Which of those three names in the title do not belong? It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to tell you that it’s me, although we do all have something in common.

Chauncey Billups is the basketball star for the Detroit Pistons and a former NBA Finals MVP. Folks around here know him as the prodigal son from Denver who has been in the national news lately as perhaps the most coveted free agent in the NBA this off-season.

Roy Halladay is the star pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. The former Cy Young award winner is a graduate of Arvada West High School and is one of five candidates for the final All-Star Game roster spot (voting ends Thursday at MLB.com at 4:00 p.m.).

Jason Bane is…well, you’re reading him.

Billups, Halladay and I all graduated from Colorado high schools in 1995. Our sporting careers crossed paths on the basketball court, though things obviously diverged significantly after high school.

I remember playing against Billups in middle school when we were in the same competitive basketball league. Every basketball player my age had heard about this tall stud who played for Skyview, but we only knew of him by his nickname: “Smooth” (he now has the name tattooed on his arm somewhere). When my team walked into the gym that first game in seventh grade, “Smooth” was nearly six feet tall and looked — compared to me, anyway — like he had gone through puberty while I was still working on long division.

Basketball was where I also ran across Halladay every year. I didn’t play baseball save for once boring coach-pitch season when I was a wee lad, but I always played basketball and frequently went up against Halladay’s Arvada West team. At 6-foot-6 in high school, he was a lot for our team to handle even though basketball wasn’t his best sport.

Naturally, I’ve kept an eye on the careers of both athletes as I went through college and slogged my way through various jobs. When I was a kid, and even through college, professional athletes seemed like they must have come from a different world than me. Now that I’m 30 years old, I know that top athletes do not come from a different place, although they certainly live in another world. Reports surfaced yesterday that Billups was on the verge of signing a 5 year, $60 million contract to stay with the Pistons. Halladay will earn a little less than $13 million in salary this season alone. The only contract I’ve ever signed was for a mortgage.

I always silently rooted for Billups and Halladay to make it big, but it wasn’t for pride or the chance to say, “I played against that guy once.” I guess I rooted for them because their success made the world a little more real for me. We may not all experience the same success in life, but we can often start from the same place. I suppose that’s just nice to know.