First off welcome to the Penguin Awards. This is Rookerville’s attempt to wrap up the year. The one guarantee about awards shows and end of the year lists is that, inevitably, no one can ever agree on them. Rather than attempting to assign a numerical rank to something so subjective in nature, our approach to quantifying what took place during the previous calendar year is more broad – our own preferences in each individual category, with no definitive #1. The subjects of our end of the year series are those that we are passionate about, but ultimately, the person who truly decides the “best of” 2013 is you, the reader. After all, perception is everything. Welcome to the 2013 Penguin Awards, our tribute to the things that grabbed our attention over the last twelve months.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Matt Cargile)
Not many in America will be aware of what has been going on in the world of soccer but one of the best ever is in the middle of one of his best years. Cristiano Ronaldo is averaging more than a goal a game for his Spanish club, Real Madrid. But Cristiano has dominated the club scene before. What makes this year special and why 2014 might be just an extension of his great 2013, is what he’s done for his international squad. Portugal had the second best record in their qualifying group, finishing behind a surprisingly dominant Russian squad. Throughout that qualification however, to say Portugal was carried on Cristiano’s back would be an understatement. As an American who will be forced to watch USA have to try and exorcise from very scary demons to get past the group stage, one of which being Portugal, I am partly hoping Cristiano cools off. But as a soccer fan I have to warn everyone that Cristiano is probably going to come a name on everyone’s lips as June comes around and he probably puts on a show. Admittedly I’m biased and really think there’s nothing bigger than being your country’s savior on the world’s biggest tournament, so with that I don’t think any other athletes on this list have a chance.
Lebron James (Pat Wong)
Just based on statistics, Lebron James should be the Athlete of the Year. He is dominating the game of basketball and far and above the best player in the NBA. Kevin Durant is a distant second. Lebron’s average stats last season are mind boggling: 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 1.9 steals while shooting 56.5% from the field, 40.6% from the three point line, and 75.3% from the free throw line. While his averages this season are slightly below at 24.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, and 1.5 steals, his shooting percentage has actually increased to a ridiculous 60.1% from the field and 41.3% from the three point line. His shooting percentages are ridiculous for a perimeter player and he has the best overall game I have ever seen. The stats do not even do justice to how good he is. He makes every player on his team better with his knowledge, court vision, and unselfish play. Moreover, I have never seen anyone play defense the way Lebron does. He can shut down every position on the field. He can even completely shutdown the quickest point guards in the NBA. At 6’ 8”, it is unheard of that a player of that size could move as quick as the smaller point guards. In Derrick Rose’s MVP year, Lebron completely shut him down in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals to change the tide of the series. Similarly, Lebron shutdown Tony Parker in the NBA Finals last year. Parker is one of the most dominant and quickest slashers and drivers in the NBA. He is unstoppable against the other teams in the NBA. Nevertheless, Lebron took him completely out of the series. No matter who the best player or hottest player on the other team is, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra has the ultimate advantage in sticking Lebron on him to completely take him out of the game.
I am a Michael Jordan fan so I will always say that MJ is better. Nevertheless, Lebron is very comparable and even Jordan would have his hands full with Lebron. Regardless, I have never seen a basketball player dominate the NBA quite like Lebron. Despite the negativity from the poor choice to air the “Decision”, Lebron has washed all of it away by not making another blunder of that magnitude and with his brilliant play. He has been a clean, cut guy since he entered the NBA and a great ambassador for the NBA. He also carried the Heat to back to back titles and was clutch to end all the nonsense about him not being able to win the big games. Nevertheless, I choose to root against him. I respect his game and his character but I still like to root for the underdog against him. I also do not want him to pass Michael Jordan in championships so I can continue to use that argument to support that Jordan is better. For all those reasons, he is my clear Athlete of the Year.
Mariano Rivera (Andrew Rose)
Sports Illustrated may have selected Peyton Manning – who submitted a heartbreaking playoff loss at the beginning of the calendar year and a transcendent regular season at the end of it – but no one commanded as much attention and respect for such a sustained amount of time than Mariano Rivera did this past MLB season. From April to October, it was the Mariano farewell tour, one that found the greatest closer of all time accruing gifts and charitable donations at every single ballpark he visited along the way.
We wrote at length about Rivera earlier this year, but there are some points worth highlighting. In his final season, his 44 saves were good enough for fourth in the majors, meaning at age 43 he was still among the best players in the game. He earned an All-Star nomination and the All-Star MVP, which, to be fair, was more based on his name and his entire career arc than his performance in that singular game. But that brings me to my final point – in my lifetime, no player in professional sports encountered such universal acclaim and adulation than what Mariano encountered in this final season. There was only praise, accepted by unmatched class and dignity. To plagiarize my own line: He was a hero. He was the GOAT.