I’ve always been intrigued by the mediocre athlete. Not the super duper Kobe Bryant/Albert Pujol stars. Anybody can cheer on those guys. I’m talking about the 4 other guys that play with LeBron. The guys catching passes from Drew Brees. The MLB players that aren’t on the New York Yankees. Think about it. What’s so fascinating about LeBron having another triple double? Or another A-Rod home run record? Or Peyton Manning throwing 3 TD passes? Nothing. These guys are the best of the best. When they DON’T do these things, now that is interesting. But for the most part, the superstars prove on a weekly basis why they’re the faces of their respective teams and sports. And whether you’re a lifer and never miss your team’s games or you tune into a sport for the 1st time in your life, the opportunity is there to see someone in action that makes you become a fan. Guys who have something about them that you can instantly identify with. For me, this happened frequently as I was growing up. The 1st was Wally Joyner, the light hitting Angels first baseman who peaked in his 2nd or 3rd year in the league. There was something about his swing and his ’80’s sunglasses that made me become an Angels fan. I was 7 yrs old and I had a hero. He was a scrub. Over the years. I became entrhalled with many mediocre stars: Terry Porter, Billy Owens, Trot Nixon, Calbert Cheaney, Carl Pickens, The immortal (to me) Jim Jackson. Don’t get me wrong, all of these guys had success. You don’t become a fan and they wouldn’t play if they didn’t have some talent. But they never achieved the accolades and numbers of the stars of their day. And I don’t think it’s right if they’re not remembered.
When the Fab 5 were playing for Michigan (illegally, but who cares), people instantly knew talented superstars Chris Webber and Jalen Rose. Sports fans knew who Juwan Howard and Jimmy King were. But NO ONE knew who that last guy was. His name was Ray Jackson, and of the 5, he was the only one that wasn’t a top 50 rectruit coming out of high school. He was the last one to earn a starting gig. The first to be forgotten. But you know who did know who he was? Michigan coach Steve Fisher ‘s Dad. Now Papa Fisher was an ex coach himself so he knew a thing or 2 about basketball. And whenever son Steve would call and talk about the team, Papa 1st wanted to talk about Ray Jackson. “I just like the way he plays, son” was what he would always say about Ray. Mr. Fisher saw something in Ray that he saw in himself and THAT is what makes sports interesting. That’s what I love about sports.
So I’ve decided to write a monthly column, and award a mediocre athlete every month. Now the criteria for winning this prestigious achievement is 2 fold. One, you can win it by being a player who excels in light of being a non-superstar. This is the positive side of the award. Players, like the ones above, who have stood out and shaken off the chains of inferiority and have taken steps to becoming, if not THE man on the team, a solid, relied upon contributor. Think Mike James from a few years back. Before that season in Toronto, the only thing I knew about Mike James was that he showed up a few times in those And 1 Mix tapes (presumably because he had an abundance of free time on his hands). Mr. James has been on 10 teams in 9 seasons. 10!!! Then goes to Toronto and absolutely blows up. He played all 82 games that year and averaged over 20 points per game. Slam magazine gave him amonthly column. He got a fat contract from the T’Wolves the next season (oh Minnesota, you never learn). He ended up not being able to beat out a rookie for the starting gig in Minny and he’s never really been heard from again. Barring that one season, James has averaged just 7ppg….that’s right. 7. He’s currently the 12th man on the Washington Wizards. I want to honor guys like Mike while the going is good for them.
Now, I amentioned the criteria to win is 2 fold. While the Louis Murphys of the world would be thrilled that I’m acknowledging them, You do not want to be Dwight Howard or Tom Brady and hear me coming down your street. Why not? Because superstars can also take home the mediocre achievement award…if their play is mediocre. My all seeing eye is currently resting on the San Antonio Spurs. How in the world is this team hovering around .500?? They’re currently behind the Houston Rockets who had a guy named David Andersen playing in the 4th quarter on Wednesday. So superstars, you’ve been warned. You too can achieve mediocrity. Depending on if a mediocre nobody is exceling or if a superstar somebody is atrophying more, I will decide which way the award pendelum will swing. I’ll announce the award winner for December ’09 later in the month.