Vhy a duck? Leigh Montville's latest for Sports on Earth is a lot of fun:

I once sat next to a shoe guy on a flight between somewhere and somewhere else. This was before the age of earbuds and the iPhone and other intellectual diversions, so we had an actual conversation.

He had been a shoe guy all of his life and now worked for a company that put out duck shoes, those rubber-and-leather half boots for hiking that you'd find in an L.L. Bean catalogue. I had seen some television ads for the shoes, which were big at the time. The ads featured a duck, maybe a father or grandfather to that Aflac Duck of today. The duck stomped around a few puddles in those duck shoes. Didn't worry about getting wet.

"Pretty good, using that duck," I said to the shoe guy. "Saves you some money from signing some famous athletes for endorsements like Nike or Reebok would do. Michael Jordan. Lance Armstrong. Tiger Woods. The duck probably costs you like … nothing."

"Costs nothing," the shoe guy agreed. "Plus he never gets in trouble. No DUIs. No domestic disturbances. No drugs. No problems. None at all. Doesn't say one word you don't want him to say."

This fact was accompanied by a story. In his younger days, the shoe guy said he had been involved with a sneaker company. This was not one of the famous sneaker companies of today; it was a plucky little outfit trying to make a name for itself. The name it chose was Lew Alcindor. The company put all its marketing money into signing the greatest young basketball player on the planet to be the face of its product. The future was secure. The Lew Alcindor sneaker would dominate the market.

"You can guess what happened," the shoe guy said.

Changed his name?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

"Always go with the duck," the shoe guy said.

[Photo Credit: Richard Bord Getty Images]