CHAMPAIGN — Confession time: I make mistakes. Lots and lots and lots of them.
Don’t believe it? Just ask my family. Or my bosses. Or better yet, readers.
Last Thursday, The News-Gazette published lists of all things related to Illinois sports. It was part of a special section to honor legendary N-G columnist Loren Tate.
My job was to rank the Top 50 athletes, moments and teams — plus the Top 30 coaches — of the 55-year Tate era.
I’ll be honest: It was one of the most difficult assignments I’ve been given in 30-plus years here. There were sleepless nights, with me waking up in a cold sweat, fearing I had forgotten a worthy candidate.
I agonized over every placement, trying to make sure the rationale for selection was fair and logical. Finally, I realized there is no right or wrong. Only opinion. It was important to accept not everyone (or anyone) would agree with me.
Perhaps that was the point. No harm in starting a sports debate. We have them all the time.
Who is better: Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Babe Ruth or Willie Mays or Hank Aaron? Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods? And on and on and on. You can argue about the G.O.A.T. in any sport at all levels.
About the only one where there isn’t much of an argument is greatest college football coach of all time. Sorry folks, but that one belongs to Nick Saban.
Agree to disagree
After the 32-page special section was published, my e-mail inbox started to fill with your opinions.
Input from our readers is always welcomed. Especially when it includes criticism.
We learn by listening to others. The wider range of opinions, the better.
So about those lists ... in hindsight, I should have added two words to the section on Illinois athletes. Would have been smarter to write “Top 50 most impactful athletes.”
Those two little words might have kept one reader from dashing off an email about me picking Dee Brown at No. 2.
The reader acknowledged Brown deserved recognition for second-most popular Illinois athlete.
The reader then listed a string of former Illini basketball players he considered superior to Brown, including Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, Derek Harper, Deron Williams and Bruce Douglas.
The order for the basketball players was particularly tricky because of the eras they played in and the length of time they spent at the school. Brown, Douglas and Gill were here for four years. Harper and Williams played three. Anderson was on the court for two.
They were all great players. They all had a major impact on the program and will be talked about for years.
Harper, Williams, Anderson and Gill had lengthy NBA careers. Should that have been a bigger part of the equation? Is it fair to rank Ayo Dosunmu No. 11 when he hasn’t played a day in the NBA so far? Tough call.
When I redo the list in 10 years when Loren turns 100, there will be more data to consider. And new players to evaluate (Andre Curbelo comes to mind).
Good points, Len
Basketball wasn’t the only sport mentioned by readers I heard from.
Illinois graduate Len Lewicki had beefs about where I ranked wheelchair athletes Jean Driscoll and Tatyana McFadden.
He was fine with Driscoll at No. 10. But thought McFadden should be right behind her. Instead of No. 36.
“Jean was a trailblazer,” Lewicki said. “The distance between Jean and Tatyana made no sense to me.
“If you’re going to recognize one, you’ve got to recognize both of them, and they should be near each other.”
He’s right. I wish I could have a mulligan and redo the list. Of course, that might create another set of problems.
Lewicki, 73, earned both his undergrad and law school degrees at Illinois. After a long career in Seattle, he moved to Champaign last June. It is a lot easier for him to see the Illini in action.
“Every time I came back to Chicago (his hometown) or Champaign, I felt like at home,” Lewicki said.
One item Lewicki and I agree about is the need for Driscoll, McFadden and other prominent wheelchair athletes to be included in the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.
Because they didn’t participate on varsity teams at the school, they aren’t currently eligible to be included.
“They did represent Illinois,” Lewicki said. “They both identified themselves as from Illinois when they were breaking all those records.
“I’m for being more inclusive.”
As long as they were Illinois students, Lewicki said, they should be eligible.
Both Driscoll and McFadden have been honored for their accomplishments by national and international bodies.
Makes perfect sense for their school to follow suit. Let the debate begin.