Commentary

Sore winners

These folks have won a lot. You'd think they'd be better at it.

Updated: August 3, 2009, 3:53 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

This column appears in the August 10 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

There is a hideous new trend in sports that we need to stomp out like milkweed before it spreads. Scientists are calling it the Hey, look what I did, everybody! syndrome. There have been three dreadful examples of it lately, all from people who should know better.

Start with Phil Jackson. When he and his Lakers fricasseed the Magic to win another title, it was Jackson's 10th NBA coaching championship, a new record. Jackson had become the king of coaches. Everyone knew he was going for 10 -- it's not like it was a secret -- and there was the appropriate applause, huzzahs and standing on chairs.

But that wasn't good enough for him. He decided to paint a mustache on his Mona Lisa by quickly grabbing a hat with a big X on it -- for 10 -- and plunking it on his head.

Hey, look what I did, everybody!

How were the Magic supposed to react to his new look? It was as if Jackson were saying, "Sorry to wear this in front of you so soon, but, c'mon, we knew where this was going, right?"

Tacky. Shrill. Brash. For a Zenmaster, it was very un-Zen. Here was the all-time preacher of team hoops, with his team all around him -- still sweaty from all that teamwork -- and Jackson suddenly went 100 percent "me." That hat said, Aren't I amazing! Doesn't this hat prove it? Don't you wish you had one?

I hated that hat for the same reason I hate those hideous championship T-shirts and caps that teams don the instant the final buzzer sounds. Why cover up the glory of the jerseys you bled in together all season -- the ones that have your city or team name emblazoned on the front -- with some ugly shirts nobody can read? And why top it off with an ugly hat that just dangles a tag in your face?

Anyway, at least Jackson and his agents decided to donate the proceeds from X hat sales to charity. Of course, that just makes what Roger Federer did look so much worse.

Not two minutes after he had defeated Andy Roddick in a 77-game Wimble-never-done final, he went back to his bench, pulled out a tracksuit top with a 15 plastered on the side, put it on and spun around for the TV cameras. It was his way of congratulating himself on his 15th major, the one that bested Pete Sampras' old mark.

Hey, look what I did, everybody!

Now you tell me: How was poor Roddick supposed to have taken that? It's like Rog was bragging: I knew I was going to roast you, A-Rod. That's why my people have been working on this all week!

Talk about cheeky. I mean, it's not as if some little seamstress ran out to iron the patch onto his jacket after the fact. The thing was in his bag the whole time! It's not just the sweater that was manufactured. The gesture was too.

I hated that sweater for the same reason I hate when a player preens for the camera in the "I'm going to Disney World" commercials. Here's his pinnacle moment, the one he's worked toward his whole life. He should be going absolutely Lindsay Lohan nuts, but instead he's looking into the sea of people for a director, a cameraman and a boom mike.

Once more, Mr. Montana -- only this time, can you cry?

Federer's sweater was a rare show of classlessness from a normally classy guy. One dipped in gold, no less. A gold sweater with a gold 15 pulled out of a gold man-bag. What, they couldn't gold-plate the man himself?

The day before Federer's flub, Serena Williams drubbed sis Venus in a straight-set finale. Then, not 30 minutes later, she showed up at the press conference in a T-shirt that read, "Are you looking at my titles?" Okay, it's funny. And a little dirty. But it's immodest.

And all three -- Jackson, Federer, Williams -- are better than that. They almost always rise above the schlock. When they don't, it's unbecoming.

I don't remember seeing pictures of FDR rolling up to his fourth election-night victory speech wearing a "Four-ever!" tuxedo jacket. Neil Armstrong didn't splash down with a "MoonMan" tat on his biceps. And I sure as hell don't remember John Wooden slapping on an X hat after his 10th NCAA title.

Athletes, coaches ... these are your moments; don't sell their purity. You will get your due, in due time.

Just let it come from us.


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