- Tory Barron is a Bristol-based writer and editor for ESPN.com. After retiring from playing lacrosse at UConn, the DC native decided to try her hand at writing about people playing sports.
Tyler Herro doesn’t just have swag, it oozes out of his pores. The Miami Heat’s fearless rookie carries himself with the supreme confidence of a man who believes with every ounce of his 20-year-old being that he is, in fact, a walking bucket.
Herro — who was selected 13th overall by the Heat in the 2019 NBA draft in part because fellow Kentucky alum Bam Adebayo assured Pat Riley that the Milwaukee native was a perfect fit for the franchise’s culture — put on a show in the Eastern Conference finals averaging 19.2 points per game and dropping 37 points in a crucial Game 4 win over the Boston Celtics.
And thus, a social media star was born. NBA stans took to their keyboards in droves to sling emphatic praise upon the player who scored the most points by a rookie in a conference finals game since Magic Johnson.
According to the NBA, as of Sept. 30, Herro ranks second after LeBron James in social media follower growth across Twitter and Instagram among all players since the beginning of the restart. LeBron (4M+ followers gained) and Herro (790K+) were followed by Damian Lillard (720K+) and Luka Doncic (690K+). Herro saw the biggest increase in followers added (+41%) among all players during the conference finals.
As Herro continues to ball through the NBA Finals, we look back (shout-out to ESPN Stats & Information for the assist) with fondness on other athletes — and a nun superfan — who captivated the nation with that same fanatic energy over the past decade:
The man, the myth, the mustache. Gardner Minshew burst onto the NFL scene faster than you can say “jorts.”
After quarterback Nick Foles was sidelined with a broken collarbone in the first quarter of his Jacksonville debut Sept. 8, 2019, the Jaguars were forced to turn to their sixth-round draft pick: Minshew.
It would come as no surprise to the Washington State football faithful that the mustachioed man was ready. But NFL fans unfamiliar with the larger-than-life personality who ignited Mike Leach’s offense — and had the town of Pullman in a collective frenzy all of fall 2018 — were utterly shook when the rookie came out slinging.
The Jags’ swagged-out QB1 completed 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns in his debut and would go on to complete 74% of his passes in his first three games, the highest completion percentage of any quarterback through his first three career games since 1970.
More Minshew, more life.
Tim. Tebow. One of the greatest college quarterbacks of our time had amassed unprecedented celebrity by his NFL days, the type that made franchises wary he would present a “distraction” if added to the roster. Few players have ever been rendered as polarizing as the former Florida Gator.
The vast majority of media attention surrounding Tebow’s transition from the college ranks to the pros focused on the Heisman Trophy winner’s throwing mechanics — which were highly scrutinized — and why his game wouldn’t translate to the next level.
Cue the 2011 NFL season, and the birth of a little pop-culture phenomenon known as “Tebow Time.”
The Denver Broncos were off to a disappointing 1-4 start before naming Tebow QB1. Then something crazy happened: They started to win. More often than not, the thrilling, come-from-behind, fourth-quarter victories weren’t pretty, but he got the job done. The Broncos would go on to win their first AFC West title and playoff game since 2005 with Tebow at the helm.
Sadly, Denver traded Tebow to the New York Jets during the 2012 offseason, marking the end of a short-lived yet enthralling sports frenzy. Pour one out for Tebow Time.
“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey didn’t even need a quippy slogan for her frenzy. That’s how you know it’s real. Rousey became a household name as she turned the MMA world upside-down with her sheer dominance.
After becoming the first American woman to medal in judo at the Olympics (winning bronze at the 2008 Summer Games), Rousey went on to win the first women’s UFC fight as she took down Liz Carmouche at UFC 157.
She then became the first UFC women’s bantamweight champion, and set the record for most title defenses by a woman (six). Prior to her loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193, Rousey boasted an unblemished record.
That loss would signify the end of Rousey’s reign, though. Her highly anticipated 2016 comeback fight went horribly wrong, and she lost by first-round TKO to Amanda Nunes in a mere 48 seconds at UFC 207.
But her less-than-storybook ending in the Octagon didn’t change the fact that Rousey had achieved icon status, and thus it was no surprise when WWE came calling for the Hall of Famer.
Speaking of comebacks, this list would lose all semblance of credibility without the inclusion of the proprietor of “ComebackSZN” himself: Johnny Manziel. The artist formerly known as “Johnny Football” took College Station, Texas (and the entire college football world), by storm back in 2012 as he propelled Texas A&M to relevance in its first season as a member of the SEC.
His ability to scramble — and to seemingly make plays out of thin air — made Manziel incredibly exciting to watch. To top it off, the quarterback possessed an abundance of swagger. His unparalleled confidence and affinity for big moments made him a magnet for the limelight, both on and off the field … more on that in a moment.
As a redshirt freshman, Manziel led Texas A&M to its first victory in Bryant-Denny Stadium as he carved up Alabama’s defense, establishing a three-touchdown lead in the first quarter. While taking down the No. 1 Crimson Tide was his most notable feat, the team in Tuscaloosa was far from the only one that didn’t have an answer for Johnny Football that season. As a result, Manziel would become the first freshman to hoist the Heisman Trophy.
From there, things got a bit complicated. There was an autograph scandal that cast a shadow over the start of the following season — the first in a string of off-the-field incidents that would eventually arise for Manziel. The controversy followed him to his NFL tenure with the Cleveland Browns, and eventually led to his dismissal from the team.
Haters will say she’s not an athlete — and while said haters might technically be correct, that doesn’t make Sister Jean’s moment in the spotlight any less noteworthy.
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the chaplain for the Loyola-Chicago men’s basketball team, became an “international celebrity” back in 2018 as her beloved Ramblers made a Cinderella run all the way to the Final Four in their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985.
The nun was a fixture in the team’s pregame huddles — a ritual that included praying with the players, getting them focused and reinforcing the game plan. She became an overnight sensation as basketball fans everywhere (and even President Barack Obama) tweeted about the fiery team chaplain.
Sister Jean celebrated her 100th birthday last month, prompting Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to proclaim Aug. 21, 2019, as “Sister Jean Day” across the state. As part of the celebration, Loyola-Chicago announced a scholarship fund and endowment in her honor.
Did we mention she got her own Lego likeness? Yep, it’s currently on display at the Legoland Discovery Center. Not sure there’s an exact science here, but pretty positive getting your own Lego means you’ve made it. She’s also being honored with an exhibit at the Loyola University Museum of Art, because that’s what you do for legends.
Suffice it to say, we must protect Sister Jean at all costs.
From undrafted to phenomenon. The rise — and subsequent fall — of Jeremy Lin was unprecedented.
The Harvard grad began his NBA career warming the bench for the Golden State Warriors in 2010 and catapulted to being one of the most recognizable names in sports while playing for the New York Knicks in 2012.
Lin took a team in dire straights and ignited a spark at the “Mecca” when he came out of nowhere with a career-high 25 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in a victory over the New Jersey Nets (the Knicks had lost 11 of their previous 13 games). We’ll take some liberties and pinpoint his 38-point performance against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers as the genesis of “Linsanity.” Ticket prices began to soar, Jeremy Lin merchandise flew off the shelves, and before long the unassuming point guard was all anyone could talk about.
That is, until he wasn’t. It all started to go downhill for the overnight celebrity once Mike D’Antoni resigned on March 14, 2012. It was only 17 days later that the Knicks announced Lin would undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Little did we know, he would never play for the Knicks again.
Since then, Lin has been a bit of an NBA journeyman, playing for the Houston Rockets, Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, and Toronto Raptors. Most recently, he signed on to play for the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association.
Lin commented on the state of his basketball career this summer, saying: “Free agency has been tough. Because I feel like in some ways the NBA’s kind of given up on me.”
He might be playing overseas now, but we’ll always have Linsanity.
Mo’ne Davis was only 13 years old when she put the sports world on notice at the Little League World Series back in 2014.
Davis and her formidable 70-plus mph fastball led the Taney Dragons of Philadelphia to a 4-0 win over South Nashville. After six innings of work that saw the right-hander strike out eight while allowing only two hits, she became the first girl to win a LLWS game as a pitcher and the first girl to toss a shutout in Little League postseason history. So yeah, it was kind of a big deal.
Consequently, her rise to fame was fast and fierce. In the years following her monumental LLWS performance, Davis lived a life that was anything but ordinary. She racked up accolades (Sports Illustrated Kids named her SportsKid of the Year in 2014, and Time magazine named her among the 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014), was the focal point of a Spike Lee documentary entitled “I Throw Like A Girl,” put out a memoir, participated in the 2015 NBA Celebrity All-Star Game, did the late-night TV circuit, threw out first pitches and texted with the likes of Kevin Durant and Mike Trout.
Oh, and she started high school. Even for a self-proclaimed old soul like Mo’ne, it was a lot. But somehow the multisport athlete navigated the chaos with grace. Now, she’s on to the next chapter: college. Davis is taking her talents to the softball diamond as a student-athlete at Hampton University.
Do you feel old yet, or is that just us?
Over the past decade, few athletes have brought as much hope to a city as Robert Griffin III brought to Washington. He was it — the answer to the collective prayers of Washington Redskins fans.
The dynamic quarterback out of Baylor could do it all. In his college career, the 2011 Heisman winner threw for 10,366 yards, 78 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while adding 2,254 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns to his name.
So the fan base was euphoric when Washington risked it all and moved up in the 2012 NFL draft to select Griffin with the second overall pick. His rookie season only furthered that sentiment as the QB lived up to the hype. Boy, did he live up to the hype.
During the 2012 season, RG III balled out, setting records for the highest passer rating and highest touchdown-to-interception ratio by a rookie quarterback. He subsequently won the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and was named to the Pro Bowl. He also led the Redskins to the top of their division and their first playoff appearance in five seasons.
If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop in this story, this is the the part when that happens. RG III suffered a knee injury late in the 2012 season and things were never the same. We could relate tales of the Washington QB situation in the years since, but this story is getting long, so we’ll just tell you that RG III is currently backing up Lamar Jackson with the Baltimore Ravens.
He pitches. He hits. He has a super sweet nickname. He makes his teammates laugh. What more could you ask for in a 25-year-old phenom?
Shohei Ohtani touched down in Los Angeles last year, and became an instant sensation in MLB. The Angels’ two-way player traveled more than 5,000 miles from his home in Japan on a mission to make his mark on the major leagues. A feat we can confirm that he has since accomplished.
The eventual 2018 American League Rookie of the Year posted a 3.31 ERA and struck out 63 batters in 51⅔ innings before his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm gave out last summer. To put it mildly, it’s been a really long time since we’ve seen a two-way player do what Ohtani has done.
His elite performance prompted teammate Mike Trout — and fans everywhere — to chant “Sho-Time!” on the days Ohtani pitched, and just like that, a frenzy was born.
Despite being relegated to the injured list for the start of the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Sho-Time was back in session long enough for Ohtani to become the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle in MLB history. Unfortunately, the Angels’ star ended this season quite similarly to how he ended the previous one: requiring surgery (this time to repair a congenital issue in his left kneecap).
Here’s hoping the Sho will go on — see what we did there?! — in 2021.
If you’re looking for a story with a satisfying ending, Jimmer Fredette’s is not the one for you. Well, at least not yet, anyway.
Fredette was a veritable king in the college basketball realm. During his senior season at BYU, the 2011 national player of the year led the Cougars to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament while putting up ridiculous numbers — we’re talking leading scorer in all of Division I numbers.
So it came as no surprise when he was selected 10th overall in the 2011 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks — who subsequently traded him to the Sacramento Kings. Fredette’s presence immediately breathed life into the Sacramento fan base. Sales of his jersey alone resulted in a 540% increase in Kings merchandise sales. Life was good.
But if you learned anything from our retelling of the fleeting phenomenon (scroll back up) that was Linsanity, you know these good times don’t always last. Fredette’s journey would include stints with the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks and their G League affiliate before taking him overseas to China. After two years playing in China, Fredette returned to the NBA before departing again, this time for Greece.
Here’s hoping Herro Ball has a longer, more sustainable reign than some of its sports frenzy predecessors. Long live Baby GOAT.
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