One of the best parts about my spoiled, pampered, press-pass life? They pay me to watch LeBron James.
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So as I racked my brain for a way to write about these mostly-meaningless remaining Cavaliers games and Tiger Woods’ big return at the Masters (while still keeping this somewhat of a family show), I started thinking about the ridiculously amazing things LeBron does on a nightly basis. I saw the prices people are paying for a Thursday ticket to the Masters to see Tiger swing a golf club. I realized that in many ways, these two are in a league of their own. And I started wondering about the rest of this league.
I started firing off text messages to people from all walks of life, people who watch almost as many sports as I do. Many of my friends don’t have jobs, but they do have cell phones. And they almost all watch hours and hours of everything. I posed the question, “Besides LeBron and Tiger, which athlete/athletes would you pay top dollar to see?”
A couple simple rules: Pick any athlete, current players only, any sport except soccer. Nothing against soccer, but the one-month-every-four-years window that people in this country actually watch soccer doesn’t start for another 11 weeks. Here’s the other presumption: You have the money. You don’t have LeBron money — or University of Kentucky basketball player money — but you have enough money to afford these primo seats. You’re looking for bang for your buck.
Here are my five, in no particular order, with a nod to the others who received multiple votes. Feel free to tell me who/what I’m missing on the comment section below or via Twitter @FSOhioZJackson
1. Usain Bolt: He’s built like a small forward (or a small linebacker) and runs like, well, he runs faster in a straight line than anyone else ever has. The long, powerful strides and unmatched closing kick have helped him to the world records in both the 100 and 200 meters, and who’s to say he won’t eventually set the 400 record if he so chooses? Imagine being a mere mortal with a four-stride lead when this giant comes gaining with every step and bearing down on you. Not a pleasant thought, but an amazing athlete to watch. I’d have to say sitting at the finish line and watching him explode through would be well worth the expense.
2. Albert Pujols: Well, Cincinnati, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you can actually pay just a little bit of money to go down to the ballpark and watch Pujols play tonight. The bad news is he had two unbelievable home runs on opening day to beat your team and he’s a threat to drop one in the river (the Nile River) every time he steps to the plate. There’s no place within the zip code of home plate to pitch him as he combines rare strength with the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He can hit line-drive home runs as well as he hits towering monster shots. If he stays healthy and the guys behind him hit, 2010 could be a record year for baseball’s best hitter.
3. Kevin Durant: LeBron Lite is is super-skilled, sees the floor and can finish from any angle. I’m picking him over Kobe on this list because even though Kobe is still the game’s best finisher, we’ve seen him knock down the same off-the-bounce jumper and give the same hush sign dozens and dozens of times. Durant is new and inventing ways to dominate. He can score on an underhand scoop from the baseline as well as a fadeaway 20-footer with two guys in his face, and he’s just now growing up. It’s like he’s just now realizing (and polishing) the enormity of his own talents, and we might only be a season away from seeing LeBron vs. Durant coming to Christmas and Easter showcase games as opposed to Monday night at 6:30. I’ll be watching.
4. Manny Pacqauio: I still appreciate boxing, and Pacaquaio’s last four or five fights are a big reason why. He’s unexplainably quick, relentless and powerful, and if you turn away for one second you might miss a lights-out knockout (though if that’s happened to you, don’t worry. Many of his opponents haven’t seen it coming, either). It’s well beyond time for Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather Jr. to settle their out-of-ring differences, get in the ring and tango, and we’d all pay money to see that clash of styles and probably the two best fighters on the planet.
5. Brett Favre: A tough call because of the number of times he throws it to the other team. But he doesn’t just throw it. He zings it. The Old Man brings a certain energy — the “having fun” thing is tired, but his love for the game is evident — to the field that makes him the one guy (just ahead of that Greek God wearing #28 in his Vikings backfield) in the NFL that I’d pay to see. Here’s my thought on why I take Favre over the other (and better) quarterbacks: You’d pay to see him throw a dart for a touchdown pass like he did in last year’s season opener and then run and tackle Percy Harvin in joyous, real celebration. Would you pay to see Peyton Manning fool some rookie corner from West Texas State into giving up inside leverage for a 7-yard gain on third and 6 on the second drive of a game and then barely pump his fist? That’s an art, yes. But for the money give me Grandpa Gunslinger.
Now, for further explanation of my selections: I couldn’t pick Roger Federer because I don’t watch tennis. I wanted to pick Michael Phelps, but I didn’t say pay to party with him (or Tiger); I said pay to see him perform. I’d choose paying for the track meet over the swim meet. I have seen a little of Alex Ovechkin and he’s phenomenal, but I haven’t seen enough to put him on my personal list. I think Tim Lincecum is a freak, Joe Mauer is a perfect baseball player and I’d pay to see Steph Curry shoot 3-pointers all day, but those guys just couldn’t crack this list. I thought long and hard about Adrian Peterson, Drew Brees and Troy Polamalu as well, and I honestly went in intending to have Joshua Cribbs on the list. I do get to watch Cribbs and LeBron all the time. It’s good to be a witness.