James Leroy Wilson's blog

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Athletes of the Decade

If I had one, here is my proposed ballot for Athlete of the Decade so far. Feel free to comment or suggest others. Again, the list can't be final until the calendar year is done:

1. Roger Federer - perhaps the younger, more gifted Rafael Nadal has his number and may eventually surpass him, but Nadal has yet to equal Federer's heart, health, and consistency. Federer's won 15 of the last 25 Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Not even Steffi Graf in the weaker women's division of the late 1980's-early 90's was that dominant. And it's not as if Federer is a biological freak, like the #2 and #3 on this list. That's why I put him on the top: I believe he went beyond his potential and over-achieved the most.
2. Michael Phelps - what is it, 14 gold medals, plus a silver or bronze (or more) at the Olympics? His amazing flippers and long body made him a natural swimmer, but you don't achieve what he has without determination, poise, and dedication.
3. Lance Armstrong - his heart is bigger than most people's - and I mean that literally, and by "literally" I mean biologically. That said, aside from his six Tour de France wins this decade (and seven consecutive overall), I can't tell you if he's ever won any other bicycle race.
4. Albert Pujols - Reminds me of another Cardinal, Stan Musial, who played great baseball year after year while the media (and baseball's history/legend writers) focused on Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams; today, they focus on A-Rod and Manny. In any case, Pujols has the best combination of batting average and power numbers in generations, with multiple MVP titles and a World Series Championship. No evidence that I know of that he's used performance-enhancing drugs, but if he does then everybody does and he's still better than everyone else.
5. Tiger Woods - 12 major golf championships this decade and 14 overall. With two more majors to go before the "00"'s are gone, he can potentially shoot to #1 on this list.
6. Peyton Manning - Like Brett Favre, started every game this decade. Unlike Favre this decade, Manning won three MVP's and was a Super Bowl winner/MVP, went to the play-offs eight seasons including six straight seasons going 12-4 or better with what everyone acknowledged was a seriously-flawed defense.
7. Serena Williams - The Open Era of tennis that began forty years ago, along with the beginning of the women's professional tour, first saw dominance by Margaret Court and Billie Jean King. Then, there was the Evert-Navratilova rivaly that is probably the greatest in the history of sports, then Steffi Graf, whose chief rival, Monica Seles, saw her career de-railed by a mad-man. Since Graf's retirement in 1999, no woman has dominated women's tennis, because the women's tour has more athletic, well-trained, and tougher women than ever before. Even so, Serena has been clearly the greatest, winning ten majors this decade, with her sister Venus the clear second-best, and a lot of names battling for #3 - Davenport, Hingis, Henin, Sharapova - that come and go. The Williams sisters remain, and Serena is the better of the two.
8. Tom Brady - He won three Super Bowls without a Hall of Fame receiver, and without a Hall of Fame player even on defense. When given a Hall of Fame-caliber receiver in Randy Moss, he shattered the NFL record book.
9. Tim Duncan - six all-NBA First Teams (seven if you include the 99-00 season), plus three second-teams, and three NBA Championships this decade, without an obvious Hall of Fame co-star.
10. Kobe Bryant - Won NBA titles with Shaq, won without Shaq. Won with Jerry West as GM, won without West calling the shots. Granted, never did win titles without Phil Jackson as coach, but neither did Michael Jordan.


  1. In my mind, the top 5 in your list are the best at their respective sports in history; the other 5 would have a more difficult time making that distinction. Federer or Woods would get my vote.

  2. I agree with you. That's why the "other 5" are the "other 5."

  3. Steroids controversy aside, I think Bonds needs to replace Pujols. He played in 8 of the 10 years this decade, and out-everythinged everybody else. Four consecutive MVP's and narrowly missing a fifth (runner-up to Kent in '00), numerous all-time records for both single season and career, several of them breaking his own.

  4. I wouldn't take Pujols out of the top ten, but do agree that Bonds has a strong argument to be on the list. I guess what dazzles me is Pujols's numbers right from the start as a rookie.

    I think lists like this should be done in five-year increments: Athletes of the Decade 1995-2004; Athletes of the Decade 2000-2009. Bonds and Woods would arguably be #1 and #2 on a 2000-2004 list.

  5. I mean, Bonds and Woods may be #1 and #2 on a 1995-2004 list.

  6. Yes, I see what you're saying. Taking what Pujols has done from the get-go is really impressive. I think his biggest drawback was living in Bonds' shadow.