The Poker Starting Five: Who Is On Your Team?

Starting Five lead image_15may17.jpg

After a lengthy lead-up, the NBA Finals has at last arrived. Following such a long regular season and multiple rounds of playoffs, it's a bit like what happens when a large field poker tournament finally reaches its conclusion - there's just one more heads-up battle to go and a winner soon will be crowned.

Connections between sports and poker run deep, of course. Many professional athletes - including basketball stars, past and present - have found the world's favorite card game a satisfying outlet for their desire for competition, either in between games or once their careers have ended.

In a post-game press conference this season, Russell Westbrook revealed he plays poker on his phone as a way to relax. Gilbert Arenas, Shawn Marion, Tony Parker and Earl Barron are among the many other contemporary basketball stars who have all have professed a liking for the game.

At one of his recent visits to play at the World Series of Poker, longtime great Paul Pierce described enjoying the "mental warfare" of poker, calling it "a beautiful game" and "tough to master."

But basketball isn't the only sport from which have come enthusiastic poker players, some of whom have shown a genuine talent for the game.

As the NBA Finals gets set to tip off, let's consider which professional athletes we might choose to send out on the court as a "poker starting five."

1. Richard Seymour (Center)

Richard Seymour_15May17.jpgAmerican football legend Richard Seymour now loves to sack opponents at the poker table

Over the course of 13 seasons as one of American football's top defensive ends, Richard Seymour proved himself on the gridiron for his multiple All-Pro selections and his position on three championship winning teams. He even occasionally lined up on the offensive side of the ball in goal-line situations, proving his versatility as an athlete.

Since retiring in 2012, Seymour has taken to a different green playing surface, earning multiple cashes in poker tournaments around the U.S. Most recently, Seymour made deep runs in the World Poker Tour Five Diamond Classic and in this year's PokerStars Championship Bahamas Main Event.

Seymour will give us height and bulk in the middle, with his ability to play both defense and offense - like knowing how to switch gears in a poker tournament - sure to help our team on both ends of the court.

2. Teddy Sheringham (Small Forward)

Teddy Sheringham_15May17.jpgSheringham has had great success in tournaments and cash games in the London area since hanging up his soccer boots

With Seymour in the frontcourt, we can put another standout in football - the round kind, that is - in Teddy Sheringham. Forward was Sheringham's position in soccer, too, where he helped lead Manchester United to three Premiership titles, along with an FA Cup and a UEFA Champions League, as one of the most prolific scorers in the sport's history.

Sheringham is one of the most accomplished poker players among former professional athletes, having earned nearly $330,000 in tournament cashes over the years, with a fifth-place showing in the European Poker Tour Vilamoura Main Event in 2010 a career highlight.

On the pitch, Sheringham showed a consistent ability to put the ball in the net, something our team will need, as we'll need someone to help us put points on the board in the same way Sheringham has racked up tournament scores.

3. Greg Mueller (Power Forward)

Greg Mueller_15May17.jpgWould you want to bluff a former Munich Mad Dog?!

Over at the power forward position, we'll send out the Canadian Greg Mueller, who some may not realize had a nine-year career as a professional hockey player during the 1990s that predated his successful run of poker tournament cashes.

Mueller played tenacious defense for professional teams in Germany, including the excellently-named Munich Mad Dogs, not quite realizing his dream of getting to the NHL before retiring from the game.

Moving over to poker, Mueller started accumulating tournament cashes in 2003 and now has more than $2.7 million in lifetime earnings, including a couple of WSOP bracelets earned in limit hold'em events in 2009.

With the nickname "Full Blown Tilt" and an understanding of how to check opponents, either into the boards or in anticipation of check-raising them to gain an extra bet in LHE, Mueller adds both savviness and strength to our lineup.

4. Sergio Garcia (Shooting Guard)

Sergio Garcia_15May17.jpgGarcia finally won the big one in golf this year. Will he be able to add a big poker title to his resume soon?

Sergio Garcia has enjoyed a lengthy, successful career including dozens of titles and many deep finishes in golfing majors.

However up until this spring, Garcia had yet to win one of golf's coveted "majors," a bit like a great poker player who racks up many seconds and thirds, but keeps missing out on capturing the trophy and being in the winner's photo.

That changed with the 2017 Masters Tournament, a tournament Garcia won in a playoff. While he's realized only modest success in tournament poker, he turns up now and again in his native Spain to play and at PokerStars events in the Bahamas. He has a handful of cashes to his credit, including a 51st-place finish in the PCA Main Event in 2012.

Garcia's one of many golfers who has enjoyed success despite having what some call an unorthodox swing.

He's similar to certain shooters in basketball without textbook technique but who achieve consistency nonetheless, or poker players who win without always taking "standard" lines.

5. Vince Van Patten (Point Guard)

Vince Van Patten_15May17.jpgVan Patten has proven himself an ace on both the tennis court and at the poker table

Finally, we need someone to handle and distribute the ball, a role for which longtime World Poker Tour co-commentator Vince Van Patten seems a good fit.

A professional tennis player during the 1970s and early 1980s, Van Patten won ATP Rookie of the Year in 1979, and was ranked inside the top 30 in both singles and doubles worldwide for a time.

His tennis career highlight came when he won the Seiko World Super Tennis tournament in Tokyo in 1981, defeating John McEnroe on the way to the title.

Besides commentating on the WPT, Van Patten is a cash game regular. He's also collected several tournament cashes and made a number of final tables over the years, including making the money in the 2010 WSOP Main Event.

Van Patten has had a notable acting career as well, appearing in numerous films, television shows and commercials.

Obviously one who is comfortable in the spotlight, Van Patten will have the ball in his hands a lot and thus - like at the poker tables - should be a good one to drive the action.

Coming Off the Bench

We might well have included Van Patten's co-host Mike Sexton in the starting lineup, too, as he's both a Poker Hall of Famer and competed as a gymnast in college.

Let's bring Sexton in off the bench along with the Australian cricketer Shane Warne, known as one of the game's best bowlers and a frequent casher at the Aussie Millions. Warne even cashed one time in the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2015.

We could use others with records of high achievement to fill out the squad, such as Olympic skier and gold medalist Petter Northug who also cashed in the WSOP Main Event in 2010.

Team PokerStars Pro Fatima Moreira de Melo, who has an Olympic gold, silver and a bronze for field hockey, would be an obvious asset to have on the team.

So would the all-time leader in Olympic gold medals, swimmer Michael Phelps, who has cashed in Las Vegas tournaments in recent years.

We should additionally recruit Ronaldo Nazario, who as a three-time FIFA Player of the Year was part of two World Cup winnings teams for Brazil. Ronaldo has also cashed in the Bahamas, taking 26th in the PCA Main Event in 2015.

Sam Trickett likewise should have a spot on the team, what with his $20 million in lifetime earnings following a footballing career cut short by injury.

Finally, to coach the squad, let's recruit the Godfather of Poker himself, Doyle Brunson. As some may know, before becoming one of the most famous and gifted poker players ever, "Tex Dolly" was a gifted athlete, excelling in track and basketball.

In fact, after playing basketball in college Brunson attracted interest from the Minneapolis Lakers, but as happened with Trickett, an injury thwarted his career.

Such a background would make Brunson an ideal leader for our team of poker players, knowing as he does the many similarities between poker and basketball and how "both trigger the same exciting rush" (as he put in in his autobiography).

Which poker-playing athletes would you include in your starting five? Let us know on Twitter @PokerStarsBlog!