I’m sure many of you here in the U.S. have already heard that our top sports mag, Sports Illustrated, has selected Dwayne Wade as its Sportsman of the Year. Wade, a star player for the Miami Heat, beat out among others our boy, Roger Federer.
I read the story yesterday, pretty remarkable, very well done and a very good read. If you haven’t read it, pick up a copy or click the link above, it’s well worth it.
The piece was done by their tennis writer, S.L. Price, who along with Jon Wertheim, usually handle the reviews for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. So Price is very familiar with the tennis landscape. He’s interviewed many of the top guys Roger included and hopefully made a pitch on the Swiss’s behalf somewhere along the process. After all, Roger did just about everything that could have been asked of him in 2006, winning 27 of 28 Slam matches, three Majors plus a Masters Cup to finish a third straight year at No. 1. It’s hard to do better than that in tennis or in just about any other sport.
Now what did Wade do in comparison? Well, I watched in amazement as he lit up the May/June NBA playoffs rallying his Heat to a World Championship.
We all remember Michael Jordan – at least many of us do – and we along with just about everyone else that follows pro hoop have being looking for the next MJ. Well, what Wade did in the playoffs this past year was about as close as we are going to get.
I’m an NBA guy but I wasn’t much of a Wade fan, didn’t really know much about his game until late last spring when on the game’s biggest stage he just took over. When it counted the most, he was money. Kind of like a tennis player I know.
But is what Wade did for those two months greater than what Roger Federer did the entire year? Of course not.
Season vs. season, Federer wins. Even Tiger Woods has an arguement against Wade in that comparison.
All Wade did was carry his Heat team, which also consisted of one the game’s greats in Shaq O’Neal and won one of the best in the league, to their first NBA title.
Meanwhile, Federer won just about everything under the sun in 2006, all by himself.
So how then does SI pick Wade over Federer? Easy.
First off remember we are talking about an American magazine so there’s certainly a national bias in their selection process, though they probably wouldn’t admit to that much. Looking over their past 53 winners very few (maybe four according to my count?) are non-American.
Economics also plays a role. Who would sell more copies of the magazine in the U.S., Wade or Federer? Wade by a landslide.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, it’s the story, and that’s where Wade’s got Fed beat big time. Wade’s life story is a very compelling one of growing up poor in the ganglands of Chicago, dealing with the separation of his parents and the fact that his mother, who served multiple sentences in prison, was a druggie.
“…when Dwayne was born his mother had heard a word, blessing, in her head, and she had wanted that to be his name: Blessing Wade. He was glad it wasn’t, but tried to live up to it. Throughout high school, during three years at Marquette, Wade drove himself to exhaustion because he believed he was her only hope. If he could only break out big, be that kid who rose from welfare – if only she could see him do something special – he could save her.”
It’s your hard-luck kid makes good story. Federer it is not.
And finally it’s history. Has SI ever put Federer on the cover? I don’t recall. But can you name the last male tennis player who when active won the SI Sportsman of the Year since the inception of the honor in the mid 1950s? Bet you can’t because it’s never happened. That’s right. Never. Laver, Borg, McEnroe (imagine him being a “Sportsman”), Lendl, Agassi, Sampras, etc. The last tennis player to win the award was Arthur Ashe in 1992. Before that it was Evert in 1976 and Billie Jean King in 1972. That’s it from the sport of tennis, just three.
So at the end of the day will I cancel my subscription to SI? Absolutely not. While I am disappointed in their selection I can kind of get with why they chose Wade over Federer when you compare their life stories. I just hope they throw Roger some love at some point down the road and give him the proper recognition he deserves even though he isn’t American. I think in time they will…
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