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As a kid I heard names. Mythological names. Best ever names. Couldn’t be matched names. Mickey Mantle. Babe Ruth. Pelé. Oscar Robertson.

These names, and others like them, were never tossed around haphazardly, but utilized with grandeur and reverence. They were not sports shouted. They were dropped in precisely, like a Larry Bird three pointer or Joe Montana deep ball to Jerry Rice. When parents or coaches used their names, it was akin to when grandma broke out the fine china; you knew it was time bring a higher level of respect to the table.

These athletes are hallowed. All time greats! Hall of famers! Greatest I ever saws! Their reputations are so epic I couldn’t possibly envision how I’d ever get to see anything like them. Plus, YouTube didn’t exist back then, , so trying to understand their greatness was mostly left up to childlike imagination.

But these were the people that our Little League teams were named after, or the players from ProStars, and the athletes who were famous enough to warrant biographies in our sparse middle school libraries. They were unparalleled and otherworldly.

Growing up, I figured our generation would never be able to replicate our own heroes. Those were the best, and we’d be be left envying them forever, or at minimum, emulating them in our yards. They were from back in the old days, when athletes were larger than life.

Oh boy was I wrong. Some twenty years later, the current landscape of athletes is beyond my wildest dreams.

The things LeBron James has done and continues to do on a basketball court are unprecedented and unfathomable. His teams have reached the NBA finals in 7 straight years. He is decimating records as fast as he is Eastern Conference foes. Meanwhile Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook, who aren’t remotely as all-timey as LeBron, are shredding record books faster than Bill O’Reilly’s attorneys.

In baseball Mike Trout is a five-tooled, five-seasoned veteran who would already be considered one of the greatest players ever, if he wasn’t mired in California Los Angeles Anaheim. In Trout’s five seasons, he has been the MVP twice and the MVP runner-up the other 3 years. He recently became the fastest player in the league to hit 150 home runs and steal 150 bases. We will likely look back, decades from now, and realize Mike Trout is the best team athlete we got to witness… on the occasions when we stayed up for a 10:05 P.M. first pitch.

And that ignores the nuclear legs race between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Tom Brady’s five (and counting) Super Bowls, and the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic/Murray-go-round in men’s tennis (they’ve won of the last 47 of 55 majors). Andohbytheway, Serena Williams is better at her craft than anyone else I’ve already mentioned.

Perhaps it’s our generation’s familiarity with Jurassic Park that makes it easy for us to realize that athletes will continue to get bigger and faster and stronger. Technology, nutrition, and natural selection undoubtedly have roles in in this. Plus, life, uh, finds a way.

But when I was little, those superheroes I only got to hear about became legends, handed down through oral history like passages from scripture. They stood atop pedestals, busted in bronze, and were only accessible in Sandlot fever dreams or Iowan cornfields.

 Perhaps those heroes of yore were so big because I was so little, an intersection of literal and figurative perspective. Regardless, now we have our own athletes with superpowers, that our kids will fawn over, not realizing that they will get their own Kobes, their own Kershaws, and their own Big Papis.

Maybe it’s a referendum on time, or adolescence, or just being a dumb little shit, but today’s athletes are the best there have ever been. I never could have imagined that as kid, and maybe that’s what makes me so appreciative.

Josh Bard

Josh Bard is a guy. A sports guy, an ideas guy, a wise guy, a funny guy, a Boston guy, and sometimes THAT guy. Never been a Guy Fieri guy, though.

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