COMMENTARY | Every major sport has one -- a player who is so polarizing that people are drawn to him no matter the circumstances.
In their respective sports, no one moves the needle like the NBA's Dwight Howard, NFL's Tim Tebow and MLB's Alex Rodriguez. Just mentioning their names is certain to ignite a strong reaction from fans and critics of each. They often transcend the game itself, and they even engage otherwise casual sports observers.
It begs further examination: Why does each player garner the reaction he does?
Let's start in Hollywood:
Dwight Howard: You can take the player out of Hollywood...
... but you can't take the "Hollywood" out of the Drama King.
No one knows drama like Dwight Howard. The ex-Los Angeles Lakers big man was a professional at creating a sideshow before he ever donned the purple and gold. Just like the network that uses the same slogan, he knows drama.
In fact, he's got a healthy database of credits that back up this fact. They include:
-- Holding the Orlando Magic hostage by constantly changing his mind about his future plans
-- Getting Stan Van Gundy fired
-- Refusing to adjust his game to suit the Lakers' system
-- Asking for one of the game's greatest players ever to take a back seat to him and/or be cut
In addition to those more serious issues, Howard is a clown. In fact, he's the biggest goofball among all three of these players. On its own, that's not a bad thing, but considering that he has yet to lead a team to an NBA championship, it's starting to become a big deal, especially when considering he could've been the heir apparent to Kobe Bryant with the Lakers and helped bring banner No. 17 to one of sports' greatest franchises.
Instead, he took the easy way out and left the challenging circumstances surrounding the Lakers for confines of the Lone Star State and the welcoming Houston Rockets fan base -- one that wouldn't criticize his work ethic, dedication to the game, or attitude. As long as he puts up reasonable numbers, he'll get love in Houston, where a championship-or-bust mindset has no credence.
Somehow, it gets even worse with Howard.
He reportedly made demands that the Lakers keep Kobe quiet and fire head coach Mike D'Antoni after a disastrous season in Los Angeles as they courted him over the summer. Not only did it not work, but it also left the Lakers looking foolish after they put forth every effort to make him happy and keep him.
But the last laugh is on Howard. He will always be remembered as a player who couldn't get it done, despite putting together a stellar single season in 2012-13 by any measure. Still, he didn't gut it out and showed he doesn't have the heart of a champion -- only the short-sightedness of a big kid who wants to have fun playing a man's game.
That'll work in Houston, but not in L.A.
Alex Rodriguez: The enigmatic whipping boy of MLB
The New York Yankees' $275 million man is the epitome of a walking joke in the sports world. It takes a special brand of clown to be so delusional about where he stands in the minds of his own fans who mercilessly booed him amid his latest PED scandal.
So how far off his rocker is he these days?
Here's what A-Rod actually said after getting booed by his own fans at Yankee Stadium in August:
From Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew (via ESPN New York):
"It was awesome, it was just an amazing experience," Rodriguez said Saturday morning. "The fans were incredible. Such great energy and such a great response. It was pretty overwhelming. I was having a hard time keeping my emotions in check."
If by "amazing experience" he meant embarrassing and by "great response" he meant cold reception, then, yes, Rodriguez is right on in his assessment.
Otherwise, he's kidding himself.
But that's the thing with Rodriguez, he's become such a good liar that he's actually fooled himself into thinking that everyone still loves him. He lives in a fantasy land where the lines between right and wrong and truth and non-truth are as thin as his character. It's truly fascinating.
Rodriguez went from being baseball's great hope to rise above the stigma of the Barry Bonds era to being the poster boy for everything that's still wrong with the game.
Granted, the Yankees and MLB deserve some criticism for the way they're handling the Biogenesis scandal, but A-Rod is as culpable as it gets. He lied to everyone, including himself. He's nothing but a joke these days, and the sooner he's out of the game, the sooner the endless nonsensical stories about him and his antics can go away.
Tim Tebow: All he does is win ... everything but his NFL coaches' favor
It's hard to compare Tim Tebow to Rodriguez and Howard outright because he hasn't done anything nearly as egregious as they have. He's never betrayed anyone's trust or lived a lie -- all he's done is compete when given the opportunity and profess his excitement (albeit ad nauseam) to play the game he loves at its highest level.
But there's no denying that Tebow brings a circus that rivals Ringling Bros. to whichever NFL city he goes. One of the reasons he's so polarizing is because he has a huge cult following without any tangible accomplishments on the football field.
That's in no way his fault, but his lack of raw talent as a passer coupled with his popularity has divided everyone from expert analysts to households. Tebow is probably going to get cut from the New England Patriots this offseason because he's not a good quarterback, yet his apologists are quick to point to his 7-4 run as a starter for the Denver Broncos in 2011. Remember? It was that time when the organization thrust him into the starting role with the expectation that he'd fail miserably.
But he delivered -- proving everyone wrong in the process by carrying his team to an improbable appearance in the playoffs and spearheading a 29-23 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round. They'd eventually lose to the New England Patriots, but his legend grew as a result of the team's success.
Since then, he's had an uneventful stint with the New York Jets in 2012 that included an uninspiring two starts, and a total stat line of 6-of-8 passes for 39 yards and zero touchdowns. For his career, he has an abysmal 47.9 completion percentage and a lackluster 75.3 quarterback rating.
That's not going to win anyone football games at the NFL level.
But those intangibles, though! That's what keeps people interested in Tebow-mania. And it is, in fact, maniacal the way his fans support him through thick and (mostly) thin. Everyone (especially a certain four-letter network) wants more of him, but he doesn't warrant the coverage with his quarterbacking acumen. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
The Jets deserve some of the blame for making Tebow a sideshow. They mishandled him from the start when they traded a fourth-round pick for him and never gave him a chance to get on the field for any significant time. After only playing 77 snaps in 2012, it was a waste of a season for Tebow and the Jets. Head coach Rex Ryan had to eat his words that Tebow would be a big part of the offense, and the Jets and Tebow had nothing to show for the brief marriage.
The silliness of Tebow lies in the fact that as badly as everyone wants him to succeed, he just can't hack it on the football field at the quarterback position. Unfortunately, playing quarterback is all he wants to do. That makes his long-term NFL future very grim and solidifies him as trivia fodder from now on.
Which player deserves to hold the crown?
All three are outstanding candidates, but A-Rod has to win out here. Never has someone wanted everyone's approval so badly, yet failed so miserably at attaining it. It's sad, yet captivating at the same time. His career and life are like an accident on the side of the freeway -- you know it's bad, but somehow, you can't look away.
He deserves fans' ire, and he's going to get it for the rest of his life. Not only is Rodriguez the biggest punchline of the summer of 2013, but he may also be the all-time greatest joke in sports.
For more on the Lakers and the NBA, follow this author on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.
Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist covering the Lakers and the NBA and was the 2012 Yahoo Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports.Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Alex Rodriguez
- Tim Tebow