THE POWER RANKINGS: Goin' Out in Style

by IVAN ZLATAR | 11/30/09 11:00pm

This is my last column as Sports Editor of this publication. There are a lot of important things to talk about. I should probably have a lot of things to say, a lot of things to tell people, and a lot of things for which I want closure. So to sum up my career here, I've opted for the only logical solution.

I'm going to completely avoid everything and go out ranking the worst and best exits in sports history.

Worst Exits

Three: Joe Namath Talk about disgracing your legacy. Namath was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Besides winning a national championship at Alabama, Namath is known for beating the Colts in Super Bowl III, and even more so for his guarantee that the Jets would win against the Colts, then considered the greatest football team of all time. He is one of history's greatest winners.

Fast-forward 30 years to 2003, to ESPN's Suzy Kolber interviewing an absolutely hammered Namath on the sidelines of a Jets game. When asked about Chad Pennington's play, Namath tells Kolber, "I want to kiss you," and proceeds to humiliate himself in front of the country. That's the last major moment he had in the spotlight. Blacked out and trying to kiss a sideline reporter. Humiliating, depressing, terrible. See ya later, legacy.

Two: Terrell Owens Watching T.O. for the past 10 years has been like watching a horrifying car wreck over and over and over, every few seasons with a different team. He's easily the most physically talented wide receiver of all time. But what's T.O.'s legacy? He's a team cancer. Every team he's ever played for, it plays out the same. He dominates his first year, slows down his second, and then starts blaming everyone in sight and ruins his team.

What makes it even worse is that T.O., by the account of everyone that's ever been around him, is the hardest-working player to hit the NFL in decades. What separates him from the greats, though, is that instead of leading his teammates and making them better, he blames them for not being as good as he is, and makes everyone worse. It just sucks that such an incredible athlete has to waste his talent and my viewing experience by being an insufferable ass.

One: Len Bias This one is just tragic. Len Bias played for the University of Maryland and was maybe the most talented basketball player ever. Think if Kevin Garnett and Kobe had a lovechild, but skinnier and more awesomely '80s. He was basketball Jesus. After college, Bias was selected as the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft by my very own Boston Celtics. And then, two days later, he died of a cocaine overdose.

Beyond the horrible, 1980s-defining way he died, think about if the 1986 Celtics, probably the greatest team ever already, had added Bias to the mix. Bird, McHale, Parish, Bias. It would have been incredible. Instead, it was basketball's greatest tragedy.

Best Exits

Three: John Elway You have to hand it to Elway. After losing two Super Bowls in the late 1980s, Elway got his shot against the defending champion Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXIII in 1998. And he took it, and won, placing a defining crown on his Hall of Fame career. By the way, he also tore a biceps tendon in his throwing arm during that preseason, elected to heal it non-surgically (i.e. by Ultra-Manliness Power), returned in 19 days, and then won the Big One that had eluded him for so long.

Then, the next year, after going 8-8 in the regular season, Elway got into a deep squat position and kindly asked that the entire team jump on his shoulders so that he could carry them to the Super Bowl. Elway beat the Atlanta Falcons and their Dirty Bird nonsense, earned Super Bowl MVP honors, and left the league riding a two-Super Bowl winning streak. That is how you leave the game.

Two: Michael Jordan The only greater exit than Elway's. I'm talking about the 1998 NBA Finals, by the way, and discounting M.J.'s later career with the Wizards. I do this because I can't fault an athlete for loving the game so much that he wants to keep playing, even if he's old and can't jump anymore. Wizards aside, Game 6 of the Finals is Jordan's legacy.

Facing the Stockton-and-Maloneled, and also heavily favored, Utah Jazz for the second year in a row, the Bulls took a 3-2 lead in the series. In the waning seconds of the game, down one point, Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone, one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players. He then crossed up Bryon Russell and, in a moment where I swear he assumed the shape of a pure beam of heavenly light, iced a 20-foot jumper with 5.2 seconds left that clinched Jordan's sixth NBA championship.

Jordan wins because that one moment defines his career. One steal, one shot, no rim, six championships. The greatest player of all time.

One: Me. I'm out. See you never.

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