Side Note: Not always a huge fan of uber-patriotism in this country because I think it’s often misplaced and disingenuous and I try to keep politics off this site. But today it felt appropriate to mention a few notable guys who played sports and served in the military, whose stories have personally meant a lot to me (admittedly with some obvious New York bias): Pat Tillman, Ted Williams, Jack Lummus, Jerry Coleman, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Louis, Roger Staubach, Yogi Berra, and Nolan Ryan. For a much better list that does this topic justice: http://www.nbcsports.com/gallery/athletes-who-served-military
Stars and Superstars
I hate the overuse of the word “superstar.” I can’t tell you how many times I hear talking heads say, “Well he’s definitely have an MVP-candidate type season and he’s well on his way to being a bonafide superstar in this league.”
Being a superstar is more than just having a great season. Beyond that, being a superstar is more than just being a good athlete in general. Superstar has as much to do with what happens off the field as it does on the field. And even on the field, superstardom goes beyond what’s quantifiable. Quantifiable statistics help; MVP awards amassed, points scored, games/championships won. But in come the analytics guys, the sabermetrics geeks who worship Billy Bean and lecture you on WAR, WHIP, OPS, PER, passer rating vs. QBR etc. etc. and sometimes rather than clearing things up, all these stats just make it a bit more muddy. Where there’s a stat for Batting average with RISP in baseball, where are the stats showing how many clutch shots Reggie Miller hit in the playoffs? Do Robinson Cano’s overall playoff numbers cover up the fact that he barely showed up for the Yankees’ postseason in 2012? How do you quantify what Richard Sherman’s very presence on a football field meant against Peyton Manning in last year’s Super Bowl?
What happens off the field matters just as much. At least Tebow won a couple championships in college and a playoff game in the NFL. Johnny Football never even won his conference, he hasn’t even taken an NFL snap yet, and still he’s trademarking things and partying with Gronk in Vegas a day before Browns’ OTAs begin.
“Hey all you hot chicks, come take a picture with me and Gronk!”
Side Note: Can I be Johnny Manziel’s publicist? Because at this point, he’s actually better off buying into the whole “I’m a douchey All-American kid” persona instead of trying to talk it down. Forget Gatorade commercials, hire me Johnny and I will personally ensure you get invited to every celebrity wedding, you’ll know about every big-time party, you’ll be the new official spokesman for Trojan condoms, Natty Light, and Pinnacle Vodka (for the ladies). You’ll be tweetin’ pictures of you doing blow with Yasiel Puig in no time.
Side Note: Genius move to party with Gronk of all people. This is a guy spotted at clubs shirtless with girls wearing ‘Party With Sluts’ tank tops and we barely bat an eye because for some unfathomable reason… we love him so much that he can do no wrong. Show him how it’s done, Gronk!
Derek Jeter is well-known for rolling through a litany of hot actresses, models, Grammy-winning singers, and just NYC randos; having the common courtesy to send them on their way with a gift basket and a ride home the next day.
It doesn’t always have to be flashy, sex-appeal stuff to make a superstar off the field (or court) either. Sometimes it’s just the sheer force of being in a butt-load of commercials. Look at Blake Griffin. Until this year the dude was the second-best player on his own team, hasn’t won anything more than a couple playoff series and yet my wife can tell you exactly who he is but thinks this guy’s name is legitimately Cliff Paul:
Stars are a little different. To me, there’s just a few superstars and a litany of stars. Here’s my list with subsequent explanations. Let’s try and have some fun with this.
Superstars: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Richard Sherman, Adrian Peterson Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel
Manning makes the list thanks to all the commercials, the three Super Bowl appearances (one ring), single-season records for yards and TD passes and – I’m forgetting something – oh yea, that’s right he’s the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time. Brady makes the list because of three rings, a beautiful smile, Giselle, and his willingness to be seen doing things like this:
Richard Sherman was recently named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the entire world. Hate his attitude, love his game, whatever you do, don’t ignore the fact that his existence has spurred several useful conversations about higher education, confidence vs. cockiness, race, and steroids. Adrian Peterson makes the list because he’s the last relic of the every-down back era and his historic run at Dickerson’s record. Winston and Manziel changed how view the Heisman Trophy as it pertains to standout freshmen and challenge the notion of what it means to be the prototypical American quarterback.
Stars on the cusp: Luck, RGIII, Brees, Rodgers, JJ Watt, Newton, Kaepernick, Megatron, the other Manning, Michael Sam, Gronk, Polamalu, Clay Matthews
What stands out here:
– offense, particularly quarterbacks
– varying degrees of on the field contributions (Sam hasn’t played a down yet and is still one of the most recognizable names in sports)
– Someone who’s just different – Polamalu (hair), Sam
– Outspoken players – Manziel, Sherman, RGIII
– Corporate representation – these guys represent DirecTV, Papa John’s, McDonald’s, Uggs, Wrangler, NyQuil, State Farm, Oberto beef jerky, Subway, NFL.com Fantasy Football, Beats headphones, Gillette, Fathead, Head and Shoulders, Citizen Eco Drive, Toyota, Gatorade, Dick’s, Under Armour and more.
– Fame is fleeting. Imagine if Manziel starts out on the bench and Brian Hoyer kills it ahead of him and he winds up being a backup for years. He instantly falls off this list.
Superstars: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper, Derek Jeter, Andrew McCutchen, and Yasiel Puig
Mike Trout defines 5-tool player and has the personality to match his talent. Miguel Cabrera is simply put the greatest hitter among active players and at this pace will likely go down as the best all-around hitter of his generation. Bryce Harper may be overrated, but the very fact that we think he’s overrated gives credence to the claim that he’s a superstar because we have overrated him. His name has outrun his own play. He’s perfect at this stuff. He unnecessarily knocks his helmet off so you can see his long, flowing, brown hair flap in the wind. The dude has bought in to the image of himself and it works. Jeter is probably the second-greatest shortstop in baseball history (that’s for another article) and he’s dated too many famous dime-pieces to name here.
Side Note: Ahh, what the hell. Mariah Carey, Jordana Brewster, Tyra Banks, Jessica Alba, Scarlett Jo, Vida Guerra, Adriana Lima, Jessica Biel, and Minka Kelly (below) to name a few
(Cool, Derek. Good for you)
And Yasiel Puig makes the list because he’s the most exciting player in baseball. Sometimes being a superstar is simply about being as compelling as you can be. Puig is compelling.
Stars on the cusp: Cano, Pedroia, Abreu, Kershaw, Verlander, Wright, Pujols, Darvish, Fernandez, Strasburg, Cueto, Tulowitzki, Molina
Superstars: Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony
In basketball the superstars are the biggest because when you can only play 5 guys at a time, individual players mean so much more than in any other sport (other than QB’s in football). Lebron is the best all-around athlete in professional sports, he’s working on a 3-peat (please don’t sue me Pat Riley), and leads the league in jersey sales. Kevin Durant is pretty much in second place to Lebron in the best player and popularity categories, and random white kids with funny voices really want him in their framilies… Kobe is the best basketball player we’ve seen since Michael Jordan retired (yup, even better than Lebron… that is also for another article). Tim Duncan is one of the ten greatest basketball players of all time. Blake Griffin is the funniest person in basketball right now and I can’t get through a single commercial break without seeing his face. And while Carmelo hasn’t won anything and is an understandably controversial guy, the sheer volume of his scoring and his playing in the biggest sports media city in America gets him on this list.
Stars on the cusp: Paul George, Beal/Wall, D-Rose, D-Wade, K-Love, Curry, CP3, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Aldridge, and Lillard.
A lot of people will disagree with me on these because I think I’m a little particular when it comes to anointing someone a superstar. I was too quick to name Paul George to superstardom and I got burned. Dude looks uninterested in seizing the Pacers’ best opportunity to dethrone Miami and quite frankly he’s a poor leader. Rose might be the third best player in basketball and we just don’t know it because he never plays. James Harden used to be on my list but he forgets to show up during certain playoff games and he forgets to play defense entirely. Chris Paul is the best point guard in basketball but I can’t ignore the fact that he hasn’t won anything and this year he was the second-best player on his own team. Anthony Davis will be on the superstar list in three years if the Pelicans don’t ruin it somehow… PLEASE DON’T RUIN HIM SOMEHOW.
And now we get to Russell Westbrook. How can I leave the most dynamic player in these 2014 Playoffs off the list? I mean, he’s the most athletic point guard in basketball. He does commercials. People adore him and his lens-less eyeglasses. He plays with fire and intensity… Why no superstar status?
- He hasn’t won a championship
- He hasn’t even come close to an MVP
- He’s undoubtedly the second-best player on his own team
- And quite frankly, sometimes when he tries to play like he’s the best player on his team… he sort of ruins everything.
Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe it’s unrealistic to ask a competitor who wants to be great that in order to be great he has to defer to someone greater. I dunno, but Scottie Pippen was a superstar and he did that all the time.
Superstars: Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, the Williams sisters (yes, still), Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Landon Donovan, Shaun White, Michael Phelps, Floyd Mayweather, Ronda Rousey
Stars of note on the cusp: Toews/Kane, Lunqvist, Quick, Giroux, Oshie, Datsyuk, Djokovic, Scott, McIlroy, Spieth
Quick Notes on Landon Donovan being excluded from the World Cup:
– So let’s say he just missed the cut. You already bring like 3 or 4 guys that aren’t gonna play. Why not bring him for the leadership, the experience, the notoriety and star power?
– Soccer folks tell me the dude can still play
– He’s the most famous American in soccer, hands down. The U.S. isn’t going to win the cup this year with or without him. So why not at least keep him around to draw interest?
– I’m not a big soccer guy. Love international play. And I can now name only two players on the USMNT. That’s reason enough to keep the guy around