The 68th NBA season tipped off this week, and the Miami Heat are positioning themselves for their third straight NBA title, while the new-look Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets, the finally healthy Chicago Bulls, and the steadfast contenders Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, and Los Angeles Clippers all vie to usurp Miami's championship reign.
The Motley Fool has taken a recent interest in the discussion of NFL quarterbacks and their company equivalents, so let's also look at a few top-tier NBA talents to see which companies best match their personal styles.
LeBron James -- Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL)
The 2003 No. 1 overall draft pick, came into the NBA known as "King James" and was the heir-apparent to Michael Jordan's standing as the league's best player. Google, meanwhile, burst onto the investing scene in 2004 with grand expectations, as it went public with a market capitalization of $50 billion and endless press.
For each, their first few years were met with incredible results that surpassed already high expectaions. Google saw its stock nearly triple in its first three years, and James had an NBA Finals appearance, continual All-Star selections, and the Rookie of the Year award within his first four seasons.
Yet both hit a rough patch following their incredible first acts, with Google seeing its stock fall by more than 60% from the end of 2007 to 2008, and James facing continual criticism over his "decision" to defect to Miami and the corresponding loss to Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. But neither was marked by these failures, as each has seen an incredible rebound from the "bottom" (if you can call being a $100 billion company and a two-time MVP the bottom).
With James' evolution into one of the greatest NBA players ever and two championship rings on his hand, and Google's continued dominance in both search and mobile and its nearly $350 billion valuation, each is poised to continue to see incredible growth in the years to come. However, neither of them is complacent with a top standing, as James continues to evolve his game each offseason, and Google innovates at a pace that's largely unmatched. Not only have these two delivered thus far, but it's likely that they'll only continue to do so in the coming years.
Tim Duncan -- IBM (NYSE:IBM)
Tim Duncan is perhaps the greatest power forward to step foot on a basketball court, with four NBA championships to his name, 14 NBA All-Star selections, and two MVPs. IBM was founded 102 years ago and has evolved into one of the largest and most consistent technology companies on the planet. It has seen its way through countless business cycles and technology shifts, booms, and busts, and it continues to deliver year after year.
Despite holding one of the most impressive track records in their respective industries, each tends to be characterized by one thing -- their boringness. Tell a friend that you're headed to the San Antonio Spurs game to watch Tim Duncan and you'll probably be met with a caution that you'll be bored, along with advice to save your money for when Blake Griffin comes to town. Tell a friend you invest in IBM and, you'll get a blank stare or advice to sink your money into Tesla Motors or Netflix instead.
But when it comes down to it, you'd be hard pressed to find a better player and winner than Tim Duncan and a better company that delivers for its shareholders than IBM, as each delivers consistent returns year after year after year.
Kobe Bryant -- ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)
Exxon has had a pretty incredible run over the past 10 years, as it has a total return almost 10 times greater than the S&P 500. With its nearly $400 billion market capitalization, it's also the second largest company in the world. Kobe Bryant, in comparison, is a five-time champion, 15-time All-Star, and one of the greatest talents the NBA has ever known.
However if we look to the future, it will be interesting to watch how each of these two titans progresses. Bryant is approaching the final seasons of his illustrious career, and although he's distinctly a winner, his luster has faded in recent years thanks to his recent lack of success in the playoffs and the criticism he's received from former teammates. Exxon, too, faces questions about its business as the energy landscape shifts, and it watched its earnings in the last quarter fall by 27% on a comparable basis versus the same period a year ago.
Each of these two has had an incredible run and will go down as some of the best that ever was. Yet the question now becomes, how much longer can they continue?