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If You Race Zion Williamson, He Will Chase You Down and End You

LeBron James’s new competition show ‘Million Dollar Mile’ has one writer thinking about the athletes he’d least like to see in an obstacle course

A photo collage of J.J. Watt, Simon Biles, and Zion Williamson Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Network television is filled with obstacle courses. Apparently, there’s something appealing about watching people navigate a highly elaborate, physically demanding maze for the promise of a cash prize at the end of it. The cottage industry of obstacle course manufacturing must be absolutely booming. It’s gotten to the point that every new addition to the obstacle course pantheon (and they are frequent) is a slight variation of the same thing. What’s The Titan Games if not American Ninja Warrior overseen by Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson?

But on Wednesday night, CBS is bringing us Million Dollar Mile, a new obstacle course series that sounds, dare I say, somewhat original? The premise is this: A contestant runs through the streets of Los Angeles, completing obstacle courses with the ultimate goal of a $1 million prize should they make it to the end. The catch? A group of athletes—called “Defenders” for some reason—are unleashed after the contestant gets a head start, with the express purpose of stopping the contestant from finishing the course. So just to be clear: The “Defenders” are attempting to stop a normal person from taking a minuscule fraction of CBS’s money. They are the bad guys in this equation.

But while Million Dollar Mile is hosted by Tim Tebow and executive-produced by LeBron James, the athletes doing the chasing—such as Veejay Jones, the youngest person to win a Tough Mudder, and Spartan Race champion Faye Stenning—aren’t the kind of names that casual sports fans would recognize. Which is not to discredit the impressive athletic abilities of the “Defenders”—it’s just hard to create big dramatic stakes, or convince people to watch the show, if you don’t know the contestants or the pursuing athletes. Tim Tebow with a microphone can move the needle only so much.

But the show’s premise does raise an interesting question: Which athletes would you least want to be chased by? Bear in mind, the Million Dollar Mile course seems to be a solid balance between feats of speed and agility as well as strength, so someone like Shaq, for example, wouldn’t be that difficult to compete against; the man would not be able to do parkour without falling over himself. And if LeBron is already producing the series, I’m going to say he’s ineligible to compete—he’s too busy flexing on Instagram anyway. Aside from that, let’s assume all other famous athletes would be up to race against you in Million Dollar Mile; now, here are eight athletes who I’m pretty sure could easily defend CBS’s money from your feeble attempts at glory.

Zion Williamson

Is Zion thicc, or fat? Modern philosophers could debate this in perpetuity, but for the purposes of Million Dollar Mile, it simply doesn’t matter. Zion somehow packs over 280 pounds into a meaty 6-foot-7 frame, and does so without losing any next-level speed or athleticism. There’s a reason teams are tanking for Zion: He’s the Thicc That Was Promised, one of the most tantalizing NBA prospects of the past decade. He’s also been doing stuff like this at Duke all season:

The way he’s charging at Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter? Picture yourself racing to the next obstacle as Zion starts to gain on you. And even if you can make it to that next obstacle course before he does, would you really expect to beat Zion in a feat of strength? Have you seen what he does to basketball rims on a weekly basis? If there’s an option to walk away with $50,000 instead of competing in Million Dollar Mile against Zion, just take the money and shove it into a retirement fund.

Simone Biles

Gymnastics doesn’t get the same play as something like basketball or football, but Simone Biles is the undisputed GOAT of her sport. (Last summer, Biles won every event she competed in at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, becoming the first woman to win five all-around U.S. titles.)

Biles would be a nightmare to match up against, since the Million Dollar Mile teasers have shown more than a few obstacles that require jumping and quickly climbing surfaces. For example, if the contestant wants to exit with the money they’ve made so far, they have to climb a 150-foot wall using a rope. Imagine going through a physical gantlet, then having to climb a wall, while knowing one of the greatest gymnasts in history—who’s under 5 feet and weighs around 100 pounds—is on your tail. She’d fly up that wall, pass you, and perform a figurative (and perhaps at the end, literal) somersault on your wounded soul.

J.J. Watt

The basis of J.J. Watt’s entire NFL career is rushing toward the quarterback as fast as he can, while muscling past offensive linemen who often have to double-team him in an effort to slow him down. Unless he’s hit by the injury bug, Watt’s probably gonna prevail.

Watt, by all accounts, seems like a good dude—and maybe he’d feel bad about preventing you from winning a million bucks. (That’s a chance you’d have to pray for.) But he’s also a professional athlete, and they tend to be pretty competitive. If Watt considers your sad attempts to beat him in an obstacle course a challenge, well, you’d find out exactly how quarterbacks playing the Houston Texans feel every week. You could try yelling things like “T.J. is better!” or “At least Derek made it to the divisional round!” over your shoulder, but that would probably just make J.J. angrier.

Nafissatou Thiam

Nafissatou Thiam might not be a household name like Watt or Biles, but she’s the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in women’s heptathlon, and she remained a champion in 2017 and 2018. Statistically, Thiam has put together a compelling case that she’s one of the greatest heptathletes in track and field history—based on her recent string of medals, she is clearly the best current heptathlete.

If you aren’t familiar with heptathlon specifics, it’s the event that combines shot put, javelin, long jump, 800-meter run, and 100-meter hurdles, among other track and field events. To be a gold-medal-winning heptathlete you can’t just be good at one thing: You have to be fast and strong, be able to jump far, and be able to throw a damn javelin better than other versatile professional athletes. The Million Dollar Mile course—and your hope of paying off your student loans—is just asking to be shredded by Thiam and her multifaceted skill set.

Sergio Ramos

At 32, Sergio Ramos is slightly past his prime—not that age has stopped the Real Madrid captain from being one of the best center backs in the world. But that’s not why Ramos would be a frightening matchup for Million Dollar Mile: It’s because you know Ramos wouldn’t play fair. Ramos has, let’s call it, a colorful history on the pitch—take for example, the way he “accidentally” pulled Mo Salah’s shoulder during last year’s Champions League final. (If you say the name Sergio Ramos in front of a Liverpool fan, expect to hear a ton of profanity.)

He also tried to end Lionel Messi’s career a couple of years ago, because that’s a measured response to losing against your archrivals. He is a jerk to players on his own team’s youth squad. He has a club-record 25 red cards in La Liga. I’m not sure how Ramos would cheat and/or injure you during Million Dollar Mile—I don’t even understand why he would—but I do know that it would happen.

Saquon Barkley

The New York Giants may never have figured out the best way to utilize Saquon Barkey, but he wouldn’t have to deal with managerial incompetence on Million Dollar Mile. There’s no antiquated playbook and, thank god, no washed Eli Manning. It’s just you and Saquon, an athlete who gave dozens of college kids who tried to stop him nightmares. The Million Dollar Mile obstacle courses aren’t the NFL combine, but consider his performance there a sampler of what you can expect.

If you competed against Saquon in this series, well, let’s just say you wouldn’t be making any significant lifestyle changes afterward. Better keep hold of those Target coupons.

Katie Ledecky

There is a swimming portion to Million Dollar Mile, which is where Katie Ledecky—one of the best swimmers on the planet—would have a sizable advantage against a contestant. Beyond that, it’s reasonable to expect Ledecky would still hold her own in the other obstacles: good swimmers are typically tall and strong, making it all the easier to glide through the water. (Michael Phelps’s actual physiology is weirdly dolphin-like.)

You can bet on yourself in the other obstacles, but the second you jumped in a pool you, and your chance at $1 million, would be OVER. Ledecky would blow you out of the water, and then Tim Tebow would laugh at your expense. That’d be the worst part.

Russell Westbrook

There’s a ton of NBA athletes who’d probably wreck the Million Dollar Mile course: the Greek Freak, Aaron Gordon, and Donovan Mitchell would also be solid picks. But Russell Westbrook isn’t just a transcendent athlete: He’s also the one who seems genuinely pissed off 90 percent of the time.

Here’s an incomplete list of people who have angered Russell Westbrook:

Westbrook would probably treat Million Dollar Mile like the NBA Finals, and pretend you were Kevin Durant. And you would die.