Commentary

Steve Jobs' reach into sports

Updated: October 7, 2011, 9:36 AM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

I learned of Steve Jobs' death while checking for the baseball scores on my iPhone.

[+] EnlargeLamar Odom
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesLamar Odom uses his iPad prior to a 2010 Finals game.

And that's it -- that's the one-byte summation. While Jobs' astounding legacy of creativity and innovation will never be foremost connected with the sports industry, his impact on our little corner of the world is profound all the same.

That Super Bowl advertising extravaganza, the four-hour "best-of" commercial parade that some people watch as closely as they do the sacred game itself? That started with Jobs.

Those earbuds you see dangling from most of the athletes as they walk off the bus or step onto the court for a shootaround? Jobs.

Coaches now routinely use iPads to draw up game plans and critiques and send them along to their players. A significant chunk of the most interesting parts of TV broadcasts are composed on Apple products, which have been the creative choice of artists, writers and editors almost from their inception. The iPhone is a default repository for the best sports apps and immediate access to game info. Supermodel Marisa Miller used the strategic placement of an iPod upon her as part of one of the more iconic swimsuit photos in memory. (You're welcome, America.)

And, not to put too fine a point on it, Jobs was the single largest shareholder of the Disney Company, which owns ESPN and, thus, this very page. It's a small world, after all.

Although he was known to remark about "our fans in the bleachers" who supported Apple, Jobs, who died Wednesday at age 56, was no sports heavy. He swam competitively as a kid but abandoned the endeavor as he got older, spending his time instead at Hewlett-Packard seminars and other computing-related ventures. He briefly took up golf in the 1990s before concluding, as so many have done, that he could never put in the hours required to get good at it.

But Jobs left his mark on the sports world all the same, even in places he might not have imagined. This week, as tributes poured in, one came from a gaming site that pointed out matter-of-factly the influence that the iPhone had on that industry, its various apps making it easier than ever for gamblers to link to the sites that would ultimately take their action or deal them a hand.

Really? Apple and gambling? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. And that's less than the half of it.

It was Apple's deep commitment to launching the Macintosh personal computer, back in the 1980s, that led Jobs and his cohorts to what proved a profound and forward-thinking decision: They would use one of the most American events on the calendar, the Super Bowl, as the place to debut perhaps the most audacious commercial ever created.

The result, the famous "1984" ad, played like a movie trailer, but with the sonic and visual punch of an advertisement. You don't have to Google for long to find it. And it was that ad, beyond any other development, that ushered in the age of the Super Bowl commercial craze. Or, to put it another way, you wouldn't have the Betty White Snickers commercial if you didn't first have the dark, Orwellian Mac ad of '84.

I don't know if it's for better or worse that the athlete I'm trying to interview can now walk past me with his earbuds tucked in and songs blasting into his skull, but that's an Apple thing. The iPad, a relatively new addition to the product stable, has already found huge favor among time-conscious coaches, who can download video, take it on the airplane and commence their suffering immediately as they "review the film."

And then there's my beloved, indefatigable iPhone, the one I used on Wednesday evening to learn that Ryan Roberts had already crushed a grand slam off Randy Wolf and, by the way, Steve Jobs passed away after battling a rare and insidious form of pancreatic cancer.

I was in San Francisco, just a short drive north of Silicon Valley, when I received the news. Right after that, my phone sent me an alert that the Cardinals had grabbed the lead from the Phillies. Jobs' vision was still being realized.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His book, "The Voodoo Wave," is in international release. His work "Six Good Innings" was named a Top 10 Sports Book by Booklist. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

MORE COMMENTARY »