10 Most Loyal Athletes of the Modern Sports Era

Micky Shaked@@mickyshakedContributor IIIJune 17, 2014

10 Most Loyal Athletes of the Modern Sports Era

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Finding an athlete who has been with his first and only professional team is a rarity these days.

    Players jump from city to city in search of bigger dollars and brighter lights while others are victims of strategy and salary cap.

    Tim Duncan just won his fifth NBA championship in his 17th season with the Spurs. Let's take a look at Tim and nine other athletes who planted their roots and never dug them up (or don't plan on it) until retirement, in no particular order. 

Tony Gwynn

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    This seems a fitting way to honor Tony Gwynn just days after he passed away from cancer.

    "Mr. Padre" played all of his 20 MLB seasons in San Diego, putting together one of the best offensive careers in league history.

    In a league with nine-figure contracts, Gwynn stayed put with his small-market team despite being a 15-time All-Star, eight-time NL batting champion and collecting 3,141 hits. He was one of the best contact hitters in baseball history, striking out just 434 times in his career. To give some perspective, Mark Reynolds totaled 434 strikeouts in the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined.

    San Diego made the playoffs just three times with Gwynn, reaching and losing the World Series in 1984 and 1998.

    He once said, "I don't think I could say to the Padres, `Hey, I want you guys to trade me.' Winning wouldn't mean as much to me doing it in somebody else's uniform, especially if I went there in the middle of the season. I think that would be a little weird."

    Gwynn truly felt the bond between player and organization and even stayed in San Diego after his playing career to coach his alma mater, San Diego State University.

Tim Duncan

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Winning makes loyalty easy. So why should we praise Tim Duncan for spending 17 seasons in San Antonio, especially when he just won his fifth ring?  

    Yes, the Spurs have rattled off 15 consecutive 50-win seasons. They also lost in the Western Conference Finals three times and endured a heart-breaking Finals loss to Miami in 2013. In this day and age, that's enough to make a player bolt for greener pastures.

    To be fair, Duncan has had the closest thing to a perfect situation in sports. He was partially responsible for that, signing a three-year contract before the 2012-13 season that paid him half of Kobe Bryant's salary the first year and will net him one-third of Bryant's $30 million if he suits up for another year.

    Rather than chase the max dollars elsewhere in the limelight of his career, Duncan took a major hometown discount to make just $360,000 more than Tiago Splitter.

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Martin Brodeur has it all. He's the NHL’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts, he's won four Vezinas and three Stanley Cups, and the league even changed its rules because of him.

    Arguably the best goaltender of all time, the 41-year-old refuses to hang it up after 21 seasons with the Devils. He recently signed another two-year contract to continue his legacy as arguably the league's greatest goaltender.

    And he's doing it in a timeshare with up-and-comer Corey Schneider. Brodeur started less than half the team's game this season, and his percentage of games played has been on the decline since 2009-10, per Hockey-Reference.com.

John Stockton, Utah Jazz

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    RON SCHWANE/Associated Press

    Nobody in the NBA has played more seasons with a single team than John Stockton. Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan may surpass him before they hang it up, but no player has spent more time with one team without winning a championship.

    Stockton endured the Showtime Lakers, Bad Boy Pistons, Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets and Michael Jordan. Yet he never tried to team up elsewhere for a championship, as Karl Malone did.

    The all-time leader in assists and steals had many suitors over his career willing to pay him a lot of money. In 1996, he negotiated a cap-friendly contract with the Jazz in exchange for guaranteed Delta Center ice time for his seven-year-old son's hockey team

Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

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    Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    Ray Lewis began and ended his 17-year Baltimore Ravens career with Super Bowl victories (the first came in his fifth season).

    One of the most menacing players to ever grace the gridiron also endured seven seasons of .500 football or worse. He played opposite Kyle Boller, Jeff Blake, Elvis Grbac, Tony Banks and Vinny Testaverde among others.

    Rather than hop onto Super Bowl regulars like the New England Patriots, he stuck around and developed players like Terrell Suggs.

    Talk about loyalty; many of the Ravens players credit their Super Bowl run to Lewis. First, he came back from a torn tricep in less than three months, and then announced his retirement before the 2012 playoffs and the rest is history.

Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

    Elgin Baylor earns double loyalty points as a player, and then again as a front office executive.

    The 11-time All-Star played all of his 13 seasons with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and lost in the NBA Finals all eight times he and the Lakers got there!

    But as Baylor began to age, he incurred a knee problem that would greatly hamper his game. By 1971, his injury was so problematic that he voluntarily retired nine games into the season, the game before their legendary 33-game winning streak started. The Lakers went on to finally win the championship that season, partially because Baylor got out of the way.

    The second act of his loyalty was to the Los Angeles Clippers, spending 22 years as vice-president of basketball operations. The team put together two losing seasons in that tenure, and Baylor endured years of Donald Sterling's "plantation-type structure".

Ray Borque, Boston Bruins

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    WINSLOW TOWNSON/Associated Press

    In the introductory slide we said this was a list of players who never left their original team.

    Ray Bourque is the exception. Bourque spent 20 seasons in Boston as one of the most celebrated Bruins players to ever don the sweater. He reached the Stanley Cup Final twice, losing both times.

    Desperate to hoist the finest trophy in sports, Bourque requested a trade to the Avalanche near the end of the 1999-2000 season. The next season, Bourque and the Avalanche did the deed.

    Three days after clinching Lord Stanley's Cup, Bourque brought it back to Boston for a rally attended by thousands of fans. The feelings were so mutual that the city followed Bourque's quest for the cup as if the Avalanche were its own team.

Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions

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    Chris Park/Associated Press

    Barry Sanders' is a murky tale of loyalty.

    The Hall of Fame running back played only 10 seasons, retiring healthy and within 1,500 yards of Walter Payton's career rushing record. He also left the game two years after signing a six-year contract.

    Payton couldn't handle all the losing that went on in Detroit. The team went 78-82 in his tenure, and missed the playoffs twice in his last three seasons. But rather than force his way onto another team, Sanders just walked away.

    His biggest regret, even after a court battle with the Lions over his signing bonus, was not wishing the team good luck in his retirement statement.

Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Detroit Tigers

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    Lennox McLendon/Associated Press

    Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker had decent professional careers. But they had the unique experience of playing together with the Detroit Tigers for their entire careers.

    Nineteen seasons Trammell and Whitaker were teammates, and nineteen seasons they spent racking up the most double plays of any shortstop-second baseman combination in baseball history.

    Neither has been voted into the Hall of Fame, but both had solid careers in small market Detroit where they made the playoffs just twice in all those seasons—including winning the 1984 World Series.

Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Mario Lemieux's loyalty goes beyond just the Pittsburgh Penguins. Though he played all of his 17 seasons with Pittsburgh, it was Lemieux's dedication to the sport that is most admirable.

    Plagued by a laundry list of ailments worthy of an entire hospital wing, Lemieux wouldn't let spinal disc herniationHodgkin's lymphoma, chronic tendinitis of a hip-flexor muscle, and chronic back pain keep him away from the ice.

    The lymphoma forced him to retire in 1997 after 13 seasons, but Lemieux came back in 2000 until an atrial fibrillation ended his career for good in 2006.

    In between retirements, Lemieux became part of an ownership group that bought and saved the Penguins from bankruptcy, assuming equity for years of unpaid salary.

    According to Forbes, the Penguins are now the NHL's eighth-most valuable franchise.