Who has been best Christmas present?


Sports are really the gift that keeps on giving in our society.

It can be heartbreaking and depressing at times, but it takes us away from our troubles and gives us thrills that will live on in our memories along with the players who gave them to us.

A few days back, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant had both of his numbers retired at the Staples Center, while other famous Lakers like Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal dubbed him the greatest Laker of all time.

This naturally ignited a lengthy and heated debate on social media over whether that was true or not. (Hint: it’s not).

In the spirit of the holiday season, though, since many Lakers fans see Kobe as a magical gift, it got me thinking about the presents given to our teams in Michigan. Who is our Kobe? Who would be at the top of our gift pile under the tree?

It’s hard to pick just one athlete to represent the entire state, so I decided to split my nominees into the four major sports and another category for the Green Bay Packers (see, I’m not the Grinch you might think I am).

Seeing as football season is winding down, let’s start there and with that sad but beloved franchise, the Detroit Lions.

When it comes to athletic excellence, the Lions have left a lot to be desired. Detroit hasn’t won a Super Bowl, let alone make one, and they went 0-16 in 2008, the only NFL team to do that.

So hey, that’s something!

However, there have been some great players to come through the Motor City over the years, including Bobby Layne, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Calvin Johnson and Joey Harrington (just kidding).

However, the player that immediately comes to mind is a shifty running back whose moves are still eye-popping almost two decades after he retired.

Barry Sanders racked up more than 15,000 rushing yards, picked up an MVP award in 1997 and was the face of the franchise throughout the 1990s. He also was one of the few athletes whose jerseys can sell well in rival cities.

So when you think about it, it was almost a formality for him to earn the first spot in the gift pile.

Sticking with Michigan winters, let’s move to the Red Wings. Detroit has a long line of phenomenal players like Nick Lidstrom, Sergei Federov, Dominik Hasek and Steve Yzerman.

As good as they all are, they come up short to the Red Wings’ best gift, Gordie Howe. He had 801 career goals, 786 with the Wings, and four Stanley Cups.

It’s hard to top that and I’m not sure anyone will, so Howe earns a spot in the gift pile.

Next up is that secondary winter squad, the Pistons. The Pistons don’t have the illustrious history that the Wings have, but they have won three NBA titles and some famous players such as Dave Bing, Dennis Rodman and my favorite, Grant Hill.

When you think Pistons, though, most people would think about the Bad Boys era and I do to, even though it was a bit before my time.

The star of those teams was Isaiah Thomas, a 12-time All-Star, Hall of Famer and one-time Home Improvement guest star. With that resume, Thomas easily drives his way into the gift pile.

That leaves the Michigan team who brings us out of the cold come March and makes us yearn for summer — the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers’ spot was the hardest to fill because there’s a lot of Hall of Fame players like Hank Greenberg, Ty Cobb, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.

I was leaning toward Cabrera when I started this list, but instead I’m going old school with Al Kaline. He’s got more than 3,000 hits, one dinger shy of 400 home runs, 10 Gold Gloves and is an 18-time All-Star.

Kaline has also been dubbed “Mr. Tiger,” so it’s appropriate that he receives the Tigers’ spot in the gift pile.

The Michigan gifts are all wrapped and tied with a bow under the tree, but there’s a little extra room for the Packers. This is the one choice of mine that will probably generate the most debate as Green Bay has several nominees like Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Reggie White.

As good as they all are, I’m going with Brett Favre. He’s a three-time MVP, Super Bowl champion, holds multiple NFL records (some good and some not) and has made a fine living in retirement with Wrangler ads and infomercials for Tough Blade razors.

For all those reasons and more, Favre takes the Packers spot in the gift pile.

There you have it. Five legendary players who have permanently left their mark both with their respective franchises and on the hearts of their fans. They’ve all made mistakes and they may not be the perfect presents under the tree.

However, they’re the gifts you’ll always treasure.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.