Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, December 18, 2006

(Controversial) Sportsman of the year

There’s a line that former WWE General Manager Eric Bischoff swears by: “Controversy creates cash.” That may be very well true. It sure jump-started the Eraserheads’ career when public officials decried the tame cuss words in their first hit single “Pare Ko.” In the case of Sports Illustrated’s choice of Miami Heat super guard Dwyane Wade as the Sportsman of the Year, it’s nuclear fallout over a perceived wrong selection. Many quarters vociferously claim that Swiss tennis god Roger Federer should have won after a splendid year.

The august bodies that pass themselves off as the authority in their field tend to make mistakes or even the unpopular vote Of course, the popular vote doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right one as in the case of Christelle Roelandts, more popularly known as Ms. Belgium of 1994 in the Ms. Universe Beauty Pageant that was won by India’s Sushmita Sen. Most Pinoys and their brother would have handed the tiara to her but alas, methinks I along with most everyone else would have voted so owing to raging hormones.

Awards bodies have their reasons but as history has shown us, it’s not always the proper choice who wins. To wit: in 1993, the NBA MVP Award was given to Charles Barkley after a successful first season in Phoenix. But really? All Michael Jeffrey Jordan did was win his third straight title while sandwiching a pair of gold medals in the Tournament of the Americas and the Barcelona Olympics in between. Then the NBA feted Shaquille ‘Neal as one of its 50 Greatest Players when he was a mere babe in the league having played only five years and then had zero titles to his name. And they left out Dominique Wilkins, Adrian Dantley, and quite a few more.

Boxing has oft seen all sorts of controversial decisions mucking up some really great fights. There’s that Sugar Ray Leonard match against Tommy Hearns in which the Hitman was robbed after a draw was called! There was the draw between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis (that Lewis clearly won) and our own Manny Pacquiao who “lost” to Juan Miguel Marquez. Pugilists Winky Wright and Ike Quartey alone have been in so many that their record should read: wins-draws-losses-controversial matches.

Hoop Dreams, the 1994 documentary that follows the lives of two basketball players who dream of becoming professional basketball players was conspicuously left out of the Best Documentary category of 1994 Oscar Awards. And this despite the movie documentary making almost every critic’s list at the end of the year (more than Forrest Gump even). The omission forced judges to change their policy on categorizing documentaries.

What defines a “sportsman?” Very simply put, Mr. Webster defines the word as as “A person who is interested or participates in sports. A person who can take a defeat and a loss without complaint or a victory without gloating; and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity, courtesy etc.” Astute as ever, Mr. Webster, but allow me to throw in my two centavos worth… the Sportsman of the Year is also someone who helps the sport grow, is an ambassador for the game, and isn’t besotted with controversy that offends people along the way.

If sporting competitions always demand one winner where is it written that an award cannot be shared by two players? If the MVP Award can go to a player on a losing team such as Julius Erving when his Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1980 then surely an award can be shared by two. And so, my Sportsmen of the Year are… Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. Both have been lauded so many times in the past that perhaps a thesaurus should be have pictures of these two athletes alongside its entries for greatness and humility.

Yes, Roger Federer is on his way to break Pete Sampras’ modern record of Grand Slams won (14) and he won nearly everything in sight this year. And the man is like only what – 26 years old? The numbers that back up Federer are solid and staggering. A 92-5 match record for the year. 12 titles making it the third straight year he’s won at least 10 including three Grand Slam events. And he has shown that he can win on any surface something that stymied even some great players. It all added up to $8.3 million in prize money – the best ever by any tennis player in any year of any era. But Federer’s accomplishments don’t just end there. I noticed several times during the year that Federer spoke quite a number of times that he spoke on behalf of UNICEF. He gives back to his countrymen and to the game. Even the ballboys are in for a pizza treat after a victory.

And there’s Woods. 2006 by far isn’t his best year. That distinction belongs to 2001 when he was simply a cut above everyone else. But 2006 is remarkable and brilliant for all that transpired. In a year of tragedy and failure, he rallied and put on an incredible and clinical display of golf that left everyone shaking their heads in amazement. And considering that Woods has done that once too often and makes his accomplishments look pedestrian without being full of himself makes 2006 all the more incredible. To paraphrase former Phoenix Sun guard Frank Johnson’s assessment of MJ’s 1993 Finals performance… Tiger Woods played like Tiger Woods. Woods crosses cultural borders like no other player since Michael Jordan. He plays the game with raw emotion and has a PDA for his folks including his late father Earl whom Tiger shed tears after winning the British Open in Royal Liverpool.

I’ve seen a lot of great athletes perform both live or on TV. Perhaps one of the best compliments that I can give is to tell my children that I saw both Roger Federer and Tiger Woods play. I am so lucky.

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