Here’s the latest from your favorite sports writer. Willie reveals his ten favorite athletes of all-time. His #6 is downright hilarious.
Every athlete who finds his name on this list should be truly honored to be among such elite company. This is a top 10 list of the athletes who have brought me the most enjoyment and happiness throughout the course of my life. I may not even like some of the athletes on this list that much at the moment, but this list is a reflection of the journey of Willie G the sports fan. The lists go as follows:
1) Dennis Rodman-I was a huge Rodman fan. Talk about a rebel without a clue! I first remember Dennis as a shy young man in his Pistons days, but when you really looked at him you could tell he was crazy even then. I always loved his energy out there. However, I really began to take notice of him while he played for the Spurs. That is when he really came into his own. As a sports entertainment personality, Rodman was bigger than life. I loved the fact that he was a rebounding specialist. He pulled down like 17 boards a game, but he did not even want to score, which he said in his book. Something else I vividly remember him saying in his first book (and only one I read, although A Walk On the Wild Side sounded interesting also), “Greg Popovic can kiss my ass!” At the time I was reading it, I was like “Okay,” but I have always hated Greg Popovic partially as a result of that. I get the impression Pop ran the Worm out of San Antonio because he had too much of a personality. Sadly, his career remains incomplete because he never got to play his last game naked.
2) Jimmy Connors-he was the best thing that ever happened to tennis. He was the Pete Rose of his sport, doing whatever it took to win. He was also the best in show. He understood that while you play tennis to win, entertaining the fans is what it is really all about. Whether he was loved or hated, he always gave the fans something to talk about and get excited over. The personalities of both he and John McEnroe are really what brought tennis to a more popular level in the late 70’s and early 80’s, even though Bjorn Borg may have been the best player of the era. The reason that I like Connors so much better than McEnroe is due to his ability to keep it real. I liked his style on the court better, as I feel that he played harder and hustled more, not to mention that I believe he was a better competitor. I also respect the fact that he has no regrets about the way he acted during his career, unlike McEnroe obviously does. McEnroe is not only a sell out to CBS, but he reminds me of all of those older men I have known in my everyday life who were just awesome once but now they have gone mainstream and compromised their beliefs. Connors, on the other hand, has not let old age get the best of him. He said in a recent Cold Pizza interview that he would like to see more of today’s players show emotion out there and that he would act the same way if he had it to do all over again. McEnroe, in contrast, speaks negatively of anyone who throws a racquet or does anything to stand out as a player, acting as if he does not understand why in the world someone would ever behave in such a way even though he was ten times worse.
3) Michael Vick-the best in the business.
4) Michael Irvin-I have cooled off on Irvin over the years, but he was my favorite football player throughout my youth. I was a huge Cowboys fan back in the days when Jimmy Johnson was the coach, and I always enjoyed Irvin’s outgoing style of play. During that same time, I was also a Miami Hurricanes fan, which was an experience that helped shape my life. Similar to the situation with Vick, I had no idea “the Playmaker” would become so controversial when I started liking him. Remember the time that he and a former Cowboys player along with a few strippers were busted in a hotel room with weed and coke? How about the time “a friend’s” crack pipe was found in his car? Few remember the time where he stabbed a lineman in the neck with a pair of scissors because it was around the same time as the incident with the strippers and because Jerry Jones covered it up by paying the young lineman a couple hundred thousand dollars to keep his mouth shut about it. Even though he denounced the Miami Hurricanes “Orange Brawl” last season and the comments regarding it by commentator and Miami alum Lamar Thomas, I specifically remember Irvin swinging his helmet at an opponent in a 1996 Monday Night game. How is it that he seemingly always got a free pass? As I got older, and had to listen to his loud mouth all the time on ESPN, I began to realize that Irvin really was not such a great guy.
5) Allen Iverson-AI’s finest hour was in 2001, when he took the Sixers to the finals. I love the way he hustles and takes it to the hole. It is a shame that injuries had to slow him and make his style of play less effective. When the lights go on, “the Answer” leaves it all on the court. If you play that hard, you probably do not need to practice.
6) Bam Morris-this is one of the most intriguing football players ever. I loved his running style, which was reminiscent of Earl Campbell. Although he never received any credit for it, Bam was awesome for Pittsburgh in the 1996 Super Bowl against Dallas and would probably have been the game’s MVP if Neil O’Donnell did not throw those interceptions. Then, he just continued to get busted for weed, I mean pounds upon pounds of weed. At the time I did not even think he was dealing, just smoking an ungodly amount. These skirmishes with the law landed him in prison where he was supposedly “scared straight”, as stated in a Sports Illustrated article, although he was busted again for a copious amount of marijuana soon after the article ran. I always imagined him to be getting schwag or middies and not even the good stuff. He bounced around the league during this time, playing for teams such as Kansas City and Chicago, although he unfortunately never returned to his former glory. I think his career ended when he got caught dealing large amounts of grass. Now, this guy was a victim of society.
7) Goran Ivanisovic-he was “the man” but never got much attention because he was not American. Ivo was much more fun to watch than Pete Sampras. Goran was flat out crazy, but he really was a cool guy. He broke a lot of racquets, much to my delight. Moreover, the game needed a personality like this in a time where it was dealing with the retirements of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. Ivo also had perhaps the greatest serve I have ever seen in tennis, but he unfortunately could not usually dial it up when he really needed a big one. He left that distinction to Pete Sampras. I always hated “Sweet Pete,” and believe that he is the dippiest guy to ever dominate any sport. Yea, he was the best, which was unfortunate for the fans and the game itself. The truth is that Ivanisovic had what it took to win some matches against Sampras at Wimbledon, he just was not clutch enough. He also had a tendency to tank when he got down mentally in a match and would not really even try. I remember him losing to Sampras in the 1994 Wimbledon finals by the telling score of 7-6,7-6,6-0. So, after two heartbreaking sets that were probably decided in the end by mental toughness, Goran tanked the 3rd to complete the cycle of mental weakness. However, he finally had his day in the sun when he beat Pat Rafter in the 2001 Wimbledon final. It was in the twilight of his career and was a most unlikely run, as he was saved from losing numerous times by rain delays. He then played a great final which he won in five sets. I believe that this championship run was largely an act of God, as it was meant to be for Goran to win Wimbledon.
8) Andre Agassi-I was always a huge fan of Andre, from beginning to end. He let me down so many times with his choking, but he certainly had his moments. He endured many personal changes throughout his career, but has always been a wonderful individual. I liked him as the young rebel, and I liked him as the wise veteran. I also liked his aggressive return style of play from the baseline. It is unfortunate that he never really figured out how to play in clutch matches with the exception of a few big moments, and that he never really brought it against Pete Sampras (except at the Australian). If he had, we might be talking about him as the best ever instead of Pete, and tennis would be much more popular.
9) Ron Artest-I am no longer a fan of Artest. I do not approve of the fact that he beats his wife or that he has dogs that he does not feed. Starving a dog when you have millions is worse than fighting dogs for entertainment. I was a huge fan of this guy until recently. Like with Irvin and Vick, I had no idea how controversial this guy would become when I began to pull for him. I had been a long-time Pacers fan, and started to like Artest once he was traded from the Bulls to them. He was fairly low key in Chicago, but really came out of his shell soon after joining Indiana. He developed the reputation as a dirty player by accumulating an extensive amount of technicals and suspensions for physical play. He brought back memories of a young Rodman, which is something that I am forever longing for. Then came the brawl in Detroit, aka the Malice in the Palace. I supported Artest in this situation, and still to this day feel that he was somewhat the victim of a situation that Ben Wallace created. After all, it was Ben Wallace’s overreaction to an Artest foul that kicked off the whole chain of events. For that, I have since referred to him as “Brawl-starter Ben.” I felt that Artest’s actions were not that uncalled for given the circumstances. What he did was certainly more understandable than the actions of my other dog Stephen Jackson. Jackson just went into the stands unprovoked and started throwing haymakers. However, Artest had already become a target of David Stern by then, so he was destined to get a raw deal. Since then, however, he has been a pretty “no count” individual. Remember when he just wanted to take some time off from basketball and work on the music a little? The guy is a real jewel.
10) Mike Tyson-people forget about how great Tyson was when he was young. In the early days, he was like a fighting machine. He was focused, determined, and on top of his game. During this period, I believe Mike could have taken any other boxer at any point in time in boxing history, although no one wants to admit this. I really appreciated Tyson’s style of fighting. He is like a human pit bull. Sure, he is out of his mind now, but so many boxers are as a result of the shots to the head that they take in boxing. That being said, Tyson has provided us with an unbelievable amount of entertainment, both in and out of the ring. I do not know what was more exciting, his first round KO’s early in his career or his antics outside the ring, such as the time he told Lennox Lewis that he would eat his nonexistent kids. Then again, maybe it was the time he bit Holyfield’s ear during their second fight. Personally, I think Tyson could have handled the situation better from a competitive standpoint, but I definitely did not blame him for what he did. Holyfield has made a career out of head butting his opponents, a fact which has largely gone under the radar simply because the media would rather just pick on Tyson. Imagine if Tyson was head butting all of his opponents. The Nevada Athletic Commission would probably strip him of his license. I just do not see how a head butt should be any less penalized than a low blow. Furthermore, Tyson has had numerous memorable tirades. It was also great when he retired from boxing and was exploring other career opportunities. I remember porn being a possibility, and then there was potential opportunity of fighting a lion, which would have been interesting. Then, there is the ever-looming potential for a return to WWE wrestling, where many believe he has always truly belonged. Rumor has it that Tyson has developed a serious cocaine habit, which he can no longer support financially. He recently stated, “I’m addicted to it, I do it every chance I get.” How would you like to spend an evening with Mike Tyson jacked out of his mind? However, all this being said, I think Tyson really is a good guy in many ways, although we never hear about it. I believe that he truly means well but just has a hard time controlling his impulses and has been taken advantage of by a number of people. He has done so much for people who really were not even his friends, as it turns out. Still, no one criticizes those people, just him. Unfortunately, society has no sympathy for Iron Mike and he will probably, in his own words, just “fade into Bolivia,” which actually might be better than staying in America.
(Honorable mention goes to Reggie Miller, Terrell Owens, Larry Bird, Nate Newton, Tommie Frazier, Emmitt Smith, Rob Van Damm, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.)
That is it, my friends. These are the athletes that I have found myself most able to identify with in life. People like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Peyton Manning just do not do it for me. On a side note, I would have to say that my favorite obscure sports athlete would be Takeru Kobyashi, who showed unbelievable heart in this year’s 4th of July hotdog eating contest. Now, this event is like the Daytona 500 of eating contests. Kobayashi was the six time defending champion of the event, but he was playing hurt. Despite an arthritic jaw, Kobayashi ate 63 hotdogs, a personal best. Sadly, he fell short to American Joey Chestnut, who ate a world record 66 hotdogs. This reminds me of the time that Michael Jordan put up 63 against the Celtics but still came up short, although Michael was not injured when he did that. This should be remembered as one of the most inspirational performances in the history of sport, regardless of the fact that 63 simply was not enough in the end. Kobayashi did all that he could, and that is all we can ask.