Within Reach: Athletes Mentoring Athletes
Cam Newton / Warren Moon
On his new Nickelodeon show "All In with Cam Newton," the superstar Carolina Panthers quarterback is helping some lucky kids reach their athletic dreams. But before Cam had the TV show, played in the Super Bowl, or generally dominated opposing defenses, he was an up-and-coming prospect, and he also needed some guidance. He got it from former QB Warren Moon. When he played, Moon was one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in football. So he was the right guy to mentor Cam during the pre-draft provess and help me transition to the NFL.
Serena Williams / Zina Garrison
Serena Williams is one of the best athletes in the world, period. And while she's a natural on the court, she had some guidance in her early days in the form of pro Zina Garrison. "The WTA has a mentor program and I was Serena's when she first came on to the tour," Garrison told the Houston Chronicle in 2015. "Before that, though, I remember going with Rosie Casals to watch two young black girls hit. Everybody was talking about Venus, but, for me, it was the little one that struck me. She was poaching at the net, fist-bumping and just having a ball. You could see they were both very talented, but in my mind I kind of always believed Serena was going to be the best."
Stephen Curry / Dell Curry
Stephen Curry is one of the most dominant players in the NBA. Which isn't too surprising considering he had an excellent role model as kid: his dad, Dell Curry spent 16 seasons in the NBA, playing for five different teams. And as Steph developed into a pro — then started shattering records — his dad was there to mentor him through the experience. "Pops, you're the example of what a true professional is on and off the court," Steph said when accepting the MVP award in 2015. I remember a lot of your career, and to be able to follow in your footsteps, it means a lot to me."
Alex Morgan / Abby Wambach
Alex Morgan is one of the most dynamic soccer players — male or female — in the world. And while she's naturally talented, she had help honing her skills (and preparing to become the face of the sport in the US) by the legendary Abby Wambach. "Abby was someone who I could trust completely and who I could be honest with and vice versa, her with me," Morgan told elle.com. "So it was great to kind of have that really honest relationship, to be able to move forward and make strides forward together and not only become friends off the field, but help with our chemistry on the field as well. That's huge."
Russell Wilson / Peyton Manning
When Russell Wilson squared off against Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLVIII (48), it was the first time the two competed against each other. But it wasn't the first time they shared the same field. When Wilson was in 10th grade, he participated in a Manning family quarterback camp. That experience of seeing Manning's work ethic, dedication, and interaction with young players left an lasting mark on the future Super Bowl champion. "You inspired me to work hard. To be disciplined. To be respectful. To take notes," Wilson wrote in a letter published by The Players' Tribune before Manning announced his retirement. "You inspired me to love the process. To love the sweat. To love the tears. But most of all… You inspired me to love the game."
Breanna Stewart / Maya Moore
Breanna Stewart led the UConn Huskies to four straight national titles, then was selected first overall in the 2016 WNBA draft by the Seattle Storm. She's faced mile-high expectations for years, but she's had help navigating the life of a superstar: former Huskie and first overall pick Maya Moore and three-time WNBA champ Maya Moore. “I see myself in Stewie so much," Moore said in 2014. “The things Coach (Geno Auriemma) yells at her for are the same things he yelled at me for. The position she’s in at a young age leading the team and playing so well and being so talented in different areas of the floor, I think we’re very similar in those ways.”
Sidney Crosby / Mario Lemieux
When Sidney Crosby was drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005, he not only had to make the adjustment to playing in the NHL — he also was tasked with turning around the franchise, which had finished in last place in the Atlantic Division three straight years. Oh, and it was also threatening to move out of Pittsburgh if it didn't get a new arena. Naturally, the one person who could relate to that kind of pressure became Crosby's mentor: Mario Lemieux, the legendary Penguins star who played his entire career in Pittsburgh, bought the team out of bankruptcy, and ensured it remained in the city. Crosby and Lemieux were so close, in fact, that Crosby lived at Lemieux's house for years after being drafted.
Michelle Wie / Meg Mallon
There's no bigger star in women's golf than Michelle Wie — and it almost didn't happen without LPGA pro and two-time US Open champion Meg Mallon. In 2013, Wie was hit a rough patch. She missed seven cuts in 19 starts, but Mallon saw something in the young golfer. So she chose Wie to be on the US team for the Solheim Cup, and that turned things around. A year later, Wie had captured her own US Open title. "Whatever it is, Michelle has it," Mallon told golf.com. "People are drawn in by her, they can't take their eyes off her. Every sport needs a person like that, and Michelle is it for women's golf."
LeBron James / Mike Krzyzewski
LeBron James went to the NBA straight out of high school, so he never had the experience of forging a relationship with a college coach. But that changed when he began playing for Team USA, a squad overseen by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, in 2005. "I’ve grown from a young man into a man into a leader of that team. He’s helped me develop that. I give a lot of credit to him," James told the Miami Herald in 2012. When he won Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award later that year, he added, “I’m a kid from Akron, Ohio and to have one of the greatest coaches of all time be a mentor and be someone who I can call every day no matter what the time of day is crazy."
Hilary Knight / Angel Ruggiero
Hilary Knight is one of the top women hockey players in the United States, if not the world. And as she was developing her on-ice abilities and earning her way on the US national team, she had help from a legend of American women’s hockey. “On the hockey side, my mentor was Angela Ruggiero,” Knight told USA Today. “I learned a tremendous amount underneath her and saw how she changed the game of hockey.”
Mike Trout / Torii Hunter
Mike Trout is going to be a baseball superstar for a long time. But when he was working his way through his first two seasons, he was helped along by a star winding down his career: Torii Hunter. “He knows everything out there – I learned so much from Torii. I still think about things he taught me,” Trout told MLB.com in 2015. “Before at-bats, we're talking in the outfield about things to look for, what a hitter might do with a certain pitch. That's one of the things I learned from Torii, who was always talking out there. He taught me to know which base I was going to throw to before the pitch."
Connor McDavid / Curtis Joseph
For years, the insanely talented Connor McDavid has been pegged the next Wayne Gretzky or the next Sidney Crosby. But he still needed to work on his skills to make it to the NHL. And for that, he had pro goalie Curtis Joseph. As a 7 year old, McDavid became friends with Joseph's son, and that led to McDavid training at The Barn, a custom rink Joseph built on his property. McDavid learned about more than just hockey, though. Joseph showed him how embrace his gifts while remaining humble. “He’s the type of person you’d like to want to be,” McDavid told the Toronto Sun in 2015. “If you can just tell yourself if you can take an example of being the hockey player that he is and still be the person that he is, you’re doing something right.”
Brittney Griner / Diana Turasi
When Brittney Griner joined the Phoenix Mercury in 2013, she was one of the most touted rookies the WNBA had seen. To help her navigate the sky-high expectations was 2004 Rookie of the Year Diana Taurasi. But while she hopes she's led by example when it comes to Griner, she definitely doesn't want to use the term "mentor." "BG is my good friend and I have casual conversations of things I've been through, or someone else has, and you take what you take from it," Taurasi told ESPN the Magazine in 2016. "Everyone is like, 'What have you taught her?' Nothing. She's learned everything herself. The only way you learn things is by going through things yourself."
Bryce Harper / Jayson Werth
The Nationals' Bryce Harper is one of baseball's brightest young stars. But even naturals need some help transitioning to the pros, and Harper found that in Jayson Werth. “I owe him a lot," Harper told MASN Sports in 2015. "Everything he has done for me from outfield, base running, hitting, just having that veteran experience from him dealing with pitchers and dealing with outfield situations, things like that. He is like an older brother to me. I think having him here and having him teaching me things every day, it has been pretty incredible.”
Danica Patrick / Bobby Rahal
NASCAR driver Danica Patrick might not race for Bobby Rahal anymore, but the legendary racing champion had a huge impact on her career. After first meeting Rahal in 2001, they stayed in touch while both were part of the racing scene in Europe. Rahal signed her in 2002, giving Patrick her first chance to compete in the US. Three years later, she drove in her first Indianapolis 500 and her career was off to the races.