The Standard of Excellence In Sports Today

Thomas ConroyCorrespondent IOctober 26, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 07:  USA Team assistant Michael Jordan chats with Tiger Woods during a practice round prior to the start of The Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Course on October 7, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

It has been a special year for the Nike-Gatorade pitchmen, Michael Jordan was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Tiger Woods secured another PGA player of the year award, and Derek Jeter will make a return appearance to the Fall Classic after a six year absence.

They’ve all been criticized for not allowing the public to see how they fuel their passion for success or an inside look into their game-day preparation. What you cannot criticize is their unbelievable skill level, their undeniable work ethic, or their unfathomable will to win. That’s what sets them apart from their opponents.

Their common denominator is a continuous love affair they have with their sport. It’s their sanctuary, a place for them to find comfort and peace. It has given them their greatest joy, and at times, their greatest heartache. It’s a testament to their personality that once they reached a high level of play they never looked back, never stopped practicing, and never took anything for granted in game competition.

Their leagues have made them the centerpiece of their marketing campaigns, and the highlight shows will feature them nightly. For MJ and Tiger, they had a direct effect on their sport’s merchandising, ticket sales, television ratings, and even assisted in escalating other player’s salaries. They have all taken their sports globally, and even challenged the popularity of the “mighty” NFL.

Yes, their image has been sculptured with too much corporate input, but you cannot argue with success. Their commercials have created a perfect storm in the advertising world, as every product they endorse seems to turn to gold. They all have the uncanny knack of translating their charisma and drive for success into advertising dollars. Jordan still captures the heart of the youth, urging them to “Be Like Mike,” and his basketball shoes are still regarded at a high level of excellence in the sport.

The public is always in search of athletic heroes. We marvel at their comfort level and how easy the sport comes to them. You will never forget the image of Jordan’s legendary jumper over Byron Russell to win an NBA title in 1998, Jeter’s incredible touch throw putout of Jeremy Giambi at home plate in 2001, or Tiger’s fist pump after a successful putt. They have been embedded into our sports memory banks for life. Finding the next great athlete to idolize is pro sport’s Holy Grail, and it’s often a lost expedition.

Yes, there are great players in sports, but these three are the greatest: Tiger, MJ, and Jeter.