Professional athletes are just like you and I, except for their extreme athleticism, lifestyle, ridiculously inflated bank accounts, bodies, and overall perception of life itself. But except for that, they’re pretty much just like us. So, like us, athletes need companionship, and not just from groupies. Athletes need companionship from other athletes. Not in a “Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm kind of way” - although that’s cool too, sort of – but in a “Hey, would you like to grab a beer and a burger and talk about the coach behind his back?” kind of way.
It’s hard to believe sometimes, but athletes are often friends with each other. Except for Barry Bonds, who never really had many friends, except for the close group of “yes-men” who are currently selling him out to avoid jail time. Not good times for him. But in general, athletes are buddies. In that respect, let’s take a closer look at the bestest friends in all of sports. Because that’s what we like to do here on this blog – bring people together. Or, more accurately, discuss in detail people who have already been brought together by forces outside of our control. Whatever.
No. 5: Melky Cabrera & Robinson Cano. By far, the most talented “Melky and Robinson” connection going in sports today. Maybe ever, unless you count Cliff Robinson’s reported affection for a stripper named “Melky Smooth” back in the early 90’s. (Of course, I’m kidding. Cliff Robinson and a stripper? C’mon…) These two were brought together by the fact that they were the only two guys in the Yankee farm system not traded over the past three years for crappier, more expensive players. They are always sitting in the dugout together, and laughing it up, most likely in Spanish, causing Chein-Ming Wang to wonder if they are making fun of him. And if that’s not enough, every Yankee announcer (all 23 of them) consistently beats us over the head with stories of what great friends they are. My favorite: after a game in which he hit a grand slam, Melky was seen laying on a couch in the clubhouse talking on his cell phone to Cano, who was in Tampa Bay at the time rehabbing an injury. That’s the same exact manner in which I used to have conversations with girls when I was in sixth grade, except the phone had a curly cord attached to it. Said Robinson, “Grand slam, huh? Cool. But do you LIKE her, like her?”
No. 4. Shaquille O’Neal & Dwyane Wade. You would think that a pair of guys who just collaborated to win the NBA title would be higher on this list, but I’m still not completely sold on them being soul mates. Shaq has too much of a history of becoming disenchanted with his talented guard-like teammates. Nevertheless, if we’re basing this friendship on their mutual (media-fueled) admiration for each other, then this is the best sports friendship of all time.
Wade: Shaq is simply the best player in the NBA. I’m just happy to be his teammate.
Shaq: I told him, I said, “D-Wade – you’re the best player in the league. I’m just here to ride your coattails.”
Wade: No way, Shaq – you’re the best player in the league.
Shaq: No, you are!
Wade: No, YOU are!
Shaq: No way, D-Wade. You’re Batman, and I’m Robin.
Wade: No, YOU’RE Batman!
Shaq: Come here, gimme a hug little guy.
No. 3: Derek Jeter & Jorge Posada. This friendship manages to fly slightly under the radar in the realm of sports friendships, but it’s a solid one. Like Melky and Robinson, Jeter and Posada are always next to each other in the Yankee dugout, whether it be on the bench, leaning against the railing, or at the water cooler. (One time in 1999, Jeff Nelson tried to weasel his way in between them on the bench, with horrific results. He was never the same after that. Also, I made that up. I mean, Nelson really hasn’t been the same pitcher since 1999, but I don’t think it’s because of that. I think it’s karma for his flat-top/mustache combination.) During all the Yankee batting practices I’ve seen over the past decade, Jeter and Posada are always the ones playing long toss, warming each other up. Always. But unlike Melky and Robinson, their friendship is a more mature one, not based on giggles and horsing around. It’s more of an unspoken bond. A simple head nod will do, as if to say, “I got you, dog.” Honestly, this friendship always fascinated me, because catchers tend to be close to the pitchers, not the middle infielders. Plus, Posada is a family man, and Jeter is a notorious man about town who has yet to settle down. I wonder if Jeter has ever had to crash on Jorge’s couch after one too many Long Island Iced Teas. He would probably wake up all wrapped in a nice blanket, with a bucket next to him, just in case. I got you, dog.
No. 2: Roger Clemens & Andy Pettitte. Let me first acknowledge that six out of our 10 total friends became close within the Yankee organization. I don’t know if that means that the Yankee clubhouse tends to be clique-ish, or if Joe Torre has enacted the “buddy system” as a means of players getting to know one another during spring training. Either way, it’s kind of weird. And it doesn’t get much weirder than Pettitte and Clemens, probably the most public, yet one-sided friendship on the list. I think it all started with a simple question: “Wanna work out?” From there, fate took over. Apparently, Pettitte became an active part of Clemens’ “legendary” offseason workout regimen, which included weights, running up stadium bleachers, resistance training, and definitely not steroids. From there, the two became bestest friends. After all, they had more in common than just a love for the medicine ball. Both were from Texas, and both were pitchers, and both only shaved twice a week. When Clemens came out of retirement the first time, he went to the Astros not only because Houston was close to home, but because his good buddy Pettitte was there. And also for the millions and millions of dollars. Of course, Pettitte sort of plays the little brother role in this relationship. After a very poor first half of ’06, many expected Pettitte to start pitching better when Clemens came out of retirement (again) to rejoin Houston, which kind of doesn’t make any sense. If Andy Pettitte cannot focus without Roger Clemens around, then I say this friendship has gone too far. Nevertheless, at least Clemens will always have a friend, because he doesn’t have too many fans.
No. 1: Steve Francis & Cuttino Mobley. By leaps and bounds, the best sports friendship going. And by “best” I’m definitely not referring to talent. It just means that these two really, really, really like each other. The two guards originally hit it off as members of the Houston Rockets. They would bond through a mutual hatred of Jeff Van Gundy, who seemed to despise their game plan of throwing ally-oops to each other for 48 minutes, especially when there was a 9-foot tall Chinese guy in the middle of the paint, waiting to touch the ball. But although these two remain bestest friends, this story is bittersweet, as the two men are the only members of our list who are no longer teammates. Francis was traded to Orlando, eventually leading to this famous quote from “Stevie Franchise” in an ESPN feature on their friendship:
“I can’t put it into words,” he said. “Playing with a guy, living with a guy, just knowing that every day when I wake up that’s something I can count on, that I’m going to be in practice or in a game with Cuttino.
“Him not being here is going to be tough for me. I don’t know what I’m going to wake up for.”
Let the record show that I did not make that quote up. Seriously. These guys are just that bestest of friends. By the way, I could probably think of a few things off the top of my head that would force me to get out of bed in the morning if I had the good fortune of an NBA salary. For starters, a silk bathrobe. I always wanted one of those. But that’s just me. Besides, this friendship has the potential of having a happy ending. Maybe the Knicks will sign Cuttino Mobley. After all, they do need another guard.