Sometimes, when you watch greatness on a nightly or week-to-week basis, you begin to take it for granted. As I was looking at the Bovada odds for the American League MVP last week, and seeing Jose Altuve as the favorite to win the award, this whole "following an MVP campaign" all felt very familiar. After all, we watched James Harden finish second in the NBA's MVP balloting in 2015, and J.J. Watt do likewise in the NFL in 2014.
It dawned on me at that moment just how much individual greatness we've had a chance to witness in this city over the last three years, and quite honestly, how little we've been able to fully appreciate it. After all, despite the transcendent individual feats of the above mentioned superstars, their teams have not come close to raising their respective levels to that of their star players.
The Texans finished 9-7 with a 30-0 playoff loss last season. The Rockets followed up a Western Conference Finals run with a 41-41 2015-16 and a five-game thumping at the hands of Golden State. Finally, the Astros are in the middle of an August swoon that is about to functionally end their season.
While it'd be a shame to burn all of the in-their-prime daylight of these titans with team mediocrity, we can still sit back and assess just how lucky we are in Houston to watch all three of these guys. In fact, let's do that — let's answer the question "How does Houston's 'Big Three' stack up with those in other American sports cities?"
For purposes of our ratings, which are determined entirely, admittedly by my own subjective thoughts (nope, nothing empirical about this), the criteria is "How much greatness are we witnessing right now?" Bonus points if the athletes are in their primes with many years like this in front of them. Age matters. The closer to their prime, the better. Not too young, not too old.
Also, we can only pick one player from a particular sports team. In other words, Oakland can't use Steph Curry AND Kevin Durant. Cleveland can't use LeBron James AND Kyrie Irving. Miami can't use Ricky Jerret AND Charles Greane. (Ballers reference) Also, the athletes must play for teams in that city, however, if there is a particular individual sport athlete who represents a city that is short on team sports, we can use him or her. (Call this the "Michael Phelps Corollary.")
So without further ado, let's start with a few Honorable Mentions before we get to the Top 10:
ATLANTA — Julio Jones (NFL), Dwight Howard (NBA), Freddie Freeman (MLB)
Jones might be the best wide receiver in football ... Howard is still a big name, the biggest on his new team ... Freeman is the best player on a bad baseball team.
DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki (NBA), Tony Romo (NFL), Rougned Odor (MLB)
Dirk is an elder statesman now, but still a huge international name ... If healthy, Romo would've possibly bumped Dallas into the top ten ... Odor is only 22 with a big future in front of him, even if he is a bit of a jerk.
DETROIT — Andre Drummond (NBA), Matthew Stafford (NFL), Justin Verlander (MLB)
Drummond just signed a max deal this offseason ... Stafford has had what feels like max deals his whole career (if the NFL had maximums) ... Verlander is engaged to Kate Upton, end of story.
MIAMI — Giancarlo Stanton (MLB), Ndamukong Suh (NFL), Hassan Whiteside (NBA)
Stanton is one of baseball's top sluggers ... Suh is a wrecking machine on a shaky Dolphin defense ... With Chris Bosh's health questionable and Dwyane Wade gone, Whiteside is now the Heat's best player.
MINNEAPOLIS — Karl Anthony-Towns (NBA), Adrian Peterson (NFL), Brian Dozier (MLB)
Towns is soon to be a Top 15 player in the NBA ... Peterson might still be the best running back in the league at age 31 ... I needed a Twin, so Dozier (who just hit a home run against the Astros as I typed his name. Dammit!)
NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony (NBA), Odell Beckham, Jr. (NFL), Yoenis Cespedes (MLB)
Struggled with whether to use Anthony or Kristaps Porzingis, but Anthony is still the best player on the Knicks ... Beckham is proof that if you're a star in New York, you're just a much bigger star ... the New York baseball player on here is a Met! Cespedes!
Ok, now onto the top ten....
10. OAKLAND — Steph Curry (NBA), Khalil Mack (NFL), Sonny Gray (MLB)
Curry is a two-time NBA MVP, including the first ever unanimous MVP. This spot next year (if I make this an annual thing, and hmmmmm... content!) for the basketball nod might go to Kevin Durant, but for now it's Steph. Mack is a wrecking machine who got votes for the All-Pro teams at two positions. Texan fans weep every time they see his name. Sonny Gray has star level stuff as a starting pitcher, but has been way below average this season. Still Curry and Mack carry the day. (Negative points since both the NBA team and NFL team will/may be gone from Oakland within two years, the Warriors to San Francisco and the Raiders possibly to Las Vegas.)
9. PITTSBURGH — Antonio Brown (NFL), Sid Crosby (NHL), Andrew McCutcheon (MLB)
It was a coin flipper to use Brown or Ben Roethlisberger as the Steeler. I chose Brown for his youth and his other worldly numbers. Crosby is one of the top five players in hockey, and led the team to a Stanley Cup this past spring. McCutcheon, like Gray for Oakland, is a player with great tools and some good seasons under his belt who is having a subpar 2016.
8. BALTIMORE — Manny Machado (MLB), Joe Flacco (NFL), Michael Phelps (Olympics)
Machado is an MVP candidate, a three-time All Star and a two-time Gold Glover. Oh, and he's 24 years old. Flacco was my "lesser of all evils" pick from a downtrodden Ravens team, but hey, he did win a Super Bowl a few years ago. Phelps just won another gold medal as I typed this sentence. Literally. He's a Baltimore native, and we can use Phelps here since Baltimore is a two-pro-sport town.
7. SEATTLE — Russell Wilson (NFL), Robinson Cano (MLB), Clint Dempsey (MLS/USMNT)
Russell Wilson is in the conversation for "best quarterback in the NFL." I really feel that way, despite his ridiculous junior high antics on Instagram, such as bragging about having sex with his wife. I mean, his wife is smoking hot, but it's like...wow, congrats, bro...you bagged your wife. Cano is living up to a $200 million-plus contract for the Mariners, and with soccer as the third pro sport in Seattle, we will go with Dempsey, who at age 33 is still getting it done domestically and internationally.
6. CHICAGO — Kris Bryant (MLB), Patrick Kane (NHL), Jimmy Butler (NBA)
Kris Bryant is one of baseball's top sluggers for one of baseball's best teams who plays in one of baseball's most hallowed ballparks. That's pretty good. Kane led the NHL in scoring. Butler is the best player on a tragically flawed Bulls team whose three best players can't shoot the ball outside of 15 feet.
5. CLEVELAND — LeBron James (NBA), Joe Haden (NFL), Francisco Lindor (MLB)
The question with Cleveland was "How far can LeBron James singlehandedly pull them up these rankings?" after he reclaimed the throne of "King of Basketball" in June. The answer is "fifth place," as he is dragged down slightly by the Browns' best player being the oft-injured Haden, and the Indians' best player being a 22-year-old stud who is rising but not quite at Altuve's level yet in Lindor.
4. WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bryce Harper (MLB), John Wall (NBA), Alex Ovechkin (NHL)
Harper is a douche-beast (which is the best simultaneous insult and compliment I could come up with for him) who is destined to someday sign a ten-year, $400 million deal with the Yankees. John Wall is a former first overall pick who needs to raise his team's level this season. Ovechkin was the NHL's only 50-goal scorer this past season. Amazingly, no Redskins! Sorry, Kirk Cousins....you DON'T like that! You DON'T like that!
3. BOSTON — Tom Brady (NFL), David Ortiz (MLB), Al Horford (NBA)
Easily the most decorated threesome in these rankings, what with Brady's four Super Bowl rings, and Big Papi's three World Series rings, but with both guys pushing or past the age of 40, the "twilight year" rule is pulling their city's score down. Also, their number three star player, Horford, hasn't played a game for the Celtics yet, which also hurts the score. I pondered putting Gronk in here, but out of respect, Brady will stay here until his performance drops off.
2. LOS ANGELES — Chris Paul (NBA), Mike Trout (MLB), Todd Gurley (NFL)
I struggled with whether or not to put Boston at number two because of all the bling Brady and Ortiz own, but in the end, I wanted to stay true to the "watching greatness in its prime" rule of my rankings. Paul is probably on the tail end of his prime, but he's been the best point guard in basketball over the past decade. Trout is 25 and is the next Mickey Mantle; Gurley is 22 and about to take the "best RB in football" title belt for the next four years.
1. HOUSTON — J.J. Watt (NFL), Jose Altuve (MLB), James Harden (NBA)
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This may not be a golden age for our teams in Houston, but dammit, are we getting to watch some great players or what?
If Altuve finishes second for the American League MVP, which is a distinct possibility with the Astros fading from the playoff picture, we would have our third MVP runner-up in three years — Watt in 2014, Harden in 2015, Altuve in 2016.
Has that ever happened before?
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.