By Tony McClean
Updated: December 31, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — When putting together this list, a colleague of mine reminded me that “top 10 lists are a motha’. Someone always gets left off no matter how hard you try to get everyone in there.”
He wasn’t lying about that. I originally was thinking about making it a top 15 or a top 20. To try and encapsulate a 12-month sports year can be very daunting. But it was a challenge as well. Especially after getting a lot of help from our knowledgable staff of writers.
Compiled by myself and including much, much input from the BASN staff, we bring you a list of who we though were the 10 most compelling black sports figures during the last 12 months. It’s not a popularity contest, or a list of current best black athletes in the world, just a list of folks who’s impact or unique contribution set them apart from the pack.
You may agree or disagree with some of our choices. If nothing else, we hope to spark some stimulating and contructive dialogue about the year that has passed. Most importantly, we hope to use this as a window to look back and look ahead to what should be an very interesting 2007.
10. VINCE YOUNG
Not many folks have had the incredible 12-month run that VY has experienced. A National Championship in January and a possible playoff run December. All in between, he may have been the most scrutinized athlete in the United States. After all he’s done on and off the field this year, does anyone still give a damn about his “alledged” Wonderlic score. VY’s wild ride shows that one’s perception of athletic weakness is just another man’s incredibly unique and Godgiven talent. Just remember the quote on the one of his SI covers “I can do whatever it takes to win”.
9. CULLEN JONES
Say hello to one of the best swimmers in the United States. The North Carolina State University product became the first black male swimmer to set a world record for the United States and won his first national title in the 50 meter freestyle back in August. He also helped set the World record in the 400 meter free relay at the 2006 Mutual Of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships. Oh and by the way, Jones also set an ACC record with a 19.07 in the 50-yard freestyle, a time that converts to 20.98 seconds in meters, a faster time than the current world record of 20.10. Later in the year, he signed a seven-year endorsement deal with Nike worth potentially more than $2 million.
8. DAWN STALEY
The three-time Olympic and two-time World Championship Gold Medalist added even more her incredible resume this season. The head coach of Temple University’s women’s team was an assistant on the 2006 USA Women’s World Championship Team. She also retired as a player for the Houston Comets of the WNBA. While coaching with the Owls, the Philadelphia native led Temple to their third straight Atlantic-10 Championship and another trip to the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
7. RYAN HOWARD
Another Philly standout enjoyed an incredible sophomore season with the Phillies. He became only the second player (Cal Ripken, Jr.) voted Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in consecutive years. After leading the majors in home runs (58) and RBI (149), Howard received 20 first-place votes and 12 seconds for 388 points in MVP balloting, just outdistancing Albert Pujols. He set Phillies records for home runs and RBI, producing the highest totals in those categories in big league history for a second-year player. 23 of Howard’s homers put the Phillies ahead and five tied games. The Phillies went 32-18 when he homered.
6. SHANI DAVIS
Depending on your perspective, the Chicago native was either another boorish athlete or the best speedskating in the world. One thing that can’t be denied, Davis made history at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino. Davis became the first black athlete to win a gold medal in an individual sport (1,000 meters) and the fourth black Winter Olympics medalist. He also won the silver in the 1,500 meters while repeating as the all-round champion in the World Championhips. Along the way, he also set five world records. Edgy? Yes. Dominant? Yes. Doesn’t play well with others? Again, it depends on your perspective.
5. FLOYD MAYWEATHER
The latest version of boxing’s best fighter pound-per-pound. In just two fights this past year, the “Pretty Boy” went on to solidify that claim which was first handed to him back in July of 2005. In April, he defeated Zab Judah for the IBF and vacant IBO world welterweight titles by unanimous decision. He would later vacate the IBF crown in June. He considered moving up in weight class to take on fight junior middleweight champion Cory Spinks. However in November, he defeated WBC and The Ring welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir in another unamimous decision. After squawking about “retirement”, Mayweather is set to meet six-division champion and current WBC Junior Middleweight titleholder Oscar De La Hoya in May of 2007.
4. LADAINIAN TOMLINSON
Is LT the best ever? No disrespect, but talk to me in about four or five years. There’s no doubt that he’s currently the NFL’s most versatile and dangerous offensive weapon. He broke the all-time NFL single season touchdown record of 28 against the Denver Broncos on December 10, 2006, in just thirteen games. After San Diego’s 15th game, Tomlinson has 31 (rushing/receiving) touchdowns. He also has the NFL’s record for points in a season (186). Along the way, LT set an NFL record by scoring 19 touchdowns in a span of 6 games and became the fastest player ever to score 100 touchdowns. MVP? Yes. Greatest ever? Stay tuned.
3. DWYANE WADE
Was it me or was SI’s “Sportsman Of The Year” seen just about everywhere before, during, and after his MVP performance in the NBA Finals? The Marquette standout helped lead the Miami Heat to their first NBA crown and has almost overnight become the face of the NBA in the eyes of many folks over the last six months. It didn’t take long for the “Next Jordan” comparisons to start as well. Like we mentioned with LT, we’ll hold judgement on that for a few years down the road. If doing commercials with Hall of Famer Charles Barkley is an indication, he’s working his way up the endorsement chart.
2. THE GEORGE MASON FIVE
If someone last year at this time had asked what significance would Jai Lewis, Tony Skinn, Lamar Butler, Folarin Campbell, and Will Thomas have on the NCAA Tournament, you might have asked “Are they players or referees”. Needless to say, we all know who they were and are now. The incredible run by the George Mason Patriots was the real life “Hoosiers”, “Rudy”, and “Rocky” all in one swoop. While they didn’t win it all, their story was arguably the best sports story of the year. While shutting up noted NCAA blowhard Billy Packer and other “experts”, following the Patriots’ Cinderella run made us all unofficial members of the “Mason Nation”.
1. TIGER WOODS
With apologies to Roger Federer, Lil’ Eldrick is still the most dominant athlete in team and or individual sports in the world. You may not be crazy about his politics, but his 2006 season was another one for the ages. At the age of 30, Tiger won his 11th and 12th professional majors and has more career wins on the PGA Tour than any other active golfer. After losing his beloved fatherl in May, Woods struggled but would regain his No. 1 golfer in the world form by winning the British Open and PGA Championship. Woods now holds at least a share of the scoring record in relation to par in all four majors, and also holds the margin of victory record in two majors, The Masters and the U.S. Open. However, his biggest challenge in 2007 will come off the field. He and his wife are expecting their first child in the summer.