According to Jorge Luis Borges, there are only four stories to tell: a love story between two people, a love story between three people, a struggle for power and a voyage. These same stories are rewritten ad infinitum. With all due respect to the Argentinian literary master, his list is incomplete in its blatant exclusion of the classic narrative revolving around three crime-fighting superstar athletes working together to help children and protect the environment. Of course, I’m referring to Pro Stars, the Saturday morning cartoon that aired on NBC from September 14 to December 7, 1991.
The cartoon, featuring animated versions of Wayne Gretzky, Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan, was the zenith of athletes misrepresented as heroes. It lasted for 13 episodes, including a finale clip show. Yes, a clip show recapping the adventures of an animated series. Consider the poor man’s version of Alphabits breakfast cereal that was created as a synergistic commercial tie-in, and the cartoon becomes a time capsule for everything that was wrong with the early nineties, minus the Parker Lewis Can’t Lose button downs.
Since we began this piece by “correcting” something said by a great thinker, let’s continue with that trend. The philosopher George Santayana once warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, I’m sure that what Santayana actually meant is that those who recall mistakes from the past with a sense of ironic detachment will be condemned to write blog posts repeating the very same ideas.
As such, is it not time to resurrect and reboot the Pro Stars institution, not so much to fight off thinly veiled animated stand-ins for Rupert Murdoch and the Koch family, but rather our own amusement in figuring out the modern day equivalents to Gretzky, Jackson and Jordan?
Given the utter dominance of Sidney Crosby and LeBron James, finding representatives for the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association is fairly easy. Crosby has emerged as the best player in hockey this season, scoring more points than any other player and setting the highest point per game pace by anyone not named Mario Lemieux in the last fifteen years. His Pittsburgh Penguins have more wins than any other team in the league. Similarly, James has led the Miami Heat to the best record in basketball by averaging 26.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game. His 31.2 Player Efficiency Rating ranks as the seventh greatest season in NBA history. Of the 10 best years according to PER, James has three of them.
What the first two Pro Stars selections lack in competition, the third and final spot makes up for with an entirely wide open field. It ends up that there aren’t a whole lot of equivalents to Bo Jackson. No, he was never as dominant in one particular field as Crosby, Gretzky, James or Jordan, but Jackson’s versatility combined with a likable image and a corresponding marketing machine makes him difficult to replace.
Nonetheless, here, for crowd sourcing purposes, is a list of candidates to consider:
Name: Lance Armstrong
Pros: Will win at any cost.
Cons: Ambiguity as to whether he’s a hero or villain.
Ability to sell cereal: Not good. Questions over ingredients are bound to arise.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 88 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Matthew McConaughey.
Name: Usain Bolt
Pros: Has pre-existing super power with his speed.
Cons: Foreign-sounding name isn’t likely to go over well in middle America.
Ability to sell cereal: Good. Winning smile combined with worldwide appeal.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 56 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Leon.
Name: Bryce Harper
Pros: Natural at supplying catch-phrases.
Cons: Are Mormons even allowed to be animated? Such a clown question.
Ability to sell cereal: Good. Hasn’t met a marketing deal he didn’t like.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 38 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Shia Labeouf.
Name: Bo Jackson (Today)
Pros: There is only one Bo Jackson.
Cons: The one Bo Jackson has an artificial hip, and isn’t as svelte as he once was.
Ability to sell cereal: Good. Sales from nostalgic and ironically detached demographics are a given.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 84 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Bo Jackson.
Name: Lionel Messi
Pros: Equals Crosby and James in terms of being the best in his chosen field.
Cons: Small enough to get stepped on by James.
Ability to sell cereal: Good at the domestic level, but might take time to get going at the international level.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 34 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Javier Bardem.
Name: Adrian Peterson
Pros: Muscular physique and maximum effort has top-selling action figure written all over it.
Cons: Penchant for throwing himself in way of danger could catch up to him, and lead to character’s early demise.
Ability to sell cereal: Good, but sales will only go as far as team around him.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 62 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Taye Diggs.
Name: Cristiano Ronaldo
Pros: Worldwide appeal and well-shaped eyebrows.
Cons: I don’t know. He just seems kind of douchey.
Ability to sell cereal: Not good. Requires too great a suspension of disbelief to accept someone with his stomach muscles actually eating cereal.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 48 were aware of his existence when he played for Manchester United, now only 32.
Voice Artist: Joaquim de Almeida.
Name: Ronda Rousey
Pros: Having a mixed martial artist on the team could be a powerful weapon for fighting the bad guys.
Cons: Good luck getting likeness rights off of UFC President Dana White.
Ability to sell cereal: Good. Under threat of violence we’ll all comply.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, one is aware of her existence (not her own).
Voice Artist: Jodie Foster.
Name: Tim Tebow
Pros: ESPN television deal for cartoon is a certainty.
Cons: The twelve minutes devoted to promoting Bible study and prayer per episode will get tiresome.
Ability to sell cereal: Good. Has a history with commercials.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 77 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Thomas Haden Church.
Name: Manti Te’o
Pros: His super hero power is his trust.
Cons: Ambiguity as to whether he’s an actual member of the Pro Stars, or merely someone that the Pro Stars help out.
Ability to sell cereal: Good. He’s experienced selling the entire country on things that don’t even exist.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 14 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Al Harrington.
Name: Mike Trout
Pros: Mr. All-America is not a reference to the movie starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr.
Cons: Doesn’t really provide much of a foil the “Oh shucks, ma’am” shtick of Crosby.
Ability to sell cereal: The metrics say the best. Observation will tell you there are better.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 59 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Brad Pitt.
Name: Tiger Woods
Pros: Excellent fist pumps.
Cons: Weakness for certain temptations.
Ability to sell cereal: Good, especially while wearing a red collared pull over.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 91 are aware of his existence.
Voice Artist: Denzel Washington.
Name: Caroline Wozniacki
Pros: Master of disguise.
Cons: Too defensive, unlikely to mount much of an attack. She’ll sit back and wait for the villain to make a mistake which can get boring sometimes.
Ability to sell cereal: Good. The face of the Compeed®BlisterPatch will sell anything.
Nana Index: Out of 100 North American nanas, 12 are aware of her existence.
Voice Artist: Noomi Rapace.
Illustration by Miranda McGuire.