Dalton Baggett: It may seem tough to draw many comparisons to the real world and that of Westeros, the fictional land in which the bulk of the events of Game of Thrones take place in. Unfortunately, we don’t inherit castles from our families, ride dragons, or even get the chance to fulfill long predicted prophecies. One thing both worlds share though? Sports.
Sure the athletes have less of a chance of dying in our world (unless you play in the NFL), but sports they share, nonetheless. The history of Westeros is filled with fabled heroes who took time away from sacking cities and fighting wars to compete in tourney’s held by the highest of nobility. They would joust at the lists, fight in the melee, and throw axes, just to name a few.
Aside from enjoying the thrill of competition, there’s another thing these two worlds have in common. In Westeros, the Iron Throne is up for grabs, and here in the real world? The title of best player in the NBA, and maybe as a sweet bonus: The Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Sonny Giuliano: All very well put Dalton, and that’s why we’re here today. As I spent the first three months of 2019 binge-watching the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones trying to ensure I’d be completely caught up for the beginning of the final season, I realized that although Game of Thrones is a fictional TV program — and a transcendent one at that — there are a number of striking similarities to my favorite sports league.
Interest in Thrones and the NBA stems just as much from endless fan theories on similar topics such as “Where is Player X heading in Free Agency next summer” and “what houses have aligned with each other to strengthen their political power” as it does the understandable intrigue in the games/battles. And what these games and battles and all of the behind-closed-doors maneuvering ultimately decides is who claims the Iron Throne and who possesses the Best Player in the World Championship Belt.
As for the Larry O’Brien Trophy … winning an NBA Title is the GOT equivalent of having a bloodline that suggests you are worthy of the Iron Throne. LeBron held onto the Belt for eight straight years simply because he was that damn good and he was appearing in the NBA Finals. It didn’t really matter that he was 3-5 in the NBA Finals over the last eight years. Just like it might not matter which house the eventual King or Queen of Westeros resides from.
So here’s what’s at stake: Over the next month or so, we’ll find out who rules Westeros at the conclusion of Game of Thrones AND who succeeds LeBron James as the NBA’s best player. High stakes for sure, and we’re here to break down who has a chance at both by making the most logical character-to-player comparisons we could come up with. Let’s get to it!
Damian Lillard/Arya Stark
DB: I’ll go ahead and start with the most obvious comparison here, though maybe not most likely for either the throne or best player in the league. Damian Lillard IS the Arya Stark of the NBA. I could try to tell you in some very specific basketball terms why this is, but that’s a job better suited for Sonny, the Samwell Tarly of this discussion. That is to say he’s the Grand Maester of NBA knowledge, and has nothing to do with any kind of comparison in stature. I promise.
Instead, I’ll come at this with a more emotional, and one could say nerdy approach. Seeing as Sonny took in the entirety of GOT intravenously over the course of a few months, he’s ill equipped to nail down the real specifics of the characters. I, however, have watched the show a few times, and I don’t mean to brag here, have in fact read the books.
All that studying has led me to the conclusion that Arya Stark and Damian Lillard are both dope as hell. Although both small in stature (Dame is an inch taller than me and weighs 30lbs more) that doesn’t stop them from being giants in their professions. Both Arya and Dame came to the game late. Dame played all four years of college, which can’t be said for any of the other guys on our list of potential best in the league candidates. We’ll call these his Faceless Man years. Time spent getting training and learning things that give him a different perspective than everyone else vying for the belt. He wasn’t born to take up the mantle, he earned his chance with blood and sweat, just like Arya Stark of Winterfell.
When Ned tells Arya she will marry a lord and her sons will be princes, her response is “No, that’s not me” and no truer words have ever been spoken on GOT. Her blood and sweat earn her a certificate from Assassin University and the title of “most dangerous person in Westeros.” Like Dame, her training has given her the skills and perspective to be in the thick of everything. Sure she probably won’t sit on the Iron Throne, much like Dame probably won’t take his place as best in the NBA, but it’s hard to find two more likeable people to root for along the way.
SG: You’re absolutely right Dalton, I’m the Samwell Tarly of this discussion, but we can both admit that it’s partially because of the NBA encyclopedia that exists within my brain, and partially because of my doughy physique. I’d much rather be Sam than Rickon:
See myself as Jon Snow..
I’m actually Rickon https://t.co/8vMo4UtiVe
— dalton. (@daltonbaggett) April 10, 2019
And Dalton, you’re also absolutely right about this too: Arya Stark and Dame Lillard are probably the most spot on comparison we have here. Not only for the reasons you astutely outlined in the above paragraphs, but for what these two individuals accomplished in a span of five days:
Within a week of each other, Damian Lillard hit the most audacious series-ending dagger three-pointer we’ve ever seen on a basketball court AND Arya Stark delivered a literal dagger that was even more clutch because it crumbled the Night King and his army of Wights, and thus saved the seven kingdoms from being overtaken by a posse of blue-eyed zombies. It’s almost as if the Basketball Gods requested a meeting with David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and were like “Yo, we’ve got this idea for a collaboration, what do y’all think?” and Benioff and Weiss were like “Yeah, that’s dope, good looking out Basketball Gods.” And look, it’s not like we’re breaking any news here with this comparison. Immediately following the conclusion of The Battle of Winterfell, you could find at least a dozen Dame/Arya memes while scrolling down your Twitter feed.
To my recollection, this was the first viral Thrones/NBA comparison, so naturally it was the perfect place for us to begin. This one fell into our lap. The others took a little more imagination.
Kawhi Leonard/Bran Stark
SG: Bran Stark hasn’t been able to walk since Jaime Lannister pushed him out of a tower window in the pilot episode of Game of Thrones, yet a particular set of skills have allowed him to become arguably the most powerful person in Westeros. Bran might contest that statement and say that he is not truly a person, he’s a three-eyed raven. That’s kind of his shtick now – sit around in his wheelchair and judge others and let his eyes roll into the back of his head every once in a while – but even still, Bran can do things that normal people can’t do.
That’s the same sort of feeling I get watching Kawhi Leonard play basketball. When he is at his peak, Kawhi’s ceiling may be higher than anyone else’s in the NBA right now. He’s reached a level offensively where he cannot be stopped by anyone alive when he’s feeling it. There is no area on the floor or shot you can force him into that he’s not comfortable with. As Micah Adams recently pointed out on Twitter, Kawhi Leonard overtook the top spot on the list of the most efficient scorers in NBA Playoff history.
Where this comparison takes off is on the defensive end of the floor. As the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran can see everything that happened in the past and everything that is happening in the present. He is hyper-aware of his surroundings. Watching Kawhi play defense, you almost wouldn’t be surprised if you found out that he was the NBA’s Three-Eyed Raven and could warg into the mind of whoever he was defending so he could know when they were going to crossover, when they were going to rise up for a jumper, who was going to be setting off-ball screens for them on a given offensive set, and what spots on the floor they feel most and least comfortable scoring from. It’s a combination of defensive skill and instinct that nobody else in the NBA possesses.
DB: Your description of what Bran does is the perfect example of how poorly the show has handled the fantasy elements of this story, but that’s a 5,000 word piece I’ll write some other time. For now I’ll just say that this combo is perfect because Bran and Kawhi share one very important thing: their personality. They go to work, they get some impressive stuff done, but hey sure don’t seem to be having a lot of fun doing it. You’re playing some pickup basketball? Give Kawhi a call. Need to look into the past to find out you aren’t in fact a bastard, but the trueborn heir to the Iron Throne? Bran is your guy. Throwing a New Year’s Eve blowout? Neither one of these two are making the guest list.
It’s incredibly easy to imagine Kawhi sitting in the corner of the locker room staring into space, teammates avoiding him so they don’t have to deal with the awkward silences and cryptic references to their pasts.
One thing the show hasn’t given us is Bran, as the Three-eyed Raven, laughing at a good joke. Are you having trouble picturing it? Here you go:
Kyrie Irving/Petyr Baelish
DB: Ok at face value this one seems a little dumb, right? We all saw Littlefinger die at the hands of our girl Arya Stark. He is super dead…
OR IS HE?! (He is).
But there are those who think he could still be alive, just like there are people who think Kyrie Irving still has a chance to be the best player in the NBA. I assume most of the Kyrie people reside in Boston and scream it with a mouthful of lobster roll at anyone who will listen. Are lobster rolls even the food of choice in Boston? I’m not sure. Everything I know about Boston I learned from Ben Affleck movies. That’s probably why I thought the city was going to be super cool, when it is in fact super the opposite of cool. But I digress. These guys would clearly be two peas in a pod. This is a real quote from Lord Petyr Baelish: “Don’t fight in the north or the south. Fight every battle, everywhere, always, in your mind. Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend, every possible series of events is happening, all at once. Live that way, and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before”
That is the craziest combination of words that has ever been spoken on GOT, and if there was anything akin to a flat Earth movement in Westeros, Littlefinger would be the first to sign up. Kyrie has had some equally crazy quotes about the Earth being flat, and even in his apology never said he believes the Earth is a globe. Maybe both of them should lay off the weirwood paste and focus on climbing the ladder.
One of the other comparisons we can make between Kyrie and Littlefinger is their tendency to be in the shadows of greater people, eventually thinking they have what it takes to be the shadow. Kyrie doesn’t have a ring without LeBron, much like Littlefinger wouldn’t ever get within spitting distance of the Iron throne without relationships with Joffrey, Cersei, and then finally Sansa. However, that never stops them from trying to better position themselves for the greatness they think they deserve. Overplaying your hand and assuming you have more power than you actually do rarely works in either Westeros or the NBA. When you try to climb up the rungs of the chaos ladder, more often than not you fall.
SG: You know Dalton, I was initially skeptical about this comparison, but I’ll give you tons of credit for making it work. I also want to give both Kyrie and Littlefinger credit for their willingness to jockey for an improved individual situation too, because there is a certain skill to this. Nobody was more conniving or doing more behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing than Littlefinger, and had Bran not become the Three-Eyed Raven it’s very possible that Littlefinger would still be alive and inching closer to the Throne he so desperately coveted.
What Kyrie Irving wants more than anything else is to be able to win on his own terms. When you are a player that is as supremely skilled as Kyrie Irving, that is somewhat understandable. When it became clear that A) Kyrie would never get quite enough credit for hitting the go-ahead three in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, B) Cavaliers GM David Griffin was open to trading Kyrie without taking into consideration where he would want to play, and C) LeBron James was eventually going to migrate west to Los Angeles in the Summer of 2018, Kyrie made a power play, requesting a trade and giving the Cavaliers a list of teams he’d prefer to be traded to.
A move to Boston in the Summer of 2017, the premiere rival of LeBron’s Cavaliers, was not all that different than Littlefinger playing both sides with the Starks’s and Lannister’s. Sure, the Celtics weren’t mentioned on Kyrie’s list, but it was a best-case scenario for him. The Celtics needed a go-to-guy and they already had a stacked roster of stable veterans (Al Horford), secondary stars (Gordon Hayward), and young assets (Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown) that could support Kyrie and make up for some of his deficiencies. Had Kyrie been traded somewhere like Phoenix, his power (or potential for power) would’ve been diminished the same way Littlefinger’s would’ve had he aligned with the Umber’s. But these two are both too smart for that.
And like Littlefinger, it’s still an uncertainty where Kyrie will go next when he becomes a Free Agent this Summer. Will he remain a Boston Celtic and have access to as many lobster rolls as his heart desires? Is a New York alliance with Kevin Durant in the works? Or could Kyrie and LeBron reunite in Los Angeles, away from the cold Cleveland winters and Dan Gilbert.
One thing is for sure … Kyrie will go wherever he feels is the best fit is for him and he won’t give a shit about upsetting the fans in Boston if he decides that New York, Brooklyn, Los Angeles or even in King’s Landing is a better choice.
Nikola Jokic/Sansa Stark
DB: This combo is by far the hardest comparison to make for many reasons. First and foremost is the fact that Sansa Stark has a much better chance of ruling Westeros than Nikola Jokic has of becoming the best player in the NBA. But we can make this work.
Let me start by singing Sansa’s praises. She is the smartest character on the show, and has come the farthest of any other character. Sure, Arya made a huge transformation, but she was arguably always going to take a unique path. Sansa wanted nothing more than to take the traditional path. It was her one true desire. Horrible circumstances forced her to abandon that dream and adapt, and adapt she has. She has learned from some of the worst people on the show how to be one of the best. She took the strongest traits of Cersei and Littlefinger, and blended them with the strongest parts of herself. Besides Jon and Dany, she has positioned herself as probably the third most likely person to rule the kingdoms.
A lot of people underestimate Sansa because her skills are more understated than others in the show, and she’s less flashy as well. These things can be said of Jokic’s style of play too. He makes some dope passes, but otherwise he’s not filling up the Top 10 on SportsCenter in the morning. He will mess around and get a triple double whenever he needs to though. Like Sansa learning from Cersei, Jokic has taken the best of the people who came before him. He plays like someone who loved the 2003 Dallas Mavericks and couldn’t make up his mind if he’d rather be Dirk Nowitzki or Steve Nash. They paved the way for Jokic to be the best of them. He may not be the best player, but he can certainly earn himself a spot as Warden of the West.
SG: Look, I’m cool with this comparison and you’re right, this was the toughest one, but are we sure that Nikola Jokic and the actor who played young Hodor aren’t related in real life?
James Harden/Cersei Lannister
SG: There are plenty of places we can begin for this comparison, but let’s start here: I think that James Harden and Cersei Lannister are both tremendously underrated in regards to their contributions to the NBA and Game of Thrones respectively.
The issues basketball fans have with James Harden are short sighted. We spend more time critiquing a man who takes advantage of officiating shortcomings rather than appreciating him for the genius that he is on the floor. Without question, he’s arguably the most unique and effective scorer in NBA history, someone who is literally breaking the game of basketball and forcing us to change the way think about offense and analytics. Of course, almost nobody is thinking this way. Despite the steady improvements he’s made year after year, fans instead focus on dragging Harden for his less than stellar defense and admittedly egregious flopping. Harden’s defense has improved over time, but even I will acknowledge that Harden takes so many dives that maybe a more accurate comparison for him would be to Cersei’s son Tommen.
The complaints about Cersei being the final “villain” left standing in GOT seem equally misguided. Since the pilot episode, Cersei has been one of the biggest power-players in Westeros; she’s cold, ambitious, resilient and fucking ruthless, willing to put anyone to rest who she feels is a threat to her. Her “power” is greater than that of almost any man or woman who routinely swings a sword in the Seven Kingdoms. And frankly, I might be more anxious to see what she has up her sleeve in these final three episodes than I was for the Battle of Winterfell. Hopefully there are elephants involved.
What I really love about both Harden and Cersei is their resilience. After a brutal Playoff collapse in the 2017 Playoffs versus the Spurs, James Harden bounced back with one of the most impressive two season stretches of offensive dominance that we’ve ever seen. It was the pinnacle of his rise in this new NBA and a Fuck You to everyone who had spent months poking holes in his game. And of course, there was no more literal Fuck You than when Cersei took care of the High Sparrow, the Faith Militant and the Tyrell’s in one fell fiery swoop after she was forced into a Walk of Atonement.
DB: Whatever Cersei has up her sleeve it most certainly will not involve elephants. Did you see the dragons in the Battle of Winterfell? Their CGI budget is all tapped out, I’m sure.
I like these two together a lot, but I think you’re giving Cersei a little too much credit here. She is her own worst enemy in many ways. She heard a couple prophecies when she was about ten years old, and that shaped the rest of her life. In trying to protect her children she either directly or indirectly got them all killed. While trying to get rid of Margery she gives the High Sparrow his power and is forced to murder a thousand people to take it away. Now she is quite literally Queen of the ashes. Have you seen the throne room lately? It’s a ghost town.
The common thread that holds these two together is their proclivity for taking L’s. James Harden has been consistently blowing up septs in the regular season, but hasn’t yet led a team to the Finals or even won any truly meaningful playoff series.
James Harden is the best player in the NBA sometimes. Cersei can out maneuver anyone sometimes. Ultimately though? Both will keep hitting self-destruct when it counts.
Giannis Antetokounmpo/Tyrion Lannister
DB: Much like Sansa, Tyrion Lannister is well positioned to grab the throne if something were to happen to Jon and Dany, or if they decide to sail off to Naath with Missandei and Greyworm. All it takes is one stroke of wildfire genius and Tyrion is right back in the conversation as someone who could potentially lead the Seven Kingdoms. Similarly, Giannis is well positioned to grab the best player belt if something changed in the career arcs of Steph or KD. If Giannis has a really good Playoffs or even a couple “put the team on his back” type games he’s on the top rung of the ladder and within grasping distance of the belt.
Sonny mentioned earlier the importance of bloodlines in relation to taking the throne, and winning an NBA championship in relation to the best player conversation. Neither should really matter, but they do more often than not.
This makes it interesting to consider the possibility that Tyrion is actually a secret Targaryen and how that would exponentially increase his chances at a claim to the kingdom. This probably won’t happen in the show, but it definitely feels like it will in the books, so I’m allowed to mention it. It’s very similar to how Giannis taking the Bucks past the Warriors in the Finals would make him an easy argument for best in the league. These events aren’t likely, but these two are still as close to the top as can be.
One thing that cannot be compared with these two is their size. But to be fair to Tyrion, there really is no human alive that has the same size and athleticism as Giannis. He truly is the Greek Freak.
That’s ok though, because size has never stopped Tyrion before. He’s more focused on honing his (pre-season 7) keen intellect. To paraphrase him: “A mind needs books as pecks need a bench press.”
SG: Well put Dalton, but there are actually two Tyrion quotes that I prefer:
“I drink, and I know things.”
“Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.”
You see, Tyrion knows where his metaphorical bread is buttered. He knows what he’s good at, and seldom tries to do anything other than test his liver, sleep with as many women as he can, and devour anyone who stands in his path with truly transcendent wordplay. The most powerful anyone has ever appeared on Game of Thrones was Tyrion, when on trial for murdering his nephew Joffrey.
The only thing that Tyrion could’ve done to further flex his verbal muscles was to conclude by telling everyone in the room to Eat Theon Greyjoy’s severed Dick. He flexed on them in a way that nobody else on Thrones is capable. In that moment, the half-man was more man than anybody in Westeros. That’s power.
Let’s compare to Giannis Antetokounmpo, a basketball player who possesses a deficiency on the floor that is similar to that of Tyrion’s size. Giannis cannot shoot a basketball. He’s maintained very slight improvement over the years, but it is still a legitimate weakness that smart defenses will always try to exploit. Now in time, Giannis could very well turn this weakness into a strength. Great players tend to do this. But until then, as long as Giannis doesn’t get the idea in his head that he’s Ray Allen, he still remains one of the most dominant players in the NBA. Remember, once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.
Tyrion Lannister drinks, and he knows things. Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks, and he’s an athletic anomaly. That’s what he does, and he’s about to win an MVP Award despite being a “wing” who rarely makes jump shots. He could ride his strengths to the Best Player in the World Championship Belt, just like Tyrion could ride his to the Iron Throne.
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant/Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen
SG: So now we’ve reached the conclusion of this very lengthy piece, and if you’ve stuck around this long it’s surely because you’ve been waiting for the most dominant duos in the NBA and Westeros respectively. My favorite partner-in-writing Dalton Baggett will handle the individual similarities that exist within this comparison, but I’m actually more intrigued by how remarkably alike these duos are.
The most logical starting point is motive: Why did these respective duos form? Well, if you paid attention to our sidebar, the answer was right there for you. It has to do with a certain King.
After losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors needed to upgrade. Sure, the Warriors were a 73-win goliath that already had won an NBA Title and they were led by a two-time NBA MVP who was threatening to become the Michael Jordan of the 2010’s … but for the foreseeable future the road to the Larry O’Brien Trophy would go through LeBron James, and what the Warriors had proved to not be enough to take down the King. Because of a rising salary cap and further cap flexibility brought on by a series of early summer trades, the Warriors were able to sign Kevin Durant after a now famous meeting with him in The Hamptons, creating a super team that would win consecutive NBA Titles (with a third on the way).
After reclaiming the North from Ramsay Bolton in the Battle of the Bastards, Jon Snow knew that his eventual showdown with the Night King and the army of the dead – who had mopped the floor with Jon’s army at Hardhome – would be an even more unsuccessful one if he wasn’t able to align with Daenerys Targaryen, her dragons and the armies she had acquired over the years. Jon traveled to Dragonstone and won Dany over, thus creating the alliance that would eventually bring down the Night King (with a huge assist from Arya Fucking Stark).
These alliances didn’t just change the balance of power in their respective settings, they required that new scales be brought in entirely. KD’s arrival in the Bay Area altered the NBA Title picture more so than any other Free Agency acquisition has in league history. It was even bigger – or more essential toward determining the eventual NBA Champion – than when LeBron took his talents to South Beach in 2010. If it weren’t for the alliance between America’s favorite incestual couple, GOT would end with the White Walkers taking over King’s Landing while Cersei Lannister sipped her wine and waited to die.
Naturally, these alliances haven’t been devoid of conflict. Kevin Durant absolutely expected that he would go to Golden State and become The Man. He absolutely thought that if he helped bring two more titles to the Bay Area while also winning two Finals MVP’s, the Warriors would be his team and not Stephen Curry’s. To Steph’s credit, it does feel like he’s taken the metaphorical backseat to Durant en route to a potential 3rd title. But just because Steph handed KD the keys to the car, it doesn’t mean Warriors fans would ever love and support Durant like they do Steph.
It’s not all that different with Jon and Daenerys. When Jon approached Dany, Dany expected that Jon had come to Dragonstone to bend the knee. It wasn’t the case. Jon had come to Dragonstone because he knew that Winter Was Coming. He explained to Dany that she needed his help just as much as he needed hers. It took some coaxing, but Jon eventually did indeed bend the knee for the sake of humanity. But just because Jon acknowledged Dany as his Queen, it didn’t mean the folks in Winterfell would. Dany will never be loved like Jon.
And ultimately, that’s what this boils down to. Kevin Durant can spend as much time as he wants claiming he doesn’t care what people think of him and that he just wants to hoop. And maybe KD doesn’t care if people “like” him in the most basic sense, but he cares about being considered the Best Basketball Player Alive more than anything else. Among many other reasons, that’s why a move to New York may be on the way in a matter of months. KD can win on his own terms there and get closer to claiming the belt than he could in Golden State. Dany views the Iron Throne as her birthright, and she’s made it clear that she’ll do anything to sit there, even if that means following in her father’s footsteps and becoming the Mad Queen.
But KD and Dany better be careful, because whether Steph or Jon want or deserve the Belt or the Throne, they each have a very strong case to claim it by the time their stories come to a conclusion in the next few weeks.
DB: I really enjoyed the part where you hinted that Warriors fans will never like Kevin Durant as much as they love Steph Curry. Mostly because I’m a big fan of any Durant slander, but also because it’s definitely true. The idea that Durant doesn’t care what people think of him is laughable. Just like Queen Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Lady of Dragonstone, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons, Kevin Durant wants you to know who he is.
While I compare Dany and Kevin, please keep in mind that I love Dany, and do not love Kevin. I just wanted that to be clear as I move forward with this comparison.
The problem is Dany and Durant both want the titles too damn bad. Dany’s entire life has been dedicated to crossing the Narrow Sea and claiming what she believes is her birthright, and while her cause is righteous, many of her actions have not been. She enjoys burning people alive just a little too much; I wouldn’t call her the Mad Queen yet, but the framework is there. Durant, similarly, believes that he was born to be best player in the NBA, and he will do just about anything to control that narrative. While Dany likes burning actual humans, Durant prefers to use burner Twitter accounts to hype himself up, which is honestly the worse offense of the two if you ask me. Over time Dany and Durant have both become less likeable to their supporters, and that doesn’t bode well for reaching their ultimate goals.
In GOT it is the unlikely hero who tends to succeed, those who don’t seek the power but get it anyway. In this case I’m talking about Jon Snow and Steph Curry.
Being an injury prone point guard from Davidson is the basketball equivalent to being the Bastard of Winterfell. There isn’t a lot of room to climb the ladder when you come from positions such as those. Luckily both of these men found the place in the world that suited them best. For Jon it was the Wall, and for Steph it was the Warriors. Through adversity and time they each became the very best versions of themselves.
Both Steph and Jon found out things about themselves along the way that positioned them to take the leap. Steph can easily be the next to wear the best player championship belt because he is the most transcendent shooter the NBA has ever seen. Jon can take the Iron Throne because he learned that he is in fact Aegon VI Targaryen, heir to the Iron Throne, and banging his aunt.
Steph and KD both have a shot at the belt, but I’ll put my money on Steph, the NBA’s unlikely hero.