1. Kobe Bryant
He wins, and yet he still can't win. I suspect he will spend his offseason sequestered in a hyperbaric chamber on Mount Kilimanjaro so as to combat the aging process and facilitate his quest for three more championship rings. This, I presume, is the only thing that Kobe truly believes will make him happy. And I do believe that at the age of 55, Kobe will have seven championship rings, and he will also live on a gated compound in Malibu with a fleet of housekeepers and several dozen reptiles as his sole company, and he will blog often about the the crossover dribble and Shaq's checkered tenure as the president of Pixar Studios and the rise of the lizard people.
2. Bryce Harper
First off, it's baseball, so it's only marginally relevant.* But the same frenzy erupts whenever a prodigy chooses to somehow defy our expectations for him, as if he will immediately end up marooned in the Vast Marinovich Cavern of wasted potential. But is this always true? Or is this an example of what Leonard Mlodinow writes about: That our natural human prejudices simply lead us to remember the bleakest scenarios, and therefore color our perceptions?
For example: Here are the fates of the other nine high-school athletes to have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, courtesy of the Wichita Eagle's Bob Lutz. The success rate is actually much higher than I imagined, if we define "success rate" in terms of "becoming a productive member of society" rather than "LeBron James":
Indiana high school basketball standout Rick Mount, in 1966, was the first. He still has the No. 7 career scoring average in NCAA history (32.3 points). He played four seasons in the American Basketball Association before retiring.
Tom McMillen, another high school hoops standout, was a cover boy in 1970 and played 11 OK seasons in the NBA before serving three terms as a U.S. Representative.
Kansan Mike Peterson appeared in 1971, billed as a four-sport star. He was a good athlete at Emporia State. (Appears fine, according to the link above, though seems like he may relate, more than anyone else on this list, to Springsteen's "Glory Days."--MW)
Bruce Hardy, from Utah, was billed as the country's top prep football player when he appeared on a 1974 cover and played 12 years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.
Hockey player Bobby Carpenter went on to become the first American to score 50 goals in a season after appearing on a 1981 cover. (Played nearly two decades in the NHL.-MW)
Kristie Phillips was hailed as "The New Mary Lou Retton" in 1986 but instead went to LSU and became a cheerleader. (Phillips has accomplished a great deal since then, if we are to measure one's worth through Wikipedia.-MW)
Texas high school pitcher Jon Peters was on the cover in 1989 because of his 51-0 record. But he tore a rotator cuff and was out of baseball by the age of 21. (Peters appears to have turned out fine.--MW)
Kevin Garnett appeared in 1985 and has become an NBA star.
James, of course, is a superstar of the highest magnitude. (Charley Rosen finds this statement reprehensible.--MW)
I find it kind of miraculous that merely by adding a molecule to water, we can create a product that disinfects my wounds, washes out my mouth, scrubs my contact lenses, bleaches hair, removes skunk odor, propels rockets, and induces vomiting in dogs.
*It's strange: Now that I've essentially become a baseball dropout, my only updates come through Facebook. So my complete knowledge of the game in the past month is this: Someone dropped a fly ball; therefore, the Mets are cursed. Also, the Royals are predictably terrible, and the Indians can only win when waterfowl become actively involved in the game, and the Phillies must be all right because no one seems to be complaining much. I suppose if I can find friends in 25 more cities, I will never need to watch a single inning ever again.