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lewis hamilton

Foundations

Hamilton Making A Case For Best Ever In Formula 1 Racing

It is not often that you get to see one of the premier players of all-time in his (or her) chosen sport. In an era of great individual sport athletes – think Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Roger Federer as perhaps the best ever at their discipline – there is another premier player tearing it up weekend after weekend all over the world.

Allow me to introduce you to Lewis Hamilton, an English Formula 1 driver who is staking a claim to be the best racer of all time at the age of 34.

In 2019, Hamilton claimed his sixth Formula 1 World Crown. That was his fifth title in six years – the only year in that run he missed the championship was in 2016 – and they add to the Formula 1 World Crown title he won in 2008. He has won over 80 races, has claimed over 150 podiums, and sat on pole position close to 100 times. From his very first win at the top level of single-seater racing in Australia in 2007, Hamilton has simply dominated his sport in the way only a premier player can do.

The record in his sport is seven titles. That mark was set by the legendary Michael Schumacher, but it’s a record that Hamilton will be looking to equal and then break over the next few years. It is his remarkable consistency and motivation that sets Hamilton apart from the pack and that has him so close to a record that was expected by many to be untouchable given how dominate Schumacher was in his own era.

Hamilton has this unerring ability to drive right on the edge while rarely going over it. That is a skill that all racers seek to learn, but that only the best are able to pull off during a race. Mental strength is huge when driving Formula 1 cars, with the ability to put minor setbacks behind you immediately. Add in the physical strength and reflexes that are required for a body to react to lightning fast mental decisions at 200 mph and you have an athlete that is a premier player in his sport and who could have been great at whatever sport he chose to take up.

The mindset of an elite sportsman is a fascinating beast. Hamilton is one of those people who wants the challenge just to prove year after year that he is the best. For most of this decade, he has been exactly that.

Article by Premier Players

Japanese Rugby Team

Foundations

Japan Shocks The Rugby World With Play, Tournament Level

The Japanese national rugby team is not one that contains any of the premier players in the sport. Those players come from traditional rugby playing nations – like Beauden Barrett of New Zealand and Owen Farrell of England – and not an Asian country with an international rugby footprint that was barely a blip on the radar until they beat the mighty South Africa in a match since dubbed ‘The Brighton Miracle’ at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

This fall, however, the Japanese got to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, their first time holding the event. There, a country with a rugby playing history similar to the USA, shocked the world. Not only did their Tier 2 team beat Tier 1 powers Scotland and Ireland, but the country also embraced the competition in a way that few could have expected when the decision to award the tournament to a “non-rugby playing nation” was initially made.

Japan, or the Brave Blossoms as they are known, may never reach these heights again depending on how their investment and pushing of the game goes after 2019. What Japan has managed to do, however, is remind even the most cynical and snarky of sports columnists that sport can be a beautiful and uniting thing.

Set against the background of Typhoon Hagibis, a late season storm that was the most devastating to hit the Kanto region of Japan since 1958, the country rallied around their premier players.

Players such as Michael Leitch, a New Zealand born forward who has been in Japan since moving there as a 15-year-old high schooler and has proven – as captain – to be the perfect link between the Japanese players and the West. Players like Kenki Fukuoka, a livewire of a winger who at 5-foot-9 and 183-pounds has the electric skill set of a top tier slot receiver in the NFL, but who is now retiring at 27-years-old to follow his passion to become a doctor. Players like Shota Horie, a dreadlocked hooker who is a powerhouse at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds and who was putting his hand up to take every run and make every tackle even as the giant South Africans were slamming him into the ground.

They are just some of the many premier players on the Japanese 31-man roster who are now heroes in their own country. Players who will be well taken care  of even by fans because of the fight and determination they showed in pulling this country up into a rugby playing nation for at least one month.

The USA wants the 2029 World Cup (2023 will be held in the traditional country of France). Rugby is a growing sport here and the country obviously has all the infrastructure needed to host such an event. Japan has shown that a minor nation – albeit in a heavy developed country – can put on a show that was better than any expected.

Can the USA do the same if given the chance?

 

Article by Premier Players

lamar jackson

Foundations

Jackson’s Performance Puts Him In League MVP Talks

Patrick Mahomes might be the most watchable player in the NFL in 2019 – assuming that his dislocated kneecap heals as expected – but there is another young quarterback in the league who has quickly become must-see-TV in his own right.

Lamar Jackson will finish the 2019 regular season as a 22-year-old – he turns 23 in January – but this premier player in the NFL has made a dramatic leap in his second year of playing to the point that he could be a dark horse in the race for MVP.

Jackson is the most unique quarterback to perhaps ever play in the NFL. He is a running threat every time he touches the ball, but no one would really describe him as quick or hugely explosive. His running ability is much more of a glide than a sprint, with the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder eating up the space with a stride that makes him look taller than his frame. He has worked his throwing mechanics down to a science, making passes with accuracy and power in his second year that he would never have been able to complete as a college player at Louisville. He is also full of those intangibles that make a player like Russell Wilson of the Seahawks such a star.

What Jackson really has going for him is his work ethic. The final pick of the first-round of the 2018 NFL Draft is one of those guys who has pure dedication to his craft. He wants to be the best, to challenge for Super Bowls and to build a legacy in Baltimore. That is why the Ravens were so willing to promote Jackson to be their starting quarterback – no matter how raw he still was – after Joe Flacco went down with an injury in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jackson finished his rookie year starting seven games, throwing for six touchdowns and three picks while rushing for five more. Through seven games in 2019, a small sample size admittedly, Jackson has clearly improved. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns with five picks and has rushed for three more scored. His completion percentage is the biggest change, however, as Jackson has gone from tossing completions at a rate of 58.2-percent to hitting them at 65.1-percent. The result of this is that the Ravens, behind their premier player, are looking like one of the teams to beat in the AFC.

Jackson is a new era quarterback, but he is playing on an old era team. In a pass-happy league, the Ravens under John Harbaugh are running the ball as effectively as anyone in the NFL. Jackson is a huge part of this as he churns off 100-yard rushing games as consistently as most mid-level running backs. He is one of those premier players that will do whatever it takes to win, eschewing personal stats for the good of the team.

All in all, with Jackson at the helm things are looking very bright in Baltimore.

Article by Premier Players

russell wilson mental conditioning

Foundations

7 Steps To Help You Perform Better At Everything

The whole area of Sports Psychology and mental health are gaining exponential traction, but it’s surprising at how little is still understood about what Psychology applied to sport is.  This very thing is addressed in the interview below with Mental Performance Coach Richard Dean.

Richard is a London-based practitioner and Senior Associate of the Royal Society of Medicine.  He’s been a mentor for several NFL players, International Cricketers, International Rugby players, and International Soccer players. He has also been involved in six World Championship Boxing fights.

His academic work has been published by:  American Education Research Journal, American Journal of Educational Science, Nova Science Publishers, and Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy Journal.

Richard, welcome to Premier Players and thanks for sharing your work:

A pleasure to be here.

First off, give an insight into some of your experiences:

My work has led to some amazing experiences.  I’ve had the privilege to work in very high-profile, high-octane environments- such as the NFL, ATP World Tour Tennis Finals, in Boxing- World Title Fights; International Test Cricket, World Athletics Championships. Each experience of working with some of the best athletes in the world has been, and continues to be; deeply enriching.

One of my favourite memories was working with a World Title challenging Boxer at the O2 Arena, London. Looking out from the ring at a sea of 20,000 people, and a host of prominent people at ringside- knowing that all eyes in that arena are on your event; thrilling!

Another momentous occasion had me working with an American client who was fighting for an International title in Germany. Everything was stacked up against him, the logistics were difficult, the promoter made everything as hard as possible. And as my role was wider than just performance psychology, I had to deal with it all! I did- and we won! Despite everything being in the opponent’s favor. It was a great victory and we took the Championship to the USA!

Sounds incredible, so what exactly is Sport Psychology?

Sport Psychology looks at the influence that the mind has upon performance. It is proactively working mentally to be better. You don’t need something to ‘fix’ in order to benefit from working mentally!  It is giving people the tools, so that they can apply consistent approaches in the most pressured moments, and providing a framework for dealing with difficult situations.   That is Sport Psychology! It’s about making people more resilient, tougher, and plugged in to playing without distraction or white noise!

I want to get this across- Sport Psychology is NOT just about motivation and powerful speeches and behavior that is intended to rouse. In fact, I would like to assert that most of the time it is CATEGORICALLY not about that!

Applying specific, focused advice linked to developing mental skills and attitudes is so important. A great example is Russell Wilson- he has worked at this off the field, so that he can ‘just play’ on it!

How do you start with that process?

First, it should be determined how ‘mentally skillful’ an athlete is, and then collaboratively find ways to continually get mentally sharper in order to eliminate fine-focus errors.

I see it is as developing a strategy to ensure that you are the best possible you each and every week. As an athlete, finding comfort in the knowledge that you are preparing in the best way possible for YOU is a huge key! And that is so individual, I would advise and develop completely different ways of going about that process, dependent on the player’s individual personality.

So, just how do you determine someone’s mental fitness?

Having spoken to many athletes over the years, I believe I have a great handle on assessing the level of someone’s mental skills and mental health. Anecdotally, I’m able to see patterns from how people talk and conduct themselves- and I also use inventories if that’s what the athlete wants. I use a method called the TAIS, which was introduced to me by my colleague Dr. Michelle Pain.

I have undertaken programs of study at ‘the mecca’ of healthcare- the world-famed Harley Street, and have carried that forth, and distilled my education into a very practical and solution focused, rather than an overly theoretical MO.

How can someone help themself?

One very simple step that an athlete can take immediately is to:

1- think about your best performances
2- think about your worst performances
3- think about how you prepared leading to the best performances
4- think about how you prepared leading to the worst performances
5- determine if there is a relationship between your preparation and your performances
6- apply more of what led to the best
7- do less of what led to the worst

 I do believe that this model can apply to pretty much any context – Sports, Work or Life!

I have spoken to athletes for hours to get the above exactly right- and it’s amazing for me as a practitioner to have an athlete tell me that due to our work together, they’ve had a eureka moment! They will often say something like- This is it! I identify with this! This is MY way! To help them get to that is wonderful!

Thanks Rich, if anyone wants to reach out, can they do so?

Happy to help if my capacity allows.  People can e-mail me at rich.dean@talk21.com

UAB Volleyball

Foundations

UAB Blazers Claims First Two in Hail State Invitational

STARKVILLE, Miss. – The UAB volleyball team cruised past its first two opponents on day one of the Hail State Invitational, sweeping North Florida and later topping Jackson State, 3-1. The pair of wins boosted the Blazers to 8-4 this season heading into a matchup with host Mississippi State on Friday.

“Our team played high-level volleyball throughout the entirety of the day, and that’s what I’m most happy about,” said coach Amy Pauly. “It’s hard to play two matches in a day, and they really stepped up and played well. We’re going to have to play our best volleyball of the season tomorrow to compete with Mississippi State.”

Player Spotlight

Redshirt junior outside hitter Emma Mitchell continues to be the focal point of the Blazer attack as she led the squad in kills in both matches, totaling 23 kills on the day. The Charlotte, N.C., native contributed all around throughout the day, also adding 14 digs and seven blocks.

“Emma continues to grow and mature with every match that we play,” said Pauly. “She is contributing in every aspect of the game and being a great leader on the floor.”

On the defensive side, redshirt sophomore Anna D’Cruz is still UAB’s anchor as she piled up 12 total blocks on top of her 16 kills on the day. Sophomore libero Brianna Muller followed up her breakout performances a week ago with more steady play as she totaled 26 digs through both contests.

Match 1: UAB 3, North Florida 0

As UAB took care of North Florida in the sweep, the Blazers led the match in digs (41-35), aces (10-6) and blocks (10-4) for the unblemished win.

UAB struck first to begin the initial set of the match and kept the Ospreys at bay up to a 16-10 lead. Despite North Florida heating up to go on a nine-point run soon after, UAB contained the Ospreys and later went on a six-point run to claim the first frame, 25-21.

North Florida started off hot in the second set before four straight points from the Blazers closed the gap to a 9-7 Osprey lead. UAB then managed to take its first lead of the set while stringing together three straight points for a 17-15 advantage. The Blazers didn’t give up the lead beyond that point, pushing ahead until snagging the set by five, 25-20.

The third set was even early on, but UAB took the first notable advantage after a five-point run to lead 10-7. With each response from North Florida beyond that point, the Blazers answered back to maintain the lead throughout the rest of the set. UAB clinched the sweep with a final kill from junior outside hitter Abby Carlile to win the frame, 25-21, and the match, 3-0.

Match 2: UAB 3, Jackson State 1

The overall team stats were tight between the Blazers and Tigers as UAB held the advantage in blocks (10-7) and aces (6-3).

Neither side created much separation in set one until UAB went on a five-point run to take a 20-14 lead. The Blazers kept the pressure on after that, going on to take the set, 25-19.

Set two was much of the same as UAB slowly pulled away with short bursts of three and four points to double Jackson State, 16-8. The Tigers put together a pair of four-point runs to close the gap and later tie things up, but the Blazers then finished things off to claim the frame, 25-22.

The third set looked like the previous two early on as UAB went up 15-10, but Jackson State responded with a few runs to take a 20-19 lead. The Blazers could only tie things up beyond that point as the Tigers went on to pick up a 25-22 win in set three.

UAB rallied back in the fourth set, jumping out to an 11-4 lead after a five-point run. As the two sides traded blows, Jackson State put forth a final burst to draw within one, but the Blazers added three straight points to clinch the set, 25-21, and the match, 3-1.

Article by UAB Communications

Eli Manning

Foundations

Manning Influence, Success A Major Part of Giants History

Placing Eli Manning in the history of NFL quarterbacks is no easy job. Manning has been overshadowed for his entire career by other signal callers – not least of which was his brother Peyton – and he has faced extra levels of scrutiny and criticism simply because he plays in the New York market.

Manning, however, rose above all that noise, above the dominance of Tom Brady and the passing stats of Drew Brees, and today he should be regarded as one of the premier players in his sport over the last decade or so.

It says a lot about Manning and his career that his two Super Bowl wins – both wins over Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots no less – were achieved with the New York Giants carving their route to Super Bowl success as a wild-card team. Manning was never seemingly a player who could win 12, 13, or 14 games a season, and to be fair this was as much to do with the supporting cast that the Giants built around him as to the play of the quarterback himself. What Manning could – and did – do however, was to perform like a premier player in the big moments and on the big stage.

In each of his two Super Bowl wins his team was a double-digit underdog to win the title. The first game saw David Tyree pull down his famous catch off of his helmet, but it was Eli who put the ball up into a position for Tyree to make a play. It is a play still seen on ESPN to this day, but the significance of Eli’s pass, of preventing the Patriots from the first perfect season since the ’72 Dolphins marched their way through the NFL, seems to have been a little lost in the decade that has followed.

Real Giants fans love Eli. They are aware that this premier player gave everything for the franchise through injury and scrutiny for his entire career. Eli was never the flashy quarterback – either in playing style or lifestyle – that the New York tabloids wanted, but he was a premier player at the start as he carved out a place for himself on the team’s Mount Rushmore alongside the likes of L.T. and Michael Strahan.

Manning is the best passer in Giants’ history. His 116-116 record is obviously worse looking than the 101-68 record Phil Simms put up, but it is fair to say that Sims had far more help than Manning ever saw. That is both in terms of the coaching and the defenses that Sims played with and the lack of both those aspects that Manning had to muddle through.

Premier players achieve despite their surrounding cast and that is the legacy that Manning has left in New York. The time was right to make the switch to rookie Daniel Jones, but never underestimate the influence and success that Eli achieved and will leave in the Big Apple.

Article by Premier Players

Free Event Promotion Ideas

Foundations

How To Promote Your Premier Sporting Events

It is easy to assume that in the digital age, the only way to promote your next sports event is by going big online. While the internet is undoubtedly a vital tool, not paying just as much attention to promotion and revenue streams offline would be a big mistake.

Here are seven free offline ways to promote your events:

1 – Flyers
Flyers might be the most straightforward tool of any on this list. As a result, they are easy to overlook when thinking about methods for promoting your sports event. Design a flyer that stands out, but make sure it isn’t a sheet of paper so crammed with information that people will find themselves overwhelmed. Then get out there and paper gyms, coffee shops, and any other business that makes sense depending on the nature of your event.

2 – Voicemail mentions
While there is nothing wrong with sticking with the same voicemail message you have had since 2002, it might be worthwhile updating your message to include mention of your sports event. If your work voicemail could also be shoehorned into promotion then go for it, just don’t get yourself in a situation where you could be fired over your event!

Just keep the message simple and to the point. Mention your signup website and give a brief – a very brief – overview of what the event is all about.

3 – Business partnerships
It is never a bad idea to get businesses on board with your sports event. Asking local businesses for sponsorships – where they give money or items for giveaways in return for publicity – really does help out both parties. It can be daunting going into these situations, sometimes it feels like you think you are demanding money, but having a sales plan in your head while walking through the door will make the conversation go much more smoothly.

Sponsorship searches can be as simple as walking into a business or as involved as attending networking events. Be creative here and see what type of partnerships make sense for your sports event.

3 – Media coverage
Media coverage is important for a local event to be successful. Luckily, we are at a point in time where it is actually easier to pick up this type of coverage than ever before. Local newspapers and news stations are in desperate need of feel-good stories to cover, so get in touch with papers and TV companies to see if you can work together to promote your sports event.

4 – Trade services
If you are running on a budget, it is always a great idea to trade services. Maybe your event needs trashcans and port-a-potties. Instead of directly paying the company, ask to trade entries in the event for their services. This also works at other levels – may be a gym would be willing to trade advertising space in the lobby for free entries – and is all about getting creative in how you want to market your sports event.

5 – Event partnerships
Other sports events in the same sphere don’t have to be your enemy. Instead, use them as a platform to build relationships and increase your visibility. This can be as simple as buying booth space at other events to promote what you have going on. This can obviously get expensive quickly, so how about offering a trade of booth-for-booth with a number of different events, helping everyone out in the process.

You could also work on partnering with other events. Maybe offer a prize for the person/team who finishes with the best-combined record in a series of three different events (including yours). That way, you will instantly pick up more people to take part as everyone loves competition.

6 – Celebrity involvement
You are probably closer to being in touch with a local celebrity than you know. Work your contacts and see who knows who and use that to promote your event. Going outside your sphere to pay for someone to come in can be expensive, but the perfect event host might be as simple as finding out a star football player is the cousin of your neighbor.

7 – Charity partnership
Partnering with a charity such as the Premier Players Sports Foundation is always a great way to make an event more meaningful. You get the benefit of knowing you are helping out a great cause with the work you are doing promoting and working on your event. There are many websites out there that can help link you to a charity, and the other benefit here is that when you have teamed up, you have the power of the charity behind you when it comes to promoting your sports event.

Article by Premier Players

Curry Golf Charity

Foundations

Curry Makes Biggest Impact Off The Basketball Court

We all know that Stephen Curry is one of the premier players on a basketball court in the world. The six-time All-Star and two-time NBA MVP winner has proven he is a player who will not rest on his laurels in his quest to keep getting better.

Curry is a player known for getting back into the gym early in the offseason. He has that drive and desire that all the greats find in their genetic make-up; that will to win and the need to improve on their skill set year after year to present new problems and new issues for defenders.

The three-time NBA champion knows that at 31-years-old he must keep pushing to get better. That is how Curry went from a player who was expected, in some circles, to be nothing more than a spot-up shooter in the NBA, to a player who can win games on his own with his passing and quickness off of the dribble.

Curry, though, also picks up his inspiration and his skills around the sport in other ways. One of those ways is that this premier player of basketball also loves to challenge himself with a round of golf.

When news broke that Curry had made a seven-figure donation to Howard University to bring back golf – and Division 1 golf at that – to its sports offerings, it raised a few eyebrows. Curry attended school at Davidson before making his NBA name on the West Coast, so news of him giving money to a small college in D.C. didn’t make much sense.

Curry got the idea to restart the golf program after meeting a Howard student named Otis Ferguson who passed up on furthering his golfing career to attend Howard, a school that did not have a golf program at the time. Curry, intrigued by Ferguson and his life story, decided to bring the program back to life.

Curry played golf in high school, and fans often see him on the pro/am and celebrity golf scenes. Golf is a sport he cares about and one that has impacted his ability to be a premier player in basketball.

“Golf is a sport that has changed my life in ways that are less tangible, but just as impactful,” Curry said about the imminent donation in a press release. “It’s a discipline that challenges your mental wherewithal from patience to focus, and is impossible to truly master, so when you hear about these passionate student-athletes who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game, it’s tough. I feel really honored to play a small role in the rich history of Howard University.”

This act of charity is not the first time Curry has supported others, and it will not be the last. He is making an impact in ways that people will not only remember him for his greatness on the court but his greatness as a person.

UAB Emma Mitchell

Foundations

UAB Blazers Ready For Ball State Invite, Season Opener

BIRMINGHAM – With its first match of the season only days away, the UAB volleyball team is set to begin year two of the Amy Pauly era.

“I feel really confident about this group heading into the season,” said Pauly. “They have worked really hard all summer to make sure they were prepared for the first day of practice. I feel like our starting point this year is ahead of last year’s, and that’s always the goal. We focus on the process and how every little detail can help move this program forward.”

The Blazers will first be traveling to Muncie, Ind., on Aug. 30 to compete in the Ball State invite, taking on Ball State at 10 a.m. and USF at 2:30 p.m. in Worthen Arena. The squad’s home opener will be the following Tuesday, Sep. 3, at 7 p.m. in Bartow Arena as in-state rival Alabama State comes to town. UAB’s full schedule consists of a 27-game slate, highlighted by 12 home matches featuring seven conference matches and five nonconference matchups including SEC foe Alabama.

“I’m excited for our non-conference slate. We have a good mix of physical teams and scrappy ball control teams that I think are really going to challenge us to play as a unit and play together consistently,” Pauly said. “I’m most excited about how many home opportunities we have. We had a great turn out for matches last year, and I expect Bartow to be rocking this year!”

UAB returns the entirety of its coaching staff after improving in every statistical category and picking up 13 wins in its debut season, the most wins the program has seen since 2013. Along with six newcomers, the Blazers return 10 players in 2019, including four of six starters. Most notably, UAB returns major firepower on the offensive side from last year’s squad as three of its top five attackers will be in green and gold once again this season.

The eldest of the group is redshirt junior Emma Mitchell (pictured), who was second on the team in kills with 231 on the year and tied for the team lead in service aces with 24 last season. Another key cog returning this season is true junior Abby Carlile, who led last year’s squad in kills with 286 and finished third in total blocks with 67 on the season. Rounding out the vital crop of outside hitters returning is redshirt sophomore Alex Kells. The Ontario, Canada, native was top five on the team in kills and service aces, finishing just shy of the 200 kill threshold with 198 and adding the third most service aces with 18 last year.

“We’re returning a solid core,” she said. “I know they have learned from last year and are prepared to take on an even larger offensive role this year.”

For more information on the UAB volleyball team, follow the Blazers on Twitter or Instagram (@UAB_VB).

Simone biles simone x

Foundations

Simone Biles: The Best May Still Be Yet To Come

If Simone Biles retired today would she do so as the best athlete of all time?

It is a question that most wouldn’t even consider, but Biles’ name should be up there with the likes of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, and anyone else who is deemed to be at the top of the list not only their sport, but in all of sports.

Biles problem in this argument is her lack of visibility. As a female gymnast, she dominates in a sport that is only visible to the larger American population, let alone the broader world population, every four years. When the Olympic Games are in full swing, then women’s gymnastics is popular. As soon as the Olympics finish, however, Biles is back to performing her craft well out of the media bubble.

Looking objectively at her career though, you can certainly make a case that Biles is the most dominant athlete of her time.

Being one of the premier athletes in gymnastics for any length of time is undoubtedly tough. It is a sport that chews up and spits out its athletes quicker than almost any other, with the need for a combination of strength and flexibility being practically impossible to maintain as age takes over.

Biles is the exception to this rule. She claimed her sixth all-around title at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City, wrecking the rest of the field by five points in a sport that is almost always decided by decimal figures. Biles doesn’t just have one or two events she excels in and then holds on through the rest, she is legitimately dominant in all aspects of a sport where each routine – from floor to uneven bars – requires a distinct and unique set of skills.

Biles dominated the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, never giving her competition a chance to even put her under pressure. She is a cool, confident, and highly skilled athlete, one that never seems to get stressed or let the pressure to perform cause her problems in a sport when a slight misstep can mean the difference between a winning routine or low score by the judges.

Biles was asked a simple question on the Today Show by host Natalie Morales in 2018 after she had just won the US Gymnastics Championships that year. The question was, “Are you human?” to which she replied, “I am human, but I get that question all the time.”

That is a question reserved for premier athletes and players that have attained a different level than being a favorite sports star. A tier that is the elite of the elite. Simone Biles has reached that tier and, as she proves consistently, she has no plans to slow down any time soon.

Article by Premier Players

larry bird

Foundations

Best Ever In NBA Discussions Must Include Larry Bird

The debate around the best player ever in a sport will never be truly answered. Even comparing players of the same generation – Messi vs. Ronaldo, Brady vs. Manning – is difficult enough. So how do we look at two players from different eras and decide which of the two is the premier player?

When it comes to basketball, most of the debate around the best player ever focuses on Michael Jordan and LeBron James. They are seen as the 1a and the 1b of the game – in some order – with most people putting Jordan at the top due to his number of championships and the iconic ways he won games in an era where individual stars weren’t as prevalent as they are today.

There are some, a small minority based either in the 617 area code or in French Lick, Indiana, who will tell you that neither Mike nor ‘Bron is the premier player in basketball history. For those people, it is all about Larry Bird.

Larry Legend was a premier player. He’s talked about in mythical ways in some circles, even though his career in the NBA didn’t come to an end until the 90s. He, before LeBron, was widely regarded as the best small forward the game had ever seen. A player who could do it all on the court, and who always did so with a systematic style of play that belied his skillset.

Bird was a 12-time NBA All-Star, a nine-time All-NBA First Team selection, a three-time NBA Champion, and a three-time NBA Finals MVP. In addition to that stacked resume, Bird was voted the NBA MVP for three years in a row from 1984-1986. That means that for 36 consecutive months, – almost 1,100 days – there was (by popular opinion) no better in the game of basketball. Larry Bird was the premier player in the entire sport.

To see the value of Bird, you have to look past what Isaiah Thomas has coined the “winning plus” mindset. This school of thought – one that dominates the game today – is that merely winning is not good enough. Instead, you have to win with style and flash, you have to be an above the rim player who can be a SportsCenter highlight every night, and it is a mindset where only winning championships in the style of a Tim Duncan isn’t enough.

That is not to say that Bird wouldn’t have adapted. One look at his highlights on YouTube shows a player with a passing range that is unlike any small forward in the NBA today. That he was able to pass, dribble, and shoot his Celtics to three NBA Titles in an era where defenders could basically mug the attacking player is a testament to his otherworldly skill level. There is a school of thought that the greats could find their way to adapt and play in any era, with another school saying that if Bird’s Celtics had played in the Eastern Conference over the past decade, they would have made 10 NBA Finals trips due to Larry’s ability and work ethic.

Maybe the best way to put Bird’s career into perspective as one of the premier players of all time is too look at his scoring. Bird scored 21,791 NBA points, good for 24.3 points per game (while rebounding at a rate of 10.0 per game). This puts Bird 30th on the all-time scoring list. Bird also won the first-ever 3-point contest at an All-Star game. Even with those numbers, and that ability, Bird rarely practiced the outside shot as he played in an era where it was all about getting the ball inside.

If he played today, Larry Legend would be over 30,000 points without breaking a sweat. That is how the premier players in a sport cross generations and come into the conversation as the best to play their game and, based on that, no discussion about the best basketball player ever would be complete without the mention of Larry Bird.

Article by Premier Players, Inc.

Mike Trout

Foundations

Mike Trout Continues To Build Legendary Career

To reach the mountain top of being a legendary sports figure isn’t easy. It usually happens late in a players career (Tom Brady) or when a player dominates his game with a big play and a loud personality (LeBron).

Even then, these players are legends in leagues and sports that are still relatively young. What, then, would you say to the claim that we have a legendary player who at 28-years-old still has much of his career in front of him? Oh, and he is a premier player statistically destroying a sport that has been played professionally in this country since the year of the first east-west transatlantic radio broadcast.

Welcome to the career of Mike Trout.

Walking through Trout’s career before he hit his 28th birthday is a little ridiculous. He ranks in the top 10 in home runs, walks, and on-base percentage, just three of the many significant categories he is among the best all-time in at that age.

He is already an eight-time all-star and a two-time league MVP, with the odds being good that he will win a third MVP award at the end of the 2019 season. Trout, like most of the premier players we see, is only getting better as he gets older. This season he is going to break his personal career-high marks in RBI, home runs, and on-base plus slugging (OPS) categories. Given how stellar his stats already were, that is some achievement.

If this were four or five decades ago, Trout would be the most talked-about sportsman on the planet. Even in the days of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, baseball was a factor in the national conversation. In 2019, however, the sport just hasn’t found a way to grip fans in the way football and basketball seem able to do. That is why Trout could walk through most towns in America as the premier player of the national pastime and most wouldn’t even recognize his face.

While Trout increases his home run numbers and his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) ranking seemingly every time he plays, it is the MVP numbers which might be his most impressive legacy when all is said and done. Trout has finished in the top-two of voting for the award every full season he has played the game. The only exception to this was in 2017 where he played just 114 games due to injury. Even then he finished fourth. Seven seasons in the top five is the longest such streak for any player since 1931. When the voters for the biggest individual prize in your sport are that enamored with your game, then you are the premier player on the planet.

Trout is a Hall of Famer in waiting. That he could potentially have another five to seven seasons in his sport is truly impressive. Watch the numbers grow and watch the legend increase as Trout does what he does day after day in the major league. One day, just maybe, Mike Trout will be more recognizable to the average American sports fan.

By Steve Wright
Independent Writer

 

Usain Bolt Soccer

Foundations

From Track, To Soccer, To NFL & Beyond For Usain Bolt

When you have won as many premier awards in a career as Usain Bolt it feels like retirement must be a double edged sword.  Bolt retired when he was on top.  He was still the king of the sprinters, still the fastest man in the world.

Retirement in a situation like that preserves a legacy.  It allows Bolt to be looked at as the greatest of his, or any other, generation.  The flip side to that is it’ll always leave us wondering what more Bolt could have done.

The 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, both seem like they could have been realistic targets for Bolt to continue to dominate his sport.  Bolt would have been 33-years-old at the worlds and 34-years-old for the Olympics.  Obviously, that is up there in age for a sprinter, but with Justin Gatlin still at the top of the game – and defending his World Title after beating Bolt in London in 2017 – it is always going to make you think about how many more premier awards, how many more titles, and how many more medals the great Jamaican could win.

Bolt seems perfectly content with his life after track and field.  He attempted to play soccer professionally, never quite finding the right club for his talent, exposure, and salary needs.  This might sound like a failure on some level, but changing sporting careers after your 30th birthday to a new discipline was never going to be an easy task.  That he was ever offered a professional contract at all says everything about Bolts transcendent talent as a premier player, along with a little something about his marketability as an athlete.

Reaching the level of fame and acclaim that Bolt managed over his career may never happen to a track and field athlete again.  The sprinter won eight Olympic gold medals, two in Beijing (2008) and three each in London (2012) and Rio (2016).  In each of those games he won the 100 meter and 200 meter crowns, while he is the world record holder in each event with times of 9.58 seconds in the 100m and 19.19 seconds for the longer distance.  These records have not been approached since, with no one (other than Bolt himself) running anything under 9.74 seconds for the 100m in the decade since he set the record in 2009.

Bolt’s last brush with heavy media attention came during the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine week.  At 32-years-old and – allegedly – “definitely out of shape”, Bolt tied the scouting combine record of John Ross with a 4.22 second time in the 40-yard-dash.  It makes you wonder what type of player Bolt could have been in the NFL, perhaps something akin to a Randy Moss as the Jamaican stands at 6-foot-5 and has the type of game breaking speed that Moss – the holder of the record for most touchdown catches in a season with 23 – used to tear open defenses.

Bolt is the ultimate example of an athlete that would find his niche in any sport.  He has won so many premier awards as a track guy, but he could easily have won Super Bowl rings as a big part of an NFL team.  Perhaps most importantly, Bolt will be remembered in the sporting world as a showman, but one who is humble and generous at heart.  You can’t ask for much more than that out of a career.

Article by Steve Wright
Independent Sports Writer

Coco Gauff

Foundations

Coco Gauff Rises To A Premier Player of Tennis

Making your mark on the world stage as a premier player isn’t easy. Many competent athletes never find their name in lights and never rise to the center of attention in their sport. This is much more difficult in individual sports, where merely being a cog in a machine isn’t enough to get recognition. You have to do all the hard work to get there yourself.

Imagine, then, becoming a world-famous player in your sport before you have even celebrated your Sweet Sixteen birthday. Welcome to the life of Coco Gauff, the next American tennis phenom who sits with the world at her feet at the tender age of just 15-years-old.

Gauff is an example of the old adage that if you are good enough, you are old enough. She is also a reminder that becoming one of the premier players in your sport can happen at any age if the talent, the desire, and the surroundings are in place to nurture the athlete.

Cases like this are unusual because it is time after the breakout moment that will define Gauff’s career path. After she beat Venus Williams in the opening round of the women’s singles at Wimbledon this year, Gauff could easily have immediately failed under the increased pressure and scrutiny that comes with beating an American tennis icon. Instead, she took the victory in her stride beating Magdelena Rybarikova and Polona Hercog. She then lost to eventual winner Simona Halep in the fourth round of her breakthrough event.

Gauff has the mental strength, the physical strength, and the technique of a player many years her senior. All of these attributes, attributes that will make anyone one of the premier players of tennis, will have to be honed over the course of the coming years.

She is far from the first young tennis player to make an impact on the world stage. Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova were both starlets of the sport, and both are cautionary tales. For Gauff to become the player she can be, one that could be talked about with some of the greats of the game, her focus will need to stay on tennis and not have her head turned by the fame that is sure to come her way.

Athletes have different ways of reacting to such a sudden change in their standing. For some, the trappings of fame are very real. The classic example is the difference between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf; the quarterbacks selected No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. Manning, a player so intently focused on the sport that he became a living meme before memes were even a thing, went on to become one of the greatest NFL players of all time. Leaf, a player who celebrated his drafting by partying in Las Vegas, is considered one of the most significant draft busts in history.

Gauff stands at a divergent point where she can become either Manning or Leaf. Reports of her looking to “buckle down” for future tournaments can only be seen as a good thing. Her desire to practice seen during Wimbledon week is also a promising sign. There is every reason to believe we will still be talking about Gauff as one of the premier players in tennis a decade from now if her post-Wimbledon routine is anything to go by.

Story by Steve Wright
Independent writer

RJ Hampton

Foundations

NCAA vs. NBA: The battle for the top high school ballers

For the premier players looking to take their basketball careers to the next level, the path has always been pretty clearly defined.

Starting out shooting hoops with dad, a player would then slip into the junior ranks and play ball in local gyms and leagues. Next would come a jump to AAU and high school ball, with a player showcasing his skill set in tournaments at the regional, and even national, level to get scouted by college programs. Next would come a scholarship offer, and a player would decide to play anywhere between one and four years in college depending on skill level and ability to make a move to the NBA.

The one-and-done rule has always been a controversial one. It is a rule that some college coaches took to immediately, with John Calipari at Kentucky being the obvious example. Coach Cal deliberately goes after players who need just a single year of seasoning before entering the NBA, gambling that he can teach enough fundamentals and teamwork into what can primarily be seen as a bunch of one-year mercenaries to make Kentucky competitive every year. In fairness to Coach Cal, it works.

The threat to the college game was initially thought to be through the NBA. That is one of the reasons why this rule was adopted in the first place. We never got to see the likes of LeBron James or Kobe Bryant tear up the courts in college because they jumped ahead one level and went straight into the league.

For players of their skill, it was a beautiful thing. They were able to adapt to the game and now sit as two of the top 25 players that have ever played the game. For every LeBron and Kobe, however, countless other players made the mistake of trying to jump immediately to the NBA, only to see their careers fade out quicker than they would have with college seasoning.
College is not for everyone. This is especially true for a college athlete who has to balance studying with the demands of their sport. Top level college basketball is a grueling concept, with players traveling all over the country (and sometimes outside of it) to play in games, while still having to practice and maintain their lives.

That is why players are looking for other options. The latest player to do something a little different is Texas native RJ Hampton. Hampton is one of the premier players in the nation. He is the fifth-ranked prospect in the class of 2019, and until recently he had been expected to sign for Kansas, Memphis or Texas Tech. Instead, Hampton will spend 2019 playing for the New Zealand Breakers of the National Basketball League of Australia.
It is a fascinating decision for an 18-year-old to make. Hampton wants to follow in the steps of Luka Doncic, a player who was a professional at 14-years-old in Spain and who entered the NBA ready to compete at professional speed.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has already taken note of this trend. He wants the premier players to stay in America, and he is looking at ending the one-and-done rule by the 2022 draft to make this happen.  The big question is where does this leave the NCAA?

By opening the league up again, it is likely that we will never see the likes of a Zion Williamson, for example, playing in college. We want to see the premier players playing in college because college basketball is both a tradition and a fun sport to watch. Short of paying players, it is hard to see what the NCAA would do, but let’s hope that the game is not negatively impacted by players choosing other routes to their NBA dreams.

Article by Steve Wri

dirk nowitzki x

Foundations

Nowitzki Success In Dallas Ends In Hall of Fame Career

Dirk Nowitzki made his mark on the NBA as one of the premier players in the game not only of his era but of all time. He is a sure-fire Hall of Famer as soon as he is eligible as he put in a 21-year shift with the Dallas Mavericks to go down as the greatest player in the history of the franchise.

Nowitzki was born in the West German town of Wurzburg in 1978. Wurzburg is not precisely a hotbed of NBA talent, but as the son of a professional basketball playing mother and an international handball playing father, the young Dirk certainly had the athletic ability in his genes.

Dirk also had height on his side from an early age, often standing a foot or more above his peers as he excelled as a handball and tennis player. His decision to join the local DJK Wurzburg team as a 15-year-old set Nowitzki on a path that would see him become one of the most recognizable athletes on both sides of the Atlantic.

What people grew to love about Dirk, his carefree and fun attitude off the court playing in stark contrast to his talent and focus on it, was apparent even at this age. It is impossible to bottle whatever combination of genes and outside factors it takes to make a player a star, but have no doubt about it, Dirk was always going to be a star.

Progressing through the ranks at his local club, this premier player had to spend a year doing compulsory military service alongside advancing his basketball career. At 6-foot-11, with unnatural quickness and ball handling for a player of that size, Nowitzki started to have his progress noted by those outside of his native Germany.

Playing in the Nike “Hoop Heroes Tour,” Nowitzki was placed in a showpiece match against NBA stars like Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley. His dunk over Barkley was the most impressive play of the entire game, and it was at that moment it became apparent his future, and his path to becoming a premier player was to be through the NBA.

A prep-to-pro player back when that was allowed, Nowitzki passed up scholarship offers across the country to declare for the NBA. Selected with the ninth overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, the future 14-time NBA All-Star and over 31,500 points scored was traded to Dallas for a combination of Robert Traylor and Pat Garrity. This is a trade that will live long as one of the greatest draft-day steals in the history of the game.

Dirk’s list of highlights and awards is as long as they come. The 2011 NBA Champion won the Finals MVP award that year and the regular season MVP crown in 2007. Nowitzki worked his way into being one of the most versatile bigs ever to play the game, and he is known for his scoring ability, and a fadeaway jump shot so picture perfect it should be trademarked.

His place among the many legends that make up the sporting scene in Dallas, the likes of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, is secure. A street running by the American Airlines Center has been named Nowitzki Way, a fitting tribute for this premier player who won so many games for the Mavericks inside that building during his storied career.

Story by Steve Wright
Independent Writer

babe ruth hero editedjpg

Foundations

The All-Time Top 25 Premier Players of MLB Baseball

Everyone has an opinion, and here is ours when it comes to listing the all-time Top 25 players of Major League Baseball:

25 – Mel Ott
Ott was a prodigy of the game, and he was a big leaguer before he had even celebrated his 18th birthday.  In 1926, as a 17-year-old, Ott hit .383 over the course of just 60 at-bats in 1926. This was a precursor of what was to come as Ott became a dual-threat hitter capable of hitting for contact or power. At the end of his 22-year career, Ott had a 304/.414./.533 line and had crushed 511 home runs and tallied 1,860 RBI.

24 – Alex Rodriguez
One of the biggest questions in modern baseball history is if Rodriguez could have gone down as the best shortstop in the history of the game had he not unselfishly shifted to third-base after joining the Yankees in 2004.
The PED drama was there, sure, but A-Rod was a 14-time all-star, a three-time AL MVP, and he is the only player in MLB history to hit for .295, over 600 home runs, over 2,000 RBIs, score over 2,000 runs, record over 3,000 hits, and steal more than 300 bases. He could do it all.

23 – Rickey Henderson
The best leadoff hitter in the history of the game, Henderson is also one of the premier players in baseball history at any spot in the order.  He is the all-time stolen base king with 1,406 steals, something he would never be afraid to let people know, using his unreal speed to advance around the bases with ease. He is also the all-time leader in runs scored with 2,295, and he could hit for power as shown by his 297 home runs and 1,115 RBI.

22 – Christy Mathewson
Mathewson was nicknamed, among other things, “The Gentleman’s Hurler,” which might be the best nickname ever given. The right-hander played for 17 seasons in MLB with the New York Giants from 1900 to 1916. Playing in an era when hits were frequent, Mathewson was one of the dominant pitchers of his time and one of the most dominant ever. He won 373 games with a 2.13 career ERA and struck out of 2,500 batters as he used his 6-foot-1 frame to overpower the smaller hitters of his era.

21 – Randy Johnson
The Big Unit was a terrifying presence on the mound when he was at the peak of his powers.  Johnson had almost a literal cannon for a left arm, and the 22-year starting pitcher dominated games when he was focused and in control of his fastball. His 303 career victories are the fifth-most by a lefty, and his 4,875 strikeouts are the second most all time. The five-time Cy Young winner was one of the tallest MLB players ever at 6-foot-10, and his pitching angle and velocity made him almost impossible to hit.

20 – Jimmie Foxx
“The Beast” played for 20 seasons in MLB with a variety of clubs from 1925 to 1945. He was the second player in MLB history to hit 500 home runs after Babe Ruth, a feat almost as impressive as Ruth’s because some thought that the Babe was the only player capable of ever getting to that mark.  Foxx picked up three MVP awards (1932, 1933, 1938) tied for second place all-time in that award category. A Triple Crown, and the fact that he mainly played just 14 full seasons worth of games, showcase Foxx as one of the best power hitters ever to play the game.

19 – Albert Pujols
The only active player on this list, Pujols continues to add value to his claim as one of the best to ever play the game by the season.  The 39-year-old Dominican Republic star may have slowed down, but the 10-time all-star has had an impressive run since debuting in 2001. Pujols is a three-time NL MVP, and at his pomp, he was considered one of the best hitters to play the game in the last 50 years due to his combination of power, contact hitting ability, and patience to find a pitch to hit. As of writing, he has 644 home runs and over 3,100 hits.

18 – Ken Griffey Jr.
A 22-year player in the bigs, Griffey Jr. was one of the premier players of the 1990s when he excelled with the Seattle Mariners. Amazingly, the Mariners never won a World Series title with three of the top 25 players of all time on the club together.  One of the most prolific home run hitters in baseball history, Griffey finished his career with 630 dingers, the seventh-most ever. He was known for the sweetness of his swing, and the 13-time all-star was also an exception defender where he used his athletic ability to win 10 Gold Gloves as the best center fielder in the game.

17 – Grover Cleveland Alexander
A 19-year player who started with the Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Alexander was born in Nebraska during the first term of his namesake’s Presidency.  “Old Pete” was a player who played in an era where pitch counts weren’t a thing, and as a result, he rolled to complete games in 436 of his 600 starts. He missed the entire 1918 season serving in the military but came back to continue a stretch from 1915 to 1920 where he pitched under 2.00 for his ERA each season.

16 – Mickey Mantle
Mantle was the premier player of MLB during the 1950s as a modern, five-tool player who did everything required from a baseball player at an exceptional level.  His .298/.421/.557 line with 536 home runs and 1,509 RBI is impressive, but Mantle could easily have added to this numbers had he not been blighted by injuries that rendered him done as a superstar of the game by the age of 32.

15 – Joe DiMaggio
All you need to know about DiMaggio is 56. For 56 straight games, DiMaggio collected a hit on the scorecard, a number that has rarely been approached since he set the staggering target.  As good as DiMaggio’s numbers are, and they are great as he had 2,214 hits, 361 homers, and 1,537 RBI, it has to be noted that he could easily be ranked in the Top 5 on this list had he not lost his prime years from age 28-30 while serving in WWII. The three-time MVP was an all-star every season he played, racking up those numbers in just 13 MLB seasons.

14 – Rogers Hornsby
A player with an ‘S’ at the end of his first name for no obvious reason, Hornsby was one of the premier players of his era. Hornsby played for 22-years in the bigs after making his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1915, picking up a pair of NL MVP awards in 1925 and 1929.  Hornsby was a World Series winner in 1926, and he finished just 70 hits shy of 3,000 while hitting 301 home runs with a batting average of .358. That batting average is the second best in the history of the game (Ty Cobb), and his .424 average in 1924 hasn’t been bettered since.

13 – Roger Clemons
Clemons is one of those pitchers that you would strongly consider selecting if you were in a must-win situation.  Pitching from 1984-2007, facing plenty of hitters that are seen as tainted by PEDs in hindsight, Clemons tossed 354 wins and racked up a record seven Cy Young awards. The “Rocket” tallied the third most strikeouts all-time with 4.672, he was a two-time World Series champion, and he made the all-star team on 11 occasions.

12 – Honus Wagner
The greatest shortstop to ever play the game, the Flying Dutchman played for 20 years between 1897 and 1917.  A player so good he pushed the Pirates to World Series, Wagner won the batting title eight times and finished with a career hitting mark of .328. Wagner was also a machine as a fielder, using his speed and reflexes to lock down the shortstop position in a way that had never been seen at that point in the game’s history.

11 – Greg Maddux
The king of command was so good at placing the baseball in the mitt of his catcher that you would swear he walked over and put it exactly where he wanted.  In his final 14 seasons in the league, Maddux walked fewer, or as many batters and games, he started eight times.  He averaged 1.80 walks per nine innings for his career, a career in which he tosses over 5,000 innings. He retired with a career ERA of 3.16; a number inflated because he was hit hard during his final five years in the way that most precision tossers do when they lose a touch of velocity. Maddux completed 13 complete-game shutouts in under 100 pitches during his career.

10 – Stan Musial
The longtime Cardinal was one of the best offensive players ever to grace the diamond. This premier player was good at just about everything baseball-related, playing for 22 years and finishing with a .221/.417/.559 line to show his contact numbers.  Musial also crushed 475 home runs and had a stunningly balanced number of RBIs (1,951) and runs scored (1,949). Perhaps Musial’s most notable achievement is that his 6,134 total bases are second on the all-time list behind only Hank Aaron.

9 – Cy Young
The all-time leader in wins is the second best pitcher on this list, and he is a man so revered for his skills that the premier pitching award in the game is named after him.  Young amassed 511 wins during his career, and he is also the all-time leader in losses (316) and complete games (a ridiculous 749). He won more than 20 games during 15 different seasons and for someone with so many pitches thrown his 1,217 walks during his career might be Young’s most impressive stat.

8 – Walter Jonson
Johnson is one of the premier players in the history of baseball that few people ever talk about. Playing before the Cy Young award was even invented, Johnson pitched for a 1.65 ERA between 1907 and 1919, going on to play for a total of 20 seasons and winning 417 games.  Johnson remains the career leader in shutouts with 110, the active leader is Clayton Kershaw with 15, and he ranks second in wins and fourth in complete games. The Washington Senator also struck out over 3,500 batters, with many being so scared of his dominant fastball that they backed up off of the plate when Johnson was on the mound.

7 – Ty Cobb
Cobb was not a player who easily made friends on the bases. That, though, shouldn’t overshadow just how dominant he was as the best hitter of the dead-ball era.  Cobb finished his career with an astonishing 4,189 hits, batting for over .400 three times and compiling a .366 batting average when he retired. The 12-time batting champion also hit 724 doubles and stole 897 bases as he used his natural athleticism to carve out a niche as one of the best offensive players in the history of the game.

6 – Lou Gehrig
The Iron Horse was a dominant player throughout a career that was tragically cut short by the illness that now bears his name. Gehrig may be best known for his emotional retirement speech where he called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” but his career was much more than that one moment.  Gehrig rocked a .340 batting average for his career, even taking into about his disease hampered last season, and crushed 493 home runs and 1,995 RBIs. He was a seven-time all-star and a six-time World Series Champion with the New York Yankees.

5 – Barry Bonds
If you remove a player like Bonds because of his PED scandal, then it feels like you would also have to remove any player from the segregation era because they had their form of political help. Bonds may have had some help getting to the point where he was an enormous slugger capable of crushing 73 home runs as he did in 2001, but he was an elite player even before putting on the bulk. He is the all-time home run leader, and he is the only player in history to have 500 home runs and 500 steals during his career.

4 – Hank Aaron
Aaron was a truly outstanding baseball player, but more than that he was a man who overcame hate mail and death threats to be crowned the home run king.  The player with the most RBIs in history set a new home run mark of 755, passing Babe Ruth and shaking off the ghost of the great Yankee slugger in the process. Aaron is one of the premier players of any era, a player who should be praised for his consistency and longevity as he never actually surpassed 47 home runs in a single season as he chased down the Babe.

3 – Ted Williams
The greatest pure hitter that ever lived, Williams achieved his high school goal of being the very best ever at swinging a bat and putting the ball in play.  Williams was an on-base machine, leading his league in OBP on 12 occasions along with having nine seasons where he was the top slugger. Winning six batting titles, Williams was a career .344 hitter who hit .316 as a 41-year-old when most players have already left the game. His career batting average is the highest of any player in the live-ball era, and he is the last player to have finished a season with a batting average of over .400.

2 – Willie Mays
Mays is a comfortable No. 2 on this list because he is simply the best all-around player the game has ever produced.  A wizard with the bat and the glove, Mays was a five-tool player who would have been off of the charts in terms of today’s scouting metrics. He could hit for power, he ranks fifth all-time with 660 home runs, and for contact where he was a .302 career hitter. Mays was an elite player from 1954-1967, and he finished his career just eight games shy of 3,000 appearances.

1 – Babe Ruth
There is a reason why Ruth is an almost mythical figure in the annals of baseball. Ruth was simply the premier player ever to play the game because he was so dominant at his peak. Ruth hit 29 home runs in 1919 to set a new record for the most dingers in a season. The next year, he belted 54 in a year where no one else passed the mark of 20.  In the time it took Ruth to hit 602 runs for his career, no other player crossed the 300 mark. His power numbers are mindblowing. It is the equivalent of one player hitting over 100 homers a season for 12 years in the current baseball world. Consider that and it is obvious why Ruth is ranked #1.

Article by Steve Wright
Independent writer

roger federer

Foundations

Federer Wins On & Off The Court With His Passion To Help Others

Swiss tennis player Roger Federer recently won his 100th career title when he won the 2019 Dubai Open. Federer becomes just the second male player in the history of the sport to reach triple-digit title wins, joining Jimmy Connors who retired with 109 crowns to his name.

That Federer has been able to win so many titles in such a competitive sport speaks to his ability as one of the premier players at any sport in the world over the last two decades.

Federer is an interesting case study because of his dedication to his craft. Tennis is simply an exhausting sport to play at the professional level, with mental and physical demands unlike anything else. The ATP tour lasts for the better part of a year, with just a six week offseason between the ATP Tour Finals and the start of the next season in Australia.

During the 10 month season, a player has to cope with brutal heat in many of the tournaments, the US Open is a great example of this, with matches that can last for hours in a grueling mental tete-a-tete. Doing this, and winning 100 titles, during a down time for the sport would be hard enough, but Federer has had to fight and compete during a “Big Four” era, where he, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray have all had their time at the top.

Federer though has, more often than not, come out on top.

He created his spot as the premier player in his sport because of his versatility and ability to play on all the different surfaces. Federer has been able to switch between hard, clay, and grass courts, winning on them all. He is an outstanding shot maker, his YouTube highlight shots are insane, and he has such good footwork that Federer gives the impression he would have excelled at whichever sport he chose.

Perhaps most importantly, Federer has shown to be a beacon of class and sportsmanship throughout his career that has seen him act as a vital mentor for young players around the world. He has received the ATP Tour Sportsmanship Award 13 times, was named Laureus World Sportsman of the Year a record five times, and the British based BBC Overseas Sports personality of the Year Award of four occasions.

Federer has won north of 120 million in prize money over the course of his 20-year career. That doesn’t even take into account the money that this premier player has made through sponsorships. It is sad that men’s tennis in America has fallen to the point that there has been no real rival to the Swiss superstar from the US, because then his epic career would have had more play in this country.

The Rodger Federer Foundation, started and chaired by the star, supports education throughout southern Africa and Switzerland. Federer is a star that loves to give back and the foundation has helped over 1 million children at this point. He has donated over $50 million of his own money to charity during his career, leaving a legacy of success and greatness both on the court and on the world as a whole.

Article by Steve Wright
Independent Writer

 

Tua Tagovailoa

Foundations

All Eyes On Tagovailoa As The Premier College QB

Tua Tagovailoa has already etched his name in football history.  He will not turn 22-years-old until March of 2020, but Tagovailoa has already packed more into his young life, specifically on the sporting stage, than many will do in a lifetime.

He is one of the premier players of college football right now, and in April of 2020, he will be drafted into the NFL as one of the top picks in the 2020 NFL Draft.  He may be the very first pick off of the board if he decides to join the league after his redshirt sophomore season with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Heisman frontrunner for most of the 2018 season, Tagovailoa was run down at the last minute in the voting for that particular trophy by the 2018 Premier Player of College Football, 2019 NFL Draft No. 1 overall pick, and new Arizona Cardinal QB, Kyler Murray.  It was not, however, a case of Tagovailoa imploding and losing the trophy. The Hawaii native threw for almost 4,000 yards on the season, completing 43 touchdown passes and rushing for another five on the ground.  Instead, it was a case of Murray picking it up down the stretch to win the award.

Tagovailoa has two Alabama seasons under his belt.  In the first of those years, he won a national championship by sparking an unlikely, and some would even argue seemingly impossible, comeback against Georgia.  In the second, he broke records after records at a school that has been doing this football thing at a very high level for a long, long time.

It all begs the question as to what is next for him on the college stage?

Alabama fans will only be happy if Tagovailoa, as one of the premier players in the game along with fellow quarterback Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, combines his two seasons to make Alabama in 2019 almost untouchable. There is no reason to think that Tagovailoa will not again get close to (or even surpass) the 4,000-yard mark and, given the talent around him, 50+ touchdown passes should not be out of the realm of possibility.

Tagovailoa’s biggest strength as a quarterback, and why he is a premier player, is not a trait that can be defined in any physical test.  While he has outstanding anticipation of a route and touch on a pass, not to mention enough athleticism to keep plays alive, it is his mental acuity for the game that sets him apart.

At the NFL level, it simply does not matter how strong your arm is if you cannot break down a defense mentally, making the correct reads before the snap and the perfect decisions, in a split-second, when the ball is in play.

Tagovailoa is a player everyone should try to watch and learn from both on and off the field.  From his outstanding work ethic, to his commitment to his faith and school, he is someone we can all get behind as one of the premier players in the game to continue his success to the next level.

Story by Steve Wright, Independent Sports Writer

Foundations

All-Time Top 25 Premier Players of The NBA

There is always talk about The G.O.A.T.  In this article, we list our All-Time, Top 25 Players of The NBA:

25 – Dirk Nowitzki
The best European import in league history and one of the premier players of his era, Nowitzki was a 7-foot tall scoring machine for the Dallas Mavericks after they selected him with the ninth pick of the 1998 NBA Draft.  A player who could hit any shot at any time, his one-legged fade-away jumper will become the stuff of legend.  Nowitzki led the Mavs to 15 playoff appearances in his 21-year run with the franchise. An NBA champion (and NBA Finals MVP) in 2011, the only thing that stops the 14-time all-star and four-time All-NBA First Team selection from appearing higher on this list is his lack of rings.

24 – David Robinson
The Admiral was a defensive force throughout his entire 14-year run in the NBA.  Robinson ranks sixth in NBA history with 2,954 blocks, using every inch of his 7-foot-1 frame to dominate the paint defensively. Along with Tim Duncan, Robinson formed ‘The Twin Towers’ frontcourt for the San Antonio Spurs, giving opponents little chance of making an impact around the rim. The two-time NBA champion and 10-time all-star was an absolute double-double machine over the course of his first decade in the league.

23 – Scottie Pippen
Would Michael Jordan be where he is on this list without the power of Scottie Pippen?  Pippen is often seen as the Robin to Jordan’s Batman, but that is undervaluing the skillset of the Hall of Famer who was also a seven-time all-star as the Bulls dominated the league in the 90s. While Jordan could take over a game, Pippen was a consistent force on both sides of the ball. He averaged 16.1 points per game while shooting almost 50% from the field for his career. The ability of Pippen to run like a guard, rebound like a power forward, and hit buckets like a shooting guard should never be overlooked.

22 – Charles Barkley
A Hall of Fame power forward, Barkley is best remembered for his ability to rebound the basketball. He was a machine on the glass, averaging 11.7 rebounds per game throughout his career in Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Houston. He was also a member of the USA Olympic basketball “Dream Team” where he won gold medals in 1992 and 1996. A player who could have adapted to the playing style in any era, Barkley never won a ring but he was an 11-time NBA All-Star, and he was named the league’s MVP in 1993.

21 – John Havlicek
Havlicek won eight NBA titles as part of the Boston Celtics team that owned the NBA in the 1960s and 70s.  A 13-time all-star, Havlicek was defined by his relentless hustle on the court and his commitment to being a team player in a sport where self-promotion has become the norm over the years. The seventh pick of the 1962 NBA Draft out of Ohio State, Havlicek was a defensive leader who is still the Celtic’s leader in games played and total points scored (26,395).

20 – Kevin Garnett
Garnett may have spent too much of his career playing for a non-competitive team in Minnesota, but the 21-year veteran plied his trade into becoming an all-time great. Widely considered one of the best power forwards of all time, Garnett is one of just four players to win both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Known for his intensity and his lockdown defensive ability, Garnett was a 15-time All-Star and is the only player in league history to average 20 points, 10 boards, and five assists for six straight seasons.

19 – John Stockton
One of the premier point guards in the history of the game, Stockton spent his entire 19-year career with the Utah Jazz after being selected 16th overall in the 1984 NBA Draft.  His guard-forward combination with Karl Malone saw Stockton rack up the most assists in NBA history with over 15,800 dimes. Stockton is also the all-time steals leader with 3,265 over the course of his career. A 10-time all-star, Stockton averaged a double-double in points (13.1) and assists (10.5), and he was known for his nearing fanatical work ethic that saw him miss just 22 games over 19 seasons in the league.

18 – Elvin Hayes
Hayes was a Jack of all trades player who just happened to be very good at everything on a basketball court.  He ranks tenth all-time in scoring, 24th all-time in blocks, and fourth all-time in rebounds. The amazing aspect of this is that Hayes was playing in the league before blocks were counted as a statistic, so he sits that high on the all-time block list despite playing for five seasons when none of his shot rejections were counted. Hayes averaged 21 points and 12.5 rebounds per game for his career as one of the premier players in the NBA.

17 – Julius Erving
Dr. J was one of the first NBA exponents of playing the game above the rim with his athleticism and ability to dunk the ball while taking off from the free throw line.  Playing for five years in the ABA for the Virginia Squires and the New York Nets, Erving is the greatest 76er of all-time thanks to his success with the Philadelphia franchise in an 11-year stint in the NBA. The two-time ABA champion was an 11-time NBA all-star, and he won the NBA Title in 1983. Dr. J is also the eighth-leading scorer of all time if ABA and NBA scoring records are combined.

16 – Moses Malone
A double-double career player with 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game, Moses Malone showed that a player could be a successful NBA player without a college career. The 12-time all-star and three-time league MVP was named to eight All-NBA teams, and he finally won a league title in 1983. A first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2001, Malone began his career with teams like the Utah Stars and Spirits of St. Louis in the ABA before joining the NBA in 1976. A player that tends to be overlooked as one of the premier players in basketball history, Malone was a physical presence with an endless motor which did everything well.

15 – Karl Malone
Known as The Mailman because he always delivered, Karl Malone formed a formidable guard-forward combination with John Stockton as members of the Utah Jazz. Unlucky to be playing in the same timeframe as one Michael Jordan, Malone was never able to get his hands on an NBA championship, but he was able to achieve everything else in the game. The recipient of 11 straight All-NBA First Team nods, Malone remains second all-time in scoring with 36,928 points.

14 – Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon was a 7-foot center out of Lagos, Nigeria who dominated the paint for the Houston Rockets (and then the Toronto Raptors for a year) for 18-years in the league.  A skilled played on both ends of the court, Olajuwon had a unique combination of size and speed that allowed him to be effortless defending at whatever position was needed. The center was an insane shot blocker, but his hand speed also made him a threat to steal the ball. He is the only 200/200 player in NBA history after compiling 200 blocks and steals in a single season. The Dream averaged 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.

13 – Jerry West
The most surprising aspect of Jerry West’s career is that he won just one NBA Title during his playing career with the L.A. Lakers. That title in 1972 says as much about the Boston Celtics dominant run as it does about the Lakers, but West was a constant force throughout his NBA career. A 14-time all-star and 10-time All-NBA First Team selection West was known as Mr. Clutch due to his ability to make big shots when big shots were needed. The guard once recorded 46.3 points scoring averaged over the course of an entire playoff series, an NBA record, and you have to be considered one of the premier players ever to have your silhouette incorporated into the NBA logo.

12 – Kevin Durant
A sure-fire Hall of Famer whenever he hangs up his sneakers, the 30-year old Durant already has a resume that makes him one of the best players of all-time. The second pick of the 2007 draft, Durant was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 2008, and the accolades have only continued to build from there. Durant is already a double-digit All-Star and, as of writing, he is a two-time NBA Champion and was named Finals MVP in both of those victories with the Golden State Warriors. Durant is an outstanding shooter and scorer in general, and he averaged over 27 points per game for his career.

11 – Shaquille O’Neal
When he was in his best shape, and when he cared enough to be dominant, then there was no stopping Shaq as he became the most dominant physical force in the league since Wilt Chamberlain. The top overall pick of the Orlando Magic out of LSU, Shaq was a 15-time all-star with a larger than life personality that sometimes hid his basketball greatness. Playing for six teams over 19-years, Shaq was a four-time NBA champion, a three-time NBA Finals MVP, and an eight-time All-NBA First Team selection. His power also broke backboard supports twice during his first year, leading the NBA to increase brace strength for the 1993-94 season.

10 – Kobe Bryant
Love him or hate him and his style of play, Bryant will go down as one of the greatest scorers in the history of the league. Sitting at No. 3 on the all-time list with 33,643 points, Bryant averaged 25 points over his career, and he was an 18-time all-star with five NBA titles to his name. The 20-year Laker was also a 12-time member of the All-Defensive team, and his fall-away jump shot was compared to that of Michael Jordan when Kobe was in his prime.

9 – Oscar Robertson
The Big O was a 6-foot-5, 205-pound point guard when players of that size were unheard of at the position. The 12-time all-star and winner of the MVP award in 1964 became the first player to average a triple-double over the course of a season in 1962. Robinson took the league by storm when he averaged over 30 points per game as a rookie, and his triple-double number of 181 over his career is one that has never been approached since. Robertson is also credited with inventing the head fake and the fade-away shot.

8 – Tim Duncan
A 19-year NBA player, Duncan was the rock which the San Antonio Spurs built a five-time NBA championship team from the turn of the century until well into the next decade. A player with a double-double career average in points and rebounds, Duncan was a beacon of consistency who would have won more titles if not for the Lakers and LeBron. Duncan, unlike some on this list, continued to be dominant until the end of his career, a fitting legacy for the man known as “The Big Fundamental” thanks to his simple and effective playing style.

7 – Bill Russell
The case for Russell as the greatest in NBA history begins and ends with the number 11. As in 11 NBA Titles, the number that Russell won during his career as one of the premier players in the game. An exceptional defender, Russell was not a heavy scorer, but he was able to set his team on fast break opportunities because of his presence in the paint. Russell played in the NBA for 13 years, and in those 13 years, he won more championship rings than you can wear across both hands. The 6-foot-10 center was a five-time MVP and a 12-time all-star, showing what value he had as part of a dynasty the likes of which we are unlikely to see in the sport ever again.

6 – Larry Bird
Larry Legend might not be the most decorated Boston Celtic of all-time, but he is the one that is regarded as the greatest player in the sweeping history of the franchise.  A three-time NBA Champion, and two-time Finals MVP, Bird may not have looked like an NBA player, but he had a skill set that set him apart. Bird averaged over 20 points in all but two of his NBA seasons, and he was named to the All-NBA First Team nine separate times. Three consecutive league MVP awards and an average of 24.3 points over his career, while also excelling as a passer and defender, earn Bird this spot on the list.

5 – Magic Johnson
An assist machine that could also score, Magic epitomized the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. His battles with Larry Bird are the stuff of legends, with magic averaging double figures in assists for nine of his 13 seasons in the league. It was not just that Magic could pass the ball; it was the no-looks and behind the back passes that led to scores that set him apart as one of the greatest ever. At 6-foot-9 Magic was not created to be a point guard but five NBA titles in 13 seasons show his impact on the game.

4 – Wilt Chamberlain
If Bill Russell did not exist, then Wilt Chamberlain would be No. 1 on this list with double-digit championships to go along with every other insane statistic he produced.  Chamberlain had to settle for just two rings, but the four-time league MVP and 13-time all-star was a freak of nature who forced the NBA to widen the lane in order to stop him from terrorizing smaller players. His 100 point performance against the New York Knicks will never be broken, nor will the 55 rebounds he amassed in one game against the Celtics. Wilt also led the league in assists in 1968, showing there was nothing he could not do while playing basketball.

3 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The man that saw slam dunks banned in college so that other teams could compete with UCLA slots in at No. 3 on this list for his sheer dominance on the court.  Somewhat ironically it was that dunk ban that saw Kareem learn the sky-hook, a shot he would use to obliterate teams with over his 20-year career. The accolades are staggering as Kareem was a 19-time All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA selection, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team player. He won six NBA championships and six MVP awards as he finished first all-time on the scoring list with over 38,300 points (at a clip of 24.6 points per game) for his career.

2 – LeBron James
The 2018-19 season may not have been his best, but LeBron hits this list at No. 2 as one of the premier players in NBA history.  The only player close to passing Jordan, LeBron has already climbed to No. 4 on the all-time scoring list and will likely pass Kobe early in the 2019-20 season. He is a four-time NBA MVP, a three-time NBA champion and he won the Finals MVP in each of those victories.  The 15-time all-star has won a slew of individual awards, and his ability to play all five positions on the court makes him almost unguardable when he is at his best.

1 – Michael Jordan
Even with the strong push that LeBron has made for the No. 1 spot over the last decade, there is still no touching Michael Jordan. The ultimate competitor, Jordan was a player who refused to give up. Few could match the Bulls great when it came to intensity, while no one could match him for sheer skill on the hardwood. He might be the most clutch player in the history of the league, and he is a player who was every bit as good as the stories surrounding his legacy.  Jordan averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game on his way to five MVP awards and six NBA championships along with six Finals MVP honors.

Article by Steve Writer
Independent Sports Writer

Foundations

NFL Draft Becomes The Place To Be For Sports Fans

The NFL draft has, somewhat inexplicably, become one of the premier sports events on the American calendar.

Despite it being little more than a group of talking heads projecting the careers of players who are selected by teams on slips of paper, the sports-loving public in this country has fallen in love with the NFL draft to the point that it is now a destination event for fans.

This means that the draft is one of those sports events that cities actually compete to gain the rights to host. This competition is a relatively recent development, with the draft having been held in New York City from the date of the first draft in 1965 through to the 50th-anniversary edition in 2015.

Since then, the NFL has held the draft in cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas, with the 2019 NFL Draft emanating from Nashville, Tennessee.

There are several reasons why the NFL draft has become one of the most significant sports events of the spring.  First, the event is perfectly positioned at the point where we start to miss football and crave it back in our sporting lives.  Sure, the NBA and NHL playoffs are in full swing, but the MLB season is still 100 games away from being over and, importantly, college basketball just wrapped up with the fantastic sports event that is March Madness.

Football, however, has been over for a couple of months by the middle of April. While new leagues seem to come and disappear in the spring every couple of years, millions of people across the globe still miss the NFL. That is why an event such as this has grown from a bunch of team executives in a musical hall picking in private to a full-on production that is watched worldwide.

The other main reason that the NFL draft has become one of the most significant sports events is that it manages to hit right down the middle of the football fan demographic. While the divide between college fans and pro fans is not what it once was, there are still large sections of the country, especially in college football heartlands such as the south, where the NFL game is barely followed, but where college football is almost its own religion.

The NFL draft ignites both sets of fans, with college football guys getting to see how high their favorite player is drafted (ideally ahead of the first player taken from the rival school) while NFL fans get to find out about and research a new crop of talent coming in from the college ranks.  The NBA draft (at two rounds) is too short. The MLB draft (at 40 rounds) is way, way too long. The NHL draft simply features too many players that you have to be an absolute hockey diehard to have ever heard about most of them.

The NFL draft, however, hits the sweet spot and that is why it is the only draft that is truly event viewing.

Article by Steve Wright

Foundations

LA Chargers Make The Premier Fashion Statement

The premier fashion statement in the NFL will be making a long-awaited comeback later this year as the Los Angeles Chargers have announced they will be switching to their powder blue jerseys as their home uniform of choice for the 2019 season.

The iconic jerseys are not only the premier fashion choice in the NFL, but they also represent one of the best uniform color combinations in sports, period. The Chargers will be making the look even more striking as the team will be wearing the equally iconic gold facemask whatever uniform is being worn for their game.

The uniform dates all the way back to the team’s opening season in Los Angeles back in 1960. Since moving away from the powder blue in 1974, the uniform has made sporadic appearances after fans were treated to seeing the color again on the gridiron in 1994 for the 75th anniversary season of the league.

This decision automatically makes the LA Chargers the premier fashion team in the league.  Here are the best of the rest in the NFL when it comes to uniform color schemes:

Oakland Raiders
The silver and black color scheme of the Raiders was the best in the league until the Chargers stole their spot. Instantly recognizable, the Raiders scheme is unlike anything else we see in sports with the bold use of silver and black and the fact that they haven’t changed a single thing about them since the 1960s adds to the mystique.  This is a premier fashion choice in the NFL as much because of what the colors represent, the violence and the intimidation factor, as anything else.

Buffalo Bills
This is not a team that would have featured on this list until recently.
The Bills made a bold choice in blending aspects of their 1970s uniforms with a modern style, and the risk has paid off in as much as now they are one of the best looking teams in the entire league. While other franchises have tried to merge styles like this and failed, the Bills have a look that their fans now need to see mirrored by their play on the field.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Maybe it is just something about the black on a uniform that makes it one of the premier fashion statements in the league.  The Steelers, like the Raiders, make the most of the black in their scheme to create an intimidating and dominating look. While some of their throwback choices, specifically the bumble-bees, have been less than impressive, this timeless look of black and gold needs nothing in the way of changes.

Green Bay Packers
The green and gold of the Packers always look iconic, but it is at its very best when Lambeau Field is frozen over, and a playoff game is on the line.
Simplicity is the key here. The helmet logo that was first adopted in 1961 somehow always manages to stay in style. In an ever-changing world, there is something very timeless about the whole ethos of the Packers franchise. That is why these uniforms will always be one of the top five styles in the NFL.

Foundations

Top 25 Premier Players of The National Football League

The Premier Players of College Football will be called onto one of the biggest stages in sports when teams select their picks for the 2019 NFL Draft.  At a minimum, all of them are hoping for picks that will immediately have an impact on team performance.  At best, each team wants an athlete that can impact the game like our Top-25 players to ever play in the National Football League:

25 – Rod Woodson
Woodson is the NFL leader in interception returns for touchdowns. He is a player who seemed to have a sixth sense of where and when to cut when on an interception return, proving to be a spark for the Pittsburgh Steelers every time he got his hands on the football.  An 11-time Pro Bowl player and six-time All-Pro, Woodson scored on 12 interception returns and sits third overall in terms of total interceptions. Woodson is a player quarterbacks never felt comfortable throwing against as he was able to use his physicality to get to the ball before the receiver on countless occasions.

24 – Deion Sanders
As loud and brash as he was supremely talented, Deion Sanders is the best cover corner in the history of the NFL and one of the premier players of all time.  The two-time Super Bowl winner was an eight-time Pro Bowler, and he won the award for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. Sanders retired second all-time in both career interception return yards and career interceptions returned for touchdowns. Ironically, Sanders had the talent to lead in both the categories, but he was so good at his job of locking down a receiver that quarterbacks barely threw the ball in his direction for fear of the interception.

23 – Otto Graham
Graham was the best player football had ever seen before the NFL existed.
Graham took the Browns to league championship games every year between 1946 and 1955 and won seven of those contests. With Graham under center, the Browns posted an almost unbelievable record of 114-20-4, including going 9-3 in the playoffs. Perhaps most astonishing, Graham still holds records for the most average yards per pass attempt (8.98) and the record for career winning percentage by a starting quarterback at almost 83-percent.

22 – Randy Moss
Moss may have been the most uncoverable receiver in the history of the NFL. While other players used their route running and cunning to get open, Moss used his freakish speed and 6-foot-4 inch frame (with a 51 inch vertical) to merely be better than any defensive back trying to cover him.
Moss caught 17 touchdown passes as a rookie as the Minnesota Vikings went 15-1. He then bookended his career with a 23 touchdown season, breaking a Jerry Rice record no less, as the Patriots completed the first ever 16-game undefeated regular season. Moss finished his career with over 15,000 yards receiving and 156 touchdowns in the premier league in the sport.

21 – Marshall Faulk
Faulk was the first true hybrid running back/wide receiver who played the running back position. Without his powerful ability on the ground and out of the backfield the Greatest Show on Turf would never have been so successful.  While he never led the league in rushing, Faulk had the hands of a wide receiver. He finished his career with 6,875 yards catching the ball and had more than 19,000 total yards from scrimmage to his name. A seven-time Pro Bowl player and a three-time All-Pro, Faulk won the MVP in 2000 when he had 2,189 yards from scrimmage and 26 touchdowns.

20 – Dick Butkus
The greatest middle linebacker in the history of the game, Dick Butkus had a name that basically meant his only career choice was to be an NFL defensive star and one of the premier players of all time.  Playing nine seasons in the NFL when middle linebacker was a brutal and dangerous position to play, Butkus struck fear in the hearts of both quarterbacks and wide receivers as he was known for his punishing hits. He was named to the Pro Bowl every year from 1965 to 1972, and he showed his versatility as a player by finishing his career with 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries.

19 – Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers is a player who has always had to fight through some level of adversity. After going the JuCo route and only getting a scholarship to Cal when the head coach was watching another player, the nation had to suffer on draft day as Rodgers sat in the green room until the24th pick of the 2005 draft.  Rodgers landed in Green Bay and was able to learn from the great for three seasons before taking over the team. He is a two time NFL MVP, a one-time Super Bowl Champion and Super Bowl MVP, and a seven-time Pro Bowl choice at the quarterback position. At 35 years old and with a new head coach to invigorate his career, Rodgers has plenty of time to climb this list.

18 – Gale Sayers
Sayers is an anomaly on this list of players with long, storied careers in the NFL.  The Kansas Comet played just 68 career games in the premier league of football, playing in only six seasons from 1965 to 1971. What we did see of Sayers though was enough to list him this high on a list of the greatest players of all-time.  During his rookie season, Sayers scored 22 touchdowns in 14 games. In one game on a rainy afternoon against the San Francisco 49ers, Sayers scored six touchdowns as he outclassed everyone else on the field.  A gliding, smooth, and burning runner, Sayers is an NFL Hall of Famer even with his short career arc.

17 – Bruce Smith
The only player in the history of the league with 200 career sacks, Bruce Smith, was an absolute force to be reckoned with from the defensive end position.  His 200 sacks is a record that may stand forever, with no current player within range and few feeling the need to play for the extended amount of time at the NFL level that would be required to break the mark. Smith played for 19 seasons in the NFL, recording 10 or more sacks in 13 of those years. An 11-time Pro Bowler, Smith was savvy, quick, and powerful at the point of attack.

16 – Deacon Jones
Jones is the player that invented the whole concept of sacking a quarterback. Before Jones, a quarterback tackle was recorded as simply that, a tackle.  To get a feel for Jones’ place in the pantheon of NFL defensive ends people have had to rewatch old game footage to come up with his totals. Jones has been credited with 173.5 sacks during his career, enough for third on the all-time list and a number that would have put him top of the pile when he retired. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder, was a physical freak in the 19060s, perhaps showing how he was able to record 21.5 and 22 sack seasons in just 14 games each in 1967 and 1968.

15 – Emmitt Smith
Smith is sometimes overlooked on this type of list because he wasn’t the flashiest back in the league even when at his pomp.  Smith may not have been as naturally gifted athletically as some on this list, but his toughness and physicality as a runner made him stand out. He always got stronger as the game wore on, using his incredible endurance to work through games and pound the rock in the fourth quarter. He retired with 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns, both the most of any back in NFL history.

14 – Brett Favre
Favre may have become something of a comedic figure because of how the end of his career played out, but at his peak, he was the most feared quarterback in the game.  Taken with the 33rd overall pick of the 1991 NFL Draft, Favre was soon traded up to Green Bay where he embarked on a Hall of Fame career. Favre was at his best in the mid-90s, when he led the Packers to a pair of Super Bowls, winning in 1996, and when he was named the NFL MVP for three consecutive years between 1995 and 1997. His tough as nails reputation and gunslinger attitude made Favre a legend in his own time.

13 – Johnny Unitas
Unitas was one of the first star quarterbacks the NFL had ever seen, and he is undoubtedly one of the premier players of all time.  Playing from 1956-73, Unitas retired as a quarterback legend. The 10-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro just seemed to have a feel for the game and how offensive systems worked that no one before him had managed. One of only four players to win three NFL MVP awards, Unitas led his Baltimore Colts to an NFL Championship game win in 1958 that is widely considered as the game that created interest in professional football.

12 – Joe Greene
“Mean” Joe Greene is on the shortlist for the title of best defensive lineman in the history of professional football.  Greene was the best player on the Steelers “Steel Curtain” defense that basically ruled the NFL for six years in the 1970s. That team won four Super Bowl rings in those six years, with the 6-foot-4, 280 pound Greene simply proving too powerful to offensive linemen to contain on a play by play basis. The 10-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro was also named Defensive Player of the Year on two occasions.

11 – Drew Brees
Drew Brees is the forgotten man of the current era of quarterbacking.
Overlooked in favor of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers, the former Purdue Boilermaker has done nothing other than excel in the Bayou. A 12-time Pro Bowl player, Brees began his career in San Diego before almost joining the Miami Dolphins when hitting free agency. Instead, he signed with the Saints, and the match has been perfect. Brees is the fastest quarterback in history to hit the 60,000 and 70,000-yard plateaus, and he has shown no signs of decline as he chases several Peyton Manning records.

10 – John Elway
Elway took an interesting path to the NFL. A two-sport star at Stanford, he spent a year in the New York Yankees system before becoming the No. 1 pick of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts entering the premier league of football.  Elway, though, never played a down for the Colts. He was instead traded to Denver, a city he would make his own as he played for 16 seasons with the Broncos. Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two, including being named the MVP of the final game of his career in Super Bowl XXXIII. The nine-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro was an athletic player who could beat defenses with his scrambling or his laser of an arm.

9 – Walter Payton
The Chicago Bears picked a franchise changing running back with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft when claiming the rights to Walter “Sweetness” Payton.  Payton was a stunning runner with a bruising style that belied his ability to quickly change direction when needed. He was a back who would never run out of bounds on his own accord, instead lowering his helmet to initiate contact with whichever defender was in his way. Playing all but one game of his 13 year NFL career, Payton rushed for 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns.

8 – Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders was must-see TV throughout the 1990s. After tearing the college game apart as a member of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Sanders was drafted into the league by the Detriot Lions and was a star from day one.
Sanders was the most elusive, difficult to tackle, and flat our electric player in the history of the NFL. He was a powerful back, one blessed with a jump cut that didn’t even look human, and he consistently ran for 1,000-yard seasons despite playing behind what would graciously be called a poor offensive line. Sanders became the first back in the history of the NFL to produce five 1,500 seasons.

7 – Lawrence Taylor
Taylor had a presence about his play that was terrifying. The linebacker won most battles with opposition quarterbacks before he even stepped on the field, such was the fear that he projected thanks to his pass rushing skill.
Taylor was one of the first defensive players that coaches had to scheme their offenses around. Joe Gibbs of the division rival Washington Redskins would employ a two running back formation against the New York Giants just to give his quarterback an extra blocker and hopefully have time to deliver the ball.

6 – Reggie White
Reggie White was the ultimate example of a player who could flip that switch on game day and became an absolute wrecking ball on the field.
The “Minster of Defense” was a deeply devout and religious man, but come Sunday he would morph into the greatest defensive end the league has ever seen. The 13-time Pro Bowl selection, 13-time All-Pro choice, and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, White ranks second on the NFL sack list win 198 quarterback takedowns in 232 career games.

5 – Joe Montana
A player who went a perfect 4-0 in his Super Bowl appearances, Montana first flashed signs of greatness while leading Notre Dame to a college football national championship.  After falling to the third round of the 1979 NFL Draft, Joe Cool was selected with the 82nd pick by the San Francisco 49ers. Montana is a playoff legend, with three Super Bowl MVPs and the highest all-time Super Bowl QB rating (cumulative) of 127.8. The five-time All-Pro was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 200.

4 – Jim Brown
Watching old highlight footage of Jim Brown is like watching a grown man playing against high school players.  Brown was a 6-foot-2, 230-pound running back playing in the late 50s and early 60s. This meant that not only was he bigger than all the other skill position players, but that he was often bigger than the offensive linemen blocking and the defensive linemen trying to tackle him. Brown was a freak, too fast for the defensive front seven and too strong for the defensive backfield. He won the rushing title in eight out of his nine NFL seasons and owned every rushing record that mattered when he ended his career.

3 – Peyton Manning
Manning holds a plethora of NFL records after a long career that saw him win two Super Bowl rings and cement his name as one of the premier players to ever lace up a pair of cleats.  His 71,940 passing yards, 539 touchdown passes, and 186 regular season wins are all NFL records. A five-time NFL MVP, Manning is the only starting quarterback to lead two different franchises (Indianapolis Colts & Denver Broncos) to Super Bowl wins. A 14 time Pro Bowler, Manning had legendary battles through the years with arch nemesis Tom Brady and his career numbers would have been even better had he played in an ear without a second dominant quarterback.

2 – Jerry Rice
An unheralded draft pick out of Mississippi Valley State in 1985, Rice fell to the middle of the first round because of a perceived lack of speed despite starring for the Delta Devils.  The rest of the NFL’s loss was the San Francisco 49ers gain as Rice forged incredible partnerships with quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young. Rice was the king of the West Coast offense, with his sure hands and game speed allowing him to pick up yards after the catch at a rate never seen before. Rice finished his 20-year career with three Super Bowl rings, 197 touchdowns, and a mark of 22,985 yards receiving that will never be matched.

1 – Tom Brady
Brady may have made it to No. 1 on this list without his record sixth Super Bowl win last February. That sixth ring, though, seals the deal and makes Brady the best player in the history of the league before he has even retired.
A four-time Super Bowl MVP, Brady is always at his best in the biggest games. The 199th overall pick of the 2000 NFL Draft was the seventh quarterback off of the board behind names such as Tee Martin and Spergon Wynn. Brady is a 14 time Pro Bowler, a three-time league MVP, and has set a postseason record with 30 wins. He also is showing few signs of slowing down as he continues to play in the NFL into his 40s.

Foundations

Gronk Leaves The NFL As One of The Best Ever TE

When Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement late last month, he did so as one of the premier players at his position in the history of the NFL.  When talking about the best tight ends of all time, Gronk has to be in the conversation.  At worst, he is in the top five to ever play the position. While at best, he makes a great argument to be the single most uncoverable tight end that has ever put on pads.

The pros for Gronkowski being one of the premier players at the tight end position start with his ability to perform in the clutch.  While Gronk may not have always put up the receiving numbers expected, especially later in his career, if Tom Brady needed a player to make a big play and break open a game he would invariably look for his giant tight end.

That ability to be clutch links into Gronkowski’s second greatest trait. Gronk, more so than perhaps any player ever, could be open even when he was covered (and sometimes double covered).  His combination of size, speed, and strength, didn’t so much make him a matchup nightmare as a complete matchup impossibility.  You would struggle to find a single game during his entire NFL career when Gronkowski wasn’t a threat to take over with a big play on any snap, no matter who was tasked with keeping him quiet.

Other premier players in their time period are worth comparing with Gronkowski.  Tony Gonzalez caught way more passes, mainly for the Kansas City Chiefs, but he played (and was at his peak) for a much longer period of time.  Kellen Winslow brought the tight end position out of the dark ages, turning it from a purely blocking position into a dual-threat to block or pass.

One of the Gronkowski’s most significant accomplishments is that at his peak he was just as good at blocking as passing.  Gonzalez was more of a pure pass catcher (the Chiefs employed Jason Dunn as a tight end for years for running downs), and Winslow is another who caught passes better than he blocked. Gronk, as athletically gifted as any player in the league, could do everything at a high level when healthy.

Health is about the only negative on Gronkowski’s record. Gronkowski, though always seemed to be able to push through the pain barrier in the biggest games, especially when the Patriots needed his skill the most.

It will be interesting to see what Gronkowski does in retirement.  As one of the premier players in the game, there are many routes open which he could choose.  In his first public appearance since retirement, Gronkowski was part of a team that made dreams come true for four Make-A-Wish kids, showing a side to him we didn’t often see as a player.  Gronk has an ideal personality for events like this, and it would be cool to see what he could do in terms of charitable and volunteer work to add another string to his bow after a remarkable professional football career.

Foundations

Wildcats’ John Calipari Is Not Going Anywhere – Today

John Calipari of Kentucky is widely regarded as a premier coach in his sport. Calipari sits alongside perhaps on Coach K (Duke), Bill Self (Kansas) and Roy Williams (North Carolina) as coaches who can lead their blue blood schools and all the expectations that come along with being in charge of a program that simply HAS to be among the best in the country on a yearly basis.

It seems like it would be easy to argue that a college basketball blue blood should never fall from grace. These programs have built in advantages for recruiting and coaching with their combination of money, boosters, alumni groups, and tradition. It shouldn’t take a premier coach to keep them at the top.

That, though, is simply not true. Historically there are six programs (give or take) that would be granted blue blood status. Of those six, UCLA and Indiana (to a lesser extent) are heavily underperforming their status.

It is also hard to imagine a coach leaving one of those key job voluntarily. When you have one of the best jobs in your sport, one where you can hand pick whatever recruits you think you need to reach the Elite Eight (at a minimum) every year, you tend to keep it. After all, what could be better than cementing your coaching standing in the history of a blue blood?

How about the prospect of becoming a coaching legend at two of the premier institutions in the history of the sport?

Calipari is paid very, very well in Lexington. His total compensation of $9.2 million dollars for this season will only increase in the future as he hits specific escalators in his contract. Kentucky knows they have a premier coach and the powers that be at the school know that they have to pay to keep him in place.

What those powers that be cannot have expected, however, is legitimate interest from UCLA to return the Bruins to their glory days.

Calipari also might have been tempted by a change of scenery. After reaching the Final Four in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015, the Wildcats have now bowed out at some point during the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for three straight years. While there is no danger that Calipari would have been under any type of job scrutiny at Kentucky, this is a trend that he will need to reverse quickly to justify his monster contract.

UCLA was offering something in the region of $48 million over six years for Coach Cal to jump to the West Coast. Sensing that their premier coach may be intrigued by the offer, Kentucky is set to offer Calipari a lifetime contract that will transition his role from coach to ambassador when the time is right.

The moral of this story is a simple one. Schools realize that coaches that can recruit, develop, and win don’t come around all that often. It also shows that Calipari, or his agent, is a shrewd businessman who knows how to turn rumored interest into the type of contract we would all dream to be on. Being a premier coach really does have its perks!

Foundations

Our All-Time Top 25 Premier Players of Soccer & Why

Below is our list of the all-time Top 25 Premier Players of Soccer.  Who’s No. 1?  Some will disagree but we give a brief reason why he’s our No. 1 guy on this list. Counting down from No 25 is:

25.  Jimmy Greaves

Greaves is a hard one to place on a list like this because of his sheer lack of silverware at the top level of the game. The top goal scorer in Tottenham history with 266 goals, Greaves scored 357 goals in 516 matches during his career. He was supposed to be the player spearheading the line for England at the 1966 World Cup before injury in a group stage game took that opportunity away. Even so, Greaves was once described by Pele as the most naturally gifted player he had ever seen.

24.  Roberto Baggio

The divine ponytail is another player whose career is remembered more for one mistake than for his achievements. Baggio may have blasted the crucial penalty over the bar in the 1994 World Cup final against Brazil, but his legacy is so much more than that. A gifted dribbler and passer from attacking midfield, Baggio completely changed the role of midfielders, and creative players in general, in Italy. He opened the door for creative players to succeed in the national team and he won the Ballon d’Or in 1993.

23.  Thierry Henry

Henry is another player that had a hand in redefining how a position was played. When he arrived at Arsenal, playing as a striker in England was for big, powerful brutes. By the time he left the position it was one that managers were trying to fill with graceful artists on the ball. Henry had the ability to cut in off of the left wing and score into the far corner with amazing regularity. He was the key piece for Arsenal in their invincible season where they went the entire season without losing a game. Henry won two Premier Leagues, a Ligue 1 title, two La Liga crowns and the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009. Internationally, Henry won the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000.

22.  Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos is the greatest fullback in the history of the game. While he is mostly known for his free kicks, it’s worth noting he missed far more than he scored. It is his longevity at the top of the game in the professional era that is impressive. He made 500 appearances locking down the left wing-back spot for Los Blancos, winning four league titles and three Champions League trophies. Also, when his free kicks were good they were mind blowing with the best example being his outside of the foot effort against France at la Tournoi in 1997.

21.  Gerd Muller

Muller was a lethal goal scorer for West Germany in the 1970s. It was his goal that stole the 1974 World Cup from perhaps the best Dutch to ever play the game. Muller scored a stunning 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany to go along with almost 400 for Bayern Munich. He won the German Golden Boot on seven occasions out of the 11 years he played in the league along with topping the goal scoring rankings at the 1970 World Cup and at Euro 1972. Muller basically invented the ‘fox in the box’ style of striker, seemingly always being in the right place to poke the ball over the line.

20.  Paolo Maldini

Maldini is another Italian defender of astonishing ability. The son of a former club legend, the younger Maldini outstripped his father as he played for a quarter of a century in the famous red and black of AC Milan. Amazingly, Maldini was able to play internationally for almost as long as his club career. Making his debut in 1986, Maldini last played for Italy in 2002. Along the way he picked up seven Serie A titles and five Champions Leagues trophies with the Rossoneri.

19.  Bobby Charlton

Charlton was a driving force behind the Manchester United and England sides of the 1960s and he remains a legendary figure within the game to this day. Charlton was a rampaging midfielder who could always be counted on to drive his team forward and get them on the front foot when needed. After almost dying in the Munich air disaster, Charlton collected the 1966 World Cup Trophy in the same year he was announced as the European Footballer of the Year and the tournament’s Golden Ball winner.

18.  Lothar Matthaus

Matthaus started his career as an attacking midfielder playing with pace and skill as he pushed Germany forwards. Over the course of five World Cups, in which he played a record 25 games, Matthaus gracefully slid down the pitch until he was playing as the best sweeper in the world. He captained his side to the 1990 World Cup, being named World Footballer of the Year at a position so technically different from the one he started playing in that the achievement is remarkable.

17.  Franco Baresi

In the 1980s and early 90s the Italian league was unquestionably the best league in the world. It was where all the best foreign talent played and it was where Italian defenders of incomparable aggression and talent plied their trade. Baresi only knew one way to play the game. He was tough, powerful, aggressive, and ruthless. He wore the AC Milan shirt for 20 seasons, winning the league title six times, the European Cup three times, and the UEFA Super Cup twice. He also was handed the captaincy of his country at the age of just 22 due to his outstanding physical and mental attributes.

16.  Garrincha

Garrincha was a player who was never meant to be as good as he became. Declared a cripple at birth it is hard to believe that the winger would, for a time, be considered the equal of Pele. His disability meant that Garrincha had to play with a unique bow legged style that defenders simply could never seem to figure out. He had an uncanny ability to glide past players before delivering perfect crosses into the box as he played as a pure winger who just wanted to beat his man every time he touched the ball. Garrincha was simply a joy to watch at a time when soccer could be tedious viewing.

15.  Bobby Moore

Booby Moore is still the only player to captain England to a World Cup win. One of the greatest defenders in the history of the game, Moore had an innate ability to know exactly what was going to happen and was always in the right place at the right time to stop an attack. The captain of his country at 22, Moore played 108 times for England and was so valuable that he played every minute of every one of those games. Pele once called him the greatest defender ever, which Scottish manager Jock Stein called for a law against Moore playing because ‘He knows what’s happening 20 minutes before anyone else.”

14.  George Best

Best only played at the top of the game for around six years but what glorious and skillful years they were. Winning a pair of league titles and a European Cup with Manchester United, Best was a tricky and skillful Northern Irish winger who could get a crowd on their feet with his electric dribbling and control of the ball. He was a strong player, one with fast twitch muscles allowing him to do anything he wanted on the pitch. Off the pitch, however, he lived too hard and he flamed out of the game quicker than he should have given his immeasurable talent.

13.  Ferenc Puskas

One of the greatest strikers to ever play the game, the legendary Puskas averaged almost a goal a game for his career at both club and international level. He was the key member of the Hungarian national team in the 1950s that was known as the Mighty Magyars, a team that only lost one game in six years between 1950 and 1956 and that is considered the greatest international team to ever play the game. After moving to Real Madrid, Puskas was the top scorer in La Liga four times and won 10 league titles across his time in Hungary and Spain.

12.  Eusebio

Before Cristiano Ronaldo there was Eusebio. The Black Panther was a prolific scorer and attacking threat, scoring nine goals at the 1966 World Cup in England. Averaging more than a goal a game (320 goals in 312 appearences) when playing for Benfica at the peak of his career, Eusebio had devastating pace at a time where speed in the game was uncommon. When this was combined with his ability to beat a defender on the dribble it is easy to see why he scored so many goals against terrified defenses.

11.  Marco van Basten

The Dutch striker is another who could have been higher on this list had injuries not all but ended his playing days at the tender age of 28. The scorer of one of the most famous goals of all time, a wildly crazy volley against the Soviet Union at Euro 1988, van Basten was part of a Dutch side that oozed class. Winning everything in the Netherlands while at Ajax, including leading the scoring charts on four consecutive occasions, van Basten moved to Italy and won three Serie A titles, two European Cups, and three Ball d’Ors before injuries forced him out of the game.

10.  Zinedine Zidane

A three-time FIFA World Player of the year winner, it is hard to shake the image of Zidane blasting Italian Marco Materazzi with a headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final from your mind. Getting past that legendary moment of hotheadedness, however, it is easy to see why Zidane is regarded as one of the greatest to ever lace up his cleats. The winner of a pair of Serie A titles with Juventus, Zidane was also successful at Real Madrid and on the international stage with France where he won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship.

9.  Michel Platini

A player who tends to get overlooked on these lists, Platini was a midfielder for France in the 1980s who could do it all. Winning three consecutive Ballon d’Ors while leading first Saint-Etienne and then Juventus to league titles, Platini was famous for his first touch and composure on the ball. Playing for a French team that historically underperformed in major tournaments, Platini scored nine goals in five games from midfield at the 1984 European Championships to almost win that title.

8.  Alfredo Di Stefano

There are fewer and fewer people alive to talk about the early days of Di Stefano’s career which began back in the mid-1940s. Di Stefano was the first Real Madrid player to define what the team was about, bringing an Argentine flair to the Spanish league the likes of which had never been seen. Di Stefano, a rampaging attacker full of goals, played international soccer for three different countries. His most notable achievement is scoring in five consecutive European Cup finals as Real Madrid won the trophy an astonishing five years in a row.

7.  Franz Beckenbauer

The midfielder known as “Der Kaiser” was the first man to both captain and manage his nation to World Cup title wins. Winning five Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich in his native Germany, Beckenbauer created his own position on the team in a role that had never been seen before. A tall, strong figure, Beckenbauer would routinely pick the ball up at the back and drive forward to start attacks as sort of an attacking sweeper. It is a role we see used by every major team in the game today, some 40 years after it was pioneered in Germany.

6.  Johan Cruyff

Cruyff invented the brand of total football in the 1970s that we see at every level of the game today. That “tiki-taka” passing style that is based on possession and movement to wear down a team and probe for openings was developed by Cruyff (and Rinus Michels) with Cruyff being the advocate on the pitch with his technical style. Cruyff won three Ballon d’Ors between 1971 and 1974 and he made one style turn on the ball so famous that it is now named after him. Eight Eredivise and three European Cups in a row with Ajax show that “Pythagoras in Boots” was a genius.

5.  Ronaldo

Ronaldo is a player that could have topped this list had his career not been destroyed by injury when he was supposed to be in his prime. R9 was a complete player, one who was deadly with either foot and who had a finishing ability the likes of which has never been seen before or since. He is the youngest player to ever win the FIFA World Player of the Year award when he picked up the honor at the age of 20. Ronaldo scored 247 goals in 343 appearances at club level and he is cemented in as the best pure goal scorer of all time.

4.  Diego Maradona

Maradona was the first real challenger to the crown of Pele and some will argue that the diminutive Argentine is actually the greatest to ever play the game. A playmaker of unmatched skill, Maradona had a short stature that led him to play with a balance and skillset that at times seemed to be inhuman in its effectiveness. Leading unfashionable Napoli to a pair of Italian league titles, Maradona also led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup, scoring perhaps the greatest goal the game has ever seen against England in the process. Controversy cut his career short, but this was a flame that burned bright at its peak.

3.  Pele

Pele was heralded as the greatest player in the history of the game before this new crop of players came through to usurp the king from his throne. Playing in a different era, one where defenders were basically allowed to get away with murder to stop an attack, Pele was still able to stand out with his mix of skill and athleticism. Winning the World Cup as just a 17-year-old in 1958, Pele was the hero of the 1970 World Cup as Brazil won their third title in four attempts. His 1,283 career goal total is mind blowing (though many came in semi-formal and exhibition games).

2.  Lionel Messi

The all-time leading scorer in the history of the Spanish La Liga, Lionel Messi has been a phenom since birth. The winner of five Ballon d’Or trophies while building Barcelona into a dynasty, Messi has a level of ball control and vision that is unmatched in history. What knocks the little Argentine down from No. 1 on this list is that he just hasn’t been able to inspire his country to the same level that he has taken the Catalan giants. That being said, his record of 91 goals in a single calendar year may never be beaten.

1.  Cristiano Ronaldo

The debate between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will continue for generations but it is the Portuguese star who is No. 1 on this list. Ronaldo has been successful in three of the toughest leagues in the world, morphing from the creative young genius at Manchester United to a goal-scoring machine at Real Madrid and Juventus. He is the ultimate big game player, a force of nature who can will a team to a victory with no help, as he did when he led an underpowered Portugal team to the 2016 European Championship title.

Foundations

AAF Sudden Suspension Puts Debut XFL In Spotlight

As the Alliance of American Football suspended operations eight games into its 10 game inaugural season there was a feeling that we had seen this all before. While the sports management company behind the league had decided to cut ties and give up like so many before it, there is still a feeling that there is an appetite for more football in this country.

The list of failed league attempts at this point is long and not particularly distinguished. The World Football league, the US Football League, the XFL (version one), the Stars Football League, and many, many more have all sprung up before falling apart after varying degrees of success.

It is easy to see why a sports management company would want to present, develop, and promote the next great football league. The NFL, and college football for that matter, run such short seasons in relation to the other major American sports that there seems to be a huge hole in the market. Plus, football is still big business at the top level.

The problems for these leagues have never been the same. Some don’t have enough funding. Others seem to have the funding but no TV deal. Others had little of anything to offer. The AAF seemed to be heading in the right direction with its solid TV deal, innovative app, and fun rules. It even had good, and steady, TV ratings. It just had an owner who got scared and pulled the plug way too early.

So, is there a sports management company out there that has the financial backing, the contacts, and an owner who has the fortitude to make his league work against all odds?

Yes, yes, and 100% yes.

Vince McMahon has failed at this before. His first attempt at running a football league was the original XFL. While it had some innovations that made it to the NFL after the league collapsed, specifically certain camera angles and set ups, the league was doomed from the start as being too gimmicky in nature for a football fan and not interesting enough for a wrestling fan.

In 2020, Vince is going to try again. Having seen what he has been able to do with the WWE, turning it into a global monster that has made him a legitimate billionaire, only a fool would dismiss the chances of the league gaining some degree of success, however modest that is compared to the NFL.

The XFL is going to be well funded and well organized. It will also be a league where players not eligible for the NFL because of the three year high school graduation rule will be able to get paid professional money to play the game. This is a league that has learned from earlier mistakes, both its own and that of others, and that can hopefully bring a new dynamic to the spring sporting landscape.

These are all positives from a sports management standpoint that will put the league in a good place when play begins in February 2020.

Mike Trout

Foundations

Premier Competition Back On The Mound

Baseball’s premier competition returns this week as MLB’s Opening Day sees the boys of summer start the season at a time when it is most

certainly not summer weather in most of the country. While the league actually started last week with the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners playing a series in Japan, there is still something about the romance of Opening Day that endures even as baseball wanes in popularity compared to some of the other big time sports.

This is the earliest opening day in baseball history, so early in fact that it clashes with the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. It will be very interesting to see the TV numbers between the two events to see just where baseball ranks with the average American viewer in 2019.

The premier competition in the game also has the biggest stars in the game and it is the offseason contract battles that have defined the start of this MLB season in a way that has never happened before.

Competition to be the premier player with the highest salary is real. Athletes love to have that kudos of being the best paid on their team, the best paid at their position, and, in rare cases, the highest paid player in their league.

In this MLB offseason we saw a couple of deals pushed over the line with frankly staggering numbers attached to them.

One of the benefits of playing a sport with no salary cap is that the ceiling is only going to rise when it comes to contracts for premier players. That is why in the space of just a few weeks we saw Bryce Harper sign a 13 year $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies and then Mike Trout ink his name on a deal worth a cool $430 million over 12 years with the Los Angeles Angels.

Throwing that kind of money at just one player on your roster is obviously a monumental risk. Baseball is a team sport where one player can have an immense impact on a game, but it is not a premier competition like the NBA where a single player can effectively take over a game (and certainly not a non-pitcher). If the Angels and Phillies fail to put the right pieces around their investments, then these contracts could easily come with no championships attached.

Trout, in particular, is an interesting case. Wins against replacement (WAR) is a new(ish) metric used in baseball to determine a players individual worth. In 2018, Trout played at a level that was worth around $79 million to his club, suggesting that the deal he signed was an absolute bargain for the Angels. No player in history has posted a better WAR than Trout through age 26, but when his deal expires as a 38 year old player it is hard to see Trout still being a viable option.

It would be amazing if either Harper or Trout could beat Father Time. Even if they cannot, both have the opportunity over the next half a decade or so in the premier baseball competition in the world to win championships and make their contracts worthwhile.

Story By Steve Wright

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Foundations

Larry Fitzgerald is a one of a kind player in the NFL.

In a league where players are often seen throwing tantrums to force trades, specifically at the position of wide receiver which Fitzgerald plays, Fitzgerald is a team-first player of the highest order. He is one of the NFL’s true good guys and he is one of the premier players in the Arizona Cardinals locker room.

Fitzgerald has an ability to never make things all about him, even when he could. He has shown an unusual level of loyalty to the city of Phoenix and the Cardinals franchise in a professional era where every player out there seems to be about claiming the biggest contract in history at their position.

Now, in his later years, Fitz couldn’t command that type of money. In his prime, however, he could easily have held the Cardinals franchise to ransom for his talents.  He never did.

Fitzgerald could also have easily moved on from Arizona to play for a team more immediately capable of winning a Super Bowl. While he has had some quarterbacks in his career that would be classified as good (along with Kurt Warner who was great), he has also been at the mercy of throws from the likes of Brian St. Pierre, John Navarre, and Rich Bartel.

In all, between entering the league in 2004 and the end of the 2018 season, Fitzgerald had caught at least one pass as a Cardinal from 18 different quarterbacks.

The mentors in Fitzgerald’s life, specifically members of his family, gave him such a solid foundation as a person that his football career won’t define who he is. This is a guy who has made the Pro Bowl 11 times, has caught over 100 passes in a season five times, and has had nine 1,000 yard plus receiving seasons.

Yet despite all those numbers, and despite the Hall of Fame bust that will eventually come Fitzgerald’s way in Canton, OH, it is his off field work that has made him beloved in Arizona.

Fitzgerald was selected as a speaker at the Arizona funeral for Sen. John McCain, an amazing example of how the state sees him as one of their premier players when connecting with the community. He is known in NFL circles for his amazing level of sportsmanship on and off the field, while his charity work is up there with any current or former player.

One such endeavor has been the First Down Fund. This well named charity funds positive activities for youth in the community amongst other goals. In a league sometimes lacking for role models, Larry Fitzgerald is a player that every NFL fan can look up to and be proud of.

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Foundations

Three March Madness Upset Predictions

The greatest annual sports tournament of them all tips off this week. March Madness is exactly that, with the first set of Thursday through Sunday games that take out the field of 64 teams down to just 16 being must-watch TV for any self-respecting sports fan.

It is a time of underdogs and Cinderellas. It is a time where the small schools from even smaller conferences get to rub shoulders with the Premier Players of the sport on a neutral venue. It has always been said that anything can happen in the first couple of rounds of this sports tournament, with the shocking loss of No. 1 seed Virginia to No. 16 seed UMBC, the first ever 16 over one win, finally proving that statement to be true.

If you are filling out a bracket, and you should be doing so, here are three upsets to watch out for over the course of the opening two days:

No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette

There are two premier players in this matchup that each has the ability to decide which team wins. Markus Howard of the Golden Eagles is a fantastic player in his own right, but the Racers are that rare mid-major team with an absolute superstar on their roster.

Ja Morant is a sophomore who is going to be a top three pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He averages 34.6 points and 10.0 assists per game, showing the ability to either put his team on his back or to be a selfless distributor from the point guard spot depending on what is required.

It is also of note that Marquette has lost five of its last six games after spending some of the season in the AP top 10. That is not ideal form entering this major sports tournament.

No. 14 Yale over No. 3 LSU

The Ivy League champion is always a team that seems to cause problems for its opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament despite usually settling around this seed line.

Ivy Leagues champs are 4-6 in their last 10 first round tournament games, with Yale looking to have a good shot at taking down the No. 3 ranked Tigers here. The season was rolling along for the SEC regular season champs until they were unsettled late in the year by Coach Will Wade being linked to a recruiting incident. That saw Wade suspended from the team and the Tigers just didn’t look like the same ball club in the SEC Tournament as they were bounced by Florida.

No. 10 Florida over No. 7 Nevada

This is an interesting game as the Wolf Pack has a team with so much experience that it feels like their players have been in college for a decade.

Florida underachieved for its talent level all year before getting hot late and playing itself off of the bubble and into this sports tournament. The Gators then took out LSU in a clutch win before only narrowly falling to an Auburn team that has every chance of making a deep run this March in their own right.

This might be as simple as the fact that Florida is the better team in this matchup but they have been playing in a conference that has been so tough this year that their wins have gone under the radar.

 

Brandon Copeland

Foundations

NFL Brandon Copeland Invests For A Better Future

We hear stories all the time about pro athletes finding a way to lose tens of millions, and even hundreds of millions, of dollars that they have made during their career. Therefore, it’s always interesting to hear about an athlete that understands how to manage his finances.

New York Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland is one such player and it is his knowledge of the real estate market that has helped set him up for life after football. Copeland was not a player who entered the NFL with high expectations or one of the huge contracts that comes with being premier player. While the 6-foot-3, 263 pounder certainly has the size to play as an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid in the league, the perceived lack of competition that he faced while playing at Penn saw Copeland go undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft.

After initially spending time on the practice squad of the Baltimore Ravens, Copeland landed a job with the Detroit Lions in 2015, before moving on to the Jets for the 2018 season. All that bouncing around is part of what made real estate investing so appealing to the Ivy Leaguer.

Copeland’s collegiate experience was one that seems to have set him up well to avoid the money pitfalls of most athletes. The Wharton School graduate spent a pair of summers while in school interning at an investment bank. He also spent his 2017 off-season working on Wall Street. All of those moves were made so that Copeland could learn more about investing, more about real estate, and more about how to use money to make money.

It is real estate which is one of Copeland’s key focus areas when it comes to saving and investing. He opened a company in the real estate sector with his wife in 2018, a decision they came to together after spending time and energy flipping houses for profit. By expanding that hobby into a company, Copeland is able to take care of all aspects of house buying, selling, renovating, and flipping.

Despite his money smarts, it is actually some of Copeland’s relative failures that have pushed him to where he is today. A number of money mistakes in his early 20s, mistakes he share with a teammate with the same issues, have seen the linebacker go back to the classroom to teach a class called Life 101 to students. His class details how he lives on 10 to 15 percent of his NFL salary with the rest of his money dropping into long term investments like real estate.

While we may not all have the disposable capital of an NFL player, we can all learn something from Copeland and his journey. Invest smartly now, using long term strategies, to live better in the future.

Odell Beckham Jr

Foundations

Cleveland Browns games are now must see sports events

That is a difficult story title to type given the futility of the Browns franchise since they reentered the NFL in 1999. Yet when a team goes out and makes one of the biggest trades we have seen in the NFL this decade, the league and its fans sit up and take notice.

The Browns have not had many (any) must see sports events in a long, long time. This is a franchise that has had a high watermark of 10-6 once this millennium (2007) and that has had exactly two winning seasons, the other being a 9-7 record in 2002, since they came back into the NFL. Even last year, a year that had many Browns fans thinking that the team was headed in an upward direction, finished with a losing record as Cleveland took third place in the league with a 7-8-1 record.

That record though was massive for a team that had combined to go 4-44 over the previous three seasons. It is amazing what the perception of having a franchise level quarterback can do for a team, with Baker Mayfield stepping in under center and making a threat to win in every game.

This is a team that had not had a franchise quarterback in the almost two decades since its rebirth. Cleveland was a place where sports events didn’t matter and where NFL talent went to die. That is if they even accepted a trade or signed a free agent contract with the bumbling franchise in the first place.

That perception, though, changed in 2018 and now Mayfield and the rest of the exciting young talent on the Browns roster has been joined by perhaps the best (and certainly one of the most high profile) wide receivers in the entire game.

Odell Beckham Jr. is now a Cleveland Brown.

Beckham, who will be expected to be a LeBron James level of transcendent star in Cleveland, is 26 years old and entering the prime of his career. Even with a battered and worn down Eli Manning throwing him over his first five years in the league, Beckham has been one of the premier players of the game.

In his first five years in the league, the new Brown has the second most catches, the second most receiving yards, and the fourth most receiving touchdowns of any player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Beckham isn’t just one of the best and most promising players of this generation, he is one of the best of any generation.

The Browns can now roll Beckham out alongside best friend and fellow wide receiver Jarvis Landry as their sports events now have one of the best passing and catching units in the entire league. This means that for the first time in decades (and maybe ever) the words ‘Cleveland Browns’ and ‘Super Bowl’ can be said in a sentence without a drop of irony, which has to be good for the league.

Jason Witten commentor dress

Foundations

Premier Players Jason Witten

When Jason Witten retired from the NFL at the end of the 2017 season, he did so as one of the premier players in the league.

His retirement came as a shock to some, even though Witten had done pretty much everything you can (other than win a Super Bowl) during his 15-year career with the Dallas Cowboys.  The daily grind in the NFL is as tough as it comes in sports and Witten had done more than enough to sail off into the sunset and to be eventually called upon for a Hall of Fame jacket fitting.

The funny thing with professional athletes though is that no matter what the body says the itch to continue to play remains.  That is why after a one year hiatus in the ESPN broadcasting booth, Witten announced his plans to rejoin the Cowboys for the 2019 season.

The news is exciting both for Cowboys fans and for fans of good announcing on Monday Night Football. While Witten was far from the worst analyst you have ever heard, and he would be more highly thought of if Tony Romo wasn’t an announcing genius, he was stuck in a situation that didn’t make the most of his announcing talent.

Now, though, we get to see if one of the best tight ends in the history of football can again be one of the premier players in the game after not playing football for 12 months.

Anyone associated with the Cowboys will tell you that Witten possesses those natural leadership qualities that the team seemed to lack in 2018.  If he can still find a way to be effective on the field as a player who turns 37 in May, then there is no reason to think that his comeback will be anything other than a success.

Playing football still tugged at Witten last season.  He is a player with unfinished business and it is now once again his job to go out there and prove that in the NFL premier players never lose their skills.

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Foundations

The Premier Player of Tampa Bay HS Football

The Premier Player of High School Football Trophy is an award recognizing top athletes from Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Hernando counties.  The first poll of 20 top athletes from the area was launched November 1st, 2014, for fans to select the recipient of the award.  Ray Ray McCloud III, then a running back for Sickles Gryphons, took home the trophy and went on to play for the Clemson Tigers.

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Foundations

The Premier Coach of Tampa Bay HS Football Award

The Premier Coach Award is presented to the Head Coach fans voted as the best in his or her sport via online polls. Candidates are announced about a month prior to the end of the regular sports season. Fans then vote not just for the Head Coach with the best regular season team record, but for the coach they felt led his or her team beyond expectations during the season that brought hope and excitement to them and/or their community.

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Foundations

Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award

Freddie Solomon played his college football at the University of Tampa and went on to play for the Miami Dolphins for three seasons before joining the San Francisco 49ers where he helped win two Super Bowl championships. His career in the National Football League as a wide receiver came to a close after 11 years. Then the Sumter, SC, native known as “Fabulous Freddie”, came back to Hillsborough County to make a more lasting impact. Solomon devoted the next 12 years of his life to the youths of Tampa Bay, working with the Sheriff’s department to teach kids life lessons through football. His efforts impacted more than two decades of youths and his lessons are still carried on in the community. The Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award continues Solomon’s efforts to help make the world a better place by annually honoring a collegiate football player who has impacted the lives of others through giving and community service.

Awards Process:  Each college football season colleges and universities can submit candidates for the Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award via an e-mail to editor@premierplayers.com.  The e-mail should contain details of the candidates’ recent community involvement and why the candidate should received the award.  All nominations are then given to The Solomon Family on November 15th to determine which player receives the award which is sponsored by The DeBartolo Family Foundation.

2018 Candidates
Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award

Gus Malzahn by Kevin C  Cox Getty Images BCS National Championship Auburn v Florida State 2014 DRC 6232 g8r3wi

Foundations

The Premier Coach Award

The Premier Coach Award is presented to the Head Coach fans voted as the best in his or her sport via online polls.  Candidates are announced about a month prior to the end of the regular sports season.  Fans then vote not just for the Head Coach with the best regular season team record, but for the coach they felt led his or her team beyond expectations during the season that brought hope and excitement.

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Foundations

The Premier Player Trophy

Football, or any sport, would not bring excitement to millions of people each year if it wasn’t for the fans.  Yet, when it came to determining the best players in the country, the fans were mostly left out of the selection process – until now.  The Premier Player Trophy is an award presented to the athlete the fans voted as the best player in NCAA college football, basketball, baseball, softball and hockey.  A poll is released at the beginning of the college sports season with 20 of the best players for fans to follow.  In mid October to early November, up to five more great performing players may be added to the poll while nonperformers are deleted from the poll.  Fans then have until the last conference championship game to vote the Premier Player of the season.  Here’s what one of the best in pro and college football Lee Roy Selmon had to say  https://youtu.be/7jLk-p0SGAI?t=58s about the award.