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• Fans recognize great feats, players and teams regardless of provenance. No, the number of cheeseheads with Packers stock certificates gracing their walls can't compare to Barcelona's 170,000 members, 1,300 officially registered fan clubs, and 23 million Facebook followers—and the global balloting reflected that. (LeGrand himself helps make this case; this month he tweeted, What's the score of the Barcelona vs Madrid game?) Just the same, if today's social-media platforms had been in place during the 1990s, Michael Jordan and the Bulls would have scored high for the same reasons Messi and Barça did: Borders evaporate when the greatest player in his sport, on the most recognizable team, wins a title by playing in the most likable style.
• Fans and athletes now forge their own unmediated relationships. The supplicant-spectator who waits outside the locker room for an autograph is vanishing. A fan's heroes now reach out directly to him, as he does to them. When Darnell Dockett Ustreams from his shower stall, or Chris Paul offers instant commentary when his trade to the Lakers collapses, they're cutting out the middlemen. Fans know that a tweet is tapped out by the same hands that gathered in that touchdown pass or threw down that film-at-11 dunk. "Twitter is a digital locker room," says Steve Cobb, whose company Activ8Social designs marketing campaigns around sports and social media. "It's what a teammate says to a teammate. Fans love that they're not reading a watered-down p.r. statement."
The cover of SI has been a privileged place since 1954. Now that it can be accessed in print, on the web, in tablet form and on smartphones, by a fan base the world over, its impact and importance are greater than ever. But last week's balloting underscored that in the end, whatever the platform on which a story gets delivered, the story itself is what matters most.
When Eric LeGrand walks again—not if he does, as he'll hasten to tell you—he knows exactly what he'll do. "I'll go to Giants Stadium and find the exact spot on the field where I went down," he told SI's Jon Wertheim in October. "I'll lie there for a second. And then I'll get up on my own power and walk away."
It would be quite a moment. A moment made for a reelection campaign.
Me and @JozyAltidore yfrog.com/nvonbmj