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D.C.'s Top Six Athletes

Someone asked me the other day to name the Top Five Big-Name Athletes in D.C. No qualifications for judging were given. The point of the exercise was to determine where exactly Caron Butler fits into such a list. Because I can't post much today, I figured this would be the perfect time to ask for your opinion. I'm using the following three judging categories:

You can vote for him in the top spot if you want. I didn't.

1) What would a D.C. sports fan say if you asked for his or her favorite local athlete?

2) Would the player's name be familiar to someone who does not follow sports, or who follows local sports only casually?

3) Would the player be recognized if he or she walked down K Street at noon on a random Thursday.

I asked the wise Ben Olsen and the savvy Bobby Boswell of D.C. United their thoughts. "Gilbert, Gilbert, Gilbert, Gilbert and Gilbert," was Olsen's first response. Boswell said list starts Portis, Gilbert and Ovechkin, and that while the order could be debated, "the first three are non negotiable."

(Read Mike Wise's year-old thoughts on the subject here. He says Portis is, or at least was, ahead of Gilbert.) My list, although I could be persuaded otherwise:

1) Gilbert Arenas: Mixes national fame with larger-than-life tricks (ad campaigns, luxury birthday parties) with genuine likeability. To me, this was easy, although Boswell says Number One will always be a Redskin, and Wise would seem to agree.

2) Clinton Portis: Since LaVar left, he's the face of the Redskins, which means he gets a bye into the Top 5. I thought about putting him lower, because of the dog-fighting fall-out, but no one will remember that in a year. But with Ladell Betts breathing down his neck for playing time, this is fairly tenuous.

3) Alex Ovechkin: Boswell convinced me: his national fame is enough to overcome the Caps' tepid local following. And in my second category (familiarity among non-sports fans) he would certainly do better than any other remaining choice.

4) Caron Butler: Really, this is a total toss-up, and my choice probably shows some pro-basketball bias on my part, but he's an all-star in a sport where it actually means something to be an all-star, and the NBA lends itself to visual recognition, because we see the players up-close so often.

5) Jason Campbell: The Redskins' popularity so dwarfs that of any other team, that I think they demand two players in the Top 5. Although I'm not happy with this choice, because I think he still has paltry name recognition among non-sports fans. But who else would qualify? No kid would say Chris Samuels or Jon Jansen is his favorite local athlete. Sean Taylor has renown, but people are afraid to embrace him, literally and figuratively. And if the Skins go deep into the playoffs, Campbell could easily assume the top spot on this list by next January, which is why he has to be on here.

Actually, he looks pretty popular in this picture. (Preston Keres - TWP)

6) Ryan Zimmerman: And I say this very reluctantly, and I think it's probably a reach, but I'm just assuming there is a segment of the population that follows baseball and no other sport, and that Zimmerman would be the choice for that segment.

Other names I considered: Olie Kolzig, Antawn Jamison, Chris Cooley, Fred Smoot (if he sticks around, he'll be on here soon), Ben Olsen (for much the same reason as Zimmerman, but he's not the team's clear No. 1 the way Zimmerman is), Christian Gomez (he's our only league MVP, but he's disqualified by his utter lack of media visibility), Alana Beard (throwing the Mystics a bone, but no way), Andy Pollin, Juan Dixon (only half-joking), Brendan Haywood (he'd do real well in the walking-down-K-street test).

By Dan Steinberg  |  June 14, 2007; 1:14 PM ET
Categories:  Caps , D.C. United , Mystics , Nats , Redskins , Wizards  
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