Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Inaccessible

There may never be another like Michael Jordan, no matter how hard we try to find one.

Or in the cases of some, make one.

For years, those of us who love and appreciate the game of basketball have been participants in the crisis of the search for “the Next One”. Most of us have passively accepted this as background music while trying to enjoy the game play of current stars. Yet, there will always be those that either love to debate which player has the standing to take his mantle – between LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade – or want to single out the NBA for even pushing the agenda.

Yet, if you take a look around, you’d find that the A isn’t the only entity looking. In fact, if there is one league that feels that they have that next Jordan, it’s the Professional Golfers' Association with one (Eldrick) Tiger Woods.


Starting tomorrow, Augusta National is going to be the epicenter of ├╝ber-levels of hype as Woods takes part in his fifteenth Masters appearance.

Chronicling Tiger’s achievements over that span on Scribe would be kowtowing to carpal tunnel syndrome. You could sum up his career in the amount of majors he has won, his lifetime earnings, the potential to become the first professional athlete to earn a billion dollars as an active athlete and being the first “ethnic” star of significance in the sport’s history. Yet, the most impressive aspect about his career is actually how he made golf, for the lack of a better term, relevant to the mainstream sports world.

Prior to Woods’ arrival, only the diehards and keenly aware sports fans could name the most successful golfers on tour. Outside of those people, some may have still believed that Arnold Palmer was not only a really good non-alcoholic beverage, but still an active player on the PGA tour.

His consistent dominance in a sport known for quirks, flukes and frustration at the bunker made the sports world take notice. You can say his absence has the same effect as television ratings – no matter how criticized the metric is – plummeted and “when is Tiger coming back?” queries skyrocketed.

So, the major players in the media and advertising business believe that they found “the Next One” in Tiger. Just as discussed in this space about Jordan, Woods has the clean-cut look, the accolades, the publicly-displayed drive to succeed and the apolitical stance to not tick anyone off.

Yet, what those folks seem to overlook is that what made the ascension of Jordan possible was the sport he played.

You don’t need much to play a game of hoop. Anyone can get a ball (or something like it) and a hoop (or something like it) to shoot around, have a make believe dunk contest or practice their ankle-breaking crossover. Outdoors or at a gym, the game is one of the few that can be played in the same manner, regardless of location.

Just as some of soccer/football’s most revered players come from a myriad of backgrounds, basketball features much of the same mix (and surprising to some, many come from more middle-class backgrounds than we thought according to last year’s profile on the NBA by ESPN the Magazine). Part of the allure of Jordan for some is that by obsessively fine-tuning the craft, no matter where you were, you could attain similar success or very close to it.

That’s not exactly the case with golf.

There are most likely golfers who did not come from the pristine and exclusive world of private clubs, crisp polo shirts and affluence. Yet, unless you tear down some housing or want to fight with environmentalists, golf courses aren’t built every day. On top of that, just as the expense of equipment has been explored by Major League Baseball to reinvigorate interest in their game among African-Americans, it is a deterrent that golf has recognized, but not necessarily figured out to a T just yet.

This is not to say that suddenly, civil engineers devise their plans because of an athlete’s popularity. Yet, as anything in society, it’s easy for someone to be interested in a product – in this case, a sport – or service when the costs of participation are easier to negotiate.

Tiger is certainly one of the most revered athletes of all time. He shares equal footing with Jordan in terms of being a singular dominant force in a sport full of just really good players. However, to consider Tiger on par with Mike in terms of global stature is to say that golf’s popularity on par with basketball’s global reach.

It’s nowhere close, no matter how hard some try to ignore that fact.

Props to Getty Images for the photo

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