Professional sport is first and foremost entertainment, and marketing is the backbone of any successful entertainment industry. We’ve all seen it, heard it and read it. John Lennon famously once said that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, and at the time, not many were inclined to debate that with him. Since the emergence of ESPN and the boom of sports media, we’ve seen countless ascents into stardom that would make Michael Jackson blush and Babe Ruth spit out his beer in shock. So here they are: the top five sports sensations in recent memory.
5. “Tebow-mania,” Tim Tebow, Quarterback, Florida Gators and Denver Broncos
As far as pure popularity goes, Timmy Tebow should probably be higher on this list. The guy branded public prayer for God’s sake (pun intended). He might have been the most successful quarterback in college football history, and after being written off as a future tight end by draft analysts, he still got drafted in the first round. The legend only grew when he was given credit for willing his Broncos to a playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite being the worst quarterback in the league. However, a quarterback needs to be able to throw the ball, and Tebow still hasn’t figured it out, leading to his release by the New York Jets.
4. “Lin-sanity,” Jeremy Lin, Point Guard, New York Knicks and Houston Rockets
Lin-sanity is yet another example of the power of the New York media. The kid from Harvard came out of nowhere (fourth string on the Knicks depth chart to be precise) to take the league by storm. Before getting hurt, Lin strung together a streak of 20-point games that made him the most popular Asian-American basketball player since Yao Ming. Unfortunately, the madness that captured the nation was short-lived. Lin’s injury and departure to Houston cut the buzz short right at its peak. Even though Lin had a great season, the smaller market and role as second fiddle to James Harden has cooled the number of #linsanity’s that emerged last year.
3. “MT Hammer,” Mike Trout, Outfielder, Los Angeles Angels
Alright, so MT Hammer is kinda catchy, but it doesn’t have the universal recognition of the other names on this list. However, Mike Trout had the best rookie season in professional sports history. The 20-year-old kid would have and probably should have won the AL MVP award after leading baseball in multiple statistical categories, including Wins Above Replacement. And when the actual winner also won the Triple Crown, that’s a hell of a distinction. Trout does everything you can ask for from a baseball player: showing gold glove defense, elite speed and possibly the best bat in the game. If not for the Angels missing the playoffs, Trout would have been the biggest thing to hit baseball since the ballpark hot dog.
2. “The Next Pele,” Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, Forward, Santos (Brazil)
Neymar is the name on this list who might be the most unknown to the average American sports fan. But make no mistake, Neymar is the most popular athlete in the world. Neymar is on the cover of video games, the star of comic books and the seventh richest soccer player in the world after receiving massive endorsement deals at the age of 17. The 21-year-old sensation from Brazil won his first of back-to-back South American Footballer of the Year awards in 2011 at the age of 19 and has already drawn comparisons to Pele and Lionel Messi. In fact, Pele himself said that Neymar is already better than Messi, sparking the debate to who is in fact the best player in the world. Prepare to hear more about the young phenom, as it was announced last week that Neymar is ready to end his loyal relationship with his original club and make his long-anticipated move to Europe, with Barcelona in the lead for his services.
1. “Fernando-mania,” Fernando Valenzuela, Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
I know this article promised the top rises to stardom in recent memory, but Fernando was the original phenom and deserves the spot atop this list. In 1981, at the age of 20, Valenzuela won his first eight starts for the Dodgers, and the biggest baseball craze of the last 50 years had begun. Fernando’s youthful energy and enthusiasm, historic popularity, especially among the Latino community in Southern California, and all-time great screwball captured the attention of the nation. The timing was perfect as well, with ESPN only a couple years old and in prime position to fuel the fire. 1981 might have been Fernando’s best season, with the Dodgers winning the World Series and the pitcher winning Rookie of the Year and the NL Cy Young award. But the mania lasted throughout the 80s, with Fernando winning 21 games in 1986 and pitching a no-hitter in 1990. Without injuries derailing his career in the early 90s, Fernando might have gone down as one of the greatest pitchers of all-time.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo courtesy of npr.org