The Bracket – Day 1

Day 1 of the bracket.  If you missed the first post, check here.  Enjoy.

#4 Jackie Robinson vs. #13 Roger Federer

GEORGE- As the resident tennis guru here at Waiver Wire I would be remiss if I did not school you about just how great Roger Federer is.  He not only has the most Grand Slam titles in tennis history but he has had success at staggering rates.  He had a run of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals (next closest is 10).  He won his 16 majors within a span of 27 played (Sampras got his 14 in 49).

Federer is very undervalued from an athletic standpoint because his sport is so low profile and he isn’t American.  In fact, I think it’s telling that his main contemporary, Rafa Nadal, did not make our list of 64 sports people to vote on.  Federer is beyond excellent and he made the rest of the sport look foolish between the years of 2004-2007 (315-24 record, 11 major championships won)

I’m basing my Federer-Robinson judgment on performance only.  Yes, Robinson was a 6-time all-star and an MVP during his career.  Of course his persona is remembered most for his actions to break the color barrier in baseball.  I’m taking the stance that his legacy is better but his athletic performance was not.  No way is an entire sports’ greatest player of all time losing in the first round.

The pick: Federer

ZAK – If anyone’s second-in-charge when it comes to tennis here… it’s probably Greg. But I’m a solid third. Hey, I nominated Arthur Ashe for the Bracket, and not just because he has an ESPY award named after him (although I was ready to use that as a tiebreaker argument).

Federer is easily (in my book) the best tennis player of our generation, if not ever. I respect what he’s done immensely.

But he hasn’t brought down color barriers in what was, at the time, the United States’ most popular sport and pastime. Even if Jackie Robinson wasn’t the first African American man to play in the major leagues of baseball (he has unofficially been cited as the first of the “modern era”), he is easily the most recognizable and the most impactful man in that regard. He has impacted the lives of SO MANY players, fans, officials, or what have you. His life and work goes beyond sports and permeates popular culture in a way Federer will never be able to achieve, not that it is a knock against him.

Plus, Robinson wasn’t too bad, himself.

The Pick: Robinson

HERD – This is actually a much tougher pick than I initially thought it would be.  It’s the choice of on the field greatness compared with completely changing the game.  George said it all, Roger Federer is the most dominant tennis player of all time.  What he’s accomplished is simply amazing.  However, no one has done to baseball what Jackie Robinson did.  It’s not just that he broke through barriers to change the game but what he had to go through was humiliating and even dangerous.  His level of play in baseball was no where near what Federer’s is in tennis, but Robinson was one of the most courageous sports figures of all time and the entire country benefited from it.

The Pick: Robinson

KAPLAN-I won’t lie, I’m a little surprised that potentially the greatest tennis player of all time is 13-seed. Then again, that speaks volume about the talent we’re talking about in this bracket. At the end of the day, however, how can we argue against Jackie Robinson? The historic volume he serves to the sport of baseball speaks enough volume by itself to vault him into the second round. However, lest you forget that Robinson was a 4-sport star while at UCLA with baseball being the fourth best sport he excelled at while at school (had he gone in the NFL Draft instead of pursuing baseball, an interesting argument would’ve been made between him and Jim Brown…yes, he was that good).

So, again, is Federer the best all-time in men’s tennis? Arguably, yes. However, there is no argument that Jackie Robinson is neither the best all-around athlete of the two nor the more important sport figure.

(Fun fact, did you know that Jackie Robinson’s brother won the silver medal in the 1936 100-meter dash? No? Well, you probably would’ve, if some guy named Jesse Owens didn’t dominate those games.)

The Pick: Robinson

T-MAC: When I first heard about the blog doing this idea, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. The concept of “Best Figure” is incredibly vague, even worse than “Most Valuable”, and it’s almost to the point of debilitating. But since I can’t help but give my opinion on everything, I’ll give it a shot. To address some of the problems that my esteemed colleagues have brought up, I’m gonna go ahead and say that “Best Figure” has to include off-the-field impact, because it isn’t called “Best Athlete” of all time or “Best Player”. So cultural impact, impact on the game, and sheer celebrity factor all have to come into play.

That being said, this first choice still isn’t that easy to make. Yes, Jackie Robinson had an incredible impact for all of the reasons that everyone above me has outlined. But so has Fed. Not only is he arguably the best tennis player of all time, but he changed the face of the game when he arrived. He combined the incredible power of the baseline game that was in place before he got there with an athletic grace and a level of skill that just overwhelmed opponents. He floats around the court, a master of positioning and footwork that belies how athletic he actually is. And he did have a cultural impact, taking the torch from the era of Sampras and Agassi and keeping men’s tennis relevant for all these years, like Tiger in that respect. He has a legendary rivalry with another all-time great in Nadal, which makes his story that much more compelling. He is underseeded by at least six slots, and unfortunately that means he goes against an iconic powerhouse in Jackie Robinson.

Jackie was not the best player of his sport. But he was one of the best of his era, and he changed America’s past time when that moniker still applied. It really comes down to the fact that baseball was (and still is) much bigger than tennis. If Jackie Robinson had been the first professional tennis player that was black, it wouldn’t mean as much. For that reason, Federer has to lose this one.

The Pick: Robinson

VINNY-  From a pure performance standpoint, it’s no debate, the pick is Roger Federer. But we are not voting on pure performance (at least I’m not). If we were, Federer would realistically be one of the top seeds and Jackie Robinson wouldn’t even be thought of as a candidate to make this bracket.

But Jackie Robinson greatly influenced society in a way few other athletes have. Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier stands as a landmark in American history, not just American sports history. There’s a reason his number has been retired across all of baseball; Robinson changed the sport entirely.

This bracket is of the top 64 sports figures of all time, and it’s not easy to find a more recognizable and respected athlete in sports history than Jackie Robinson.

The Pick: Jackie Robinson

Final Vote:

Roger Federer: 2 (George and Ryan)  Jackie Robinson:6 (Kaplan, Herd, Tom, Vinny, Mike, Zak)

Winner: #4 Jackie Robinson

Robinson's breaking of the color barrier is too much for even the greatest tennis player to overcome

#1 Shaq vs. #16 Lionel Messi

GEORGE- HAHAHAHAHA. It’s Shaq.  I feel like we’ll be writing about him for many more matchups to come.  He simply is a god among men.  I will also point out that he is the only reason that Dwyane Wade ever won a title.  The man of many nicknames in a landslide.

Soccer is silly.

The pick: Shaq

ZAK – Sure, I’m the one who nominated Messi. But it was at the last minute, and I was desperately trying to cover whatever sports/topics we could as well as possible. I also nominated Wayne Rooney right underneath Messi. I was grasping.

Shaq quite possibly arranged for hits on multiple men. When this information came out recently, the media MADE A CONCERTED EFFORT TO SWEEP IT UNDER THE RUG.

If you can order the harm/death of men and have it openly ignored by the public en masse, you win. Both because you’re obviously loved and notable, but also because pleaseshaqfuciousidontwanttodie

The Pick: Shaq

HERD – No doubt, it’s Shaq.  I’ll write more about why I love him during the next few rounds he’s in.  I’m by no means a huge soccer buff but I can’t even tell you what team Messi is on.

The Pick: Shaq

KAPLAN- Shaq-tastic redefined the center position when he first entered the league. When he was a rookie, you had established low post threats that are among the greatest to ever play the game like Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. However, it was Shaq, not any of those before him, who redefined how to play the 5 in the NBA. When you think of O’Neal now, you think “Huge Man Who Is An Immovable Object In The Middle”. Once upon a time, though, this guy flew up and down the court and commanded triple teams that instantly made everyone around him better because they were open for easy buckets. In his ultimate prime, nobody dominated the paint quite like The Big Cactus, or The Big Aristotle, or Superman..whatever.

Without Shaquielle O’Neal, you don’t have Dwight Howard. Think about that.

The Pick: Shaq

T-MAC: I’ll follow Pokey’s lead here because Shaq is a good bet to go far in this bracket. I’ll have plenty of time to wax poetic about the big man. Messi is a wonderful futbol player. Unlike Pokey, I know that he plays for Barcelona, which means a lot in every country except for the United States. But he’s not even the most famous player in his sport right now. That would be the biggest pansy in cleats, Christiano Ronaldo. Also, while not dour or averse to the media, he didn’t manipulate the media as masterfully as Shaq did. Shaq was one of the biggest stories on his team at every point in his career, even when he was a shadow of his former self. There will never be another like him.

The Pick: Shaq

VINNY- You know those 16-1 matchups in the NCAA tournament when the 16-seed hangs around for a little while and you think that they might just pull off the upset?

This isn’t one of those matchups.

The Pick: Shaq

Final Vote:

Shaq: 8 (Herd, Kaplan, George, Mike, Ryan, Zak, Vinny, Tom)  Messi: 0

Winner: #1 Shaq

Call him whatever nickname you want, Shaq is poised to go far in this bracket

#8 Magic Johnson vs. #9 Pete Rose

GEORGE- Pete Rose has the most hits in MLB history.  He played the game purely and never gave up on anyone.  He bet on his own team to win games (how cool is that!?) and had the drive to push himself into his mid-40’s in order to break Ty Cobb’s record.  I can’t see Derek Jeter doing that even though he could theoretically pass Rose.  Pete Rose lived to play baseball.  He was not as blessed physically as almost everyone else we will be writing about was. CHARLIE HUSTLE- see even his nickname is awesome.

With Magic, I don’t think the desire was there at quite as high of a level.  His valiant effort in the 1980 Finals of playing all 5 positions (as a rookie no less!) is remarkable.  The downside is I feel that he is most remembered for his teams rather than his own play.  And I’m sorry but I have to say that the way his career ended was kind of creepy and his odd cameos (such as the 1992 all-star game or his lame 1996 comeback) were not endearing and only made things worse.

The Pick: Rose

KAPLAN- Whoaaa, Georgie. Just because someone has the most hits in Major League Baseball history doesn’t make them the best hitter in Major League Baseball history. If we are using that argument, is A.C. Green not the most consistant player to ever play in the NBA because he played the most minutes?

Look, Rose was an important part of the Big Red Machine, but he wasn’t even the most important part. The Reds wouldn’t have won without Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan. Plain and simple. Pete Rose, to them, was a luxury. A very talented luxury, but none the less a luxury.

Magic Johnson? He was the Showtime Lakers. He could’ve played any of the five positions on the floor at any given time and, maybe more importantly, defended any of the five positions on the floor at any given time. If you take Magic Johnson off the Lakers in the 1980’s, they don’t win a title. If you take Pete Rose off the Big Red Machine, they still win a title. That alone makes Magic more valuable than Pete Rose in my opinion.

The pick: Magic

ZAK – This really depends on how I want to vote about this. It’s a good point by George; Pete Rose is kind of a bad ass, and achieved a crap-ton in his career. But he’s also viewed as a stain upon his sport. His incessant bitching about how he was treated did not help. Even if he got screwed, in the past 15 years, his whining and other public appearances just… were sad and annoying. I’m in the camp of his ban from the Hall of Fame being a mockery of the sport. He existed. But for someone who AGREED TO THE TERMS OF THE PUNISHMENT, he sure does like to complain about it.

Magic is overrated slightly (oh so slightly) as a player, in my opinion. As a young player, he was so dynamic and so good. Again, a good point by George, in that Magic is known more for his teams than for his individual play (which is a novel concept in this day and age) later in his life.

Let’s get this out of the way, trying to minimize the tastelessness. THE MAN HAS LIVED WITH HIV FOR 20 YEARS. He’s played with it, done fantastic work in the activist world to spread information, and put together a very decent broadcasting career. The man means more to the public than Rose does. And he didn’t sour himself in the public eye when he had a MUCH MORE LEGITIMATE GRIPE WITH LIFE TO BITCH ABOUT.

The Pick: Magic

HERD – This one is so tough, I love a good controversial figure to talk about and there are few sports topics more heavily debated than Pete Rose’s lifetime ban from the Hall of Fame for betting on his own team.  I think it’s a shame one of the best hitters the game ever saw is unable to make it in.

However, Magic Johnson was a great player and has been such an amazing public figure to get support for AIDS and was incredibly brave to announce it publicly, especially at a time when such a statement would be judged much more harshly than it would be now.  As much as I admire Magic for his contribution to that area, I think Rose and his lack of acceptance into the Hall of Fame is more interesting and is going to get my vote.  I also feel like Zak’s comment that Magic has more of a reason to bitch ignores that Magic’s bitching won’t solve anything because no one can cure him of AIDS but there are people out there with the power to lift the ban on Rose.

The Pick: Rose

T-MAC – For me, Pete Rose wouldn’t win unless it was a “which sports figure do I NEVER WANT TO HEAR ANOTHER WORD ABOUT” contest. Yeah, he got a lot of hits, but he played FOREVER. It’s like Karl Malone being near the top of the scoring lists, even though you would never consider him in the top 15 NBA players ever. His ban for gambling is a punchline more than a real issue at this point in history. He really just comes across as a bitter guy.

Magic, on the other hand, is neck and neck with Larry Bird for the best NBA player ever not named Jordan. I have to disagree with Zak and say that he is not overrated at all. He was the engine for one of the greatest offensive teams in NBA history. He was a point guard in a power forward’s body,  a force that only LeBron has come close to replicating. His teams changed the game, headlining the offensive explosion that eventually led to the rule changes in the 1990s. The Big Red Machine was a powerhouse, but did they change the game? I don’t think so. Furthermore, Magic’s HIV diagnosis was one of the biggest sports stories of all time. It came at the perfect point in history in terms of social impact. The disease was just starting to shed its stigma, and Magic used his position as a way to educate the nation. Rejoining the NBA challenged traditional notions about HIV and forced people to talk about it. Did Pete Rose really teach anyone anything? Maybe not to deny something that EVERYONE KNOWS (something Roger Clemens did not pay attention to), but that’s about it. No way should Pete Rose take this match-up.

The Pick: Magic

VINNY-  I’m going to take George’s argument and flip it here. Yes, Magic is well-known for being the key component of the Showtime Lakers, one of the most famous teams in NBA history, but I don’t think it hid him as a superstar. Magic made those teams famous. He was a three time league MVP and three-time Finals MVP, a member of the 1992 Dream Team, and part of the best player rivalry in all of sports.  He is a five-time NBA champion and was named to the All-NBA team nine times. Magic was one of the most dynamic players in NBA history; he could play or defend any of the five positions.

Even if I’m wrong and Magic is better known for his teams, how is that not the same for Rose? If you take away Roses’ infamy from gambling on games, he would just be another part of the Big Red Machine. Magic is one of the five best players of all time; the same can’t be said for Rose.

Oh, and even though I think Rose should be let into the Hall of Fame, betting on baseball while you are still a part of the sport is just stupid. And as Mike & Mike have pointed out, writing a book and trying to make money off of your infamy is even worse.

The Pick: Magic

Final Vote:

Rose: 3 (George, Herd, Mike) Magic: 5 (Tom, Kaplan, Zak, Vinny, Ryan)

Winner: #8 Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson's league changing success and his bold decision to announce his disease give him the win over Rose, banning him from our bracket

#3 Bill Russell vs. #14 Aaron Rodgers

GEORGE- Bill Russell was beyond dominant.  Granted, he was a big man (relatively speaking) playing in a time when there were few if any peers of his own size.  What he brought to the table was gifts that far exceeded just scoring and rebounding.  He has gone down as one of the best passing big men of all time and he was also an excellent motivator and team player.  He even was a player-coach back when the NBA was cool enough to allow that (being a player-coach is actually is one of the rare things Pete Rose did wrong in his career).  He won 11 titles in 13 seasons and single-handedly subdued Wilt Chamberlain’s non-sexual legacy.

Rodgers is right up there for current most exciting players.  The trouble with this matchup now is that we don’t know what his ceiling is yet, we just know it looks extremely high.  As you will see in this bracket journey I’m more about on-field resumes rather than potential and circumstance.  He simply lacks a depth of good results.

This pick was tougher than I initially thought, but unfortunately time is not on Rodgers’ side here.  I need to see more.  In 5 years I might be singing (literally singing) a different song.

The pick: Russell

ZAK – Ask me again in 10 years. Rodgers might have a shot then, if his career stays even close to the path that it’s on. Until then, it’s…

The Pick:  Russell… *ahem*… WITH DISTANCEEEEEE

HERD – Obviously there’s no way that at this time in his career, Aaron Rodgers could be in the same ring as Bill Russell.  Russell had an amazing career and while I think by the time Rodgers retires, we might be having him as one of the top sports figures of all time, even I can’t make that sort of statement just yet.

The Pick: Bill Russell

KAPLAN- I don’t think there needs to be much explaining in this pick. Bill Russell has the NBA Finals trophy named after him. Need I say more?

The Pick: Russell

T-MAC – Aaron Rodger’s inclusion in this bracket at this point in his career is the only questionable thing involved in this match-up.

The Pick: Russell

VINNY-  Having more championship rings than fingers is a good problem to have.

The Pick: Russell

Final Vote:

Bill Russell: 8 (Kaplan, George, Zak, Herd, Ryan, Tom, Mike, Vinny)

Winner: #3 Bill Russell

More rings than fingers? Have Rodgers talk to us when he's anywhere near that accomplishment

The Jordan Bracket

#1 Michael Jordan vs. #16 Hakeem Olajuwon

#8 Barry Sanders vs. #9 Phil Jackson

#5 Joe Montana vs. #12 Ted Williams

#4 Jackie Robinson vs. #13 Roger Federer

#6 Dan Marino vs. #11 Randy Moss

#3 Kobe Bryant vs. #14 Troy Polamalu

#7 Pedro Martinez vs. #10 Randy Johnson

#2 Tom Brady vs. #15 Charles Barkley

The Shaq Bracket

#1 Shaq vs. #16 Lionel Messi

#8 Roger Clemens vs. #9 Kareem Abdul-Jabar

#5 Hank Aaron vs. #12 Walter Payton

#4 Jerry Rice vs. #13 Sidney Crosby

#6 Larry Bird vs. #11 Joe DiMaggio

#3 Derek Jeter vs. #14 Jack Nicklaus

#7 John Elway vs. #10 Rickey Henderson

#2 Muhammad Ali vs. #15 Jerry West

The Ken Griffey Jr. Bracket

#1 Ken Griffey Jr. vs. #16 Dr. J

#8 Magic Johnson vs. #9 Pete Rose

#5 Greg Maddux vs. #12 Michael Phelps

#4 Mike Tyson vs. #13 Tim Duncan

#6 Albert Pujols vs. #11 Cy Young

#3 Wayne Gretzky vs. #14 George Steinbrenner

#7 Alex Rodriguez vs. #10 Barry Bonds

#2 Babe Ruth vs. #15 Pete Sampras

The Tiger Woods Bracket

#1 Tiger Woods vs. #16 Mark McGwire

#8 Peyton Manning vs. #9 Ichiro

#5 Nolan Ryan vs. #12 Jeff Gordon

#4 Wilt Chamberlain vs. #13 Deion Sanders

#6 Cal Ripken Jr. vs. #11 Steve Nash

#3 Bill Russell vs. #14 Aaron Rodgers

#7 Mickey Mantle vs. #10 Brett Favre

#2 LeBron James vs. #15 Kevin Garnett

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