I love sports. I love watching it, analyzing it, and more.
However, if you hope to really gain a perspective on how sports work, watching a lot of ESPN is a must. Flagship programs such as Monday Night Football, NFL Live, SportsCenter, First Take, and Pardon The Interruption are all great shows to watch if you're looking to gain more sports perspective.
But, ESPN itself is a business, and they have to attract as many viewers as possible. I've found that they do this by picking a sometimes polarizing, but always exciting sports figure, and it changes based on the generation and the year.
Today, we're gonna be going over the changing of the "ESPN Poster Child" guard, and specifically why and how long each athlete was the poster child for the ever popular sports network.
2007-2011: Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow, when he came onto the scene at Florida, was one of the most polarizing figures in sports. His fiery, competitive spirit and heart was either perceived as cocky or simply just admirable. You either hated or loved Tim Tebow. ESPN took advantage of this. Whenever there is a polarizing figure in sports (there are more on this list), expect ESPN to take advantage. Not only is he polarizing but he was truly electrifying in his years at Florida, and that carried over into his years with the Denver Broncos.
Tebow carried the Broncos to a playoff win over the Steelers, bringing back the team from a horrid start. He became famous for "Tebowing" or essentially kneeling before games to pray. There were a lot of questions about his arm and QB potential in the NFL, but he made up for it by winning.
Love him or not, Tim Tebow generated buzz.
2010-2014: LeBron James
Heralded by many as the greatest basketball player to ever live, LeBron James had a bit of a problem winning championships with a depleted Cleveland roster. Thus, LeBron teamed up with Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade with the ultimate goal of bringing another title to the Miami Heat. None of us could forget "The Decision," a SportsCenter special as to where LeBron would be going after Cleveland.
LeBron was met with a large sense of hate from just about the whole basketball community. People thought he essentially left the Cavs out to dry and sold out to win a championship. And as we all know, the only thing that gets more page clicks than a player that we love, is a player we love to hate.
ESPN covered the Miami Heat left and right and threw around the name LeBron James more than any player in NBA history at the time. However, after his subsequent departure from Miami, his media time dwindled.
2014-2015: John Calipari and Kentucky Basketball
After LeBron James went back to Cleveland, ESPN was looking for another big-time face of the network. This time, it wouldn't be just one person.
The Kentucky Wildcats were voted number one in the preseason, but nobody knew they were going to be as dominant as they were.
Kentucky decimated Kansas in the Champions Classic and destroyed just about every other opponent on the schedule. This team had eight future NBA'ers, and I feel they're the best team in college basketball of at LEAST the last decade. They went undefeated in the regular season, but lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four.
Now of course, when you have a solid team and a controversial, outspoken coach, it's very easy to publicize them. This was only a placeholder, however.
2016: Buddy Hield
ESPN was probably panicking a little bit, but a player separated himself from the rest of the field, and that was Buddy Hield.
Buddy Hield perfectly fits the "exciting player" criteria. He played small forward, could score at will, had a great personality, and above all, was an excellent three-point shooter.
After his game-breaking performance against Kansas, dropping 46 points, he became the new focus of ESPN.
2017-2018: Trae Young
Holy cow. This one was probably the worst of all of them.
Trae Young was able to score at will, making Stephen Curry-like shots, deep beyond the three-point line.
His ability to score at will drew viewers easily, and thus, it was easy for ESPN to exploit this. Need some evidence? During other teams' games, ESPN ran a "Trae Young Tracker" where viewers could easily see how many points Trae Young was dropping at any time.
2018-Present: Zion Williamson
ESPN just can't get enough of this guy.
Zion Williamson's talent and build is off the charts, but man, does ESPN love giving this dude camera time. Those on ESPN are already comparing him to LeBron, calling him a generational player that even the NBA-level Cavs couldn't contain. I'm not sure that ESPN has hyped a player more than Zion, and the funny thing is that he's not even the best player on his own team currently. RJ Barrett fills the stat sheet even more than Zion does.
Still, ESPN is gonna market this guy to the end of the earth because he gets clicks.