It always seems that every once in a while, two truly great athletes are matched up. The most recent examples are the classic AFC Championship showdown between the Colts and Patriots, with Peyton Manning against Tom Brady being the focal point of the game. There is always a little more excitement in the air when those two are mixing it up. Or if you really want to talk about the greats mixing it up, you can talk about this Saturday's fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. Both boxers are sure-fire Hall of Famers, and many are touting this match-up as the last great fight the boxing world will ever see. For some classic examples, you can look at Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell, or Muhummad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. But those are moments when two athletes within the same sport play in the same game. Even rarer than that is when two greats from seperate sports come together. We were lucky to get to see that yesterday, when Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods teamed up in the Wachovia Pro-Am.
The two have played together before. But Wednesday was the first time they actually teamed together at a pro-am. I didn't even get to see it, but just looking at the pictures gave me goosebumps. This could be the only time in history the two arguably greatest athletes in two different sports played together. Imagine seeing Ali playing doubles tennis with Pete Sampras (or maybe Roger Federer for that matter), of course forgetting the fact that Ali can barely get around these days. Or picture Wayne Gretzky bowling with Dick Weber. Even crazier is imagining Babe Ruth playing two-hand touch with Jerry Rice. Of course none of those things will happen, but it would be absolutely incredible if they did. That is what happened Wednesday. And not just that, but the two of them represent two-thirds of the three biggest icons sports has seen in the last half-century, along with Ali. And they managed to be paired together for a pro-am.
People can make all the arguments they want to, but Jordan has touched the sports world in a way that nobody will ever see again. Not only did he dominate his sport like only one man before him had (Bill Russell), but he transcended being just an athlete. I have a buddy who was once asked who he would like to have dinner with, and one of the people he chose was Jordan. When asked why Jordan, my buddy couldn't muster anything more then that he was the greatest player he watched growing up. As he was telling me this, I automatically thought of other reasons I would like to have dinner with Jordan. His entrepreneurial skills are phenomenal, as evidenced by him now having his own branch of Nike, Air Jordan. He has amazing cross-over appeal that is hard to explain, but you know it's there when he flashes that smile. Mostly it is his competitiveness, that fire inside him that makes him want to be the best at whatever he does. That's the reason he didn't stop after he won that first title. Or the second. Or third. It's the reason he came out of retirement (if that's what you want to call a hiatus that he spent trying his hand at baseball) and won another three titles, and then came out of retirement again with the Washington Wizards. It wasn't until his body wouldn't allow him to play to the best of his abilities that he finally let go. That fire has transferred to his business endeavors, where he wants to be the best businessman around. All that combined is why the world might not ever see another basketball player like him, no matter how hard LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Dwayne Wade might try.
Just because there won't be another basketball player like him doesn't mean that there will never be another athlete like him. Woods comes closest. He has won all four majors, even holding them all at the same time. He regularly tops the money list. With his winnings and endorsements, he makes $90 million a year. He was without a doubt the most dominant golfer the game has ever seen. I still remember the period where other golfers weren't so much playing to win a tournament, but more playing for second place. There wasn't a single opponent who was worthy of him. After all that, he could easily have left the game. But he still wants to be the best. He will shatter Jack Nicklaus's record of 12 majors. But even after that, he will press on. He will have done anything anybody could have asked him to do. Thing is, he isn't just anybody and he will continue to ask himself to dominate this game until his body finally tells him no, just as Jordan's did. That is why he will go down as the greatest golfer who ever lived, like Jordan is the greatest basketball player who ever lived.
The best part of all of this is that when that much competitive fire is together. They both know how great they are. Jordan knows he can't touch Woods on the links if it came down to it. And Woods knows that he would probably get shut out in a one on one against Jordan on the hardwood. These two dominated their respective sports, and they respect the other for that domination. But that competitive fire keeps them from keeping quiet, forcing them to jab at each other all day. It provided entertainment for the crowds, watching these two legends poking fun at the other.
The world may never get to see another day like this. The greatest from each sport never seem to be able to match up, either due to many years being between their reigns or scheduling difficulties. But on one Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte, North Carolina, the world got to see it happen, even if just for one time.