Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Be Like Mike Tiger

On March 18, 1995, two words were leaked to media sources everywhere: "I'm Back."

Michael Jordan had announced his comeback and in his first game back lit up the New York Knicks for 55 points. The Bulls went on to lose to the Orlando Magic in the playoffs that year, before reeling off another three-peat.

Tiger Woods went out on top... just like MJ. Forced to quit the 2008 season early due to his "Joe Theisman" leg, Tiger still finished the season strong with perhaps his greatest victory of his career. No one will soon forget the marathon that was the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Now, almost 10 months later, Tiger is back. He did not come back as flashy as Michael, as it took two tournaments to warm up, but he made a valiant comeback at Bay Hill to capture his 66th victory on tour. Clutch as usual, he stroked the 20-footer on the final hole to clinch the victory and snapped his leg and fist up in celebration as Stevie lifted him off his feet. I watched the leg intently pleading to the golf Gods that Tiger didn't pull a Bill Gramatica.

Mr. Woods hopes that he can not only follow MJ's lead, in dominating after his absence from the sport, but also recover faster. I don't doubt Tiger for a second and would venture in guessing that he wins two majors this year. He continues to knock off the rust and is rested and healthier than ever.

With all of the craze surrounding Tiger's absence, rehabilitation, comeback, and first victory... I started thinking about Tiger vs. MJ. Who is/was more important to his sport? Who is/was more popular at the peak of their respective careers?

I answer both of those questions with the same response: TIGER.

Let's think about it.

Jordan was enormous for the game of basketball. However, he came in during the careers of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the NBA was already flying high. The NBA was crushed by his retirement, his great success on the diamond and then again with his second retirement. The league still survived and prospered with the emergence of the Lakers dynasty. Now you have Lebron and Kobe, and the NBA is doing just fine.

Tiger is golf. Before Tiger, purses were in the hundreds of thousands, TV ratings were low, sponsors were few. Now, Tiger brought the largest cable TV audience... EVER with the front 9 of the U.S. Open playoff. Purses for tournaments are in the millions, and sponsors rush to events that he plays. When Tiger was hurt this past summer and fall, TV ratings plummeted for the PGA Tour. Without Tiger Woods, the PGA tour will be in the same boat as the NHL... nothing. Events wouldn't even make it on the major networks and like the NHL (please call your cable provider to inquire about purchasing Versus), the PGA Tour would have to put events up on the Golf Channel.

Lets look at recognizability. MJ was God in the 90's. For the most part though, that was in America, and maybe Europe where basketball was just becoming popular at the time. Golf on the other hand, is a global sport. Tiger is perhaps the most recognizable human being on the planet. The list may go like this: The Pope, Obama, Tiger. Without question, Tiger Woods is bigger now than Michael Jordan ever was.

So believe it or not, I believe Tiger has passed MJ as the biggest sports superstar of this generation, and maybe ever. The dominance of Eldrick can be enjoyed by all generations. The elderly play golf; heck, all of my grandparents are obsessed with Tiger (except for you Grandpa Phil, who still believes Fuzzy Zoeller is the greatest to ever play the game). My parents' generation loves him, because they saw Nicklaus play and can respect the trouncings that Tiger delivers. My generation grew up watching Tiger and yes we are still amazed by his freakish abilities. The cycle will continue, as the next generation of kids watch and play golf because their parents are infatuated with the excellence that is Tiger Woods.

I almost feel like I am sensationalizing and exaggerating the phenomenon.

But I'm not.

Kids and adults alike aren't and won't be saying I want to Be Like Mike...

everyone wants to Be Like Tiger.

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