A few months ago, Latrell Sprewell nixed a $10 million per year contract extension offer from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Why, you wonder?

“I have to feed my kids,” he said of the rejection.

Sprewell personifies everything that is wrong with the selfish modern athlete.

In 2004 the sports world took a series of tough blows from characters like Spree. Unless you were a Bostonian or a Gaucho Loco who was too shitfaced to conceive of a national championship being decided by penalty kicks, it was, quite frankly, a bad year. Less than favorable headlines that plagued the sports world involved steroid allegations, strikes, Chris Webber’s knee, brawls and drug overdoses.

These scars on their respective sports and individuals, however, were dwarfed by the millions of lives that were affected, if not taken from, the recent tsunami in Southeast Asia.

But with a new year comes new beginnings.

Enter the sports world.

Athletes and organizations worldwide, even with last year’s debacles, have at least started out the right way by lending their generous hands and bankrolls to aid those in need overseas.

Though the new year had not yet technically begun, on Dec. 29 the UCSB athletics department did its part to aid the victims. Although it’s as cash-strapped as a UC mid-major athletics department could be, it let all viewers who attended the UCSB-Irvine contest in the Thunderdome pay for their tickets by donating clothes, bottled water or canned food.

On the national, and even international, level, athletes have been humbled by the incident. The New England Patriots – who have some of the most sought-after and expensive tickets – are offering 200 tickets for the price of $1,000, and all of the proceeds go directly overseas.

The San Francisco Giants held a silent auction online last week and offered five unique experiences for Frisco fans to bid on. Some of these experiences included throwing out the first pitch on opening day at SBC Park, a private meeting with Barry Bonds, taking your best hacks against 10 pitches from a starting pitcher, and breakfast with manager Felipe Alou in his office. The auction raised over $100,000 in aid and Bonds has additionally pledged to donate funds from his account to the tsunami fund.

Coincidently or not, some of the biggest names that were attacked by the media from last year’s shenanigans have been the biggest contributors to the tsunami fund.

A group of NBA players pledged to donate $1,000 for every point scored in an upcoming game. Included were Jermaine O’Neal (see “brawl”), Tracy McGrady (see “selfish”), and Kobe Bryant (see “rape trial,” “Shaquille O’Neal,” “Karl Malone,” “Phil Jackson” and “Laker”). All took big hits to their images last year. O’Neal dropped 32 points on the Spurs in the game where he was supposed to give money, but he instead opted to give $55,000 for the career-high 55 points he put up in the game prior to his pledge.

Bonds (see “asshole” and “arthritis cream”) is not surprisingly one of the biggest donors, after getting blasted with steroid allegations. With baseball being the most scrutinized sport in 2004, the players association also pledged to give $1 million to the aid effort. Not to be outdone, the devil himself, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, said that the Yankees would give $1 million, in classic Steinbrenner-esque fashion.

Michael Schumacher, the highest-earning athlete in the world and someone who has on several occasions been accused of altering his Formula One car illegally, donated $10 million.

Often we are prompt to criticize these athletes whom we’ve never even met in person. It’s much easier to condemn them for watching a home run sail over a fence or not play the game the way we think they should play it. But for now, they deserve the pat on the back that we at times are far too reluctant to give.