reaction to a clean, head-on block of a seven-footer’s dunk attempt. But then you might step back and think to yourself, “Well, all he’s really doing is jumping up and sticking his hand in the air.” That analysis really undersells the athleticism involved in the block though. It requires a tremendous amount of body control to get all ball while avoiding any contact—especially when the dunker is a solid three inches taller than you.

Mauer: The first time you watch the video, it’s as if your brain doesn’t immediately register what you’re seeing. And then you see the replay, and it somehow makes both more sense and less sense. You see what Mauer did to make the catch, but it’s nearly impossible to understand how he did it. After the ball smacks off the brick wall, Mauer glances back but doesn’t turn his head nearly far enough to get a good view of the ball. Maybe he catches a glimpse of it in his peripheral vision, but that’s it. And then there’s the confidence and ease with which he snaps his mitt back to glove the ball.

Advantage: Even. LeBron’s block is more obviously awe-inspiring, but Mauer’s snag is downright mesmerizing.

REACTION
LeBron: After King James makes the block, he eschews the traditional yell/chest pound/fist pump. Instead, he just stands there and stares around at the crowd for a solid five seconds. Pretty badass. But he loses some points for taking so long to join the ensuing break.

Mauer: The best part about Mauer’s catch is that he reacts like it’s absolutely nothing. It’s as if he’s saying, “Oh, you mean you can’t do this too? Pity.” Just catches the ball, flips it into his throwing hand and passes it to home plate umpire Tim Welke. Everyone else does the reacting for him. Welke leans down as it to say, “What the—?” Even Denard Span, who fouled the ball off, looks back in confusion.

Advantage: Mauer, by quite a bit. That said, both reactions are fitting for the circumstance, what with the former being coming in an NBA Finals game and the latter happening after a foul ball in an insignificant June baseball game.

AFTERMATH
LeBron: Even though James stands around too long after his block, he eventually rejoins the play, sets a screen, receives a pass near the elbow, then fires the ball out to Ray Allen in the corner for an easy three-pointer. Oh, and if that weren’t enough, on the Spurs’ next possession, he deflects a pass from Tony Parker to teammate Mike Miller, who then lobs the ball ahead to LeBron for a thunderous dunk. They probably should have ended the game right then and there.

Mauer: Not much immediately after, but Mauer had homered in the top of the inning and the Twins went on to win in extra innings.

Advantage: LeBron, by a lot.

WINNER: LeBron, thanks largely to the circumstance and what transpired in the 50 seconds following the block itself. Just wow. If it’s any consolation to Joe Mauer though, that grab means he probably has the best hand-eye coordination in the world and may actually be a wizard. And that’s not too bad, right?

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