LeBron James is the greatest American athlete of this century, and perhaps of any century. Malcolm Gladwell has made his living writing fourteen books all called Squish: Why Some Blueberries are Too Hard and Some are Too Soft. LeBron James appears, physically at least, to be from the future, and debates about whether his physique is naturally possible rage in every corner of basketball’s discourse. The only point of interest in Gladwell’s appearance is his hairstyle.
This is all to say that I think Gladwell is a lock to win an athletic competition between the two, and I’m recommending you wager your money on him.
On Wednesday, Gladwell hopped on Twitter and challenged James to a mile race. James has yet to respond, but is famously hungry for attention and celebrity, and given the for-the-kids charity element, we might just see this happen.
The odds currently have Gladwell at +110, which is insane. The mile is a very specific athletic event, one that demands a particular set of physical skills and ignores all others. So while Gladwell would flounder, hilariously, against James in almost any other event, he’s chosen one where has a chance to win, and has presumably prepared for it.
Malcolm Gladwell is a skinny Canadian. We know this because his Twitter bio reads “skinny Canadian.” LeBron James weighs somewhere between 250 and 270 pounds. Bodyweight is a huge factor in middle-distance running, as the whole sport is really a very simple power-to-weight calculation; as distance increases, the weight side of that equation becomes more and more important. The same muscle that gives James incredible burst and power would simply weigh him down in anything over a quarter mile. Gladwell carries no such muscle, maybe 15 pounds of hair, and very little of anything else. Thus he has a much easier task ahead of him.
The mile run is a long race. It becomes an arduous task somewhere around the 200-meter mark and builds to a searing, acrid crescendo in the final stretch. For every meter in between, LeBron’s ball-handling skills won’t help him. His acrobatic skills and body control won’t help him. His bone-deep understanding of the game of basketball will feel useless and ridiculous, as a diminutive 50-something who reached his athletic peak before LeBron reached puberty slowly reels him in and then awkwardly, inevitably, escapes. It will be a deeply unpleasant experience for LeBron James, as it is for everyone, the only difference being that it will last significantly longer for LeBron than it will for Gladwell.
Gladwell might be able to run a five-minute mile. That’s within the realm of possibility for a man his age and stature with a reasonable amount of training. It would be a violation of several physical laws for a 250-pound man, of whatever athletic ability, to do the same. For reference: Ashton Eaton, a 185-pound American and the best decathlete to ever live, can only manage the equivalent of a 4:35. Add 60 or 70 pounds and subtract the track-and-field credentials and those 25 seconds vanish quickly.
My advice: find a sportsbook that’s taking bets on the race, will refund your money if the race doesn’t happen, and has the competitors at roughly even money. (Bovada, one of our top online casino sites, will do the trick.) Then bet on the gossamer Gladwell because of the laws of physics.
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