I’ve always thought Scottie Pippen has been disrespected by fans. It’s also been very over looked that he and Michael Jordan were an amazing duo. In a June 11th article on Espn.com Bill Simmons nailed the harmony the two players shared. In referring to a streak in which Jordan had not lost three straight games between December 1990 through the 1998 season, Simmons writes:
“Jordan’s genius during that run , at least for me, was in how beautifully he meshed with Scottie Pippen. You watched them together, running around in tandem and it was almost like Jordan spawned his own clone. Like Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. Only in this case , Pippen was two inches taller. Pippen moved like Michael, saw the court like Michael, jumped passing lanes like Michael and blended with Michael’s game like a non identical twin. It was crazy. I will never forget watching it for the rest of my life. Bird and Magic were geniuses, too, but shit, they never figured out how to replicate themselves.”
Scottie Pippen is the most disrespected NBA star of my lifetime. People go out of their way to put him down. It usually starts with “well Pippen played with Michael Jordan,” or “Scottie Pippen is not one of the 50 greatest players ever.” He seems to be the only target in that “Top 50” group that gets called out. I have heard fans go as far as “Jordan would have won the same amount without Scottie.” True, if he had Kevin McHale, Pau Gasol or Mitch Richmond instead. You would think Michael had won 72 games by himself in 1996. The truth is Scottie Pippen is one of the great, dynamic players in the history of pro basketball.
WHY HE GETS LESS CREDIT:
Scottie played and developed along side the greatest player I have ever seen in Jordan. There are natural perceptions I can understand where people assume the next best player on his team would be MUCH less good. Pippen seemed insecure in Michael’s shadow and may have rubbed some people the wrong way. Scottie did take time to become a star player. He needed a few years to gain physical and mental strength to find his potential. The Detroit Pistons beat him down for awhile and made him have to grow like most of us have to. There is the 1994 incident in which Scottie refused to check back into a playoff game because Phil Jackson had not called the play for him, only to watch Toni Kukoc go on to hit the game winning shot. It was a huge mistake on Pippen’s part. It gave his doubters unforgettable ammunition.
Pippen (with Grant Hill) was the new age point forward. Scottie took pressure off his team with his ability to handle the ball in the back court. He was Chicago’s distribution man and was a standout player on the fast break. Pippen could slash and finish on the highest level. He was long and one of the sports best athletes. Before he became a dangerous shooter, he created a nice array of bank shots. By his prime Scottie had added needed weight and muscle. Pippen is one of the finest defensive players to have lived. His defense on “Magic” Johnson cut the head off of the Lakers snake in the 1991 Finals and was a key factor in the series win. Jordan called Scottie a “defensive predator.”
From 1990 to 1998 Pippen averaged 20ppg, 7.3rpg, 6apg, and 2 steals.
He was named to seven different All NBA Teams.
He was named to the All Defensive team 1o times, and All NBA First Team Defense eight years in a row.
Pippen played in seven All star games (All star MVP in 1994)
He is one of only three players to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same season(Olajuwon and Jordan).
He is the only player to win an NBA title and Olympic gold in the same year two different times (1992 & 1996).
Pippen’s 395 playoff steals are the most ever recorded.
He was on the “Dream Team” and should have been.
THE MJ FACTOR:
Michael was such an iconic player that he forces a Hall of Famer like Pippen to play distant second. That fact has skewed Pippen’s NBA reality. Don’t forget that Jordan was Pippen’s teacher. Wouldn’t that be to Scottie’s extreme advantage? What about the fact that Michael claims his toughest challenge was in practice with Pippen? Scottie made the best better. Jared Adams watched the 91-93 NBA Finals several times to attain highlights. He would often say, “on quick cuts to the basket it’s easy to get MJ and Scottie confused with each other.” As a duo they were athletic harmony. While the basketball public wants to see it as “Michael carried Scottie”, I see it differently. On the podium after winning their fourth ring together Michael said to Scottie, “You are my MVP dog.” It was an important complement and the truth. MJ was the best, but him pushing Pippen to the level he hit, is what put the Bulls over the top.
WHEN SCOTTIE REALLY PLAYED WITHOUT MICHAEL:
Haters like to ask “How did Pippen do after he was done playing with Michael?’ Why do they ignore Michael left Scottie in his prime to go play baseball? All that Pippen did behind the wheel was led the Bulls to 55 wins and a tough whistle away from the Eastern Conference Finals. He led the Bulls in all five major statistical categories and finished third for league MVP honors. With Jordan in a dugout somewhere, Pippen was no less than a top five player on earth.
AFTER HE WAS DONE PLAYING FOR THE BULLS:
Scottie fought through back pain in game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals to help the Bulls seal their sixth world championship in Salt Lake City. The team was dismantled after this feat. Pippen had played 30,000 regular season minutes and another 178 playoff games by the time he parted ways with MJ. Scottie was a good player in a bad chemistry experiment in Houston. He was also a key cog to an all time deep Trailblazers team that reached game 7 of the Western Finals. Pippen’s teams made the playoffs in 16 straight seasons. Was he not allowed to age? What did Michael Jordan ever win without Pippen?
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Playing with Jordan was a huge advantage for Scottie in that he was led to winning and fame. There is also tremendous value in the competitive relationship they shared. Being his teammate also came with a huge price tag. A brilliant player like Pippen is seen as a very good tag along.
Scottie Pippen was not just the second best player on six world title teams. He was somewhere between the third and twelfth best player in the league, on six world title teams.
Kobe Bryant was denied the credit he deserved while playing with Shaquille O’Neal. Any time the discussion of Kobe’s place in history would come up related to his three rings I was told “Kobe had Shaq.” How many times did I hear “Shaq carried Kobe?” My favorite was “Kobe will never win it all without Shaquille.” I was offended by these outlandish takes. I told you guys then Kobe would succeed, and now I’m here to remind you. When the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals, I heard a broadcaster say a line that really left an impression on me. He said, “four time champion Kobe Bryant.” What did I just hear? Did he win four titles tonight? I don’t remember him getting credit for the first three. His fourth title, and first without O’Neal validated Kobe out of a shadow he should not have had to fight.
Peoples fixation on “Kobe HAVING Shaq” comes from a few places. Kobe had so much swagger out of the gates, having proved zero, it rubbed people the wrong way and made him an awesome villan. Michael Jordan fans resented Kobe for talking like Michael, chewing his gum like MJ, and using his moves. Those same Jordan lovers feared Kobe. Phil Jackson had made it clear Kobe was Michael’s equal in skill and killer will. The last and most obvious reason is Shaq was an amazing basketball player. O’Neal is one of the 10 greatest players of all time. During the Lakers three peat in the early 2000’s, he was the most dominant and best player on the planet. Shaq was the ultimate mismatch of the day. He was as close to an automatic bucket or dunk as you can get. What you may not remember is Bryant was the NBA’s most skilled player, and its second best overall.
The Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000’s were a unique dynasty. They were a top heavy team who had the world’s two best ball players. When you get into comparison talk don’t give me that “Batman and Robin” garbage when you talk about Shaq and Kobe. Robin had very little game. Kobe Bryant during his physical prime was not like a little pet lending a helping hand. Here are some perspective points to Kobe’s level while playing with Shaquille:
Over the three championship seasons Kobe averaged 25.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. He attained these numbers having to contain himself and cater to O’Neal.
In 2002 the Lakers were an all time best 15-1 in the post season. Bryant averaged 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists.
He was on the ALL-NBA Team and the All-Defensive Team each year.
In game four of the 2000 NBA Finals after Shaq fouled out in overtime, a 21-year-old Kobe told his teammate “I got you.” Bryant hit all five of his shots in the extra session leading the Lakers to victory.
In February of 2003 Kobe scored over 40 points in nine consecutive games. He dropped 50 plus in two of them and the Lakers went seven and two over that stretch.
Shaq set the tone and was the unquestioned hammer. Kobe was the wicked talent and the closer. He handled the ball in the last five minutes of games play making for himself and others. Kobe also was protecting O’Neal at the end of contests because he hit 31 percent more of his free throws.
Kobe was an impatient young man who wanted to rule pro basketball. Shaq was the alpha dog and big brother figure in the locker room. Kobe thought he worked harder than O’Neal, while Shaq thought Bryant was a hot dog. Soap opera or not, when the lights came on Shaq and Kobe performed and played brilliantly together. They did not have the connectivity of a Stockton to Malone or Magic to Worthy. They didn’t have the cool similar styles that MJ and Pippen or LeBron and Wade had. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant won big and did it with opposing game styles and personalities. These two players are both legends of the game. Why hasn’t anyone ever said, “Shaq had Kobe?”
After escaping the Boston Celtics in game seven of the 2010 NBA Finals a reporter asked Kobe…”I know for you this is a team accomplishment first, but what does this fifth world title mean for you individually?” With zero hesitation Bryant said, “one more than Shaq.”
Peyton Manning is one of the greatest football players who has ever lived. His glow of preparation and mental mastery of the game has become his powerful niche. Peyton breaks records every day he gets out of bed. When your team sacks Manning, it feels like you sacked an entire community. He’s that good and important.
Manning has endured a ton of criticism in his career. Some of it’s fair, most of it is fans lacking perspective. In 2006 Peyton and his Indianapolis Colts won a world title. Manning was the MVP of the Super Bowl and his legacy was set. The problem for Peyton is he has remained so top shelf for so long, we have changed the standard. If you win a ring you are supposed to be a “made man”. Manning is so elite, it seems like he needs another.
The Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks looked like an even matchup for the ages. The biggest focus was how the games turnout would effect Peyton Mannings legacy. Super Bowl 48 became the most disappointing contest in my lifetime. Sometimes Super Bowl blowouts have their place. This should have been a good game. While Peyton played poorly (with a record 34 completions), the real story was the Seahawks suffocated the Broncos and deserve all of the credit. The fans quickly used the game as a way to re-evaluate Peyton’s value in the big picture.
Quarterback is the most important position in the game of football and maybe all of sports. With that said, the perception of the qb in comparison to his teammates, in the ultimate team game, is over blown. We actually give the quarterbacks a win loss record. Tony Gonzalez won “his” first playoff game in his 16th year and it was a side note. Considering Mannings level, he has some flaws on his resume. He is 1 and 2 in Super Bowl games, 11 and 12 in the playoffs, (including 8 first game exits) and has 37 touchdowns to 24 interceptions over that span. These facts are not good enough for a guy that is trying to be the best qb to ever play the game. They are the small details that make other all time greats seem better than each other.
Kurt Warner was 1 and 2 in the Super Bowl. People see Warner as a humble guy with a cool story. A milk drinking, safe face who will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at some point. The terrific Warren Moon was 2 and 7 in the playoffs and nobody knows. Dan Marino is a legend. Dan’s teams were 8 and 10 in the post season (32 touchdowns/24 interceptions) and felt short of a title. We don’t bash Marino. We almost feel bad for him because he was so awesome.
Is it good to have played in 23 playoff games or take two different franchises to the Super Bowl? (one coming off multiple neck procedures)Is winning a championship important? How about winning 12 or more games in a season 10 times? Peyton has lame accomplishments like 65,000 yards and just under 500 touchdown throws. He picked up a fifth NFL MVP award on the side. Outside of a couple different seasons, he’s a “top 3” qb every year. This guy is a victim of his own success. He’s stuck being compared to only the best NFL players. When you rip on Peyton Manning, keep your jab in context. It’s like saying Cindy Crawford is your least favorite supermodel because of her mole.
In 2008 Tony Romo was at his “most prolific and probably most athletic.” In 2009 he had his best season in the most “traditional sense”.” The 2013 version of Romo was “the best the player has been so far.” You have to consider the money he had recently been paid, the criticism he got for it, and the new level of responsibility he would take on. In part because of a league high number of injuries to defensive lineman, the 2013 Cowboys were mostly bad on defense. Against the pass, this unit bled yards on a historical level. Tony was great this year! By “great” I mean he beyond did his part for his team, and even without a playoff birth was a top seven or eight NFL quarterback. Romo was way more clutch than not, but the story will come out different. He will once again get the blame because of a few reasons. It’s a quarterbacks league, his past mistakes, and mostly his high-profile team leads to him getting attention but constantly snubbed of credit. He also gave his critics two unforgettable games where his “Romo blunders” cost his football team the game or at least a chance.
Did you see Romo throw two late picks against Green Bay to help the Cowboys finish blowing a 26 to 3 lead this last December? I know you did. All of you couldn’t stop talking about it. It was a big game. It was being shown in a prime spot. Then there was the classic at home against the Denver Broncos. Romo put on a clinic that day. His 506 yards passing and five touchdowns were a product of his all time great pocket awareness, and escapeability. He led the Cowboys to a 48 point tie late in the game. With a chance to win, Tony threw the ball to the Broncos who came out on top 51 to 48. It was a cruel, almost fitting dagger. It pains me to admit that game is probably the best 60 minute nut shell example of how most fans view Tony Romo.
The next morning Michael Smith of ESPN said, “You know we always say the quarterback gets too much credit when he wins and too much blame when he loses? As far as his critics go, Tony Romo is the ONLY quarterback I’ve seen that gets NONE of the credit when Dallas wins, and ALL of the blame when they lose.”
Romo always gets his numbers. This time around brought 3,828 yards passing while completing 64% of his attempts. The 31 touchdowns ranked second in the NFC, and the 10 interceptions were pretty elite for a player known for turnovers. He fumbled a career low four times (one lost). Tony threw away balls at the right time, and took smart sacks. He was 8 and 7 as a starter, but 5 and 0 in the most crucial division games. He now has more yards and completions than any QB in NFL history through their first 100 starts.
Avid Sportsman Tony Abbott is never shy or dishonest about his Romo opinions. On five different occasions this year in the middle of down to the wire Cowboys games, Abbott proclaimed “the SEASON was on #9 right here”. He was not putting just each of these games is on one guy, he was saying the entire temperature and direction of the franchise right now, is on Romo. Lets look at the five contests.
November 3rd VS Minnesota Vikings: The Cowboys were coming off a one point horror show loss at Detroit. They were 4 and 4 and could not afford to lose this ballgame. Dallas was down three points to the Vikings with 2:44 left in regulation. The Cowboys had the ball on their own 10 yard line. Romo and his right arm accounted for all 90 yards that ended with a go ahead touchdown pass with 35 seconds remaining. Other than winning, I really enjoyed knowing my South Dakota family members/Vikings fans watched the same thing I did.
November 24th at New York Giants: New York had won four in a row and talked ridiculous trash all week. The temperature was 22 degrees and the wind 27 mph. Dallas let go of a 21 to 6 third quarter lead. They found themselves tied at 21, with the ball on their own 20 yard line, with 4:45 left in the game. In methodical fashion, Tony led the Cowboys on a 16 play drive. He spread the ball around, he needled the Giants to death and made them look worse the bigger the play became. Dan Bailey knocked in a close range field goal to win the game. This kept the Cowboys season alive, and essentially knocked the Giants out.
November 28th VS OAKLAND RAIDERS: This game was an uphill climb from the opening play. The Cowboys first kick return attempt became a fumble and a Raiders score. Oakland led 21 to 7 with under two minutes remaining in the first half. Tony completed five straight passes to set up a short running touchdown. In half number two, Romo completed all 12 of his passes and led the team to a 31 to 24 victory.
December 15th VS Green Bay: I mentioned this game is where the focus will stay. Tony was having a good day helping Dallas build a 23 point half time lead. He also threw a clutch TD to Dez mid way through the fourth quarter as the Packers mounted a furious comeback. The qb then put the cherry on the collapse by throwing two late picks. The first INT was extra bad. The kind of play you want to pretend didn’t happen. The Packers played good, but this was one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history.
December 22nd at Washington Redskins: As things ended up playing out, the Cowboys had to win this game to keep the season alive and to set up an NFC East title game with the Eagles. Dallas was down nine points at the beginning of the last quarter. Romo hurt his back and was experiencing shocking pains down his legs. He decided to put on another display of bad ass clutch play. The stand out plays were a fourth down and six completed for 20 yards to Cole Beasley, and a scramble then 51 yard hurl to Terrance Williams. The Boys failed to punch in the football on three straight running plays. It was fourth down and the year from the 10 yard line. Tony showed off his footwork and patience as he hit DeMarco Murray for a game winning touchdown pass and the best moment for the Cowboys in 2013.
I have to mention it: October 20th at Philly in a one score game late in the third quarter, after throwing a bad interception..Tony leads a drive where he completes seven out of eight passes for 69 yards. In the process he converts five first downs and a slant pattern for a score to put Dallas up 17 to 3 where the score would stay.
Abbott is a smart guy who does not think that Romo is as good as I do. I had to note, that Romo delivered enormous clutch plays and succeeded in 80% of those challenges put out there.
The night after the Redskins win on “NFL Gameday Final” Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk said, “If you really pay attention to it, the Cowboys constantly are in the position that Tony Romo HAS to make a play. Your team is built to have one guy have to constantly make or break the game. That is why Tony Romo is always in the hot seat.”
Everyone jumped head first in how and why Romo changed a key play late against Green Bay to a pass. Did anyone mention ANY of the plays he changed in ANY of his clutch moments? They did not. After Tony sacrificed his body and sold out in the pressure at Washington to give Dallas a chance did anyone take a breath to celebrate it? They did not. What I heard instead was, “If Kyle Orton plays good next week it will make Romo look so Bad.” I also loved the “Romo would have choked against Philly” card. He could have easily thrown a pass to cost Dallas the East. Without his pressure packed performances, the Cowboys would have never been there.
Romo has a lot to prove to be a truly great NFL player.That doesn’t mean I’m not tired of him playing like the low-level star he is, and getting the respect of an overpaid backup.
It’s that time of year again. The greatest players in the NFL are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’ve asked hundreds of NFL fans their opinions of Terrell Davis. The majority (75%) of them do not believe he is a Hall of Fame player. Davis has been eligible for the Hall for nearly a decade now. The arguments against him are mostly weak. In a vacuum, Terrell Davis was as good as any back I’ve ever seen. He was patient, punishing, and could take it to the house on any play. He was milked in pressure moments and he thrived in the role. He was the best player in pro football for three seasons and led the Denver Broncos to back to back NFL Championships. There can be a case made that Davis is the best running back in post season history.
HE DID NOT PLAY LONG ENOUGH?
He was only at his best and most healthy four of his seven seasons. Terrell played in 78 regular season games (10 more than genius runner Gale Sayers). Bill Walton got very little out of his body but has received an amazing amount of credit because of his best level of play. Bo Jackson is fawned over by fans for his amazing abilities and for what he could have been. Bo played in 38 NFL games. Davis somehow gets looked past, even though he actually did achieve dreamy things. Understanding his career was short, he’s waited long enough for Canton to call. I understand the value of longevity. In the end it’s the quality that counts more than the quantity.
WHAT DAVIS GOT DONE IN HIS REGULAR SEASON CAREER:
Davis was named to the NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team.
Two time AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1996,1998).
He was the NFL MVP in 1998.
His 97.5 yards per game average is fourth best all time. He trails only Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and Adrian Peterson.
Terrell is in the “2000 yard club.” He had 2,008 rushing yards (5.1 yards per carry, and 23 total touchdowns) in 1998.
Over his best three seasons, the Broncos were 39-9 in regular season games.
Through his first four seasons Davis had 6,413 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and 56 touchdowns.
“TD” had 34, 100 plus yard games and had had three more over 200.
His 2,476 regular season and playoff rushing yards combined in 1998 are the top mark in league history.
Impressive as those things are, it was the playoffs where Terrell really made good use of his time.
In eight post season games Terrell Davis averaged a stunning 143 yards on a 5.6 yards per carry average. He had seven straight 100 yard plus performances in which Denver won every game in that stretch. Davis also scored 12 times.
He was the best player on two Super Bowl winning teams. In the first one he rushed for 157 yards and scored three touchdowns, in only three-quarters while suffering a migraine. He was named the Super Bowl MVP. Terrell also had over 100 yards rushing and 50 receiving as the Broncos defeated the Falcons in Super Bowl 32.
HOW ABOUT THE BACKS THAT FOLLOWED HIM WHO HAD SUCCESS?
Yes he played with a nasty, agile, offensive line. He played with a great QB, and a host of other key names. So what? Every champion needed help, and Davis needed it less than most. He was the best player in the sport, let alone his team.
It’s true that Mike Anderson was a good NFL player who had an outstanding season as a feature back in the year 2000. In 2005 Rueben Droughns had a solid 1,232 yards (4.0 ypc) and two touchdowns. I liked a guy named Olandis Gary. He stung people when he ran. He added 1,159 yards in only 12 games in 1999. Clinton Portis was going to be good for any team in any era. Alex Gibbs coached up some fine offensive lines. This does not change that Davis was the driving force behind his teams rings. It was “TD” who rushed for 199 yards in a playoff game and broke 47 Denver Bronco club records. Other backs having some moments does not change the legacy of number 30.
I’m hearing a lot of chatter about other players with potential to get voted in. Terrell Davis belongs in the Hall of Fame. The level he attained and how it contributed to team success is way more of a positive than his short career is a negative. The football public somehow missed out on a guy who is closer to a legend then someone who should be begging for votes.
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.”