Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
We're sorry that recent Russian émigré Mikhail Prokhorov couldn't sign LeBron James, even though he was rich enough ($13.4 billion) and tall enough (six-foot-eight) to look the hoops star in the eye. But give the guy a break: The owner of the New Jersey Nets (soon to be the Brooklyn Whatevers) is still the world's second richest Russian, the tallest of the world's richest, and one of the youngest of the top 100 (he's only 45). Talk about a guy who fits in well with our homebred corporate piranha: Prokhorov made his billions by feasting off Russia's helter-skelter, mostly illegal, and highly immoral conversion from merciless Communism to merciless capitalism. Now if he can just translate some of that money into a winning team . . .
Do you remember a season when the best Yankee wasn't Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, or Alex Rodriguez? Put another way: Did you—three or four years ago, or even last year—envision a year when the best Yankee would be Robinson Cano—and by a landslide? The Yankees persevered this year despite bad to mediocre first halves from Tex and A-Rod, largely because Cano was hitting way over his head—.350 to .360 in the first couple of months with excellent power. Or is that really over his head? This was his sixth season, and his career average is .309 with almost 20 home runs per year. He has worked hard and learned to do everything that skeptics (like me) said he couldn't: hit left-handers, pivot on the double play, draw an occasional walk, and get big hits in the late innings of close games (something he wasn't doing for most of the previous season). And another thing: It's tough to get a perspective on greatness, but we've been underrating Cano for so long that maybe it's time we noticed that Robbie is knocking on the door of the Yankee Hall of Fame as Best Second Baseman Ever.
David Wright has been regarded as superstar fodder for so long, and seemingly fallen short of that level for so long, that it's difficult for many Mets fans to realize just how good he really is. He can run, field, and hit. He still hasn't gotten over his psychological hang-up with hitting for distance at Citi Field. Once again, he hit many more home runs on the road than at home—but let's not bitch. He's easily the best third baseman in Mets history, and he may be the best all-around player the franchise has ever had. Wright already holds the Mets' single-season RBI record and, by August or early September of next year, will surpass Darryl Strawberry as the Mets' all-time RBI leader. Let's all step back and try to appreciate him from a distance, like fans in other National League cities do—and then ask forgiveness for all the times we booed him.
Granted that it's odd to pick a man who has never played a down in a Jets uniform before this season, and equally odd to pick a running back who's 31, an age when most veteran backs are considering assistant coaching jobs with their old college teams. But LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the greats, seventh on the all-time rushing list—and, playing in front of a much better offensive line than he was used to in San Diego, he should demonstrate that he has a lot of pop left. (He's averaging well over 5 yards a carry so far this season.) With Tomlinson and the remarkable second-year back Shonn Greene, the Jets have the best one-two running-back punch in pro football.
Was there any New York Giant who wasn't a disappointment last season? Well, yes, there was one, and he came out of nowhere to earn the team ball—which was only fair because he caught so many of them. Wide receiver Steve Smith, a former USC star who got his big chance to play full-time thanks to Pistol-Packin' Plaxico, was about the only thing that went right for the Giants last year. How good was he? He caught 107 passes, exactly 50 more than Mario Manningham, the team's No. 2 receiver. That number is all the more impressive when you consider that over the second half of the season, after NFL defensive coordinators realized how good he was, they began double-covering him on nearly every play. In other words, Smith was so good that other teams were conceding him the short catch. How important did the Giants think he was? They threw to him on nearly 55 percent of their third-down plays last season, and so far in 2010 it looks as if that trend will continue.
Writing about the best New Jersey Net last year (who proved to be point guard Devin Harris), we noted, "It's hard to make an impression on a 34-38 team." You think that's hard? Try making an impression on a team that went 12-70. The Nets' seven-foot, 260-pound center, Brook Lopez, may not have looked as if he made an impression on the Nets, but the rest of the league took notice. The former NBA Rookie of the Year and the youngest player on the Nets roster at 21, Lopez played in all 82 games—the only player in the league to do so—and led the team in points per game (18.8) blocked shots (1.7), and total rebounds (8.6). He also bought his teammates Cokes after each victory, though with only 12 wins it didn't put much of a dent in his salary. Not only is he one of the best young players in the league, he is one of the most entertaining. Check out "The Brook & Ryan Show," co-starring former Nets teammate Ryan Anderson, on YouTube. Our favorite: Brook and Ryan cosplay at New York Comic Con.