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Lesser-knowns nab all-world talent

There used to be a time when only the certified stars from the sporting world dated famous actresses and supermodels. Not anymore. 

There used to be a time when only the certified stars from the sporting world dated famous actresses and supermodels. If you’re Miss Universe, and Derek Jeter sees you on “Regis” the night after you won the crown, he’ll have his people call your people to set something up. Boom. Done.

Or if you’re the most recognizable athlete on the Miami Heat in the 1990s, and you can run an area like South Beach because you happen to model in the offseason (talking about Rony Seikaly here) and frequent all the right clubs … sure, you can land a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model like Elsa Benitez.

But how in the name of Lyle Lovett did a backup NBA point guard like J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks capture the heart of 2006 Miss Universe, Zuleyka Rivera?

By text message, of course.

Rivera, who was 18 when she won the crown, was in a relationship when she met Barea in their native Puerto Rico, but just like riding the pine in the NBA, he waited it out. When her relationship ended, he shot her texts and drove the lane from there.

Not a bad job by the undersized assist man who went undrafted out of Northeastern and now plays about 20 minutes a night backing up Jason Kidd.

Barea and Rivera have been dating for more than six months, and with any luck, she’ll be able to pry herself away from her soap opera job in Miami to show up at some Mavs playoff games. The Lone Star State needs a new smoking basketball wife after Eva Longoria dumped Tony Parker.

Northern Exposure

Anyone else feel like baseball’s increasingly becoming a regional sport? Sure, the big-spenders like the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox are known nationally (thanks ESPN), but also-rans like the Toronto Blue Jays, who haven’t made the postseason since John Olerud wore a hard hat at first base, are completely off the radar.

Other than the guy who bopped 54 homers for them last year (Jose Bautista, in case you’d forgotten), can you name five Blue Jays?

Here’s some help: Ricky Romero, who is probably their best pitcher. Why will he be easy to remember? Because Romero is dating the reigning Miss USA, Rima Fakih.

Someone on Twitter had a great line: In Toronto on Opening Day, you had a kid of Mexican descent pitching; his girlfriend, Miss USA, is from Lebanon. Pretty neat. Cooler than that: Romero is making $30 million.

–Jason Raj McIntyre covers athletes off the field and runs the popular blog, TheBigLead.com

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