Sports Figures We Were Definitely Wrong About

Zac Wassink@https://twitter.com/ZacWassinkFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2017

Sports Figures We Were Definitely Wrong About

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    Some famous sports figures seemingly exist to prove doubters and haters wrong. 

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may be the ultimate example. Every team in the NFL passed on Brady multiple times during the 2000 draft, and Brady responded to that by becoming arguably the greatest QB in the history of the league. Brady has already cemented himself as an all-time great regardless of what happens during Super Bowl LI. 

    Former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie has gone from being a vilified figure to a man owed apologies from fans who have learned to "trust the process." Daniel Murphy left no doubt he is capable of winning a Major League Baseball MVP award. Houston Texans Jadeveon Clowney showed during the 2016 season he is no bust. 

    Each of these sports figures serves as reminders we sometimes jump to conclusions about athletes and executives far too quickly. Who else will prove us wrong between now and the end of the decade? 

Amanda Nunes

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    Amanda Nunes' professional fighting career has been filled with ups and downs. 

    As Damon Martin of Fox Sports wrote a few years ago, Nunes was advertised to be one of the sport's next big stars when she emerged in Strikeforce back in 2011. The Brazilian didn't find immediate success, however, as she lost her second fight in that promotion. Cat Zingano defeated Nunes in September 2014, a loss that seemingly put Nunes out of any title picture for the foreseeable future. 

    Little could we have guessed two Septembers ago Nunes would become one of the top overall female fighters in the world. 

    Nunes won the bantamweight championship when she dominated Miesha Tate in the main event of UFC 200 in July, and she then successfully defended her championship when she earned a first-round TKO victory over Ronda Rousey in less than a minute in December. 

    Nunes now must be considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in all of mixed martial arts. 

Jadeveon Clowney

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    Is Jadeveon Clowney a bust? 

    Randy Gurzi of Toro Times and others were wondering that about the Houston Texans defensive end back in the fall of 2015. Clowney, you'll remember, missed 12 of 16 games during his rookie campaign because of injury, and he failed to play like a superstar for the majority of the 2015 season. 

    As Danny Kelly of The Ringer wrote in January, Clowney showed his true worth to the Texans during the 2016 season. The 23-year-old who became a star at South Carolina accumulated six sacks for the Texans in 2016, and he harassed Tom Brady multiple times during a playoff game in January. 

    While we still don't know, for sure, what Clowney will be in the NFL, he seemingly has silenced his critics and doubters for now. 

Sidney Crosby

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    For whatever reasons, certain individuals have been waiting for Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby to be past his prime for years. Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette touched upon the matter back in January 2009, and Joshua Weissbock of The Hockey Writers claimed in February 2015 Crosby's age was "affecting his offensive production." 

    It turns out Crosby's offensive production is just fine. 

    "Sid the Kid," as he is still known 11 seasons into his NHL career, helped guide the Penguins to the second Stanley Cup title of his tenure with the club last spring, and his stellar play throughout the playoffs earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy. As of the final day of January 2017, the 29-year-old is second in the NHL in total points, and he currently leads the league in goals. 

    Crosby's prime won't last forever, but its demise has not yet arrived. 

Kevin Love

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    What does Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love need to accomplish to quiet criticisms from both fans and observers? 

    AESPN's Dave McMenamin explained, it was roughly one year ago when Cleveland star LeBron James publicly defended the team's decision to trade Andrew Wiggins for Love back in the summer of 2014 after James rejoined the Cavs. Per Marc Stein and Chris Haynes of ESPN, the New York Knicks reportedly recently offered Carmelo Anthony to Cleveland in exchange for Love, a sign the Knicks believe the Cavs would be willing to at least listen to a conversation about that proposed deal. 

    We'll never know what would've happened had Love not suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first round of the 2015 NBA playoffs. Maybe the Cavaliers would've won back-to-back titles. We do know Love played well in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals versus the Golden State Warriors, and the 28-year-old was responsible for a critical defensive stop of Golden State guard Stephen Curry late in that contest. 

    All would do well to remember Love's contributions to the Cavs before insisting the club should trade him for any available assets. 

Owners of the Cleveland Indians

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    The perception that the owners of the Cleveland Indians, most notably Larry Dolan, are cheap and not willing to invest money on the team's roster has existed among pockets of Cleveland fans for numerous years. Back in 2012, a petition appeared on Change.org requesting Dolan sell the Indians to somebody else. Craig Lyndall of Waiting for Next Year expressed a similar opinion in January 2013. 

    Don't look now, but Dolan's Indians appear to be championship contenders this winter. 

    Cleveland has one of baseball's best managers in Terry Francona. Corey Kluber is an ace capable of winning a Cy Young Award. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen anchor a solid bullpen. Francisco Lindor is arguably the best young shortstop in the league. Outfielder Tyler Naquin played like a true Rookie of the Year during portions of his debut season with the club. 

    The Indians also signed big-name free agent Edwin Encarnacion this offseason. 

    Cleveland won't have one of the highest payrolls in baseball for multiple reasons, most notably where the club plays home games. That doesn't mean ownership is a problem. In fact, the club's front office has done well to build a team that was one run away from winning the World Series last fall. 

Landon Collins

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    New York Giants safety Landon Collins failed to impress during his rookie season. In fact, the Giants even toyed with moving the second-round pick to linebacker in an attempt to get the most out of him, as Kevin Hickey of USA Today explained. 

    Good thing the Giants allowed Collins to remain in the team's secondary, as he enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2016. 

    The 23-year-old accumulated five interceptions during his second pro season, and he finished the campaign with four sacks. Collins also developed into a solid run-stopper for what became one of the better defenses in the NFC. Assuming he will continue to improve as he did over the past 12 months, Collins may become the best overall safety in the NFL before the end of 2017. 

    Keeping Collins at safety was one of the best moves the Giants made this year.

Harry Kane

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    Don't believe a pro athlete can be motivated by doubters? Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane would like to have a word with you. 

    Kane became a Tottenham lineup mainstay by the end of the 2014-15 campaign, during which he netted 21 goals in Premier League play. The Spurs front man struggled to hit the back of the net in the early portions of the 2015-16 season, however, as he scored only a single tally in nine Tottenham contests. This led some to claim Kane was nothing more than a "one-season wonder." 

    Kane admitted last June such comments only fueled him per James Whaling of the Mirror, and the 23-year-old went on to win the Premier League Golden Boot after he scored 25 league goals. The striker is probably used to being doubted, as he spent several seasons away from Tottenham on loan deals until receiving an opportunity to play in the club's senior squad from manager Mauricio Pochettino. 

    Kane is now one of England's top scorers and a player who could be worth a massive transfer fee in the near future. 

Sam Hinkie

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    Maybe, just maybe, former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie knew what he was doing all along. 

    As Quartz's Dan Kopf recently wrote, the 76ers "tanked" and suffered multiple horrendous seasons under Hinkie's watch. The club became the laughing stock of the NBA en route to earning several high draft picks, and Philadelphia used such assets to acquire players such as Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor and Ben Simmons. 

    The 76ers probably won't make the postseason later this spring, but the team's future nevertheless appears bright. Embiid, the public face of Hinkie's "process," is on his way to winning Rookie of the Year. Saric is evolving into a solid scorer. Injury woes have prevented Simmons from officially debuting for the 76ers, but the hope is he will be able to contribute on the court at some point this season. 

    Hinkie and the 76ers parted ways last spring well before his vision yielded positive results. It seems, as of February 2017, he deserved better from the team. 

Daniel Murphy

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    Nobody could be blamed for believing Daniel Murphy's postseason hitting display during the fall of 2015 was little more than a blip on the radar. Murphy, who never possessed a reputation for being a power hitter before October 2015, crushed home runs in six straight playoff games for the New York Mets, and he was a big reason the club won the National League pennant and completed a journey to the World Series. Robert Silverman of the Daily Beast and Nicolas Stellini of Baseball Prospectus, among others, referred to Murphy's explosion as a "fluke," and we had little reason to believe those assessments were incorrect. 

    The Mets obviously doubted Murphy's ability to recreate such magic, as the club allowed him to sign with division rivals the Washington Nationals before the start of the 2016 season. That decision came back to haunt the Mets in more ways than one. 

    Murphy enjoyed the best season of his career last year, hitting a total of 25 home runs and driving home 104 RBI en route to becoming an MVP candidate. As Tyler Kepner of the New York Times wrote, Murphy also dominated the Mets at the plate throughout his first year with the Nationals. 

    The Mets were wrong about Murphy, and the 31-year-old infielder will look to remind his former team of that over the next several years. 

Tom Brady

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    Tom Brady is an inspiration for anybody told they cannot achieve a goal. 

    Brady repeatedly had to prove himself throughout his college career, and he then performed poorly during the 2000 NFL combine, as John Breech of CBS Sports explained. Every NFL team passed on Brady more than once during that year's draft, as he fell all the way down to the sixth round until the New England Patriots took a flier on the Michigan quarterback via the 199th pick.

    Brady has gone on to become an all-time great and a legend of the sport. The three-time Super Bowl MVP and four-time champion already deserves his own wing in the Hall of Fame, and he may win at least one more title before he retires. Almost as remarkable is that Brady doesn't seem to be slowing down, even though he turns 40 years old in August. 

    Brady is the greatest draft pick in NFL history, and it's safe to assume he'll remain the leader of the New England offense through the 2017 season. It's almost difficult to imagine he wasn't a top NFL prospect 17 years ago.