Sunday December 27th, 2015

Over the past two Decembers I’ve paneled a group of sports media people to answer the following question:

Who will be the most fascinating sports person of the following year? 

The answers have been interesting, some even prescient, and I’ve decided to make it an end-of-the-year tradition as long as I have a place to write.

Once again, the 30-plus panelists (I added some new ones this year) were given no requirements outside of a due date. The length and choices were up to them. Below, are the responses to “Who will be the most fascinating sports person of 2016?”—and thanks for reading this column this year.

J.A. Adande, ESPN reporter:

Stephen Curry. That’s even though 2015 was really his breakout year. Maybe it’s because 2015 was his breakout year and nobody saw it coming, so this is a chance at media redemption. All Curry did was revolutionize the NBA, changing the possibilities for who could wear the crowns of best team and best player in the league. And how many sports figures allow us to watch so much achievement with such little cognitive dissonance? Curry stepped on the stage free of controversy or a shadowy past. Incredibly, the biggest ethical debate he inspired was whether children should be brought into the postgame interview room. Curry can’t be a revelation in 2016 but he can become the establishment. Curry winning another MVP and another championship would mean that not even our short-attention-span society could move on to the next thing. Then again, that could just be me not wanting to move on to the next thing, because I doubt the next thing would be this fun and guilt-free.

Brian Anderson, Turner Sports and CBS announcer:

My pick for the most interesting person in 2016 is Steph Curry. In a league full of freakish athletes, he’s the most freakishly skilled of them all. We try to come up with comparisons but I don’t think of any single player when I watch him. There is so much “special” in a body frame that is not at all special by NBA measure. He’s a mouse in the house and all the elephants are afraid. That is so entertaining.

NBA
The evolution of Steph Curry: The man the NBA can't take its eyes off

Curry is growing the game like Magic/Bird, Michael, and LeBron. His ball handling and passing are Pistol Pete, or Nash-like. He’s fearless like Reggie or AI. His shooting range has no real NBA comp—Meadowlark Lemon-ish, perhaps? On the court he shines and, by all accounts, he’s a great teammate, he’s involved in the community in an authentic way, a great family man, a man of faith and a superstar who respectfully embraces the buzz that he brings to the building every night. If healthy, he’ll probably win another MVP. His team has a great shot at another NBA title. Does he plateau or keep flying higher into that Jordan air? I don’t think so, but my “no way” has turned into a “maybe” and I’m most interested to find out.

Bonnie Bernstein, Vice President, Content & Brand Development/ On-Air Host, Campus Insiders

I'm deviating from the standard player/coach/league commish response here and offering up a broadcast exec. Fox Sports has recently brought in Jamie Horowitz to oversee Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2. Horowitz, despite a brief, bumpy stint at NBC’s Today Show, was the brains behind the “embrace debate and opinion” movement at ESPN that yielded SportsNation, Numbers Never Lie and most notably, First Take. Whether you’re fans or haters of Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, they’re a consistent source of buzz for The Worldwide Leader.

DEITSCH: Sports Illustrated Media Awards: Best and worst of 2015

FS1 is still searching for studio programming that sticks. Perhaps more than any other network, Fox is willing to take risks and throw you-know-what against the wall, so it’s no surprise that in some of his earliest moves, Horowitz has plugged TMZ Sports into a late-night slot on FS1 and brought back ever-polarizing Jason Whitlock after his gig running ESPN’s The Undefeated went sideways. Not to be overlooked: snatching Colin Cowherd from the WWL, a big-name brand whose pointed commentary “moves the needle.” While live events are the real catalyst for network ratings, FS1 still needs a strong slate of original studio programming featuring personalities with reach. It’ll be fascinating to see if Horowitz’s creativity and moxie can help build appreciable audience, and whether he’ll continue snagging the high-profile talent he groomed at ESPN when their contracts expire.

Jay Bilas, ESPN college basketball analyst:

Stephen Curry. What Curry is doing in the NBA is historic. He makes it look like a video game, and has brought a combination of tremendous skill, character and humility. If he stays healthy, Curry could wind up being one of a handful of the greatest players ever to play the game. Next to Curry, I would suggest Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs. She will knock down even more barriers in 2016.

Mike Breen, ESPN NBA announcer:

I am going to be blatantly territorial for my most fascinating person of 2016: Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks. Here’s a 20-year-old kid from Latvia who has completely changed the outlook on the future of one the NBA’s marquee franchises. He is receiving nothing but superlatives from even the most cynical NBA observers. Although his size, skill, athleticism and basketball instincts are all quite impressive for such a young player, it’s his mental makeup that is most remarkable. Porzingis is mature, poised and as media savvy as any foreign rookie I’ve seen in 25 years covering the NBA. There will still be many nights when he struggles, and he has much to learn. He’s not strong enough yet, but he’s not soft, and this confidant young man is never overwhelmed and never afraid. He has filled a hungry New York fan base with hope. But he can handle the spotlight. He can handle the pressure. Again, 20 years old. From Latvia. Remarkable.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Cris Collinsworth, NBC NFL analyst

Michael Phelps. Regardless he will be a big story, but he has a chance to add to a legacy that will be remembered forever. Already he is the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals, 18 of which are gold. In Rio, he can become the first swimmer to win gold medals in four Olympics.

Olympics
After rehabilitation, the best of Michael Phelps may lie ahead

Heather Cox, ESPN reporter:

Michael Phelps will be the most fascinating person in sports in 2016. It’s an Olympic year, everyone loves a comeback story, and Phelps’s is as dramatic as they come. Through three Olympics, he has won 18 gold medals and 22 total. Then Phelps retired and had some personal struggles (including rehab).  But the pool lured him back and Phelps announced last spring that he would swim in one more Olympics. Phelps has made a renewed commitment to training and this year at the National Championships in San Antonio, all three of Phelps swims were the fastest in the world in 2015 and all three would have won World Championships. Sixteen years after his first Olympic appearance, Phelps will be a gold medal favorite in three individual events and is poised to become the oldest swimmer to win an individual gold medal.

Bill Cowher, CBS Sports NFL analyst:

I am going to [say] Kristaps Porzingis. I think his story is really compelling. The fact that this guy was booed at the draft and here we are basically six months later and people are talking about trading Carmelo Anthony to build around him. I remember seeing a kid at the draft crying when they announced the pick. Now that kid is wearing a Porzingis jersey. With players such as Steph Curry, the game has moved away from the basket and Porzingis represents a new-age perimeter player—who is 7'3". When you used to think about 7'3", you would think about Wilt Chamberlain or Lew Alcindor. Now comes a 7'3" stretch forward who can shoot the three. This is the new era of the NBA and he is 20 years old, playing in the city of New York. He’s a really compelling figure to me.

Michael Davies, Men In Blazers co-host:

It's got to be whoever ends up with the top job at FIFA. Biggest job in the biggest sport in the world. And after everything that's gone on there for years, I’m not sure that any sane person would even stand for the position. Let alone win it.

More Sports
Why the Golden State Warriors need more nationally televised games

​​Ian Eagle, CBS Sports and YES Network announcer:

Stephen Curry gets my vote. He has already proven to be worth the price of admission, now he’s elevated his game to another stratosphere. Everywhere he goes he's ‘the show’ and he rarely disappoints. When it’s all said and done his jump shot will go down as the best in NBA history, but he’s so much more than a shooter. He brings a championship mentality to the court every night, but does it with a unique flair and style. Curry and the Warriors have a chance to rewrite NBA history and they’ve embraced the challenge. His daughter Riley should also get a mention as the most fascinating three-year old in sports.

Rich Eisen, NFL Network host:

The most fascinating person of 2016: Steph Curry. He’s a meteor in the sports world who is so captivating, fans can't even wait to see his pre-game warm-ups. The only other person who comes close in that regard is Odell Beckham, Jr. But he won’t be the back-to-back MVP of his league as Curry will surely be. Of course, all eyes will be peeled to see if the Warriors can win back-to-back NBA titles and, once all that is done in June, Curry will scurry down to Brazil to headline the latest United States Dream Team at the Olympics... before starting all over again in October. Get ready for more Stephen Curry, everybody. We’re all rent-payers in his world.

Paul Finebaum, ESPN and SEC Network host/analyst:

With his storied career likely to end in early 2016, the chase for Peyton Manning’s services will be unprecedented. Not only will all the television networks by waiting by his door, but so will NFL owners as well for a front-office position, to say nothing of suitors from various colleges for myriad roles. With 2016 being a political year, it’s also a bet safe bet politicians will be anxious for Manning to consider public office.

MCCANN: How NFL, Peyton Manning could respond to HGH accusations

Fred Gaudelli, Football Night in America executive producer, NBC Sports:

Tom Brady is my choice. After enduring eight months of Deflategate, Brady embarked on what was aptly dubbed by Boston.com writer Eric Wilbur as the “middle finger retribution tour.” Whatever his motivation, Brady gets my vote for NFL MVP not solely for his brilliant play, but for taking an ever changing and decidedly average offensive unit all the way to the likely No. 1 seed in the AFC. However and somewhat unbelievably, 2016 may be even more fascinating than this past one. If Brady should take the Patriots back to the Super Bowl he will be dealing with league mandated events that every player must comply with. Without question Deflategate and “the tour” will conflagrate once again, and I don’t see Brady going the Marshawn Lynch route.

NFL
Roundtable: What will media coverage of Super Bowl look like in 50 years?

If the Patriots win the game we will have the most fascinating Lombardi Trophy presentation moment since commissioner Pete Rozelle handed it to Oakland-soon-to-be-Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis in 1981. True, commissioner Goodell will not be handing it off to Brady, but they will all be together on stage and one can only imagine the social media tsunami that will ensue. Perhaps more interesting is if the Patriots don’t make it to Santa Clara. In the Golden Anniversary of our country’s biggest event the league will be celebrating its history. Among the biggest of celebrations is the introduction of all of the living Super Bowl MVP’s prior to kickoff. Will Brady even show up and if he does how will the hometown hero be feted? My guess is it will be overwhelming positive but America will be on the edge of its seat for that. Finally, on March 3 the U.S. Court of Appeals begins to hear the NFL’s appeal of Judge Richard Berman’s circuit court decision. How long that will take is anyone’s guess but it’s hard to imagine a first quarter of any year filled with more potentially fascinating moments than the one Brady is about to embark on.

Scott Hanson, NFL Network Red Zone Channel host:

The owner (or owners) of the Los Angeles NFL team (or teams). They will leave behind broken hearts which will require a therapeutic “30 for 30” documentary a decade hence—and look ahead to re-conquering pro football's last American frontier. Depending how it shakes out, the NFL may have to re-align for the first time in 14 years.

Suzy Kolber, ESPN NFL host:

Tom Brady. He took on the NFL—and won! In the face of all the accusations and distractions, Brady is having another MVP-type season, made even more impressive given his injury riddled supporting cast. His clear knowledge of a truly healthy diet and proper training has him playing at an elite level when others his age (38) are slowing down.

Andrea Kremer, NFL Network and HBO Sports reporter:

The easy response is to say Roger Goodell, since the NFL permeates the national sports consciousness and the commissioner is the lightning rod for all things football related. But with 2016 being an Olympic year I think the most fascinating person will be 18-time Olympic gold medalist, Michael Phelps. At the conclusion of the swimming events at the 2012 Games in London, even after FINA (the world swimming organization) gave Phelps a special Lifetime Achievement award, none of us around him thought his retirement would be permanent so there was little surprise when the 30 year old set his sights on Rio. But after extensive time away from competition, both voluntarily and mandated by USA Swimming following his second arrest for DUI, Phelps' greatest competition may be his own legacy of excellence. He’s been through intense inpatient rehab, got engaged, is expecting a baby boy in May with fiancée Nicole Johnson and insists he is a changed and better man on land, which could make him better than ever in the pool. It only seems like yesterday he was the gangly 15-year-old who burst onto the Olympic scene in Sydney in 2000. Next summer he’ll most certainly add to his record 22 Olympic medal collection but it’ll be fascinating to see how the new and improved Phelps, a 31-year-old father, will fare on the world stage.

Alexi Lalas, Fox Sports soccer analyst:

The new president of FIFA. FIFA is more powerful and rich than many countries. It has also been inherently corrupt for as long as anyone can remember. But 2015 saw an epic takedown of both the institution and its leadership. Now there is a feeling of hope and change in the world of soccer. But as we know, hope and change is often easier to promise than to deliver. The person who steps into Sepp Blatter’s shoes will have to navigate some of the same treacherous waters and we will find out if the new boss is simply the same as the old. Regardless, the eyes of the entire world will be upon the chosen one in 2016. 

NFL
Cam Newton's MVP campaign underscored by newfound maturity

Tara Lipinski, NBC Sports figure skating analyst:

Full disclosure, my pick is a little 2016 front-end heavy. And it’s certainly dependent on his performance in this season’s playoffs. But I think Cam Newton could prove to be the most fascinating athlete of ‘16. He’s currently leading a team that looks to be a front-runner for a Super Bowl appearance—a team that was 2–14 the year prior to drafting him. Newton is one of the most polarizing athletes in professional sports, and that's what really makes him interesting. People still haven’t quite forgotten the controversy surrounding his career at Auburn, and his confidence (I think we can all agree there's no shortage of that with Cam) and antics on the field (and in the end zone) can rub purists the wrong way. But contrast his touchdown football giveaway tradition that shows his softer side. Regardless, the guy has personality, and sports are meant to be fun, right? If Newton does manage to win a Super Bowl in 2016, I’ll be curious to see if the public perception of him changes, or if the widely contrasting opinions of his persona will persist.

Rebecca Lowe, NBC Sports soccer host:

I have to stick to what I know, so my fascinating person to look for in 2016 will be Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. He has been the boss of the great north London club for nearly 20 years but for at least the last half of his reign has seen the team only barely progress.  Because of the early trophies and style of play which revolutionized the English game, he had so much credit in the bank. But this May we will find out if his side has won the Premier League trophy for the first time since 2004 and that I think will then spark whether or not he continues in the role. Win it, and he resigns in my opinion. He goes out on top like Sir Alex Ferguson did at Manchester United. Fail to win it and his stubborn nature, which has got stronger with each passing year, will see him stay on. But it’s that decision that is the fascinating one. Many Arsenal fans have had enough of his lack of flexibility, lack of spending in the transfer market and lack of a leader on the field. They may campaign and protest to have him removed but Arsene Wenger is the Arsenal Football Club and he is almost unsackable, such is his standing with the men in the boardroom. Whatever happens in the north of London during 2016, it will be a huge moment in English football.

College Football
Heisman Watch: A way-too-early look at the 2016 Heisman race

Verne Lundquist, CBS Sports announcer:

I’m going to keep my eye on Leonard Fournette, the LSU running back. In October he was performing so well we were all comparing him to Herschel and Bo.  It all came crashing down in a 19-carry, 31-yard performance against Alabama in early November and it was as if he had disappeared from our thoughts. How will he respond in 2016? He will not enter the season as the Heisman favorite. That cape will be worn by Christian McCaffrey of Stanford. I’m very curious to see what kind of year Fournette can put together.

Curt Menefee, Fox Sports host:

I'm gonna go with Peyton Manning. I think Manning is fascinating because whatever he decided to do in 2016 will have a major impact on either of three different areas of the NFL—playing, broadcasting, or the front office.

If he comes back to play, I don't think it’s a given that he does it in Denver, nor that he physically makes through another season just to have a “farewell tour.” But his impact on the field can be huge wherever he calls home.

Should he decide to retire, I believe the television networks would fight over him unlike any player we’ve seen in recent memory. He would come into the studio, or broadcast booth with more leverage—and more expectation—than any rookie NFL announcer I can recall.

That said, many believe that he might choose instead to be a part of an NFL front office. He’s directly witnessed John Elway having success during his time in Denver. He's friendly with Browns owner Jimmy Haslem. He has obvious ties to Tennessee (where he went to college), New Orleans (where he grew up), and Indy (where he played most of his career and is still adored). He’d probably have a choice of where he wants to go, and just how involved he’d want to be on day one with any of those teams. Sung to the theme of that Nationwide commercial stuck in our heads: “Choices-makes-him-feel-so-good!”

Jim Nantz, CBS Sports announcer and host:

I was going to go with Stan Kroenke and figure he would be in the news all year long. He’s got $7.7 billion ways of getting his team moved to Los Angeles and it will be fascinating to watch the process play out in the coming weeks. But on second thought I switched off “Silent Stanley” and went with a “talkie” already entrenched in Hollywood. Someone who it seems has been around the L.A. scene since Charlie Chaplin: Vin Scully is my most interesting sports person of 2016. This will be the final year of broadcasting for the legendary voice of the Dodgers. His 67th season of being the greatest ambassador any franchise in any sport has ever been blessed to call their own. At age 88, his broadcasts remain crisp and full of energy. He still speaks poetry to his audience. As next summer turns to autumn, there will be countless stories written about his incredible career, tributes to an amazing storyteller—and gentleman—who is not only a treasure, but my most interesting sports person of the coming year. 

Kevin Negandhi, ESPN SportsCenter anchor:

A year after picking Steph Curry and looking forward to how he would respond to a different kind of fame and status, the most fascinating person in 2016 could be Steph again as he’s hit superstardom following a championship and MVP award. Or it could be his Under Armour teammate Jordan Spieth, who seems to be on the cusp of entering Tiger-type media coverage at every tournament if he’s not already there. Or Cam Newton, who could set the table for the rest of 2016 if he has a big January.

But I’m going with a guy who actually passed on Under Armour and stayed with Nike. Kevin Durant faces another big decision this upcoming summer: Does he stay in Oklahoma City? I’m a fan of Durant. He speaks his mind and doesn’t hold back, although at times, I wonder why he gets testy with the media. He has the LeBron power to shift a conference and change an entire organization. How will his decision be handled this summer? Will it feature a tour of teams making their best pitch like we have seen in the past? Or is it low-key with a decision that doesn't require a bunch of flair? Before that summer decision, how will he handle the playoffs with the Warriors and Spurs headlining the Western Conference as the teams to beat? To me, Kevin Durant is the most fascinating sports person in 2016.

DEITSCH: Roundtable: Inside the life of a sports radio producer

Rachel Nichols, ESPN host and reporter:

I'm going to be fascinated watching Michael Phelps in 2016. The most interesting stories are the complicated ones: Phelps is the most-decorated Olympian of all time, and he'll be returning to the pool at the Rio Olympics for... what, exactly? Redemption? Vindication? The joy of feeling that finally, after all the good and bad and triumphant and terrible choices he's made growing up in the public eye, he knows who he is up there on that starting block? This August we will all once again get to see Phelps measured by a stopwatch, and by so much more.

Jay Onrait, Fox Sports anchor:

Since I absolutely crushed it with my selection of Jordan Spieth for Most Fascinating Person of 2015, the pressure is certainly on to deliver in 2016. I’m going with LSU freshman hoops star Ben Simmons, who will most certainly be the first player selected in the 2016 NBA Draft. The “franchise savior” tag is not one to be thrown around often but in the case of Simmons it appears to be justified. So we ask ourselves: Will Simmons be the final piece of the puzzle to resurrect the lowly Sixers or the next Los Angeles basketball superstar who will help Lakers fans forget about this season? And let’s not forget the shoe deal! Plus, he’s Australian so if I'm Outback Steakhouse I’m preparing a lifetime contract offer right now.

Dave Pasch, ESPN college basketball and college football announcer:

Stephen Curry. He will win his second straight MVP while becoming the new face of the NBA. Not because he looks or plays like LeBron or Jordan, but because he doesn’t. He dazzles as a below the rim, Harlem Globetrotter, reality-TV type shooter. He’s starting to draw viewers away from other sports who want to watch the NBA just to see what he does next.

• Year In Splash: Stephen Curry's most memorable 2015 performances

Jeremy Schaap, ESPN reporter:

My vote goes to Chuck Blazer, the disgraced soccer poobah with a predilection for parrots, motorbikes and Trump Tower. You could argue that he has been the most fascinating figure in sports for a long time, a singular creature of Falstaffian dimensions on the mostly arid and colorless sports landscape. If we get to the point that Blazer—who is seriously ill—testifies against his old cronies, here or in Switzerland, or both, the stories will be epic, to be sure. By cooperating with the authorities, he has brought the most powerful people in sports to their knees—and we still don’t know the half of it.

Adam Schefter, ESPN NFL reporter:

Peyton Manning. For one of the rare times in his football career, he is not in control of the events surrounding him. Whether or not he knows it—and that in and of itself is fascinating—he is staring straight at his football mortality. What he does will be huge either way, coming back for another season when few think he can or should, or walking away from the game that has helped define him for virtually his entire life. And even if he opts for that path, retiring from the NFL, then what does he do next? That, too, is fascinating. Does he partner up with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and buy a small piece of an NFL franchise? Does he try to get involved with a group attempting to buy the Tennessee Titans? Does he just sit back and make more catchy commercials for State Farm and or Papa John's? Every layer of what awaits Peyton Manning is fascinating. It all makes him the most fascinating person of 2016.

Michele Tafoya, NBC Sports reporter:

2016 is an Olympic year, and there will be one name dominating her sport: Katie Ledecky. In Kazan, Russia, I had the privilege of watching Ledecky leave the world’s best swimmers in her wake in every event she swam at the 2015 FINA Swimming World Championships. And she did it in distances ranging from 200M— a sprint—to 1500M—a marathon. In Rio, the 18-year-old Ledecky will have a massive audience watching her feats, and they will be fascinated.

Dara Torres, CBS Sports Network analyst:

O.K., so I’m a little biased on this one but I say Katie Ledecky. She has the chance to re-write the record books and be the link from the Michael Phelps era to the future!

Harry How/Getty Images

Amy Trask, CBS Sports NFL analyst: 

The National Football League Digital Media Committee. The committee guides league digital media strategy and business and as technology continues to evolve (e.g., over the top delivery) and as consumers increasingly gravitate towards such technology (e.g., cord cutting), this committee will work with league staff and the broadcast committee to determine to what extent the league will adopt new technologies and adapt to societal metamorphoses.

Factors which will be considered as part of this analysis include the league’s strong, vital relationships with its traditional broadcast partners and the league’s antitrust exemption (which allows it to bundle for sale all games). The balancing of these business and legal issues will be as fascinating and as important as the evolving digital technology itself, and the societal use thereof. While sweeping changes in the league’s digital media strategy and policy may not be fully implemented for years, we will see a continued effort by the league to explore and expand its digital presence. In years to come, football “viewership” will be quite different than what it has been for many years and this committee will play a pivotal role in that evolution.

(Disclosure: In the spirit of full disclosure I note that I served on the Digital Media Committee for several years while part of the National Football League.)

Taylor Twellman, ESPN soccer analyst:

FIFA and its long history of corruption. It was always the case of “suspected foul play” but nobody, and I mean nobody, had any definite proof. So many had thought Michael Garcia’s report in 2014 had opened the pandora’s box of FIFA but not until 2015 did it ever really come out. I wonder if 2015 will be remembered for the year FIFA had to change or will it just be that time when some individuals were punished but the system didn’t change. Ultimately time will tell.

Scott Van Pelt, ESPN SportsCenter host:

Usain Bolt. It’s the most basic fundamental question in sport. How fast are you? What must it be like to know you are the fastest man on the planet? What must it be like to settle into the blocks with the entire world wondering if you still are? Maybe just shy of 30, he’ll be wondering too. This will be his last Olympiad before time does the one thing nobody else can—catches him. There is nothing else like the anticipation and buzz in waiting to find out the answer and it’s delivered in a blur. More than anything, I just love watching that big man run and I plan on enjoying the very brief moment that he does.

Arlo White, NBC Sports soccer announcer:

Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool FC. It’s April 27 2014, and I’m driving slowly down Anfield Road toward the media parking lot, just across the road from the famous Shankly Gates at the home of Liverpool FC.  I can’t go any faster than 5 mph because I’m following a police horse. I’m following a police horse because this narrow English-style terrace-lined street is heaving with fans clad in Red waiting to greet the team bus.  They’re balancing on walls, clinging to lamp posts, waving flags, letting off flares and screaming at the top of their voices, that Liverpool are about to end their long wait to win the Premier League title.

We know what happened next. Jose Mourinho spoiled the party. Club legend Steven Gerrard cruelly slipped over to gift Demba Ba a vital goal. Chelsea won the game and Manchester City won the championship. Anfield’s deflation was tangible. The wait for a first title since 1990, and to reclaim those glorious trophy-laden years in the 70s and 80s, would limp on. It was a timely reminder however, of Liverpool’s significance and the passion of their fan base. 

Planet Futbol
Tactical breakdown: How Jurgen Klopp is transforming Liverpool

The main players in that exhilarating team were subsequently scattered to the football winds. Luis Suarez is now in Barcelona, Gerrard is in Los Angeles, Raheem Sterling is in Manchester and Daniel Sturridge is on the treatment table. A lot. The manager, Brendan Rodgers, reached the end of the line in October, and was fired. It was that exact moment, with their future relevance in doubt, that Liverpool’s American hierarchy pulled a master stroke. They appointed Jurgen Klopp, one of the most coveted (and available) managers in world football. He enjoyed extraordinary success at Borussia Dortmund, where he managed to (temporarily) unseat Bayern Munich as the best side in Germany. He was on a sabbatical after leaving the club, but he wanted to get back into the game. This could be the perfect football marriage.

Like Dortmund, Liverpool have a mystique.  Both have working class traditions, with iconic terraces in their home stadiums where thousands gather on match days. Liverpudlians (aka Scousers) appreciate humor and they love a character. Klopp favors high intensity attacking football, which Reds fans enjoy. His famed gegenpressing style of frenzied ball winning and counter attacking almost worked for Rodgers in 2013–14, and the Kop loved it. In 2016, Klopp will have two transfer windows to attract his own players. His intelligence, press conference laughs, eccentricity and charisma will keep him on the right side of the tough English media long enough to buy him some time, if the results aren’t immediate. Sir Alex Ferguson has already voiced his concern that Liverpool may be about to re-enter the business of winning championships.

The Premier League is a stronger, more interesting place when Liverpool are challenging. A global fan base of millions are energized and engaged. Liverpool fans are still too enamored with their exotic new leader to consider ‘if this doesn’t work, what on earth will?’ Klopp and Liverpool will a compelling story in 2016, and if it all goes wrong, heck, his name rhymes with ‘flop,’ so that’ll keep the tabloid headline writers happy. 

THE NOISE REPORT

(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)

1. The Warriors-Cavaliers Christmas Day game on ABC drew 10,923,000 viewers, the most-watched NBA Christmas Day telecast since 2011 and the most-watched NBA game for the 2015–16 regular season. ESPN said the five-game schedule on Christmas Day between ABC and ESPN averaged 5,546,000 viewers, up 6% compared to last year’s five-game slate (5,217,000 viewers p2+).

2. Last week I published the 2015 Sports Illustrated Media Awards.

3. Choosing the best writing and reporting in a given year is an impossible task, as well as an entirely subjective enterprise. Here are 150 or so pieces that impacted me as a reader, but I honestly could have chosen hundreds more. The stories are not ranked, nor categorized. Sports and non-sports stories are listed below. I hope you find something that impacts you too.

3a. SB Nation’s Luke Thomas on why MMA journalism should have made the list above.

4. Episode No. 35 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Fox Sports college football and college basketball play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson, one of the most popular broadcasters among fans for his word play and enthusiasm. Johnson is calling a part-time schedule this season for the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s also previously worked for CBS and famously called many great moments at the NCAA tournament.

In this episode, Johnson discusses his preparation for calling different sports, how much he misses calling the NCAA tournament, his year-long journey calling international soccer and ultimately walking away from it, working with a variety of analysts over the years, from Bill Raftery to Joel Klatt, why he'd love to call a game with Al Michaels and Marv Albert—and no analysts; how he came up with some of his well known expressions including "I'm Al Harrington—and I get buckets!"; his broadcasting start at Howard University; his admiration for longtime Pistons broadcaster George Blaha, how fans interact with him, the advice he'd give to young broadcasters and much more.

At the 39-minute mark, Johnson explains how he brokered peace between a feuding Bill Simmons and Isiah Thomas a couple of years ago. Johnson had long been close with Thomas and respected Simmons’ work. While all were in Las Vegas for summer league play, Johnson was lounging at a hotel pool in Las Vegas, where most people were topless and most of the NBA officials and media were hanging out. When Thomas told Johnson that he and Simmons had “beef,” Johnson said he walked Thomas over to Simmons. Said Johnson: “I said, ‘Bill, this is Isiah. Isiah, this is Bill.’ You guys work it out. And I left and went back my margarita and making sure everything at the pool was cool.”

A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI's podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here.

5. Writer Steven LeBron compiled his 75 favorite under the radar stories of 2015.

5a. The new World Series booth is Joe Buck and John Smoltz.

5b. From Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier-Journal: A former college basketball assistant confesses his sins.

5c. From Jane Gross: A fall, a concussion, and weeks of confusion.

5d. From Howard Beck of Bleacher Report: Why everyone in the NBA hates the Clippers.

5e. From Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times: Flawed justice after a mob killed an Afghan woman.

5f. SI's Michael McCann examined the options for Peyton Manning regarding the Al Jazeera investigation that claimed the Indianapolis anti-aging clinic Guyer Institute supplied Manning with human growth hormone (HGH) in 2011 to help him recover from neck surgery. Manning has vehemently denied Al Jazeera's accusation.

5g. If you care about a free press and journalism, you'll be interested in this from Steve Majerus-Collins, who resigned last week from The Bristol (Ct.) Press. Here’s a Go Fund Me site for Collins’ family.

5h. Condolences to the family and friends of St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball writer Joe Strauss, who died over the weekend at 54.​ ​Here's Fox Sports MLB reporter Ken Rosenthal with a tribute to Strauss.​

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