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After 2 months on the run from law, Derek has returned to The Game Managers.  In response to Peyton Manning’s move to the Denver Broncos, he and Alex decided to do a “draft” of the 5 players they can least imagine ever playing for another team.  Here’s our list of ten players who seem destined to spend their career in one jersey.

Alex:
My first pick: It’s basically cheating, but Derek Jeter‘s just so ridiculously tied up in Yankee mythology.

Derek:                   
Jeter is a good choice.  Despite the reported tensions in his last contract negotiation I can’t imagine the Yankees ever taking him out of the lineup, even after he has stopped being valuable (have we already reached that point?)  My selection is Ray Lewis.  I don’t think it’s just hometown bias either.  The man has been both the symbolic and on-field heart of the Ravens from the beginning of their existence.  Literally from year one.  Who else in sports can claim that right now?  Easy choice.

Alex:
I like that Lewis point (and a lesser version — i.e., franchises that were irrelevant before player X got there — probably applies to some guys we’ll pick later), but I went in the opposite direction with my first pick and I’m going to do so again with Mariano Rivera. The Yankees, I think, as much as any other North American pro team, carry a specific attitude that belies decades and generations — and that quiet confidence yet unmistakable arrogance so characterizes Rivera. Rivera would’ve been the same pitcher on the Mets, but I’m not sure he’d feel so dominant.

Derek:
I don’t think that there are any baseball players fitting this description outside of the two aforementioned Yankees.  So I’ll jump over to basketball with my next pick of Tim Duncan.  I’m not sure if he quite fits our rule about making a previously irrelevant franchise relevant.  The Spurs were quite good before his arrival, but Duncan certainly transformed them into an NBA power.  Whether it’s accurate or not he has also come to embody the Spurs’ efficient, subdued style of basketball.

Alex:
They’d never reached the Finals before he got there; maybe irrelevant is a stretch, but they’d never done anything historically important. They’re now, based on titles, the fourth-most successful team in NBA history, and that’s ALL Duncan. I’ll stick with the NBA: Paul Pierce has played for Rick Pitino, alongside Antoine Walker, while the Celtics were tanking for Greg Oden, with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, as Rajon Rondo slowly took over the team, and, now, with Chris Wilcox. It’s quite impressive that with a 30-team league and free agency, a jersey will soon go to the rafters in Boston alongside Russell, Havlicek and Bird and actually belong there.

Derek:
Pierce is one of those Hall of Fame caliber players who has never been particularly dominant overall or preeminent in one particular skill.  What he has been is very good at many things for a long period of time.  It’s a shame that those types of players tend to get overlooked.  One player who has been dominant in his sport is my next pick, Tom Brady.  Like Tim Duncan, Brady single-handedly turned a mildly successful franchise into a power.  He has been misrepresented both as the unskilled quarterback who somehow knows how to win and as the stats machine who can’t come through in the big game.  One thing that has always been unquestioned though is his status as the face of the Patriots dynasty.

Alex:
I certainly appreciate all the nice things you’ve just said about Brady, but I do think he’s a notch below the other five guys we’ve mentioned (not in terms of skill, of course). Since this entire list is entirely “feel,” anyway, here’s my very non-factual reason why: I’ve always thought of this Patriots dynasty as existing in some sort of bubble (masterfully constructed by Belichick, of course). They play in whatever the hell Foxborough is — not Boston proper — and my sense of Boston fans, through the completely accurate source that is Bill Simmons columns, is that Brady’s viewed more with respect than adoration by Pats fans who sometimes stupidly question whether he’s truly “Boston.” I can also just completely see Belichick one day cutting him for cap reasons and Brady going out to the West Coast and having a few perfectly competent seasons. The entire mantra of the Patriots dynasty is that everyone’s replaceable; one day, that guy could be Brady.

Anyway, unless I’m just missing someone (also, hockey players are eligible here, but I can only really think of one, and I’m not too worried about you taking him) there’s only one more player who jumps out at me before we have to start going out on limbs. But I really don’t want to take that guy, so I’m just going to go out on my limb right now: He’s only been in the league four seasons, but I really can’t see Derrick Rose leaving Chicago. He’s already fairly iconic there — he’s from there — and seems to relish being the alpha dog on a hard-nosed team in a big city. We’re also now far enough removed from Jordan, I think, that Rose stands for himself in Chicago.

Derek:
I think there are two senses in which it can be hard to imagine an athlete wearing another uniform.  One is a pragmatic sense, where you don’t think that there is a practical possibility that the player will end up on a different team.  The other sense is a more emotional one, where it simply feels wrong to picture the athlete in a different jersey, a disruption of the natural order.  Brady seems to fit the second sense but perhaps not the first.  After all, Peyton Manning just demonstrated that even the elite quarterbacks aren’t sacred in the NFL.  For Rose though it just seems a bit early to me.  Lebron once played in the city he grew up around and seemed destined to spend a career winning championships there.  Of course Cleveland is no Chicago and Rose is surrounded by a much better organization, but with the way the NBA works today it’s too early for me to have that kind of feeling about him.

I’m not exactly sure who your remaining obvious choice is (although I have a guess), but I’m going with Dirk Nowitzki.  I believe that Dirk would have been on this list before last year but the championship seals the deal.  Mark Cuban spent years trying to build a team around Dirk that could win a title.  It turns out that with that kind of a playmaker, all you really need is a few guys who can knock down threes and a solid defense.  When the Mavs finally gave him this team last year Dirk came through in a big way and now he’s the king in Dallas.  It really feels like he can do no wrong at this point, like everything else is just a bonus.  He won his ring, fulfilled expectations and now he can spend the rest of his career playing on house money.  Kobe must be so jealous of that.

Alex:
I certainly can’t argue with Rose feeling too early — he’s been there four years and won a grand total of two playoff series — although I think the LeBron-to-New York speculation began about a day after he was drafted and there hasn’t been one iota surrounding Rose. I don’t think it was ever terribly difficult to imagine LeBron in a different jersey. My views on Brady and the Patriots jersey may just be exposing the bias I’ve demonstrated toward the jersey itself — the New England Patriots, as a franchise, has always appeared to me more a vehicle for Belichick and Brady to perform their mastery than an institution they actually care about.

That’s unlike my last pick, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. (I don’t know how I forgot Dirk; his claim is about as strong as Kobe’s at this point.) This is partly because I don’t see another team — one that’s not indebted five championships to him — putting up with his shit on a nightly basis, and if he’s not going 9-for-30 with regularity, he’s just not Kobe Bryant. On a brighter note, he is the highest-scoring Laker in history (putting him ahead of some upper-echelon Hall of Famers), and after appearing in seven NBA Finals in a Los Angeles jersey, anything else would be a major step down from the stage he so adores.

Derek:
I figured that Kobe Bryant was the other one that jumped out at you.  I guess it’s time for me to go out on a limb too.  I don’t know anything about hockey and I think we’ve pretty much covered the NBA (although you might be able to make a pretty good case for Dwayne Wade).  As far as baseball, the only other guy I could think of was Chipper Jones, but he doesn’t seem very relevant right now (a year or two ago I might have said Joe Mauer, but not anymore.)

I guess that leaves only one choice… Robbie Hummel at Purdue.  Just kidding (but seriously, hasn’t he been there for at least ten years?)  For my actual pick I’m going back to the NFL and Ben Roethlisberger.  I don’t feel all that confident in picking quarterbacks for this thing (it seems like too important of a position today to continue to start a legend well past his prime) but Big Ben seems as good a choice to me as any.  The team stuck with him through two different sexual assault cases, and with his new born-again Christian thing it seems like he’ll be able to stay out of trouble in the future.    The Steelers are one of those teams with a clear identity who seem to produce a lot of career players.  Roethlisberger is kind of a prototypical Steelers quarterback with his tough, working class image and style of play.  Plus he’s just really good.  It’s hard for me to imagine him playing somewhere else.

Draft Review:

Round

Alex’s Pick

Derek’s Pick

1

Derek Jeter

Ray Lewis

2

Mariano Rivera

Tim Duncan

3

Paul Pierce

Tom Brady

4

Derrick Rose

Dirk Nowitzki

5

Kobe Bryant

Ben Roethlisberger

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Because College Park’s filled with people who are not actually from Maryland, we see a lot of people in completely random–and awesome–jerseys. Each week (ish), we’ll be posting a little about the best we saw. Maybe there will even be pictures.

No, I didn’t actually see Kevin Durant wearing this; I just don’t have a cameraphone.

This jersey was neither seen in College Park (rather, a Baltimore concert venue) nor only a week after our last Jersey of the Week post, but it’s probably the prototypical “awesome jersey.” From a “hoopster” perspective (officially recognized by the New York Times), it doesn’t really get any better: Durant — yeah, this guy — played one season in Seattle — not quite Portland, but still — before his eventual-scoring-champion game was uprooted to Oklahoma City in one of the nastier franchise moves this side of the Browns coming to Baltimore. His first and only season with the Sonics stands, therefore, as one of the more bittersweet in sports history. The Sonics had just unloaded the last all-star in Seattle history, Ray Allen, as part of what became a very successful rebuilding effort. Seattle fans saw a small glimpse of that project — a scrawny scorer out of suburban Maryland — but nothing more.

A possible explanation: The concert’s main attraction, The Head and the Heart, is from Seattle.

During last Tuesday’s Clippers-Timberwolves game I saw the tweet, “You guys know Griffin-Love is the new Kobe-LeBron, right? You have to choose one. You can only choose one.” This is obviously stupid on both levels. One, the Kobe-LeBron “rivalry” never made much sense beyond the primitive “these are two very good basketball players” line of thinking–their primes hardly intersected, their teams hardly played, and they hardly guarded each other. Two, it’s unlikely either Griffin or Love will ever stake a reasonable claim to the Greatest Basketball Player Alive title.

But Griffin and Love do at least play the same position at roughly the same point in their careers, and if this season’s matchups are any indication, Los Angeles-Minnesota games should be interesting–and maybe even frequent–for years to come. The trouble is, the Griffin-Love comparison is almost too easy; the super-athletic, (black) human highlight reel vs. the outlet-passing, (white) rebounding-angles expert. Great individual rivalries come when the protagonists transcend their archetypes–when Brady puts up his 50 touchdowns and Manning wins his Super Bowl, or pretty much everything about Federer v. Nadal–not when they fit them perfectly. NBA players’ public perceptions are largely created in reaction to those of their peers, anyway. The league now has its next Great White Hope; is he doomed to spend the next 10 years hearing about his “high basketball IQ“?