Drink a few beers in the evening after a Team Handball event and the subject inevitably comes up. If you could field a Team Handball squad with athletes from other sports, who would you choose? For a Handball fan this is the equivalent of “Superman vs. Batman” or “Ginger vs. Mary Ann.” A debate that’s been held many times for which there’s no way to establish the right answer. On Slate Magazine’s “Hang Up and Listen” Podcast, Dan Blake from Ithaca, NY posed that very question to co-hosts Stefan Fatsis, Mike Pesca, and Josh Levin. (Take a listen from 6:38 to 11:15.)
Here are the teams that were compiled, some analysis of the players selected and an assessment as to who would win between Team Fatsis and Team Pesca.
– Matt Kemp (Baseball): I’ll have to take a pass on this assessment, as I haven’t followed baseball much for at least a decade. On paper, his basketball background would make a good combination.
– Chris Young (Baseball): The baseball pitcher with a basketball background is a good combination for Team Handball. The ability to throw a ball hard is not a readily discernible skill. (i.e., you can’t assume that a great basketball athlete naturally has a great arm). Young is 32, though, and I can’t tell if the relatively sedentary baseball life of a pitcher has settled in. Side note, I saw a Russia-USA baseball game several years ago and the commentator was a broken record, “Vladimir Yobonski is another former Team Handball player…”
– Kevin Durant (Basketball): An OK choice. Basketball, more than any other sport, is very similar to Handball in the flow of the game and the skill sets needed. That being said, not every great basketball player makes a great handball player or vice versa. Basketball players with more finesse tend to struggle a little when they cross over to Team Handball. Durant is no wimp, but I think he might have some issues with the greater physicality.
– Dwight Howard (Basketball): A great choice. Physicality would, of course, not be a problem for Dwight Howard. He’s a natural circle runner and would be a brick wall on defense.
– Tim Tebow (Football): An inspired choice. Tebow has the raw skill set to be an exceptional Team Handball player. His ability as a crafty runner who can break tackles would translate well to Team Handball where the defense can be more physical (compared to basketball). Oh, and he’s left handed.
– Michael Vick (Football): Vick is an OK choice. Clearly, has the Tebow like skills, but would this 31 year old have the motivation. And Fatsis stumbled upon another left hander. I guess he could be on the wing next Tebow on the right hand side.
– Tim Howard (Soccer): Soccer goalies don’t necessarily transition well to Team Handball. They have the basic concept of being a goalie, and, in particular understand the importance of positioning the body at the right angle. But, there are some dramatic differences. Most notably, soccer goalies rarely stop a shot with their feet, an absolutely critical skill that they have to be taught. Not to mention the size of the goal is much smaller and they will face more shots in 5 minutes then they’ll see in an entire soccer match.
Baseball (Carl Crawford, Jacoby Elsberry, Joe Mauer, Austin Jackson, Grady Sizemore)
Basketball (Lebron James, Chris Paul, Jimmer Fredette)
American Football (Cam Newton, Jake Plummer
Analysis: I won’t go into detail on these subs, but suffice to say Lebron James and Cam Newton would be phenomenal players. Chris Paul and Jimmer Fredette might be good players at Center Back or on the wing.
– Julius Peppers (Football): Peppers’ size and basketball skills demonstrated at North Carolina would, make him a great selection 5 years ago, but at age 31 he would be less likely to excel.
– Jason Pierre-Paul (Football): Pesca’s best choice. Pierre-Paul is a phenomenal athlete that only started playing football seriously 5 years ago. He would pick up the sport very quickly. Heck, you could probably start him as a defensive specialist at a top club in Europe with a year of dedicated training
– Tony Gonzalez (Football): Another football player with college basketball experience. But at 35 years of age he would not adapt well to the new sport.
– Rob Gronkowski (Football): Yet another tight end for the Pesca squad. At age 22 he should be able to handle the up and down nature of the sport fairly well.
– Derrick Rose (Basketball): An exceptional athlete, Rose would definitely be a top notch Handball player. He doesn’t appear to have played many other sports, though, and may not adapt quickly to a new sport.
– Kevin Garnett (Basketball): While Garnett is a great basketball player he is the type of athlete that would not excel in Team Handball at the same high level. There are a few 7 foot handball players, but the nature of the game limits the benefit of such lofty height. Generally, these players are very effective over the top shooters, but are less effective one on one and struggle on defense. Garnett’s also 35 years old.
Josh Levin’s Picks (Levin didn’t pick a full squad)
Rajon Rondo (Basketball): A good choice. I could see him as an effective Center Back.
Robert Griffin III (Football): An outstanding selection. This 21 year 0ld with smarts, world class speed and great arm strength would be a tremendous 1 on 1 player. Think Daniel Narcisse (only an even better athlete).
Tayshaun Prince (Basketball): An OK choice. I’m not sold that he would be a great player and at 31 years old he’s showing a little age.
Team Fatsis vs. Team Pesca
Just looking at the starting lineups, the advantage is clearly Fatsis. First off, Pesca didn’t even choose a goalie, but setting that aside Team Pesca is too old and is sorely lacking in quickness. In particular, you can’t have converted tight ends playing the wing. Matt Kemp and Michael Vick would have a field day on the fast break. Midway through the first half, the bulky football players would really be huffing and puffing and Derrick Rose would probably be angrily urging them to show a little hustle. Meanwhile Team Fatsis, led undoubtedly by a cheerful Tebow would still be motoring along. It would only get uglier in the 2nd half. Another aspect that Fatsis probably stumbled upon is having a few left handers on his squad. This would make a dramatic difference on the right side of the court. I’m guessing we’re looking at an ugly score line, perhaps 35-22.
Tim Tebow: Future American Team Handball Star?
The Tebow story has been fascinating to follow this year. For those who don’t follow American Football, Tim Tebow is a quarterback for the Denver Broncos, who’s open religious displays have made him a polarizing figure. Additionally, there had been great debate as to whether this great college player could become a great professional player. This season he started out on the bench, but midway through the season he became the starter and led Denver to several improbable, crazy comeback victories. In short, there are Tebow lovers and Tebow haters. And as someone who has rooted religiously against the Denver Broncos for almost 30 years, you can probably guess which side of the debate I fall under. Still, even a Tebow hater like me has to begrudgingly accept that he is a tremendous athlete with undoubtedly strong skills as a leader/motivator. That being said he’s got no long term future as an NFL quarterback. I think that will become apparent to all (even Tebow himself) after a couple of seasons. Is it conceivable that this unconventional QB will then seek other opportunities off the mainstream, even ones without a big pay day? After all, the Broncos, have already had one quarterback, Jake Plummer, retire early to play handball (albeit, the wrong one). Tim Tebow, Olympic Athlete, leading American Team Handball to the promised land. Even I can get on board with that.
Slate: Hang up and Listen Year End Podcast: http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/hang_up_and_listen/2011/12/hang_up_and_listen_s_special_.year_end_call_in_show_.html
THN (11 Nov 2010): America’s most famous handball player talks about his legacy http://teamhandballnews.com/2010/11/america%e2%80%99s-most-famous-handball-player-talks-about-his-legacy/