The world’s biggest name in soccer, David Beckham, played an exhibition game February 20th. He joined his L.A. Galaxy teammates in Hawaii for a match against the Japanese team Gamba Osaka. At the final whistle, the Galaxy had been defeated, and according to soccer tradition, Beckham removed his jersey, walked over to the crowd, and handed it to two boys. What should have been a thrill for the youngsters and their families, has now devolved into bedlam. The two families are feuding over the rightful owner of the jersey, and both sides have threatened legal action against one another. While this story is both tragic and extreme, it does represent the incredibly high demand for game-worn and autographed sports jerseys. People far and wide crave jerseys of such superstars as Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, and Derek Jeter, not to mention legends of the game like Willie Mays, Barry Sanders, and Michael Jordan. The desire to commemorate one’s heroes is to be expected, hence the high demand. However, any average Jane or Joe knows who is top of the heap; it takes the savvy collector to successfully predict who will achieve future greatness. For every Carson Palmer, there is a Tim Couch, for Lebron James, Kwame Brown, “can’t miss” prospects are often not the sure thing teams and fans believe. I myself know this painfully well, as a Detroit sports fan I purchased both a Joey Harrington and Darko Milicic jersey after watching them drafted in the top 5 for their sports. In honor of the plethora of new blood joining NFL teams after the recent draft, I’ve decided to post a list of some of the major sports’ best stars 26 and under, that I project to reach the ultimate heights of their game. It is clearly an inexact science, but acquiring autographed memorabilia of a young up and comer now, will pay huge dividends down the road.
• Chris Paul PG – New Orleans Hornets – Age: 22
CP3 as he’s known in the Big Easy, is already one of the NBA’s best young players. He averaged over 20 points, 11 assists, and nearly 3 steals in the 2007-2008 season, only his third in the league. His stock is clearly on the rise, as he finished 2nd in MVP voting and his team one game from the Western Conference Finals. The time to strike on Paul is now, as his low profile in New Orleans is quickly evaporating. This young point guard has all the tools you look for in great players, talent, work ethic, and the desire to win. I would hardly be surprised if by the end of his career his name is mentioned alongside Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas as one of the greatest point guards to ever play.
Other Basketball Players to Watch: Deron Williams age 23 Utah Jazz, Dwight Howard age 22 Orlando Magic, Kevin Durant age 19 Seattle Supersonics.
• Adrian Peterson HB – Minnesota Vikings – Age 23
This former Oklahoma Sooner burst onto the scene in 2007 after being selected 7th overall in the 2007 NFL draft. Peterson tore up the Big 12 competition as an amateur, recording over 1,900 yards on the ground as a true freshman for an NCAA record. His next two years at Oklahoma showed the same flashes of brilliance, only injuries prevented him from making the same impact he had as a freshman. His rookie year with the Vikings was exceptional, he ran for over 1,300 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He was the unanimous choice for offensive rookie of the year, and became the first rookie running back to be selected for the Pro Bowl since 1999, where he was the game’s MVP. All signs point toward continued success, Peterson not only has the combination of breakaway speed, agile moves, and power reminiscent of O.J. Simpson; he also runs behind arguably the league’s best offensive line. I see no signs of Peterson letting up in 2008 and beyond, and he seems to be the next great halfback.
Other Football Players to Watch: Matt Ryan age 22 Atlanta Falcons, Braylon Edwards age 25 Cleveland Browns, A.J. Hawk age 24 Green Bay Packers.
• Jake Peavy P – San Diego Padres – Age: 26
Jake Peavy has been dominating the NL West since permanently joining the big league club in 2004. He averaged over a strikeout an inning as a rookie that year, and has been improving ever since. He has twice been selected an all-star in 2005 and 2007, earning the coveted starting position in 2007. 2007 saw one of the best performances ever by a pitcher, Peavy won both the Cy Young award and the pitcher’s Triple Crown, leading the league in ERA, Wins, and Strikeouts. His 240 strikeouts in 2007 led to only the 10th unanimous Cy Young selection in the National League; the first since Sandy Koufax. At only 26, Peavy still has many years left to continue to dominate the game. With the Padres playing most games at 10pm eastern, and having yet made the World Series, Peavy remains largely out of the public light. Yet make no mistake about it, Peavy may already be the best pitcher in the game.
Other Baseball Players to Watch: Justin Verlander age 25 Detroit Tigers, Prince Fielder age 23 Milwaukee Brewers, Justin Upton age 20 Arizona Diamondbacks.