David needed Goliath. Bill Russell fed off Wilt Chamberlain. Phil Mickelson required Tiger Woods.
A villain is almost a prequisite in any sporting event, simply because almost everyone needs someone to root against.
It's probably been that way ever since man starting competing against each other ... back to the days of the Roman Coliseum.
If there's any doubt about that, look at how an almost entire sports nation galvanized itself to root for the Dallas Mavericks against the Miami Heat this past season.
It wasn't that there were that many Dallas fans out there. It had more to do with rooting against LeBron James and his somewhat haughty group of teammates in South Beach.
America's sporting masses were more than a little put off by James and his arrogant actions after deciding to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers a year ago.
That's why there was so much national glee when LaFraud (a popular t-shirt made in Cleveland) came up short against the blue-collar Mavs in the finals.
The same was true when Mickelson bested Woods for the 2010 Masters championship.
Now, Tiger had already put off many sports fans with his icy-cold demeanor on the pro circuit. He acknowledged very few fans, didn't sign autographs and had a caddy straight out of bad manners school. And that was before his two-timing ways came very much to light just a couple of months before the Masters.
Mickelson has always been just the opposite of his chief rival. He took time to sign autographs, chat with fans, and generally, didn't act like he was the lord putting up with the peasants.
On top of that, Mickelson had a wife and mother both battling cancer at the time. He wore a pink ribbon during the tournament to support their fight, and when he hugged his wife after winning in Augusta, there wasn't a dry eye between Portland, Me. and Portland, Ore.
The parallels between Russell and Chamberlain came down to different parameters.
Wilt, probably the best player ever in the sport, stood 7-foot-1 and could have dominated any opponent he wished to. But he reportedly had a gentle side that kept him from humiliating foes, although he did score 100 points on one memorable night in 1962.
Russell, who stood just 6-9, had a fierce competitive nature that drove him to limits far beyond his taller rival. He wasn't nearly as skilled as Chamberlain, but he helped produce several NBA championships for the Boston Celtics. But the majority of sports fans backed Russell because he was the smaller of the two. A 20th Century version of David and Goliath.
The villain theory also applies to teams. And the New York Yankees no doubt stand alone at the top of the list for many fans.
I learned at a young age that the Yankees were, indeed, the Evil Empire. They not all only had the best talent on the field, they showed no hesitation in going out and making one-sided trades to get even more good players. The theft of home run king Roger Maris and many others was a good example of that.
To this day, the Yankees practice that same mode of operation. They use their unlimited payroll to put the best team talent available on the field ... and they do it with an unmistakable haughtiness.
Like a Detroit Lions fan I once saw wearing a t-shirt that said "I root for whoever the Packers are playing," I always pull for any opponent of the Yankees.
That's just the way it is in the American game of heroes and villains.