Deal rich in irony

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

You watch Sidney Crosby transformed from a 17-year-old kid to a 17-year-old kid/corporate pitchman and part of you is happy for him.

Why shouldn't some of the money Crosby has generated go into his pockets?

He makes $35 a week in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and considering the hundreds of thousands he has generated, he probably is due for a bit of a raise.

The endorsement contract with Reebok will pay him millions of dollars and position Crosby as the company's signature hockey player.

Sid belongs to the world now. Reebok has LeBron James and Andy Roddick and Allen Iverson and Yao Ming and rapper 50 Cent.

He is a hybrid that works, an exceptionally fast, rock-solid, extraordinarily creative kid who is Canadian enough to go along with a system that put him in Rimouski 15 years after Eric Lindros considered the prospect of Sault Ste. Marie too unpalatable to bear.

He is the player of his generation, in temperament and in playing style, built to last far better than the mercurial Lindros. And he works at it.

A star at the world junior championship, Crosby went back to Rimouski and redoubled his efforts despite the NHL lockout that still jeopardizes his draft coronation.

"My goal always has been to have the best season possible and if there's a draft, to (be selected) No. 1," he said.

He has 32 goals and 71 points in just 22 games since he got back from North Dakota and ramped up his standing as the best hockey player working in North America.

There was a staggering crush of media at the Air Canada Centre to commemorate Crosby's deal with Reebok.

Part of that, of course, is because of the lack of an NHL alternative. Reporters came to see where Crosby fits into the the black hole that once was the hockey universe.

They wanted to know if he will listen to offers from European teams or the WHA (he will) and whether he would consider work as a replacement player (he won't).

But that Crosby is untainted also contributes mightily to his appeal. Finally, a chance to speak to a hockey player who didn't have an NHLPA hat perched atop his head.

Reebok loves Crosby because he isn't about the money and there's no denying the quality of the kid. He spent his off-day Sunday playing pond hockey with friends. "His values, what he stands for, is what we want to be connected with," said Matt O'Toole, president and CEO of The Hockey Company.

It's hard to find a hockey player younger than Gordie Howe you would want your kid to emulate right now. The Reebok roster includes Mike Modano, who got a little more famous at the World Cup when he said he couldn't feed his dogs for $400 a month. Another Reebok endorser, Chris Pronger, recently proved that even 6-foot-6 defencemen can be put in their place by the right union boss.

It has come to this. Finally, an announcement of a business deal between a 17-year-old and a U.S.-based sportswear giant with sales of $3.8 billion to distract us from all these damned stories about money.

Only, this is another story about money and if money won't change who Crosby is, it will change what he is. He still may be an NHL superstar in waiting but he is no longer, on paper at least, a poor one.

What Sidney Crosby now stands for is Reebok and that is as inevitable as rain in spring, but nowhere near as welcome.

COMMODITY

Athletes have been flogging smokes and liniment and soft drinks since Howie Morenz left Stratford. But sport as commodity, franchises as entertainment conglomerates, athletes as nation states, an obsession with marketing that creates a vacuum of values, these are the precepts that have turned the NHL to ash.

Now, the league's latest future saviour holds a news conference to help leverage a new product line and phrases such as proprietary technology fill reporters' notepads.

"I'm not going to let this go to my head," Crosby said, and you know, he probably is right.

But the bottom line is Reebok wanted Sidney Crosby as an antidote to NHL players because he isn't inexorably linked with commerce. So they gave him a lot of money and now, in a funny way, he is.


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