By Jemele Hill
Page 2

Imagine if your boss walked in tomorrow, changed all of your equipment without consulting you and when you complained, he just told you to suck it up. And then, just when you got used to the new equipment, the boss returns and says, "Sorry, I was wrong. Let's go back to using that 1995 Widget Maker."

You would hate your boss forever and wish for him to be struck by 20 flesh-eating plagues. But NBA commissioner David Stern never makes a bad decision – at least not according to mainstream America.

David Stern
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
We wonder whether The Hook Up applied to David Stern's trip to Russia.

Stern, who basically forced professionals to use a Nerf ball, probably received even more praise for his reversal on the roundball than he did from PETA for switching the ball from traditional leather. The players hated it and had every right to, but we all know that when millionaire athletes complain about anything – whether legitimate or not – nobody wants to listen.

People such as Stern possess what I have affectionately dubbed The Hook Up. It's an art form, really. The Hook Up is as valuable as the stone Indiana Jones sought in the Temple of Doom. But once you have it, you can dominate the world.

Not everyone can get The Hook Up. Some people, like Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens, couldn't get The Hook Up if they split their kidneys among underprivileged children.

The Hook Up was once known as the free pass. It's when you can do no wrong in the eyes of your employers or, in extreme cases, most of mainstream America. You could be caught on video committing a tristate killing spree, and the public not only would never lose faith in you but also would question the authenticity of the tape.

You are just loved beyond all rational thought and common sense. When you have The Hook Up, people are more than willing to make themselves look stupid before making you look stupid.

Of course, there are different levels of The Hook Up. There is entry-level or honorable mention Hook Up – reserved for those who only temporarily have The Hook Up. There is first-team All-Hook Up, which is for those who currently possess The Hook Up and could be on their way to gaining membership to the All-Time Hook Up team – the coveted lifetime Hook Up.

Anyway, let's review those who currently have Hook Up status. If you wish to submit a sports figure for Hook Up, send along an application to jemeleespn@gmail.com. Sound rationale only. All applicants will be considered carefully, and new members to The Hook Up will be announced early next year, maybe before the Super Bowl. To get an idea of what The Hook Up committee is looking for, here is the current membership breakdown:

All-time Hook Up team

Brett Favre
Tom Szczerbowski/US Presswire
Thanks to The Hook Up, we're going to completely ignore those 41 picks since the start of last season.

Brett Favre: Favre's application for The Hook Up is perhaps the strongest there ever was. He has an unlimited supply of American sympathy because he has overcome a series of personal tragedies. He could sacrifice a bunny live on national television and even PETA would claim the bunny had it coming. Favre received very little criticism for chiming in on Javon Walker's contract situation – a serious Man Law violation because you never hate on another man's money. It's easy for Mr. $100 Million Contract to tell someone else it shouldn't be about the money. Favre continues to toy with the Packers about his retirement, and while he's doing it, he wants to see just how many interceptions one quarterback can throw. Even though he has thrown 41 picks the last two seasons and Green Bay fans need fresh Prilosec for every game, he's deified.

David Stern: He is a modern-day General Zod. If an NBA player steps out of line, Stern just fires off a memo that says, "Why do you say this to me when you know I will kill you for it?" Stern is an absolute gangster. He is the only person who could declare war on hip-hop and win.

Shaquille O'Neal: Shaq is like an oversized muppet, and who doesn't love muppets? Shaq is funny. He's got rings. He was an honorary Fu-Schnicken. He made "Kazaam." Because Shaq played alongside one of the most disliked, phenomenally talented players in NBA history, Shaq became a great guy without really having to do anything. People love Shaq because he's not Kobe. So when Shaq did his insulting parody of Chinese people (directed at Yao Ming), what did everyone do? They laughed. Anybody else does that and they're apologizing on CNN.

Roger Clemens: He's the Marlboro man with a fastball. We love Clemens' country twang and his J.R. Ewing-like appeal. It makes us forget that, like Barry Bonds, he was abnormally dominant late in his career. And that Jose Canseco fingered Clemens as a steroids user in his autobiography (and at this point we've got to trust Canseco because he's done a better job ferreting out 'roided-up players than our federal government). Then Clemens and his buddy Andy Pettitte were linked to the government's investigation against Jason Grimsley. In the pool of steroids, Clemens at least has his feet covered. And who else could negotiate not having to go on road trips when he's not pitching and have everyone praise him for it? Golden.

Ray Lewis: From murder suspect to the NFL's go-to spokesman – that's The Hook Up, baby.

USC: Hey, what ever happened to that Reggie Bush investigation?

Omissions: Notre Dame football, Lance Armstrong.

All-Hook Up first team

Tom Brady: When Brady was shown with the Bush family at the 2004 State of The Union speech, you knew that even if he got caught with a kilo of cocaine, nothing was going to touch this guy. And by the way, Brady is going to be president of the United States in 2035. I love the knockout punch Brady gave the Dolphins on Wednesday. The Dolphins said one reason they pummeled the Patriots 21-0 is because they listened to audio of Brady's protection calls. "I'm sure if you asked them, it probably sounds good for them to say they have it all figured out, but they're 6-7 and we're 9-4, so go tell me who probably has it more figured out," he said. Yep, he's got a little Captain in him.

Dwyane Wade: So far, D-Wade has used his Hook Up powers only on NBA referees. But being Sportsman of The Year, Finals MVP and marrying his high school sweetheart is good for at least eight DUIs and tax evasion.

Michael Vick: He's playing in a city far more interested in fads than real football. He's got a $138 million contract and no Falcons coach will last longer than he will. Vick's Hook Up is so powerful his coach's father had to fire himself from a radio gig for criticizing Vick.

Steve Nash
Brian Babineau/Getty Images
How do you win two NBA MVP awards without a trip to the Finals? Get The Hook Up, that's how.

Steve Nash: Terrific player, but another guy who benefited from the anti-Kobe movement. How can a two-time MVP not be among the top five point guards of all time or have been to the Finals? As great as Nash is, he's still not as good as Jason Kidd and he's certainly not John Stockton. Nash also has performed the incredible feat of having a higher Hook Up value than even Shaq, who has just one MVP and lost his second bid for one to Canada's finest.

Isiah Thomas: Just a stellar trail of destruction. He must have pictures of James Dolan in a sequin cocktail dress.

Matt Millen: Millen had The Hook Up instantaneously. He got paid millions with zero executive experience, and now he has run an already horrible franchise further into the ground. You look at Millen and think the same thing you do when you look at Flavor Flav. Why?

Omissions: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bill Parcells.

Hook Up honorable mention

Reggie Bush: Has any NFL rookie ever received as much instant adulation and credibility as Bush? He came into the NFL with a dirty money trail that rivaled Enron, and he still has managed to challenge Vick and Peyton Manning as the face of the NFL. The truth is, Bush's rushing numbers are brutal, he might not even be the best rookie on his team, and the reason the Saints are a legit contender to make the Super Bowl is because they have a MVP candidate at quarterback. But despite all of that, the Houston Texans were morons for not taking him No. 1.

LeBron James: He walked off the court before a game ended, but I can forgive him for that because LeBron has given us the best batch of Nike commercials since the Jordan era.

Peyton Manning: The only reason Manning is this low on The Hook Up chart is because as soon as he doesn't go to another Super Bowl, he'll be drilled all over again. But during the regular season, when he's a demigod, he's called the best quarterback ever. How?

Omissions: Duke basketball (bashing that program is so passť).

Jemele Hill, a Page 2 columnist and writer for ESPN the Magazine, can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.




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THE HOOK UP