Outside The Box: The next big thing

By Alex Mitchell

Sporting commentators and fans alike have a genuine obsession with anointing “the next big thing”, and prematurely searching to find the next version of a code's all-time great.

Within mere minutes of Collin Morikawa's scintillating PGA Championship victory at the weekend, the 23-year-old had been hit with the greatest cliche in the game of golf — "he's the next Tiger Woods".

But this is not a golf specific thing, but more a tradition that sweeps across all codes — and honestly, the need to try and fill the gaping void left by the decline of a GOAT is truly understandable.

But, when you are prematurely making big calls like this, it doesn't always go right, with countless examples of alleged wonderkids being bounced out of their respective leagues within years.

Today Outside The Box explores the positive and negative experiences of “the next big thing”.

The next Tiger Woods

We start on the links, where we're on to approximately the fifth version of replacing Tiger Woods as the most dominant golfer in the world.

We've had outstanding periods of play from Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka, then Tiger came back and won the Masters last year, so maybe he was the next Tiger?

But the aforementioned Collin Morikawa claimed that honour with his exceptional major win on Monday morning, where his score of 129 at the weekend was the lowest of any men's major winner in history.

To be fair, his anointment as the new Tiger did not come out of the blue; he made 22 consecutive cuts to start his career (a streak only beaten by Tiger's 25), joined Tiger, Rory and Jack Nicklaus as the only players in history to win the PGA Championship before turning 24, and he's the world number five after only going pro last year.

Morikiawa is poised to dominate the sport for a decade — or more — but so were the others.

Spieth, in particular, is somewhat of a cautionary tale, on track to be anything when he won two majors in 2015 as a 22-year-old.

He hasn't won on the PGA tour since July 2017 and is ranked 60 in the world — not very Tiger-like if you ask me.

The next Michael Jordan

In terms of calling it early, few have nailed it like they did with LeBron James.

James was labelled “the next Michael Jordan” aged just 16, and Sports Illustrated gave him the cover of its magazine when he was 17 to formally anoint him; The Chosen One.

The Jordan v James debate aside — six rings versus three rings against bigger, faster, stronger — there can be little argument LeBron has lived up to that title in every possible way.

With three rings, three finals MVPs, four MVPs and 12 All-NBA first team selections, James is probably the only basketballer in history that can be mentioned in the same sentence as MJ.

But Jordan comparisons have not always worked out; Grant Hill copped the label, but injury derailed his career, the late Kobe Bryant won five titles, but inefficient play late in his career hurt his legacy, while many North Carolina alums (the same college Jordan played at) have never reached the heights, such as Vince Carter, Jerry Stackhouse and Rashad McCants.

It should be made clear here, not reaching the same epic heights as Jordan does not mean you weren't a good player, because hall of famers like Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson have received the label — we're just pointing out the tag is dished out fairly often.

Now, we've moved on to the next generation — who will be the next LeBron?

New Orleans’ Zion Williamson seems to be the man to carry the torch.

The next Shane Warne

A lazy 708 Test wickets was always going to be fairly hard to replace, but Australia has rifled through leg-spinners to find a new Warnie.

My personal favourite was the excellent selection of 36-year-old Bryce McGain, whose reasonably short-sighted selection (for a single Test) had him go for an outstanding 0-149 off 18 overs — thanks for trying brother.

Cameron White also got a trundle, taking five wickets at 68 in four Test matches, and some bloke called Steve Smith also got picked as a leggie before he became the next Donny Bradman.

Some non-leggie duds included Beau Casson (three Test wickets at 43), Jason Krejza (13 at 43), Dan Cullen (one at 54) and Michael Beer (three at 59), before Australia found its new spin king — albeit of the off-spinning variety — Nathan Lyon.

Watch carefully what extra opportunities are afforded to leg-spinning wonderkid Lloyd Pope in the next few years as Australia seeks to address its need to fill the Warne void.

The next Lionel Messi

Good luck finding the next Messi, who himself could be dubbed a former “next Maradona”.

And gee whiz, have legendary footballers and commentators had a go at finding a replacement version of a bloke that has scored a cool 634 goals for Barcelona and carried it to numerous club honours.

Barcelona legend Samuel Eto'o has called Frenchman Kylian Mbappe the next Messi, and while the PSG star's longevity is yet to be tested, his ability would seem to be there after helping Monaco to a Champions League semi-final, winning the World Cup with France and scoring 94 goals in 126 games for his new club, all achieved while still now aged 21.

But others have butchered it; Brazil legend Pele inexplicably labelled Mexican Javier Hernandez — aka Chicharito — the next Messi, which never really made sense with him not even sharing the same playing style.

Chicharito scored 59 goals for Manchester United, but his stay in football's elite was short, now plying his trade in the MLS while Messi still bangs them in at the top.

Another Barcelona legend Xavi called little-known Korean Lee Seung-woo the next Messi when he was at the club's academy, but he would never play for the senior side before being sold.

And Foot Mercato probably gets a pass for labelling Bojan Krkic the next Messi after he scored an alleged 900 goals for Barcelona youth teams; at the time Messi was only 19 and we had little idea just how amazing he would become, although Bojan has been on a pretty steady decline, now playing for Montreal.