With COVID-19 emptying arena and stadium seats and leaving the sports media world in an almost complete blackout, sports networks and the like have been filling airtime and social media timelines with their ‘Best of’ or ‘Greatest of’ lists.

As a sports media professional, but more importantly as a fan, there are athletes that mold our thoughts about the games we play, the games we watch, the games we cover. There was a time when, just like any kid growing up and many of you all still to this day, sports was a big part of my life. So it’s only natural that there were those sports figures that I wanted to craft my athletic career after. Or, maybe more accurately, I admired because of my athletic career.

As with any aspect of life, as you mature, your tastes changes. Ask me now who my favorite football player is? It’s Warrick Dunn. Love his story, love how he has dedicated his foundation to giving homes to single mothers (including Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson’s). NBA? LeBron. But before these, there were my sports favorite pioneers. Those athletes who as a child were the ones I couldn’t go to bed until I know what they did on their respective field of play.

Following is my list of my most favorite athletes of all-time. (Minus hockey. Sorry hockey fans.) This list is for you, the reader, to learn just a few more things about me before I leave you all for good.

NFL

Barry Sanders — If you were to ask me as child, I would’ve told you that there were no other running backs in the league outside of No. 20. He was the reason I wanted to play running back. He’s one of the reasons 20 is my favorite number (ironically I was born on the 20th). Thanksgiving for me consisted of family, food and Barry. When there were only two NFL games on ‘Turkey Day,’ Detroit Lions was one of them which meant I got a chance to watch Sanders do what he do — make highlight reels. I was ecstatic when he rushed for 2,000 yards in 1997 — exactly 2,000 of that coming in 14 games. My most memorable game was the two 80-yard TD runs against the Buccaneers that same season, the first of which he shook Hall of Famer John Lynch out of his hip pads. Is Sanders the greatest running back of all-time? I don’t think so but he will always be my favorite.

Track and Field

Maurice Greene — Let’s get this straight. Usain Bolt is the fastest man ever. Carl Lewis is the greatest track Olympian of all-time (I’m bias to James Cleveland Owens) but Greene, for about a two year stretch was Bolt before Bolt. Greene set the indoor 60 meter world record in 1998 (6.39 seconds), had the 100 record (9.79) a year later and had one of the most memorable celebrations of all-time when he had his spikes sprayed with a fire extinguisher after a 100 win. Yes, I owned a pair of his Nike Zoom Super Fly P spikes.

MLB

Ricky Henderson — There was a time when I played baseball. And there was one player that I patterned my putrid game after, No. 24 of the Oakland Athletics. My baseball game was based on speed and none did it better than Henderson. He still holds the all-time stolen base record (1,406) and runs scored (2,295). I was a quasi-A’s fan because of Henderson but after my playing days were done, the ‘Kid’ Ken Griffey, Jr. thrust his way into my heart.

NBA

Michael Jordan — One of my mothers from my home church always tell this story, ‘when Chris came to my house, he would say Michael Jordan has wings.’ Enough said.

NASCAR

Richard Petty — Admittedly, I am not a NASCAR fan. And even more, I don’t actually recall watching any of Petty’s races. But growing up in North Carolina, where the origins of NASCAR can be traced, you’ll bound to get an inkling of racing. Charlotte Motor Speedway — and the subsequent NASCAR Hall of Fame —  is roughly over two hours west of my hometown and I stayed 10 minutes away from Richmond Raceway during my time in Virginia so racing has bounced off my skin a time or two.  The only car that was in my conscious as a kid was that blue and white STP 43. Petty never made me a NASCAR fan but I know of NASCAR because of 43.

I can be reached at charris@devilslakejournal.com.