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The king is dead, long live the king
I’m not old enough to have witnessed Pelé’s greatness, so my memories of him mainly consist of his appearances in World Cup ads endorsing just about any product, culminating in his parodic flogging of Crestfield wax paper on The Simpsons. (I’m not faulting him for this; he grew up in poverty and throughout his public life he was defrauded by business partners and managers.)
You can argue about which of the Ariagas is better, but there can be no debate about Pelé’s place in the G.O.A.T. conversation. Growing up, long before Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi entered the scene, only Pelé or Diego Maradona were talked about as being the greatest. And as much as our current usage of G.O.A.T. belies an inability to understand the meaning of the A.T. part, I can’t picture a time when Pelé will be removed from that conversation; he’s the true definition of an all-timer.
Pelé won his first World Cup at age 17. He’s won three men’s World Cups, nobody else has ever done this. (Talking about this runs counter to what I wrote two weeks ago, but even participating in three World Cup tournaments is difficult). He unofficially scored over 1,000 goals for his club team Santos. He racked up so many goals in a short time by playing close to an eye-watering 100 games per year for Santos, which essentially became a barnstorming team in order to capitalize on Pelé’s popularity.
But you don’t become a football god just by compiling stats. He synonymized the phrase o jogo bonito (“the beautiful game”) with football. A coach once answered “Pelé” when asked to name the best player in his team at each position. He made the number 10 mean something in football. He was at the forefront of Brazil’s emergence as a football power. A civil war declared a temporary ceasefire because Pelé was coming through for an exhibition match.
Even though many of us never got to watch Pelé as an active player, he’s obviously had a lasting impact on the game and its fans. The biggest impact to me is his stature not as only the first global sports icon, but that his rise normalized a Black person occupying that space (and perhaps even more extraordinarily, doing so while coming from a country rebuilding from colonization). I won’t say that without Pelé there is no Muhammad Ali, LeBron James, Lewis Hamilton, etc. but he certainly came before all of them.
On January 4, 1936, Billboard Magazine published the first-ever pop music chart (based on record sales). In honour of this anniversary, all of today’s questions will be related to music in some way, shape, or form.
What baseball player released his major label debut, The Journey Within, on June 22, 2003, while he was still an everyday starter?
What former pitcher was or is the lead singer of punk bands Scared Straight, Ten Foot Pole, and Pulley?
What name is synonymous with both a progenitor of and major figure in drill rap and a baseball player who played in the city said progenitor is associated with?
What former NHL player (who later became a head coach, and later still, an executive) recorded two albums in the early 1970s?
What rap group’s single hit the Top 40 in the summer of 1993 based largely on a guest verse recorded by then-rookie Shaquille O’Neal?
What active NFL player’s rap career includes a track called “Heavy 1s,” featuring lyrics like: “ain’t no vaccination for me, only evacuation save ’em homie” and album art symbolizing his “heavy nuts.”
Answers from last week’s issue
Because today's date — 12/21 — is a palindrome, we decided that we were going to have a bit of fun with the questions this week. Questions today are decidedly, uh, palindromical.
NFL jersey numbers of: the league’s career leader in postseason passes intercepted; the player with the second-most career rushing yards; the "Honey Badger"; the 2015 MVP.
The players we’re looking for here are Tom Brady (#12), Walter Payton (#34), Tyrann Mathieu (#32), and Cam Newton (#1) — 1234321.
MLB jersey numbers of: the batter with the most hits in 1990s; the only 24x All-Star who won 3x MVP; the pitcher the Blue Jays got from Cleveland for Josh Donaldson; Dwight Gooden’s nephew upon reaching the majors.
Mark Grace (#17), Stan Musial (#6), Julian Merryweather (#67), Gary Sheffield (#1) — 176671.
NBA jersey numbers of: the Philadelphia 76ers’ career blocks leader; the current league leader in total assists; a guy currently being paid $10,183,800 to not play for a Western Conference power; Amir Johnson as a Celtic; a Brooklyn Net with the same name as a famous racist.
Julius Erving (#6), Tyrese Haliburton (#0), Jae Crowder (#99), #90 (Amir Johnson), David Duke Jr. (#6) — 6099906.
NHL jersey numbers of: Al Iafrate as a Maple Leaf; the tallest player in NHL history, in his final season; the tallest player in NHL history in his first season. Then, the number of Hart Trophies won by: Mario Lemieux; and Bobby Orr. Then, the number of Vezina Trophies won by Patrick Roy. Then, the number of Conn Smythe Trophies won by Patrick Roy.
#33, Zdeno Chára (#33, #3), and each of these trophy winners won 3x — 33333333.
Many thanks to the late Wayman Tisdale for being named his name and to you for being named your name, unless your name is Gianni Infantino (again!) because maybe taking a selfie in front of an open casket is not the best idea?
Until next week, be the Ezequiel Carrera you wish to see in the world.