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MICHAEL JORDAN  

Career Highlights
  • NCAA champion in 1982 (North Carolina)
  • 5-time NBA Most Valuable Player
  • 6 NBA championships (Chicago  Bulls)
  • 10-time NBA season lead scorer (record-holder)
  • 2-time Olympic champion

 

Beyond Statistics

I will always remember the first time I watched MJ walk on air back when I was a junior high student in China.  Our English teacher showed the class a tape of the NBA allstar game as a surprise at the end of the school year.  As none of us knew of the existence of the NBA prior to that, you can imagine how dazzled we were by the incredible speed and power that these American superstars were capable of.  However the only name which stuck out and remained with me after that nearly religious visual experience was "Air Jordan".  Try as I may, I could not shake the image of a man who seemed to defy the laws of physics. 

It must have been fate then, as when I came to the U.S. in 1991, MJ and the Chicago Bulls were on the verge of  winning the first of six NBA championships they would ultimatelly garner.  In the ensuing years, I was mesmerized by all the epic battles in the long-running series "the Bulls vs. the world" in which such mighty opponents as the L.A. Lakers, the Phoenix Suns and the Seatle Supersonics one by one fell victim to the unstoppable quest of Jordan and company. 

I was a doubter when Jordan came out of retirement and left minor league baseball behind.  I thought it was the wrong move and was sure that he could not match the brilliance of his first 3-peat.  Little did I know what he had in store for us.  Another 3-peat followed and as improbable as it might seem Jordan was able to improve his own game in the process and become a more complete player.  His deadly middle distance fade-aways left the defenders in the dust.  His remarkable ability to step up and take over at crunch time became as legendary as his aerobatic stunts.  Moreover Jordan's leadership skills blossomed and he was able to bring out the best from his teammates (witness Rodman) and even the whole league.  He became the standard against which everyone else must be measured against.  Everytime I watch him play I am reminded once again that MJ is quite simply the greatest basketball player the world has ever seen.        
                    

 

 

 

JOHN MCENROE

Career Highlights
  • 77 career singles titles (including 4 U.S. Opens and 3 Wimbledons)
  • 77 career doubles titles (including 10 Grand Slam events)
  • Ranked #1 in singles for 170 wks
  • Ranked #1 in doubles for 257 wks (record-holder)

Beyond Statistics

Nicknamed "Superbrat" due to legendary tantrums on the court, he nevertheless won me over with his apparent passion for the game and the seriousness with which he played.  His trademark quickness and finesse at the net continue to put today's tennis stars to shame.  As tennis' own anti-hero / rebel without a cause, McEnroe contributed immensely to the popularity and evolution of the sport.

I remember vividly the image of Johnny Mac in the mid 80's, a strikingly handsome young man with a headful of curly red hair and an explosive temper to match.  He gave the sport an edge which it had heretofore lacked.  He was the one that made me care about tennis and no other player could glue me to the TV set like he did (Jimmy who?).  And despite an often inexcusable foul mouth McEnroe moved with grace and elegance on court and handled the ball with an unexpected subtlety.
 
While you can call him rude and obnoxious, McEnroe can never be accused of being dull or unoriginal.  Beyond a doubt the most quotable tennis player ever, what other tennis player can come up with soundbites such as: 

1. "Do you have any problems, other than that you're unemployed, a moron, and a dork?"  (to the umpire at the International Players Championship, 1992)

2. "This (defeat) has taught me a lesson, but I'm not sure what it is."  (The New York Times, 1987)


 

 

GARY LINEKER 

Career Highlights
  • 1986 World Cup Top Scorer (6 goals)
  • 1988 Spanish Cup champion (Barcelona)
  • 1989 European Cup - Winners Cup champion (Barcelona)
  • 1991 FA Cup champion (Tottenham Hotspur)
  • England's 2nd highest goalscorer (a total of 48 goals as part of the English team in International competitions)
Beyond Statistics

I first became aware of Gary Lineker during the 1986 world cup, as a 11 year old football fan I was rooting for Brazil to win it all.  I had read the autobiography of Pele and had been anticipating a historiic duel between the two South American powerhouses Argentina and Brazil in the final.  Little did I know that an understated and little-known attacker form England would ultimately win my heart.  First he single-

handedly saved England from elimination in the must-win game against Poland by completing a spectacular hat trick no less.  Then he converted two more goals against Paraguay in the very next game.  But of course the match that everyone remember the best, including me, was the quarter final against Argentina.  I was shocked and disgusted by the infamous "hand of God" and I found myself disliking Maradona ever since.  Sure the little man put on a wild display of dribbling skills only minutes later and scored again, adding insult to injury, but nothing could make me forgive his obvious cheating.  While I started out feeling neutral towards the two teams, by now I was rooting for England one hundred percent.  Lineker battled valiantly against the Argentinian defense and was able to score late in second half, however it was too late and sadly the cheating team would win this time (and eventually win the tournament).  My only consolation was seeing Lineker receive the Golden Boot as just reward for his brilliance.
 
Four years passed by before I was to hear of my favorite striker again, it was time for the 1990 World Cup.  I was amazed but happy to see that he hadn't lost any of the magic on the field.  He led the English squad to the Semi Finals (and scoring 4 goals in the process) before England lost to a superior West Germany team in another uphill battle.  However, by then Lineker's place in the history of English football was assured.   

Quietly effective, Lineker's playing style is rather unusual for an established superstar.  His personality is apparently polar opposites with that of John McEnroe (although I love them both).  It is easy for Gary's opponents to overlook him until he strikes with the suddenness and the precision of a professional assassin.  His spotless career record (having never been booked) is a tribute to his exceptional sportsmanship.  Something the likes of Maradona could learn from.           
   

           

 

 

ALEXEI YAGUDIN

Career Highlights
  • In 2001-2002 season he became the first figure skater in history to win the Grand Slam (the Olympics, World Championship, European Championship and Grand Prix Final)
  • 4-time World Champion and Olympic gold before the age of 23 
Beyond Statistics

Don't be fooled by that childish smile or naive-looking face, this is not just the Golden Boy of figure skating at the moment but may well be the best male figure skater of any generation.  You can't blame him for being young and high-spirited, he is just like any other guy in his early 20s, that is, except for the fact that Alexei was practically born on ice and has taken the artistry and athleticism of his sport to a new level in the last few years.

I remember when he first came onto the international skating scene as a 17 year old, an awkward-looking teenager made even more unattractive by the apple-cheeked good looks of his Russian teammate Ilia Kulik.  Most people thought of him as yet another product from the seemingly inexhaustible arsenal of Russian figure skating phenoms.  However, unlike many others before him, Alexei has avoided the fate of becoming quickly outdated and replaced by even younger skaters.  By combining dramatic flair and technical perfection he was able to stay ahead of everyone else.  His fierce competitiveness has also compelled him to push the limit further and further until he is in a league of his own.  It is a shame that we don't have a female equivalent of him, otherwise we would see quads in women's competition already.  As it is, I look forward to the day Alexei pulls off the quadruple axel and dazzles the world again.       

    

 

 

 

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