Jay C. Brandriet
These are the guys that I’d consider my favorites. The ones you watch and follow the most, and the players you spend the most time arguing about.
#25– PAU GASOL- If you’re rooting against him he seems very irritating. Pau 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, was he became Kobe’s help. It was obvious Gasol was going to be the perfect fit with Bryant.
#24– JASON WITTEN- Jason has always been an easy player to be proud of as a Cowboys fan. He was farm boy tough, with finesse receiving skills. He was also a terrific leader. Witten is a player that fans of other teams say is a stud. No matter how big the Cowboys hater, they all respect Jason Witten.
#23- TIGER WOODS- I’m “that guy” when it comes to golf. Tiger Woods is the singular reason I began to take any interest in the sport. Through Tiger I learned championship golf is awesome to watch. The surroundings are filled with beauty and singing birds, while you could cut the tension with a knife. Woods level was the initial reason I watched, now it’s to see how for he can climb back from his big drop off.
#22- TERRANCE NEWMAN- Terrance looked and dressed like the model football player every Sunday. He was going out to dinner clean, much like Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders. Newman had 32 interceptions and four touchdowns for the Cowboys. He played in 16 games six times and was a two-time pro bowler. I thought Dallas fans turned against him too quickly. Years later, he is the oldest active starter in the NFL.
#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 pound himself. I was shocked how much he did it, but I realized Kevin is a “team is family guy” to the max. It was an interesting ride to see him take his criticism and be a 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 for 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- 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 No player has ever exuded more of a swagger. Deion was the ultimate walk it talk it player. He would dance and make sure the entire football world could see him before taking a punt return in the biggest of games and situations. Sanders made him self so vulnerable, then performed.
#17- HULK HOGAN- I was down with the “Macho Man” and Koko B. Ware. I was more down with Hulkamania. I was that kid yelling, “look out Hulkster…HE’S COMING FROM BEHIND WITH A CHAIR.”
#16 DWYANE WADE- 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? 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. 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- Mike was on top of the boxing world when I was a teenager. As I’ve gotten older I’ve heard boxing critics 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 the Jordan and Gretzky level. 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 Holyfield’s ear was a big blow. It was hard to accept him being human at his craft. I was at a party defending Tyson to the bitter end. The group let me know they thought I was a clown.
#14 TONY DORSETT- The first Dallas Cowboys game I remember seeing, Tony Dorsett had a 99.5 yard Touchdown run with only nine teammates on the field. Dorsett was also the first sports poster ever on my wall. 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 galvanised to me how cool and respected Dorsett was.
#13-JAMES WORTHY- Worthy was cool. I loved how he finished on the fast break. He palmed the ball, and showed it off. He had tricky spin moves and a killer first step. His effort June 21st, 1988 was unforgettable. That could be because I watched it 40 times. His best game ever happened in game 7 of the NBA finals.
#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 that has ever played the game. Jared Adams and I enjoyed getting the topic of Hakeem’s underrated greatness out there. The first pro basketball game I ever attented was April 23rd, 1988. I saw Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, and John Stockton from row 18 (there was no bad seat in the Salt Palace).
#11-LARRY ALLEN- 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 abused All Pro defenders for a living. He punched guys each play with the same arms and chest that could bench 700 lbs. When I would see the Cowboys game for the second time each week, Allen is the only player I would watch on offense.
#10-BYRON SCOTT- His shot was smooth. I always used to argue with Cory Hansen about who was better, Byron or Jeff Malone. I ranked him so high because of new information in my life. I have tape recordings to Russ from 1994 and 1995 where I learn, I was pretty much obsessed with this guys game. If he had 10 points and a clutch three as a Pacer, apparently I thought it was important.
#9- DEREK SMITH- I graduated in the same high school class as Derek. He was a very cool guy. His football dominance was increasing and I interviewed him for the school paper. It stood out to me how he was humble but not in awe. He believed in himself. He went on to dominate at Snow College and carried that forward to Arizona State. In 1997, Smith was the 80th player picked in the NFL draft by the Washington Redskins. He started in 167 games as a linebacker. It was mesmerizing watching someone you know smashing against your sports heroes. I was in heaven the first time I heard John Madden say, “I tell ya what… That Derek Smith can tackle.” Everyone from American Fork High, class of 1993 is proud of Derek. He made us all feel like we made it.
#8- KIRBY PUCKETT- I liked and followed Fred Mcgriff, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mark McGwire. Kirby Puckett is 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 days (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? “He spent time as the second best receiver in the league. Irvin played a leading role on a three-time Champion, on the team of the decade.
#6-MICHAEL JORDAN- Michael was almost a little bigger than the game. It was like watching a basketball player, a movie, and a symphony all at once. He was a puppet master forcing his will on everyone around him. MJ fans act like LeBron is the cocky one. Mike was skill, will, and arrogant intimidation at it’s best. Michael even created personal battles with others in his mind. He never wanted to lose that edge. I cheered for his brilliance.
#5-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 elite backs.
#4- TONY ROMO- Nobody was harder to root for. It wasn’t just because he played edge of your seat football, or didn’t win enough. Tony Romo was an unfairly judged player. His overrated teams, helped him become the most underrated player of his generation. He was clutch way more than he wasn’t, and nobody had a clue.
#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, I was in for life. 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 was lucky enough to interview him seven times. I picked the right guy to follow. What a supreme player and competitor. How could so many of you doubted Kobe Bryant?
#2- HERSCHEL WALKER- He was like a super hero to me. In a rough era of Cowboys football he was the lone star. He could do everything and I followed his football career and other endeavors with a passion. His trade to Minnesota was a huge deal to me. I had to cheer for him at every stop.
#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 a close Uncle. People did not sign my name when writing in my yearbook that Spring. Instead they called me “Magic.”
Jay C. Brandriet