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Green: Considering sports’ ‘what-ifs’

Mary Green | Friday, March 22, 2013


While the commencement of a certain national basketball tournament promises upsets, lopsided wins and chaos galore, it appears that March’s madness is not just confined to the hardwood.

The insanity of the third month of the year has found its way into – of all places – a now-infamous set of fax machines belonging to the Denver Broncos and Marty Magid, Elvis Dumervil’s ex-agent.

As a result of the stipulations of Dumervil’s new contract, the team was forced to cut him because they received his completed paperwork seven minutes after its deadline. 

Years from now, will we all look back on this blunder and laugh? Or will we wonder, in the event that the defensive end’s career really blossoms with another team, what would have happened if he stayed in the Mile High City?

This got me thinking: what are some of the best cases of “what if” in sports deals? I have come up with a list of the ultimate cog-turners, the ones that make you wonder what would have happened if the situation had turned out another way.


If the Red Sox hadn’t sold Babe Ruth’s contract

Of course this is No. 1. This deal is essentially the sports equivalent of “What if Moses hadn’t parted the Red Sea and the Hebrews didn’t escape Egypt?” Too dramatic? Revisiting this deal opens up a Pandora’s box of hypotheticals regarding how the baseball landscape would look if the Babe had never donned the pinstripes. 

Would Boston have a slew of World Series rings today? Two years after the Ruth acquisition, the Yankees earned their first title in 1923, beginning nearly a century of dominance on the diamond that has netted the club 27 World Series titles and 40 American League pennants. 

Would George Steinbrenner have purchased the Bronx Bombers in 1973 if they didn’t have their storied history, started with Ruth? The Boss may have not had an incentive to buy the team without the appeal of continuing the legacies of Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, and it’s difficult to imagine baseball without him.

Without “The House that Ruth Built,” would Derek Jeter be “The Captain” or just another good infielder? Would we care which celebrities he dates or how much weight he may or may not have gained in the offseason?

This examination only touches the tip of the iceberg of “what-ifs” surrounding this deal, since it involved two great franchises with an abundance of historic storylines and notable players.


LeBron James joins the Heat  

The phrase “I’m gonna take my talents to South Beach,” or any derivative of it, is undoubtedly one of my favorite sports quotes of all time. But what if LeBron didn’t take his talents to the Sunshine State and elected to stay with the Cavs instead?

For one, Miami’s current 24-game win streak would not have drawn as much attention as it does now. Most people following the team’s run watch because they want to see them lose, not because they are cheering for King James and his court to emerge victorious after yet another game.

Additionally, LeBron wouldn’t be the polarizing athlete that he is today. If he remained with his hometown team, he still would have been entertaining, with his pregame chalk cloud and loyal fan base. But moving down south brought a tidal wave of hate and disgust towards James, adding a new facet to his captivating story on and off the court. 


Michael Jordan signs with Nike

This deal is a little different from the first two, but it is still just as important to sports because it ushered in the era of ‘athlete branding.’

What if M.J. had chosen adidas or Converse as his sponsor when he left Chapel Hill? Would those companies have given him his own shoe and allowed him to later begin his own brand?

Try to imagine sports without the Jumpman logo, without the inspiring Air Jordan commercials.

Just putting on Jordan products gives athletes and non-athletes alike, a swagger and untouchability that originated with the man himself.

This is because Mike has become so much more than a basketball player. He embodies the Jay-Z line, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” He has built his own empire with the start that Nike gave him.

And what would that empire be like without this first deal? Nothing. No “Sports Illustrated” 50th-birthday covers. No Space Jam. No steakhouses. Nike gave MJ a foundation to continue his popularity well past his retirements – all three of them.

So will this Dumervil non-deal end up altering the face of sports as we know it? Probably not. But if we’ve learned anything pver the last 90 years, it’s that one stroke of the pen can have quite the impact.

Contact Mary Green at mgreen8@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.