Friday, March 8, 2013

10 Athletes ESPN SportsCenter Sports Science Should Mention on 'Greatest Athlete of All Time' Segment

By Adam Maher

ESPN SportsCenter Sports Science broke it down this month and decided that Bo Jackson is the greatest athlete of all time, but I thought there were a few other athletes they forgot to mention.

1) Odysseus

Time period: 12th Century BC
Location: Ithaka, Greece; modern-day Turkey; and, eventually, Ithaka again
Sport: Pseudo Medieval Warfare (the at-the-time equivalent to today's modern sports). Also masterful with a bow and arrow, sword, rock throwing, Olympic sports and puzzles.

Do you think Bo Jackson would have defeated Polyphemus the Cyclops with strength, leadership and wit in such fashion as the God-like, 6'5" Odysseus overcame to lead his men out of the Lotus-eater's cave of death? And after infuriating the giant Cyclops' father, Poseidon, been able to withstand the great wrath of Zeus' sea-ruling brother, six-headed mountain monsters, and eventually making it back to Ithaka to kill off 99 suitors who were devouring his swine and raping the heart of his long-suffering wife, Penelope, with just the help of some loyal servants and his adolescent son, Telemachus?

Would Bo Jackson have thought up the greatest hoax in the history of humankind, the Trojan Horse, in the tenth year of the Trojan War, thus ending the battle of Troy as a simple favor and avenging the greatest warrior of century 12 BC, Achilles?

In truth, yes, I think Bo could have done all that and more, but it was worth the comparison.

2) LeBron James

Time period: Present
Location: Miami in the winter; Cleveland in the summer
Sport: Basketball

Truth be told, LeBron James, in my opinion, is the greatest athlete of all time.

Fallacy alert! If LeBron wanted to play in the NFL, he would make ten Pro Bowls. If he wanted to play baseball, he would be the greatest center fielder of all time. If he wanted to run marathons, he'd break the Olympic record. If he wanted to play hockey, he'd crush Chara to smithereens. And if he wanted to play soccer, let's just say he'd probably make Barthez look like he was still playing for his local Marseilles kinder-kickers side. Seriously -- if LeBron James was in net when Roberto Carlos struck that famous curving free kick, let's just leave it at the fact that this reference wouldn't exist, shall we?

Did I forget to mention LeBron's 6'7", 265 lbs of pure guts and glory? I'm sorry, but couldn't LeBron have taken, say, Tony Hawk's spot in the bracket? Heck, I think Andrew Renolds could have taken Tony's spot, but that's another story...

While I still think Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan -- there are so many at this point -- are better basketball players, LeBron is still the greatest athlete to ever play basketball, and without a doubt the greatest athlete of all time. I'm just happy I'm alive to witness it first hand.

PS -- I've joined Magic Johnson and committed $20 supplicating LeBron to enter the Dunk Contest next year...have you?

3) Jackie Chan

Time period: Present
Location: Hong Kong; Hollywood; The Big Screen
Sport: Stuntman; Martial Arts

Jackie Chan is the most underrated athlete alive today. Just the mere fact that he is still alive is impressive in itself.

Then consider the fact that he does his own stunts -- the most dangerous stunts perhaps in Hollywood history have seen Jackie break just about every bone in his body -- not to mention he started his career as a stunt man for the one and only Bruce Lee.

Do you think Bo Jackson could climb up a 30-foot flagpole in 5 seconds? Jump from tree to tree like a flying squirrel, fall to the ground, suffer brain surgery, have a plastic plug implanted in his skull for the rest of his life and still finish one of his best movies, 1987's "Armor of God?"

Probably, but it was worth the comparison.

25 years later Jackie Chan is still an absolute legend and in phenomenal shape. It saddens me that he was overlooked on Sports Science's rendition of Greatest Athlete of All Time. Not to mention his career survived a trilogy alongside Chris Tucker.

4) Serena Williams

Time period: Present
Location: Compton, California; Wimbledon, England, 130 miles south of Birmingham
Sport: Tennis

Let me just start by saying that it is a travesty that not a single women was included in Sports Science's bracket for "Greatest Athlete of All Time."

Well, unless you count Roger Federer.

Having said that, there are literally hundreds of women that could be included in this list, but of all the greats, Serena Williams surely is the most athletic that comes to mind.

Currently ranked #1 in the world in women's tennis, no female athlete has won more money as a professional tennis player (excluding endorsements -- Sharapova crushes all in that category) than Serena's over $40MM career.

Don't think Serena is deserving? Get the hell off my blog and go learn all about her endless achievements.

5) Alex Zanardi

Time period: Peaked in the early 1990s; just completed his comeback in 2012
Location: Italy
Sport: Formula 1; Hand Biking

For those of you reading this that don't watch HBO Sports regularly, I will let you off the hook if the name Alex Zanardi doesn't ring a bell. But for those of you who do, I hope you agree with me when I say that Zanardi is one of the most inspirational stories in the history of sports, and has proven that work ethic and passion mixed with pure athleticism can turn the most horrific of personal tragedies into the life of an international icon.

In 2001, the Italian Zanardi was a back-of-the-pack Formula 1 race car driver trying to reclaim glory once found in the early 1990s. But as he made his way up a European circuit race in Lausitzring, Germany (Alex started 22nd of 27 and worked his way up to first place with one final, routine pit stop to go before cruising to victory lane), disaster struck with just 13 laps left of 144 to go. Zanardi's car was "t-boned" by Alex Tagliani's car when Zanardi lost control as he re-entered the course from pit row, leaving both Zanardi's race car, and Zanardi, literally split in two pieces.

It was a bone-chilling accident. "The kind of car crash that kills."

Zanardi's legs literally disintegrated, but not his athleticism, or the will to use it. He became obsessed with physical therapy, and shortly after mastering his prosthetic legs, he returned to Lausitzring in 2003 to finish his final 13 laps to a full grand stand.

But that wouldn't quench his lust for velocity, and Alex fell in love with a new need for speed: hand biking.

With just four months of training to his name, Zanardi placed fourth in the New York City Marathon paralympics hand bikes. And in 2012, Zanardi won a gold medal at the London Summer Games.

Zanardi's story is one of pure glory and athleticism. He may not be the most famous, skilled, freakishly tall, strong, talented or idolized athlete in the world, but he is inspiring. And is as pure an athlete as there will ever be.

6) Spartacus

Time period: Last century BC (c. 109 -- 71 BC)
Location: Pre-enslavement: Central and Southeastern Europe as part of Thracian Indo-European race of nomads; During enslavement: Capua, Southern Peninsula, Roman Empire; after escape: Mount Vesuvius, Naples, modern-day Italy
Sport: Gladiator; Pseudo Medieval Warfare; Olympic sports

Minor preface: This is not implying that today's athletes are slaves in any way. Nor is it comparing today's sports to the art of war -- same notion goes for the Odysseus comparisons -- it's merely recognizing the fact that athletes thrived long before today's modern sports world.

Have you ever heard the idea that today's sports heroes are the equivalent of the Roman Gladiators? After all, in modern history, weren't the Roman stadiums the prototypes for today's magnificent jumbo stadiums? Well, Spartacus, in case you weren't aware, was perhaps the greatest gladiator of all time.

Before his death, he was able to lead a famous slave revolt of fellow gladiators, taking revenge on the evil Roman slave hoarders of the Southern Peninsula. Though Spartacus was eventually killed in the Third Servile War in 71 BC, the legend of his athleticism and triumphant victories continued to grow and still to this day, over 2,000 years later, live on in stories told and retold again. The most famous story of recent note being the classic Hollywood film, "Gladiator."

Russell Crowe's character in Gladiator, Maximus Meridius, who leads a slave revolt, is commonly referred to as Spartacus. Though Spartacus was never in line to rule the Roman Empire, like the Maximus character, and never actually fought in Rome -- the great Coliseum wasn't constructed until 140 years after Spartacus died (which suggests that Spartacus died in vain) -- it's no wonder Gladiator won Best Picture and Best Actor at the 73rd Academy Awards, the first Oscars of the new millennium, 2071 years after Spartacus' legacy of athleticism began.

Will Jackie Robinson's legacy of becoming the first African American athlete to break the Major League Baseball racial barrier last as long as Spartacus' legacy? I think so. And as sad a topic as both are, they are equally heroic, and well worth comparing.

7) Jonah Lomu

Time period: 1994-2002
Location: New Zealand
Sport: Rugby

I know my man Chris Schafer is going to smile when he sees this one -- I wonder if he agrees with what I'm about to write...

Jonah Lomu is the general consensus best rugby player of all time. In a brute sport where muscle, speed, agility, bravery, elasticity and pure grit takes precedence over all else to create the ultimate showcase for athleticism, Lomu has repeatedly proven there has never been a better participant.

Lomu holds the record for most tries (that's Rugby talk for "touchdown" -- which in a way is a more literal version of the word as players must physically touch the ball down to the ground in the end zone to score) in Rugby World Cup history with 15, is considered the first "global superstar" of the sport, was inducted in to the Hall of Fame in 2007, and to top it all off, he was the focal point of South Africa's opposition in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and was portrayed in a "reverent" fashion in Clint Eastwood's 2009 film "Invictus" which was about the relationship between the Rugby World Cup, Apartheid, and Nelson Mandela.

8) Usain Bolt

Time period: Present
Location: Jamaica; way ahead of the pack; first place by a mile
Sport: Sprinting

Usain Bolt is the fastest man to ever do it. There is no argument, detester, assent, or proof that anything otherwise is the case.

If ESPN included Michael Phelps in their bracket, it is an absolute backhand to the face of sprinters around the world to not have Usain Bolt included. Phelps may have more Olympic gold medals, but Bolt's Olympic gold medal percentage is 100% (six for six), while Phelps' is only 81% (18 of 22).

You can't hold it against Bolt that there are like, 1,000 swimming events at the Olympics compared to the three of four sprinting events Bolt is eligible for.

I would say Bolt could take the place of Earnhardt Sr in the bracket -- the fastest human on foot edging out the best race car driver of all time. Not taking anything away from Dale Sr., but I'm pretty sure it doesn't take science to realize Usain Bolt is more athletic than 100% of NASCAR drivers.

9) Cy Young

Time period: 1890-1911
Location: Born and died in Ohio
Sport: Baseball

In my opinion, by no means is Cy Young the "Greatest Athlete of All Time," but if ESPN Sports Science included guys like Tiger Woods in their bracket, who is an athlete in the sense that he has perfected the technique of a perfect stroke, then I see no reason not to include the greatest pitcher in MLB history (no offense Christy Mathewson, Grover Alexander, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton) in the bracket as well.

Also, when I hear the phrase "Greatest Athlete of All Time" I begin to think about legacy. Then I ask myself: What player in Major League Baseball, or all of American sports for that matter, has left behind a greater legacy than Cy Young? Maybe Muhammad Ali?


Cy Young was so good at conducting the orchestra of America's Pastime that every season still to this day and for the unforeseeable future the MLB gives out two awards in his name to the best pitchers in Major League Baseball. One for the AL, and one for the NL.

Do you realize what that means? The greatest pitchers to walk the face of the earth spreading Cy Young's legacy across the pages of history for years to come ... What more can an athlete's legacy ask for?

The fact that no pitcher threw more complete games than Cy Young (749 of his 815 games started he went the distance -- 92%), that he has the most career wins (511) and that he still holds the longest streak for most consecutive hit-less innings pitched (25 1/3) and remembering that each of those records have stood for over a century, it' bang-bang to include Cy Young in the conversation for greatest athlete of all time.

PS -- Cy's middle name was "True." Can't argue with that.

10) Jesse Owens

Time period: 1936 Olympic Games
Location: US, Germany
Sport: Track and Field

Jesse Owens should have been included in ESPN SportsCenter Sports Science's "Greatest Athlete of All Time" final 16 segment for reasons beyond words.

Not only did he win gold in all four events he participated in at the 1936 German Olympic Summer games (100M, 200M, 4x100M Relay and the Long Jump), he stood up to Hitler's premise that minorities were inferior to the Aryan race as Hitler attempted to show off a resurgent German nation 20 years after suffering defeat in WWI.

What's even more incredible and noteworthy than Jesse refusing to salute Hitler on the podium four times, was the other Adolf Jesse became acquainted with while touring Germany that same summer.

Adolf "Adi" Dassler owned a German shoe factory that came to become the famous shoe company known today as adidas. Just days before Owens competed in front of the world, Dassler approached him and offered to sponsor Jesse with a pair of his famous new running shoes. At the time, no black athlete had ever been officially sponsored in any sport known to the public. If it wasn't for Jesse Owens and the first black athlete shoe deal, perhaps Michael Jordan would have never invented the Jumpman, and LeBron James would never have made $90 million straight out of high school.

Side note: Dassler's brother, Rudolph Dassler, started adidas with Adolf, but after some time, decided to break off and start his own shoe company...can you guess what company he started? Here's a hint: #8 on this list is their best man.