x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Invitation to the bold and the beautiful of American sport

Mike Tierney wants the best in American sport to join him for New Year, but there are some guys definitely not on the list.

Miami Heat's LeBron James has won over many sceptics.
Miami Heat's LeBron James has won over many sceptics.

I am throwing a fantasy New Year's Eve party. The guest list, confined to the most accomplished and provocative American sportsmen (and women) of 2012, is ambitious. But, hey, these invitees aimed high in their craft. How could they not expect me to do likewise?

So here are my wished-for attendees, along with topics for lively conversation, as we mimic a chanting crowd at the end of a game and count down the seconds.

LeBron James

The Miami Heat won over more haters last season than anybody since Muhammad Ali went from perceived militant to pacifist. Does the NBA superstar welcome the love, or is he bitter? And, speaking of the Champ, is the realisation that James can become the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) intimidating or incentivising to him?

Michael Phelps

For most of his 27 years, he lived in a swimming pool. Now, with his Speedos and goggles packed away for good following his showing at the London Olympics that yielded four golds and two silver medals, Phelps dives into a new life that is a blank canvas of possibilities. How does someone so ultra-competitive suddenly turn off the switch and adjust to a less structured, more relaxed universe?

The Mannings

The serious exterior of the two NFL quarterbacks hides two life-of-the-party personalities. Peyton and Eli have been deemed witty enough to each host Saturday Night Live and their television commercials are a hoot. Yet they are different enough that big brother Cooper says, without football, Peyton would be a chief executive and Eli a ... who knows? Why did Peyton submit to four painful surgeries just to play another season or two? How does Eli feel about two Super Bowl rings to his sibling's one?

Serena Williams

Often impolite in a sport where the mannerly are preferred, the 15-time women's singles grand-slam champion has found the path to sustained excellence. How big is that invisible chip on her shoulder? Have the extra-curricular interests, particularly in fashion, extended her career?

Chuck Pagano

Imagine getting your dream job at age 51, then being diagnosed months later with the life-threatening illness, acute promyelocytic leukaemia. Pagano took leave as Indianapolis Colts coach but never really left - texting, phoning and e-mailing advice to staff and players. On the road to recovery as his team cruises the road to the play-offs, he might offer insight to a time-worn sports question: Does winning cure all?

Brian Wilson and Tim Lincecum

How did two eccentric pitchers land on the same squad - World Series champions, no less? The thickly bearded and tattooed Wilson, baseball's weirdest-looking player, might have been dubbed "The Freak" had the nickname not already been assigned to San Francisco Giants teammate Lincecum, his shaggy-haired teammate with the gravity-defying wind-up and delivery. How do characters contribute to the character of a champion?

Jeremy Lin

This year's example of truth whipping fiction for strangeness. The California-reared, Harvard-educated baller with Asian ancestry who nearly abandoned his NBA dream becomes a global sensation almost overnight. Is he overwhelmed that China and Taiwan are engaged in a tug-of-war over him? Is he burdened by the weight of a continent - not even his own - on his shoulders?

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings

They walked off into the sunset, one framed by sand and water, after winning their third straight Olympic beach volleyball gold in London. What is it like to become the tanned faces of an entire sport? And wearing those skimpy "uniforms" in their mid-30s: self-conscious or prideful?

Robert Griffin III

He is that rarity in any sport: a rookie to give CPR to a franchise without a pulse. Is it cool for the 22-year-old Redskins quarterback to be considered the most beloved man in Washington, DC, which may not be saying much, given the fractured federal government? And how extra-cool is it to be recognised by a nickname (RG3) that sounds straight out of Star Wars?

Bruce Springsteen

OK, he is not a sportsman, but few athletes burn off more calories than the rock 'n' roller during his three-hour-long concerts. Consider him my wild-card guest. What drives him, at age 63, to remain at the top of his game?


Each guest can bring a companion. (Come along, Venus. The more Williamses, the merrier.) But a no-admittance list will be enforced. Stay away, these potential party spoilers.

Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr

Instead of bringing in the New Year, they should be meeting to bring back ice hockey to suffering NHL fans.

Last season's New Orleans Saints defence

They might place a bounty on an unsuspecting guest.

Jeffrey Loria

The Miami Marlins owner represents the worst of his ilk, shaking down taxpayers for a new ballpark, then gutting the roster after one bad season.

Lance Armstrong

He took cheating to unprecedented levels. The conversation might fascinate, but who could believe anything this shameless liar says?