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Who are the five most interesting sports figures currently in the Bay Area?
By interesting I mean someone you could take out of his context and put in a novel, and you’d stay up all night reading about him. Think a Dostoyevsky novel. Al Davis fit this definition.
By interesting I don’t mean nice people. Nice people are often boring. I am talking about fascinating people, people who sometimes escape our understanding. Some who fit this definition in the past were Barry Bonds, Bill Walsh and Jose Canseco. They were (are) multilayered, complex, complicated, tortured, nice and not nice.
Here is my list of the five most interesting sports figures currently on the local scene.
5. Joe Lacob
He is the smartest team owner in the Bay Area. He already has put the Warriors on the verge of being an elite franchise like the Celtics. He did it fast. He got the land in San Francisco for a new arena the Niners should have had. How smart is that?
He has an ego as big as Texas. He loves to talk about himself. He wants you to hear his opinion. He has an opinion on everything. He believes he is an expert on basketball. He is like many self-made people with new money. He can be crass. He talks too much. He laughs out of context.
He loves to make decisions. Big decisions. He is a decider of the first order. He gets off on firing people. And hiring people. He brought in Jerry West. He has a general manager who is one of the best. He dumped a winning coach. He didn’t care about public opinion. He got the coach, Steve Kerr, everyone wanted. Even Phil Jackson and the Knicks wanted Kerr, but Lacob got him. Some owners think small. Lacob’s vision is as large as a movie-theater screen.
4. Vernon Davis
Who is this guy?
He is a great football player but he is not a typical football player. How many players are painters and can talk about Renaissance art? He does not take part in the camaraderie of the team. In practice he is a loner. He boycotted offseason camps and missed the start of training camp and got nothing out of it. How does his mind work?
He can be parental on the practice field. A few years ago, tight end Nate Byham tore his ACL during a preseason workout. Jim Harbaugh immediately moved practice to another field and ordered the players to go there. Davis refused to move. He knelt over the prone Byham. For a long time. Davis did not care what Harbaugh thought. A teammate was down.
He puts himself above the team. He is a diva. He talks about his “brand.” Some teammates must consider him an oddball. He sees himself as a leader whether or not others do. He is always agreeable. It is impossible to know what he’s thinking.
3. Mark Davis
He has a tough act to follow. He is entirely different from his dad. Al was confrontational to the max. He enjoyed making enemies. He saw life as a series of conflicts and he always had to win.
Mark grew up in Piedmont and is a gentle soul. Appears to be. He wants to please. You can talk to him. He will listen. He talks slower than his dad. His dad was Brooklyn. Mark is California. Lots of people thought he would flee in fear from taking over the Raiders. The job would be too much for him. He did not flee. He embraced all the problems. He has new ideas.
Mark seems naïve. Mark is not naïve. Mark has his own style. He gets people on his side. People want to help him. He was thrust into ownership of the Raiders the way Michael Corleone was thrust into being the Don. Mark is growing into the job. People want a piece of him. People think Mark is a mark. Mark is not a mark.
He is suspicious of your motives and my motives. He is talking to Oakland about a new stadium and he is talking to San Antonio. He surely is talking to other places. He has reached the key moment of his life. The entire future of the Raiders depends on him alone. Can he make the correct decisions? Can he be the Don?
2. Billy Beane
He is brilliant. He is charming. He can talk to you about English fiction, the stock market, world affairs. He is warm. He is cold.
He changed his identity before our eyes. He was a poker player who played the percentages, never went all in. Now, he looks at his hand and tells himself, “I could lose, but I have to go for it all.” If Jon Lester goes to Boston after this season, the Red Sox will have two of his players and he will have none. He doesn’t care.
He has guts. He is ruthless. He doesn’t feel loyalty to players the way Brian Sabean feels loyalty. Sabean was loyal, to his teams’ detriment, to Aubrey Huff, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro. Beane will trade a player in the blink of an eye. He runs his organization. He tells Lew Wolff what he (Beane) is going to do. He has the most power of anyone in the Bay Area who is not an owner – well, he owns a fraction of the A’s. He goes against the grain. He is arrogant about his baseball theories. He wants to bring down the American League. Now. He has the most dominating personality of anyone on this list.
1. Jim Harbaugh
Is he really this shallow? Is he really this deep? He is obsessed with football. He needs a scoreboard to measure his life against. He is rude. He is caustic. He cannot read a room. He does not understand how the other guy feels. He doesn’t care. He must be difficult to work for or employ.
He goes his own way all the time. He’s not even aware that he does. He places no premium on social protocol. He is paranoid about football. He doesn’t want most people to know what he knows. Every week he prepares for the Battle of Normandy.
He often has bad manners. To his credit, he has them for everyone. I mostly am talking about media. When big-name national reporters come to Santa Clara, they expect special treatment from Harbaugh. When a big-name guy asks a question, Harbaugh takes pleasure in stepping on him like an ant. “We try to improve one percent every day,” he says, his best non-answer.
It’s like he’s saying “Screw you. Who do you think you are?” He has fun putting down the famous. He can’t stand fools. It is unclear if he has interests outside of football. He has no opinion on who is better, the Beatles or the Stones. The subject is useless to him.
You can argue with him. He will hear you out. And then he might tune you out. He doesn’t care what you think of him. He is delightfully free of wondering what anyone thinks of him. He’s not even aware it is something people factor in. He doesn’t hold grudges. He is free of that, too.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.