Sports Illustrated's Phil Taylor, one of the best in the business right now, had an interesting concept column in this week's magazine, The Day Cool Died. Some people around the blogosphere have been hailing it as the best backpage article in Sports Illustrated since Rick Reilly left, and it's well worth your time.
To hardboil the thesis out of Taylor's excellent piece: players these days act as if they are surprised or overwhelmed by their success -- think Kevin Garnett's primal scream -- rather than players of yesteryear who expected success and exuded a quiet confidence and professional grace even in the most trying situations. Taylor dubs this otherworldly calm and composure: "Cool."
Cool was on a respirator as the end neared, its breathing more shallow with every poststrikeout fist pump by Joba Chamberlain, every dunk-and-sneer from Vince Carter and every one-act play performed by Chad Johnson after a touchdown catch. In its weakened state, it was hard to believe that Cool once walked with kings, that Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Julius Erving, Bjorn Borg and Walt Frazier were never caught without Cool, in competition or away from it. Cool not only added to their mystique but also served a practical purpose. "I always felt that [Cool] gave me an advantage," Frazier says. "It's like in poker, if the other players can't read you, it puts that uncertainty in their minds and that puts you in control."
Taylor argues that "Cool" as a widespread ideal for athletes is DOA.
Mourners are asked simply to appreciate players who don't feel the need to punctuate every accomplishment with an over-the-top celebration, who understand the beauty in letting a performance speak for itself.
Here's a fun game for a Sunday afternoon. Aside from today's athletes that Taylor mentions -- Tom Brady, Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki (a little random with the last one, eh?) -- who tops your list of "Cool" athletes? In other words, which athletes let their walk do the talk?
I can hear you screaming BRANDON ROY!!!!!!!!! and I agree with you. If you've got a top 5 or top 10, where does Brandon place? Feel free to limit yourself to basketball or, alternatively, include athletes from any sport.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PS While you're at it: check out Taylor's excellent portrait of Willie Mays, the greatest baseball player of all time, also published in this week's Sports Illustrated.