LeBron James and Must-See Professional Athletes

J. Matthew nespoli@thebrokenauthorCorrespondent IIJuly 14, 2011

LeBron James and Must-See Professional Athletes

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    We are in the dead of summer. There are no sports today. There won't be any NFL for a while. There may never be an NBA game again.

    Where can we sports fans get a fix?

    For us diehard fans, there's always ESPN Classic. There, any game in which our favorite teams or players are playing is must-see TV.

    However, most fans aren't diehards; they are casual fans who only tune in for the best of the best.

    That's why the Lakers get great ratings every year, but the Clippers never do.

    As Americans, we are obsessed with fame, gossip and storylines. We want to be entertained.

    Thus, I've put together a short-list of those athletes, over the years, who one way or another made themselves into must-see TV for even the most average of fans.

    If you find yourself in need of a sports fix, get yourself over to ESPN Classic to watch some of these must-see performers of today and yesteryear.

Michael Vick

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    Let me start by saying that I'm not a Michael Vick apologist, nor a fan.  What he did was sick, and I don't think he deserved a second chance in the league.

    That being said, when this guy takes the field, I can't take my eyes off him.

    From the first time I watched him at Virginia Tech, running around the field with the speed and agility of a deer and the quickness of a mosquito, breaking the ankles of defenders left and right, I knew I'd just seen one of the greatest talents I ever would see.

    Michael Vick is an athletic freak of nature. This year's performance against the New York Giants was one of the singular greatest performances in NFL history.

    On top of his on-field heroics, his off the field antics have also been impossible to turn away from.  Never before has a player been so great and so hate-able at the same time... Well, except maybe OJ...and Kobe...and Barry Bonds...whatever, you get the point.

    I only wish that Michael Vick had come into the league with the work ethic of a Tom Brady. He'd have broken every record in the book by now.

Dennis Rodman, "The Worm"

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    Dennis Rodman. Love him or hate him, you can't deny that you were watching him.

    I, for one, loved him.

    There have been very few players to ever play the game of basketball who were so willing to do the dirty work as was Dennis Rodman.

    Typically, guys like this who work hard on the glass, play all out on defense and are willing to risk their bodies for an extra possession are hard-working, low key guys, like Kevin Love.

    Dennis, always the oddball, was anything but low key. The man was an attention whore. Sometimes, it seemed he thrived on the fame as much as he thrived on the game itself. That's what makes him such a fascinating person.He was willing to do the low-down, unappreciated, dirty work, yet he did everything in his power to find his way to fame and celebrity.

    The crazy hair, the run-ins with police, his affair with Madonna, Rodman always found a way to make himself relevant beyond the basketball world.

    And I loved every minute of it.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson

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    If you were alive in the 80's and you were a sports fan, then chances are you were either a Larry Bird guy, or a Magic Johnson guy; loving one, hating the other.

    Growing up on the East Coast, I was a Larry guy. My best friend was a Magic guy. This problem nearly ended our friendship.

    Magic and Larry came about at a time when the NBA was suffering. Most games weren't televised, few fans attended the games and the NBA finals were shown on tape delay.

    However, when Magic and Larry first laced them up, going head to head for the NCAA title, not only was it the most viewed college game of all-time, but it created a buzz in the NBA that hasn't gone away to this day.

    The match-up was classic in so many ways. You had the small-town, quiet, un-athletic, farm boy, who succeeded because of hard-work, discipline and a competitive drive that the game had never seen. On top of everything, he played for tiny little underdog Indiana State. This against the big smiling, big personality, skilled, athletic freak playing for powerhouse Michigan State.

    The rivalry became even bigger in the NBA when Bird went to the storied, east-coast, Boston Celtics, while Magic went to their rivals, the flashy, "Showtime" Lakers. It was a match made in heaven.

    Of course, this wouldn't be an honest article if I didn't mention the glaring obvious: One player was white and one was black, and this gave the rivalry even more juice at a time when America hadn't yet moved beyond all its issues of segregation.

    I remember sitting in school, all day, unable to sit still, unable to concentrate, hour after hour, because I wanted to get home that night to watch the Celtics with my father as they beat up on the hated Lakers.

    Those were great days, and I doubt the NBA will ever see a rivalry like this again.

Ron Artest, Soon to Be Metta World Peace

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    Ron Artest will soon be dead, and Metta World Peace will be born.

    How can you not be drawn into that storyline?

    Ron-Ron has never been one of the games greats, yet still, we can't turn away.

    Early in the decade, when Ron went into the stands after a fan, we as NBA fans experienced one of the most unbelievable events in sports history.

    I remember watching that event over and over, each time wondering if it really happened or if my mind was playing tricks on me.

    Oh, it happened, and since that day, I haven't been able to look away when Ron-Ron is around.

    Thankfully, Ron hasn't gone back into the stands. However, this doesn't mean his career has been devoid of excitement. He had an entertaining rivalry with Kobe (before joining the Lakers), he admitted to getting drunk at halftime, he's made some bad rap music, he gets involved in all kinds of interesting charities and he gave the greatest postgame interview of all-time, "I've got Wheaties!!!"

    Over the years, I've actually gotten to know Ron personally a little. I was surprised to find that he's actually quite intelligent, well-spoken and extremely thoughtful. Yes, he's totally bat-shit crazy, but that's what makes him so much fun.

    And I, for one, can't wait to watch Metta World Peace take the court for the first time this fall.

Lawrence Taylor

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    If you're asking me, the three greatest players in NFL history are Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Lawrence Taylor.

    LT was a freak. I grew up watching him because my family consists of a bunch of lunatic, diehard Giant's fans. I was the misfit, a Steeler fan, and most weekends, unless the two teams played at different times, I was forced to watch the Giants on our singular TV.

    However, it wasn't so bad. This did afford me the opportunity to watch the greatest defender in history dominate games like nobody has since.

    LT had the speed of a cornerback, the quick feet of a running back, the strength of a nose tackle and the anger of an offensive tackle.

    He was, quite simply, ridiculous.

    Though he's been out of the league for two decades, I can still close my eyes and see visions of LT whipping around the end, flying towards a QB's blindside, getting ready to lay a hurtful blow to the QB's ribs while simultaneously swinging that right arm, windmill fashion, at his throwing arm, dislodging the ball from the QB more times than not.

    Nobody could block the guy, and had it not been for the drugs, he may have been able to do it for another five years.

    Then again, it is possible that the cocaine may have been part of the reason why he was such a high-energy, lunatic, monster. Get some old game film, look into LT's eyes and tell me those aren't the eyes of someone who's just hit the crack-pipe.

    Since his career has ended, LT has been in trouble with the law more times than I care to count. His most recent trouble, for sleeping with a minor, is about par for course.

    However, for his on-field miracles, and his off-field sins, LT was and always will be must-see TV.

Blake Griffin

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    Yes, I know, I know, I'm a homer, and Blake has only played one year.

    But please don't tell me that you haven't spent at least an hour of your life watching YouTube videos of Blake Griffin posterizing seven-footers.

    Blake Griffin is must see TV for three reasons:

    1. He's an athletic marvel, a combination of power, size, speed, quickness, leaping ability and agility that the league has never seen before.

    2. On any given night...check that...on almost every night, the man is going to make some seven-footer look like a little girl who wet her pants. He's going to put his hand on top of the defender's head and use it as a springboard to fly towards the hoop and throw down a monstrous jam while letting his nether regions graze past said defender's face.

    3. His hustle and work ethic are second to none, making it a legit possibility that on any given night, he may fly over the scorers table after a loose ball, landing in the third row and crashing into an LA blond so hard that her breast implants come out her nose.

    Blake Griffin is the singular reason I've chosen to renew my Clipper season tickets for yet another year.

    He is must-see TV.

Brian Wilson

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    Brian Wilson is a pretty good pitcher, and a champion; however, this isn't why he's must-see TV.

    Look at the picture above and tell me you're not tuning in to see this guy perform.

    However, that beard is just the tip of the ice-berg.

    Brian Wilson is the best interview in the HISTORY of sports.

    To me, the worst part about sports are the postgame interviews. The players and coaches never say anything worth hearing. It's a bunch of cliche's, coach speak and boring sentiments that we've heard a thousand times:

    "I just thank Jesus for all my good will."

    "We won because we wanted it more."

    "We're just taking it one game at a time."

    Shut up!

    Whenever I'm at a press conference, it takes every ounce of my strength and courage not to stab myself in the ears with my pen so that I don't have to listen to these horrifically boring people.

    And then came Brian Wilson.

    The man speaks as if he doesn't realize that he plays professional sports, that he's supposed to have a limited vocabulary, no sense of humor and an endless supply of cliches.

    No, this guy says whatever pops into his head, and the things that pop into his head are wonderful little gems.

    Here are a few:

    "It smells like eggs in here. Did you fart? Did I fart?"

    "I'm feeling like I want to rage right now."

    "I’m a certified ninja. It happened in a dream. Normally it takes a lifetime, but I did it in 12 minutes.”

    If there is one thing I'm wishing for in sports this year, it's to go out for a few beers and good conversation with Brian Wilson and Metta World Peace.

Tom Brady

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    This one was tough for me to put on the list.


    Because like most non-Patriot fans, I hate Tom Brady.

    Why do I hate him?

    Because he's the best quarterback of all-time, because my wife thinks he's super-hot, because he dates supermodels, because he's rich and because he plays for the best franchise in the NFL.

    Are those enough reasons?

    Still, Tom Brady is must-see TV. You never know when he's going to bring his team back or down three touchdowns to win on some amazing pass that nobody else can make.

    If the Patriots are playing and they are losing, you can't turn the channel, or you may miss something great.

    Tom Brady is must-see TV.

LeBron James, Self Procliamed King

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    You may hate him (I’m not a fan), but you watch.

    And don’t tell me you don’t.

    Over nine million people turned in to see “The Decision”, and this year’s finals was the most viewed in NBA history, making the numbers of the Magic and Larry era seem like they were re-runs of Gilligan’s island.

    Everyone watched, and they weren’t watching because of Dirk Nowitzki.

    They watched because of LeBron James.

    Love him or hate him, he's the most famous and recognizable man in sports today. He is an athletic freak of nature, a talent like we’ve never seen before, and he’s got the ego to match.

    In one year, LeBron has gone from most-loved to most-hated. He calls himself “The King," but this self-proclaimed King has no treasure in his kingdom. Not one championship.

    And that’s why, next year, if we have a season, watching LeBron James attempt to bring home some hardware is must see TV.

    As a Blake Griffin/L.A. Clippers fan, I’m hoping for another monumental choke-job by this superstar.

    Either way, I’ll be riveted, just as you will be.

Michael Jordan G.O.A.T.

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    Do I really need to explain why Michael Jordan was must-see TV?

    No athlete, in the past 50 years, has been more dominant or exciting than Michael Jordan.

    Not only is he the greatest basketball player to ever live, but the man transcended the game to become a global icon. There isn’t a country on earth where Michael Jordan can go without being recognized; his face is equally recognizable to President Barack Obama.

    Michael was must see TV because, on any given night, he might have taken-off from the foul line for a dunk and never come back down to earth.

    I’m not one to accuse a man of cheating without some kind of evidence, but I’m at least 50 percent certain that Michael Jordan is a cheater.

    There's no other way to explain how he could leave his feet for a dunk and land about three seconds after everyone else had already returned to earth. The man didn’t jump; he glided, and he did so with grace and style.

    My theory is not that Michael was on steroids. No. Many an athlete have been on steroids, and none of them have ever been able to fly like Michael.

    My theory is that Michael Jordan is actually a man from the past. He hails from the Egyptian empire. Whatever anti-gravity technology they used to make those pyramids, moving stones weighing as much as 120,000 pounds, Michael brought this technology back with him in his Egyptian time machine and put them in his sneakers.

    There's simply no other logical explanation.

    Michael proved his place, historically, as the most must see athlete of our generation when he left basketball and joined the MLB because when Jordan left, people stopped watching. Then, he came back to win three more championships in dramatic fashion, making some of the most iconic buzzer beaters in history and cementing himself as an icon for the ages.