Millenial Athletes: The Future of Breaking Records
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Illustration by: Rebecca Singleton
On April 13th, 2016, on the final day of the NBA season, Kobe Bryant ended an entire generation of sports. While many other athletes of his generation had an opportunity to write the ending, he seized the opportunity while he addressed the fans after scoring 60 points in the final game of his 20 year career, closing the epic novel that the 90s and 2000s generation of athletes were with two words,
This year, we’ve seen the retirements of athletes all across leagues of sports. Basketball gods Kobe Bryant,Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett all wait to get their jerseys in the rafters. Peyton Manning and Marshawn Lynch now star in commercials to fill in the void after leaving the NFL. MLB slugger David Ortiz can sit back and remember his 497 career home runs while Michael Phelps counts his gold medals, and soccer legend Ronaldo “Ronaldinho” Moreira will always be remembered as one of the Beautiful Game’s best entertainer in his retirement.
All of these names carry the weight of some of the greatest sports heroes to ever exist and they have all set the standard for what the next great sports generation, the Millennials, will strive to attain. The height of that particular standard should make sports fans of all ages excited.
“Now that our world has
become more interconnected t
han ever, the sports world is
seeing a huge influx
of international talent
in every sport.”
Sports thrive off of youth, and in the last 15 years we’ve seen some of the greatest moments in sports history. Whether it be the Lakers 3-peat from 2000-2003, the domination of the Patriots from 2002-2005, the Red Sox, Yankees, and Giants winning World Series titles, and the indomitable force that Manchester United was in the Premier league winning 7 championships from 2003-2013.
But many of the engines of these legendary teams have hung up their jerseys (and kits) in the last few years and many more will follow suit soon. This ending of an era, as heartbreaking to some as it may be, is a very special moment as we now have a new swath of faces to grow with as sports fans as our parents did with the last generation.
The framework for the millennials success was laid by the unbelievable talent we saw in the 90s and early 2000s. Many millennials grew up idolizing players like Kobe, Ronaldinho, and Peyton Manning, and with those childhood dreams that come with wanting to be like a legend, many do end up achieving them.
With advancements in sports medicine, young athletes are able to stay healthier than ever. Cryotherapy has become a favorite amongst athletes to speed the recovery process and lessen the swelling after games. Many professional sports teams have taken the liberty to provide these cryotherapy tubes within their training facilities. Injuries to ligaments and bones are able to be mended to put players back in perfect shape with the advancements in robotic surgery. Now that athletes have technology on their side to keep them as healthy as possible, the sky is the limit for their success.
Now that our world has become more interconnected than ever, the sports world is seeing a huge influx of international talent in every sport. The greatest example of this are soccer and basketball, both of which heavily rely on talent from countries other than where the league is hosted. The NBA has been very interested in spreading the popularity of basketball throughout the world and now the association has brought in talents from countries from every continent.
The foundation of the sports legacies of the 20th century and the technology and globalism of the 21st century have laid the perfect framework for millennials to become the greatest generation of athletes. The first wave of millennial athletes have already made huge waves in the sports world. In the last five years, millennials have been the top ranked players across all sports.
29-year-old Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona and 31-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid have become the iconic faces of La Liga and both are in serious conversation for being named best soccer players of all time with Messi’s 525 career goals and Ronaldo’s 563. Messi recently made history scoring his 500th club goal with Barca and cemented his place as the club’s all time leading scorer. With both being in the prime of their careers, they have already carved their place in the history books.
“A characteristic that
distinguishes this sports generation
from the last is the degree of
social activism millennial athletes
are engaged in.”
In football, we’ve seen Cam Newton thrill fans with his MVP season and amazing quarterback play mirroring the running ability of players like Michael Vick and Brett Favre which lead the Carolina Panthers to the 2016 Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos. However they subsequently lost due to the strong play of another millennial great, Von Miller, who won Super Bowl MVP. In his third season this year, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has solidified his position as one of the top receivers in the league for years to come at only 24.
Baseball has likely had the best sports fairy tale in the last few years with 24-year-old Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs. After being drafted, selected to the National League All-Star team, and being the top pick for National League MVP. Bryant helped lead the Cubs to the once thought impossible goal of winning the World Series for the first time since 1945. Opposing the Cubs in the championship on the Cleveland Indians was 22 year old Francisco Lindor is a rising star in the MLB and could be pivotal in securing Cleveland’s first World Series since 1948 in the coming years.
In the Rio Olympics this summer, Katie Ledecky electrified America with her performance that netted her four gold and one silver medal in swimming. Ledecky also set two new world records in the 400m and 800m freestyle. At only 19-years-old, Ledecky is slated to be one of the most dominant swimmers in international competition for the next decade and is likely to become America’s next gold medal darling in the next summer games.
Two elephants in the room that are impossible to ignore in the realm of basketball are Lebron James and Stephen Curry. For millennials making sports history in 2016, these two will forever be remembered. Curry led the Golden State Warriors to the winningest season in NBA history, becoming the first unanimous league MVP and to a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals just a game away from solidifying his team as the greatest of all time.
As if he decided to break another record on whim, Curry hit 13 three point shots in one game against the New Orleans Pelicans on November 7th 2016, breaking Kobe Bryant’s (and Donyell Marshall’s respectively) record that was set at 12 and stood for 13 years.
The other elephant, Lebron James, lead his team on a historic three game tear that, for many millennials, will be the defining sports moment of their lives. On November 6th 2016, the day before Curry made history, Lebron passed Hakeem Olajuwon in all time points scored with 26,970 and moved into the number 10 position in the list of all time scorers. At only 31 and still one of the top three players in the NBA, James is slated to be one of the greatest basketball players in history and in his own words, is “chasing Jordan’s ghost.”
“We are all witnesses to
the next legend to score
6 goals in a game,
to drop 82 points,
to throw for 560 yards,
to hit 780 home runs
over their career,
or for an Olympian to
drape 24 gold medals
across their chest.
All you have to do is watch.”
If millennials have already left an impact on sports that reflects the generation’s personality it’s a penchant for drama. 2016 has seen such dramatic moments across all of the sports universe from Leicester City’s underdog Premier League championship, to the Cavs’ 3-1 upset, and the Cubs actually being in the World Series but none made such waves as the formation of the so-called super when former MVP Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors.
Two NBA MVPs on one team hadn’t been seen since Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley played on the Houston Rockets in 1996. This concentration of talent is unparalleled in NBA history and has every fan outside of the Bay Area lurching at the potential of this team. While many balk at this super team Durant’s decision, whether made out of a certain degree of millennial laziness, created an absolute spectacle of a team to watch.
With all the social media available for fans to watch these spectacles it had also connected fans with more than just a love of the game. A characteristic that distinguishes this sports generation from the last is the degree of social activism millennial athletes are engaged in.
After the tumultuous last few years of police shootings of unarmed civilians, athletes have begun to use their platform and influence to voice their concern and disgust about social issues. Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest by refusing the stand during the national anthem in favor of representing minorities sparked some outrage among football fans but Kaepernick’s protest inspired many more to mirror his example and kneel during the national anthem.
NBA star Carmelo Anthony has also voiced his concerns about police brutality in America by proactively starting and funding organizations to enrich at risk youth. With the average athlete making nearly double of what athletes made in 1995, according to Forbes, such vast amounts of money could influence society in very positive ways if this streak of sports attentiveness and activism can flourish.
The great Boston Celtics coach and GM Red Auerbach once said, “All records are meant to be broken.” And after his era, many were. We are all witnesses to the next legend to score 6 goals in a game, to drop 82 points, to throw for 560 yards, to hit 780 home runs over their career, or for an Olympian to drape 24 gold medals across their chest. All you have to do is watch.