By: Joel Robinson
The word icon is defined as a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something.
In the world of sports, every era has a set of icons. These men and women stand the test of time. They are unforgettable figures, worthy of respect from all of their peers and praise from all of their fans.
There is a change of the guard happening across the sports world. Names and faces that have been mainstream for decades are beginning to disappear.
Peyton Manning has hung up the cleats, his helmet, and the pads for good.
Kobe Bryant laced up the shoes, had one last moment in the sun and then rode off into the sunset.
“The Captain” Derek Jeter has had his last at-bat in the Yankee pinstripes.
All of these men were the faces of the sports world for nearly two decades, and now they are all retired.
This loss of the icons of the late 1990s and early 2000s begins to beg the age-old question: Who’s next?
A momentous change is coming, and this group of young men are surging to the top faster than you think.
Manning has been the icon of the NFL for nearly two decades. His greatest rival, Tom Brady, is still around, but he only has a couple of good years left in him before father time finally catches up. Therefore, the question remains. Who is the next big thing in football?
Many say that it is Manning’s fellow New Orleans native, Leonard Fournette. The big bruising back out of Louisiana State University is only a year away from being a nearly certain first round pick in the NFL Draft, and he’s ready to rumble.
Many have compared him to Herschel Walker. Others compare him to Bo Jackson. The truth is that Fournette is a scary combination of both.
Walker was extremely fast, but he never had to dodge anyone. He just ran straight through them. Meanwhile, Jackson was as shifty as a 230 pound back could get. Fournette is just as shifty as Jackson with the same amount of power as Walker. That’s like a bullet train on a football field.
Running for nearly 3,000 yards and almost 30 touchdowns in only two years whilst playing the best defenses that college football has to offer is a feat on its own. To have so many highlight reel plays and already iconic moments is a whole other mountain that many players never climb.
But it is not only talent that makes an icon. Being iconic in football is a combination of ridiculous talent and personality. Fournette is as humble as a college kid who runs through other college kids like a truck can be.
Never has there been an instance where he talks smack or retaliates on a dirty hit. He simply lets his play do the speaking, much like the older icons of the sport, like Manning, Joe Montana, and, yes, Jackson. Fournette is the next icon of the sport, and if you try to stop him you’ll end up like a bug on a windshield, obliterated.
Bryant has been basketball’s most recognizable face for as long as many can remember. “The Black Mamba” is not only one of the most famous basketball players of all time, he is one of the most famous people of all time. Most of the world has at least heard his name.
Unfortunately, “Mamba” played his final game.
The sport still has an icon in LeBron James, who still has at least five more seasons left in him. However, it is time to look deeper into the future and see who’s up next.
The next icon of professional basketball is, undoubtedly, Stephen Curry.
He is already a quite unforgettable player. It seems like he never misses a shot, and he rarely does. Curry is, by far, the greatest shooter that most people have ever witnessed.
Not only does he have insane skill, Curry has all the accolades to back it all up. He has won the NBA Most Valuable Player award two years in a row. This past year in which he won the award is the only time in league history where there has been a unanimously chosen MVP. That accomplishment alone is enough to cement him in the NBA Mt. Rushmore, but he has so much more to give.
Curry is only 28 years old and has only been in the league for seven years (a couple of those years were hindered greatly by injury). To have done so much in such short time is phenomenal.
One can only imagine what the future holds for the second generation NBA guard. Fifty years from now, people will still be talking about the man who changed the game of basketball for good.
In baseball, the No. 2 will forever be associated with Jeter. He had so many incredibly iconic moments while wearing the Yankee pinstripes and it is not likely that anyone will ever eclipse him in terms of being an icon.
The two young players who are primed to reach for that brass ring are Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
A true “five-tool player,” Harper has been an icon since he was in high school. There were legends thrown around about this teenage kid who could hit a ball 400 feet just about every time he made contact with it. These legends came true as he entered the majors.
Just last season, at the age of 22, Harper hit 42 home runs, while leading the National League in various other categories as well, and was named the NL MVP.
Meanwhile, Trout was on the opposite side of the United States, hitting just one less homer than Harper and finishing just a few votes shy of a second straight American League MVP award. He has four Silver Slugger awards in just as many seasons as he’s been in the majors and has one of the more iconic home run robberies in which he nearly hops over an eight-foot fence and comes down with the ball for the out.
It is only a matter of time before these two young superstars become icons of the sport. One can only imagine how memorable a World Series between the two would be and it probably will not be long until we get it.
All in all, the landscape of the sports world will be changed in an extreme way in the blink of an eye. Now that Jeter, Bryant and Manning have all left the building, some new guys have to step up and fill the shoes.
Harper, Fournette, Trout and Curry are already unforgettable athletes. It is only a matter of time before they are the true icons of their sports.