Kris Shannon: Steven Adams could be our best ever sportsman

Comparisons between codes and eras are fraught but the Oklahoma centre may have started building a compelling case to be considered our most successful sports star
Steven Adams. Photo / Getty Images.
Steven Adams. Photo / Getty Images.

We're all marvelling at the heights he's attaining in the present.

And justifiably so - Steven Adams and the Oklahoma City Thunder are a solitary win from dethroning the defending champions and reaching the NBA finals.

But pause for a moment and gaze in the crystal ball to consider what the Kiwi may accomplish by the time he pulls down his last rebound.

Two months short of his 23rd birthday, Adams has a decade of top-level production ahead of him.

Already regarded as one of the best centres in the NBA, the leap made this post-season suggests his performances are trending upwards.

And a key component for a team boasting the ideal blend of youth and experience, he will be playing for a title contender for the foreseeable future.

By the end of his career, Steven Adams will be our richest ever athlete - by far.

And he could eventually be regarded as our most successful.

Such a statement, of course, is wading into treacherous territory. Comparing across sports and eras is fraught with difficulty; how does an NBA championship in 2016 balance against an Olympic gold medal in 1960? But it's an intriguing thought experiment and a discussion to demonstrate the level at which Adams is currently excelling.

Basketball is the second-biggest sport in the world when assessing a wide variety of factors, ranging from television viewership to participation numbers to media prominence to availability for every class.

And the NBA is its undeniable apex.

Just check the birth certificates from the Thunder-Warriors series: New Zealand, Australia, Nigeria, Congo, Brazil, Switzerland ... even the United States.

The point being, Adams is playing a significant role in determining the fate of one of the most sought-after trophies in world sport. And he will continue to do so.

Oklahoma City's top seven rotation players are all 27 and under, shining under a first-year coach who has out-thought some of the game's best. And this season's prosperity increases the likelihood key pair Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will remain with the club when their current contracts expire.

The Thunder will be one of the three of four title favourites for the next three or four seasons, with Adams not only along for the ride but a real reason why that trip may end in glory.

A combination of size, ability and attitude means the centre will remain a prized prospect throughout his career so, in addition to earning north of $100 million on the court alone, New Zealand audiences should become accustomed to watching Adams at this time of the season.

It's impossible to forecast whether those playoff appearances will reap multiple championships - health and luck and the rest of the league will have a say.

But, if they do, it's a little easier to ascertain where such feats will leave him ranked in the New Zealand sporting pantheon.

With apologies to the limited global scope of rugby, footballing great Wynton Rufer would be Adams' only peer in a team sport, having won four major trophies while playing for Werder Bremen in Germany during 1989-95.

As for Olympians, Ian Ferguson is this country's most-decorated, with four gold medals, but the niche nature of the canoe sprint can hardly compare with basketball.

Which leaves Peter Snell, winner of three golds in middle-distance running and crowned at the turn of the millennium as New Zealand's greatest ever athlete.

It would be impudent to rank Adams' hypothetical achievements in that rarefied air.

And, speaking of hypotheticals, a certain teenage golf prodigy is bound to conclude her own career with a swag of honours.

But the overgrown kid from Rotorua certainly has a shot to ensconce himself in New Zealand sporting royalty.

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