This month has been a good time to consider what it means to be a sporting legend, with the loss of one of the World’s greats. I watched a couple of video clips after the death of Muhammed Ali and, in particular, the big fight with George Foreman, and wondered how you go from good to great. How you maintain that status for a lifetime especially in retirement. I think if you can watch a sporting performance and witness a masterclass, and you see that skill set time and again, you are seeing sporting greatness.
On the plane on the way home from America, I watched an interview with LeBron James, who has to be the fourth best basketball player in the World; the top three are ones he himself named and do of course include Michael Jordan. Every time James steps on the court he gives a masterclass and, not only that, he is committed to his sport and his legend status. He is humble but he knows how good he is. As far as I understood what I was watching in my slightly over-tired, can’t sleep but really ought to state, he and his current Cleveland team took the runners up position in the most hotly contested tournament in US basketball – the NBA Finals 2015. And it was only the tenacity of another exceptional team that overcame the talent of James to win the Winner’s title. As I write this however, Cleveland have overturned the Golden State Warriors and themselves claimed the NBA Final for this year. And our man LeBron? You can see all the stats at NBA.com and he features on the top scorer list for every game I glanced at. These are the highlights if you fancy a catch up:
I do however think that money talks when we think of sporting legends. How many legends can you name that do not have huge sponsorship deals with their own Nike kit, Adidas sponsorship, Gillette commercials and the rest? What about the Brownlee brothers? Massive names in triathlon; name me one Internationally renowned British triathlete in the era immediately preceding their meteoric rise? There was Tim Don who is now making waves in long distance tri but, for whatever reason, he never became a household name outside the sport.
We all know how good Lewis Hamilton is on the track but is that because he’s got a big money contract and had a famous girlfriend? In motor racing, Jenson Button is a great and became a legend when he won the World Championship in 2009; did you know that he also happens to be a very good all round athlete?
And then there’s Lizzie Armistead. I cannot accuse you of being lazy if you haven’t heard of her antics this last week, because I really think you would have had to do some work to find her on TV, on the news and, actually anywhere. If I were to ask you who was the best cyclist in the World right now, we would all be thinking much the same thing. The Tour de France is set to be a battle between Frome and Quintana, at least that’s what all the magazines have on their front pages. You may have said Chris Hoy but you don’t have to go any further back in time than this past weekend. Lizzie won the 2016 Aviva Women’s Cycling Tour by an 11 second margin. She also won the Adnams Best British Rider jersey and all this wearing the rainbow uniform of a reigning UCI World Champion.
As greatness goes, I personally think Armistead is a fantastic ambassador for sport, for cycling, for UK cycling, for talent and for sportsmen and women around the World. She is inspirational. She wins. She is a team player and she is aspirational for herself and her sport.
Pay attention sports fans; sometimes World leaders are obvious and other times you have to look behind the headlines.