By saying “favorite” I’m thinking about who are the players I cheered for with the most emotion, watched, and followed the most? I may as well expose some of my bias with players I’m a true fan of.
#25- Pau Gasol If your rooting against him he seems very irritating. He is one of the nicest, smartest people in the NBA. The skill he brings to the game makes up for any “soft” labels. My reason for becoming a bigger Gasol fan are his contributions to helping Kobe. It was obvious Gasol was going to be the perfect with Bryant. Pau is team first always.
#24- Jason Witten Jason has always been an easy player to be proud of as a Cowboys fan. He is farm boy tough, with finesse receiving skills. He is also a great leader. Witten is a player that fans of other team admit he’s a stud, and they all wish he played for them. No matter how big the Cowboys hater, they all respect Jason Witten.
#23- Tiger Woods I admit it. I’m “that guy” when it comes to golf. Tiger Woods is the singular reason I began to take any interest in golf. Through Tiger I learned Championship golf is awesome to watch. It’s action packed with a ton of pressure. At the same time the surroundings are breath taking and birds are singing peacefully. It’s serene and urgent at the same time. Woods greatness was initially my reason for starting to watch. Now it’s to see how for he can climb back.
#22- Terrance Newman Terrance looked and dressed like the model football player every Sunday. He looked going out to dinner clean much like Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders did on the field. Newman had 32 interceptions and four touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys. He played in 16 games six times and was a two time pro bowler. I thought Cowboys fans turned against him too quickly. He now starts for the Cincinatti Bengals.
#21- Kevin Garnett I was a huge KG fan when he played in Minnesota. I was attached to his journey of playoff failures. I watched Garnett play a ton as a Wolve. He would give someone a fist pound every time they shot a free throw. When he shot one, make or miss he was looking for a fist pound himself. I was shocked how much he did it, but realized KG is a “team is family guy” to the max. It was an interesting ride to watch him take his criticism and be the winner in the end. Ironically, I didn’t enjoy his title very much because he smashed Kobe to get it.
#20- Larry Bird My respect of Larry Bird came from being such a big Magic Johnson fan. The two players were so connected and so similar in their gifts that they pushed the level of play in the NBA to a new standard. The WAY that Larry was a great player was always intriguing to me. He was a methodical, cold blooded player who was seeing the game on a genius level. His swagger and ability to back it up made him an intimidating opponent. Larry Bird is a bad ass legend.
#19- John Stockton I consider myself lucky to have grown up 10 miles away from where John Stockton played his pro career. He was so good at making decisions and executing it forced me to see the game in a new way. John was all business all the time and could not be phased. In a late 1980’s game in Houston, the Jazz were down by one with seconds remaining. My parents and I were watching on TV and rooting for Utah. Stockton rimmed out a 20 footer as the clock hit zero. I remember clapping my hands with some satisfaction for several seconds. My mom said, “why are you clapping”? I said, “John Stockton, wide open 20 footer with the game on the line? You will take that 82 times mom.”
#18- Deion Sanders The fact that he was a Cowboy for four seasons was a big part of me becoming a fan. However, what made me a fan of Sanders was his bold, back it up, greatness. No player has ever exuded more of a swagger and a punch of versatiltiy to the game. His confidence was like a cloud of entertainment. He would dance and make sure all 80,000 people could see him before taking a punt return in the biggest of games and situations. Deion was so good he had no problem making himself vunerable. He played and acted like he was conducting an athletic symphony.
#16- Dwyane Wade After some playoff games in his rookie year I remember thinking “Wade has a Jordan brain.” True or not, I’ve always been a “D Wade guy”. A few years into Wades and Lebron James careers I told Russ Riggs “Wade is as good as James right now.” Let’s just say Riggs freaked and I was put in a position to “choose” who would be better all time Wade or Lebron, and my pride and I said “Wade”. For the record, that same season Dwyane was the Finals MVP and in my opinion the best player in the game. I knew what Lebron James was going to be and is now, I just had enough faith in Wade to put him up against anyone. Arguing with Russ made me more of a Wade fan. Three time Champion, Dwyane Wade.
#15- Mike Tyson He’s not just a great actor. Mike was on top of the boxing world when I was a teenager. As I’ve gotten older I’ve heard boxing pundants almost diminish him on an all time level and focus on his lack of “all around tools.” I’m not a boxing expert. There was a window of time where my peers saw Tyson on that Michael Jordan, Gretzky, level in his dominance. He was also the best draw. He was so good at knocking guys out it often became how quickly would it happen? I would pay to watch Tyson fight a garden snake. The night he bit Holyfields ear was a big blow. It was hard to accept him being human at his craft. Extra human I guess you could say. I was at a party defending Tyson to the bitter end. The group let me know I was an ass clown.
#14- Tony Dorsett The first Dallas Cowboys game I remember seeing, Tony Dorsett had a 99.5 yard Touchdown run with only 9 teammates on the field. Dorsett was also the first sports poster I ever owned. In fifth grade Cody Jensen (Redskins fan) was trying to get me interested to trade for his Dorsett football card. I remember him holding the card out and saying, “do you know who this guy is?” That memory galvanizes to me how cool and respected Dorsett was. This is a good spot to mention Danny White, Jim Jeffcoat, Everson Walls, Tony Hill, Ed “to tall” Jones, Randy White, Troy Aikman and Darren Woodson. Love those guys!
#13- Derek Smith I graduated in the same high school class with Derek Smith. As he dominated the high school football scene in Utah, I wrote a story about him in the school newspaper. The biggest thing I remember taking away was Derek was humble but not in awe. He beleived in himself. He went on to dominate at Snow College, went to Arizona State to build the momentum, and was eventually the 80th player taken in the 1997 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. He started at Linebacker for his career and led his Skins and 49ers in tackles many times. It was so fun to follow someone you know challenge himself against the best players in the world, and succeed. I gushed the first time I heard John Madden say, “I tell ya what, that Derek Smith can tackle.” Everyone from American Fork High School class of 1993 is so proud of Derek. He made us feel like we all made it.
#12- Hakeem Olajuwon With the “Dream” I will always think of my Aunt Laurie and Uncle Ron who would watch him play in person. Hakeem was a humble soul, and at his best was as good as any NBA player has ever played the game.
#11- Larry Allen The football world was seemingly just introduced to Larry Allen this August. After being very quiet for his entire career, Allen gave a funny, from the heart speach at the Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. Larry Allen is the most dominant player I’ve ever seen in the NFL. I’ve been saying this since 2001. He would not only win almost every play, he shoved All Pro players around for a living. He punched guys each play with the same arms and chest that could bench 700 lbs. It was nice to see a “10” level type player, finally get recognition. Of course he gets his credit when he’s retired. The life of an offensive lineman. When I would watch the Cowboys game for the second time each week, Larry Allen is the only player I would watch on offense.
#10- Hulk Hogan I watched wrestling with my Dad when I was a kid. Hulk Hogan was the center piece of the sport and I was a huge fan. I was the kid yelling at the TV, “Hulk, look out behind you. He has a chair”. His appearance as “Thunder lips” in Rocky 3 kick started my interest. Hogan was the right front man for the sport. He was daunting and California cool.
#9- Rocky Balboa This guy could really take a beating. Rocky 1 and 2 are slower moving character develepmont type films. I now consider part 2 my favorite. Rocky 3 and 4 are more 1980’s cool and in your face. More music, more training montagues, more fights. Rocky 5 is a solid movie by itself. Compared to the other Rocky movies, it’s the clear cut worse. Rocky Balboa (part 6) had perspective and wrapped the series up with a beautiful bow. Yes, this was an excuse to talk about a movie I love.
#8- Kirby Puckett I liked and followed Fred Mcgriff, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark Mcgwire. Kirby puckett was my strongest tie to Major League Baseball. My early interest was created by visits to see family in Watertown South Dakota. They neighbored the state of Minnesota where Puckett played his brilliant career. I remember the Summer of 1989 in Highland Utah. Every day I would get excited to walk to end of the driveway and see the Twins box score in the paper to see Kirby’s stats. I would watch entire games just to see Puckett bat four times and maybe run down a few fly balls. He is one of the best players to play in the Major Leagues. I’m proud I picked him as “my guy” in baseball.
#7- Michael Irvin If you were cheering against Dallas, Irvin on his knees showing you it was a first down would be annoying. To the opposition it would look self serving and over celebratory. Truth is Michael Irvin was the soul of the 1990’s Dallas Cowboys. He was their hardest worker, and voice of leadership. Michael would often start the practice day(yes, often directly after a good party) walking past a lot of guys bigger and stronger than him screaming “Who’s going to out work ME today?” I’ll never forget his three touchdown game his rookie year to lead his team over the Redskins. He believed he was the best. He spent time as the second best receiver in the NFL. Michael played a leading role on a three time Champion and the team of the decade.
#6- Tony Romo In 2006 the Cowboys starting QB was Drew Bledsoe. I told Jon Brown then “we can win win nine games this year with Romo if we had to”. I always liked Romo. He’s a humble guy who loves to compete. He’s now embarrassed a league that did not draft him. A lot of what pushed me into being a bigger fan was defending him in arguments with other sports fans. Can you imagine defending Romo for a living? It takes a lot of work. Naturally you become more and more in that players camp. I beleive in Tony Romo’s gift to play the game. If this ship goes down, I’m going down with it.
#5- Michael Jordan In the spring of 1989 I was able to see Jordan was now a better player than Magic and Bird. By 1993 I knew he was the best team sports athlete ever. Jordan had more will and skill than anyone I’ve seen. I remember so many elimination games where I’d ask myself “how many should MJ score today?” I’d usually think something like “44”. It was unlikely he would dissapoint.
#4- Emmitt Smith- Every time Emmitt got off the ground I felt grateful. It wasn’t because Smith was injury prone, it was because I felt like he was destined to do GREAT things in the NFL. I needed him healthy and he did it. He was a brawler with much more “make you miss” than he is known for. He was a pass blocker, pass catcher, and would make long runs despite not having great speed. Jim Brown was the most dominant back. Walter Payton was the most complete and Barry was the most elusive. Emmitt Smith is the most accomplished running back in league history. He always has credit taken away from him because he played behind some great offensive lines. All I know is Emmitt has the best looking trophy case among the greats. Look him up(NFL.com).
#3- Kobe Bryant I knew Kobe would be an NBA legend the first time I saw his eyeballs and heard his voice. I did not even need a high school highlight. Having told dozens of friends and sports commentators my Kobe predictions, set up most to doubt my enthusiastic take on this guy. Kobe was not as likeable and unselfish as he could have been early on. He also had some similar moves and mannerisms of Michael Jordan. Fans resented Kobe and saw him as a pretender for a lengthy stretch. I’ve seen Kobe play more than I’ve ever seen another athlete, and it’s not close. I’ve told this to Kobe himself. I picked the right guy to follow. What a supreme player and competitor. It’s hard to believe he’s still playing, and can still add to his all time status. How could so many of you doubted Kobe Bryant??
#2- Herschel Walker Herschel was like a super hero to me. In a rough era of Cowboys football he was the lone star. His trade to Minnesota was a huge deal to me. I followed Herschel everywhere he played.
#1- Earvin “Magic” Johnson November 7th, 1991 was the day Earvin Johnson announced he had the “HIV virus” and would have to retire from the game. I could not move my legs for 45 minutes. This was a moment in a young mans life where you realize you care too much about sports. I loved Magic. I went back to my high school and defended him to the core as we started to get into heavier issues as a group while further educating ourselves along the way. I admired the player and his personality to the point that I naturally took on his criticisms. I acted like I was defending close Uncle. People did not sign my name when writing in my yearbook that Spring. Instead they called me “Magic”.