The 10 Best Athletes of the 2000s
Every decade has its superstar athletes.
Those whose names are synonymous with their sports.
They are the one name wonders.
Rice, Jordan, Magic, Babe, Pele, Gretzky and Elway.
This decade was no exception as the past ten years have given us names that will live forever.
Now, lets take a look at the 10 athletes who I believe best definded the 2000s.
10. Tim Duncan
Qualifications: 3x Finals Champion (2003, 2005, 2007), 2x Finals MVP (2003, 2005), 2x League MVP (2002-2003), 10x All-Star (2000-2009), 10x All-NBA Team (7x 1st team, 3x 2nd team), 10x All-Defensive Team member (7x 1st team, 3x 2nd team) and 2004 Olympic Bronze medalist.
Defining Moment: 2002 season during which Duncan earned his first League MVP Award.
Final Word: One half of the “Twin Towers” tandem along with David Robinson; the two would lead the San Antonio Spurs to another NBA Championship in June of 2003 at the end of the 2002 season. Duncan would then go on to prove that he didn’t need Robinson to win a title by winning two more in 2005 and 2007 with the likes of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
In a league and world of “Me, Me, Me,” Duncan would rather be yelling, “Us, Us, Us.” On the court he is one of the most dominate players in history, yet off of it he is the guy that no one will hear from. While the rest of the league is rapidly moving forward to a new school of play, we can all take solace in Duncan’s old school game.
9. Williams Sisters
Qualifications: 36 Grand Slams (17 by Venus, 19 by Serena), five Olympic Gold medals (one singles by Venus, two doubles by each in 2000 and 2008) and a No. 1 ranking by both.
Defining Moment: 2009 Wimbledon for Venus in the biggest win over a reigning World No. 1 in Dinara Safina; 2003 Australian Open for Serena, making her the first African-American to win the championship and the first women to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once.
Final Word: If Eli and Peyton Manning are the super sibling duo of the NFL, then that’s exactly what the Williams sisters were in the world of women’s professional tennis. For the past ten years Venus and Serena have battled on the court for the right to be called the world’s best, meeting 19 times in singles, two times in doubles (each winning once) and ten times in tournaments (9x in their own w/ Venus winning 7x and Serena winning in the Billie Jean King Cup). They have also played on the same side ten times in doubles, winning two Olympics gold medals and eight Grand Slams during that span.
8. Derek Jeter
Qualifications: 8x All-Star (2000-2004, 2006-2009), four Golden Gloves (2004, 2005, 2006, 2009), World Series MVP (2000), 2,625 Hits, 727 RBIs and 161 Homeruns.
Defining Moment: Aug. 16, 2009 Jeter records two hits to surpass Luis Aparicio with the most hits by a shortstop in MLB history with 2,674 hits.
Final Word: It doesn’t matter if you like the Yankees or not. Heck it doesn’t even matter if you even watch baseball. As long as you’ve watched ESPN once or picked up a single sports section this decade then you know who Derek Jeter is.
He, perhaps more than anyone else does, defines the city of New York, the team of the Yankees and the sport of baseball. He is perhaps the greatest player of his generation and when all is said and done, just maybe, he’ll be crowned the best shortstop off all time.
7. Tom Brady
Qualifications: 3x Super Bowl Champion (36, 38, 39), 2x Super Bowl MVP (36, 39), 5x Pro Bowler (2001, 2004-2005, 2007, 2009), AP 2007 Sportsman of the Year and 2007 NFL MVP, 30,658 Passing yards, 225 TDs and a 93.5 passer rating.
Defining Moment: Super Bowl XXXVI (36) win over the St. Louis which earned him an MVP award and jumpstarted his career.
Final Word: By now we all know the story. Brady was a six round draft pick, 199th overall, while quarterbacks Chad Pennington, Chris Redmen, Marc Bulger, Spergon Wynn, Tee Martin and Giovanni Carmazzi were taken ahead of him. Going into the 2001 season some of these picks didn’t look too bad until the fateful day of Sept. 21, 2001 when then starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with internal bleeding.
What would happen next would change the landscape of the NFL forever. Brady would lead the Patriots to an upset win over the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl that year, only to follow that up by wins over the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowls 38 and 39, two and three years later. Suddenly, the sixth round no-name had become an NFL superstar.
6. Peyton Manning
Qualifications: 9x Pro Bowler (2000, 2002-2009), Super Bowl Champion (41), Super Bowl MVP (41), 3x NFL MVP (2003, 2004, 2008), 42,159 Passing yards, 314 TDs and a 98.68 passer rating.
Defining Moment: Super Bowl XLI (41) win over the Chicago Bears which earned him a MVP Award.
Final Word: Now I’m sure many of you are wondering the same thing. How can I possible put Peyton Manning higher up on the list than Tom Brady? Yes, I understand that Brady has two more championship wins, essentially three less seasons (Manning played in both the 1998 and 1999 season while Brady also missed 15 games in the 2008 season due to injury) and I also understand that Manning has had the likes of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne around to throw to.
All of these are good arguments but the thing that tends to be given too much weight in this argument is the significance of a Super Bowl. Fact of the matter is, Peyton Manning is the only other quarterback, aside from Brett Favre, to have three league MVP awards; he has twice had four or more straight seasons with 4,000 yards passing (2000-2004, 2006-2009), while he has also thrown for the most passing yards this decade.
Just to name a few more records Peyton manning holds the record for: the most games with a perfect passer rating with four, the most wins by a quarterback this decade with 115 and also has the highest single season passer rating with a 121.1 in 2004.
5. Kobe Bryant
Qualifications: 4x Finals Champion (200-2002, 2009), NBA Finals MVP (2009), NBA MVP (2007-2008 season), 10x All Star (2000-2009), 2x Scoring Champ (2006-2007), 9x All-NBA Defensive Team member (7x 1st team, 2x 2nd team), 10x All-NBA Team member (8x 1st team, 2x 2nd team) and 2008 Olympic Gold medalist.
Defining Moment: 2009 NBA Finals earning Kobe his fourth title (1st without Shaq), and first Finals MVP Award.
Final Word: Since his second retirement on January 13, 1999, the world wondered if we’d ever again see another Michael Jordan. By now the one that many had chosen to be the heir to his throne had been playing for three seasons.
Yet it was not until the 2000 NBA Playoffs that people truly began to know Kobe’s name. During the playoffs Kobe would average 21.1 points a game along with 4.4 assists and would help Shaquille O’Neal lead the Lakers to the first of three straight finals.
Kobe would then silence all his critics who claimed he couldn’t win a championship without Shaq by doing just that in June of 2009. While Kobe may not be the second coming of MJ, he is without a doubt the closest thing we have seen since the great one left.
4. Lance Armstrong
Qualifications: 6x Tour de France Champion (2000-2005, 7x champ in all), Tour de Suisse Champion (2001), 2x Criterium de Dauphine Libere Champion (2002-2003).
Defining Moment: 2004 Tour de France victory making him the first rider in history to win a sixth straight Tour de France.
Final Word: Lance Armstrong has easily had the toughest road of all on this list, having overcome testicular cancer as well as tumors in his brain and lungs.
In many ways Armstrong could be considered the greatest athlete not just because of what he achieve on a bike but because of what he achieved for the world. An outspoken advocate of cancer research, he and his Lance Armstrong Foundation used the development of the LIVESTRONG bands to help raise not only cancer awareness and money for research, but also hope.
Despite the mild steroid allegations, in a time where athletes make the news for all the wrong reasons, Lance Armstrong was not the hero that sports expected, but was the hero that sports needed.
3. Michael Phelps
Qualifications: 37 world records set (29 Individuals, eight Relay), 14 Olympic gold medals, two Olympic bronze medals, 45 total gold medals and seven total silver medals.
Defining Moment: 2008 Beijing Olympics, during which Phelps became the most decorated Olympian gold medalist of all time.
Final Word: Ever since humans began to sail the seas there were rumors of mermaids. During this last decade, the world may have finally found one. Breaking world records left and right with times that mirror those of dolphins Phelps quickly and seamlessly swam his way into the record books.
While the next 2012 Summer Olympics are still a little more than two years away, we can only hope the Michael Phelps will grace us with his presence one more time because hey, we all want to be like Mike.
2. Roger Federer
Qualifications: 15 Grand Slams, Olympics doubles gold medal (2008) and 237 consecutive weeks as ATP No. 1.
Defining Moment: 2009 French Open win giving him the most Grand Slams titles of all time with 15 and surpassing Pete Sampras.
Final Word: The world of men’s tennis knew what greats looked like, having seen Arthur Ash to Pete Sampras to Andre Agassi. Yet not even tennis knew what it was about to witness this last decade in the likes of Roger Federer.
His 15 Grand Slams, the most of any player in history, say it all. At the age of 28, there is no reason to think why Federer can’t have four to five more dominate season to help him add to his ever-growing trophy case. However, Roger must work to stay atop his game to remain the world’s best, as Rafael Nadal is right on his heels.
1. Tiger Woods
Qualifications: 12 Majors (14 total), 56 tournament wins and a two-time FedEx Cup champion (2007, 2009).
Defining Moment: 2008 US Open Playoff which Tiger won with a double stress fracture of his left tibia and torn ACL after a sudden death playoff.
Final Word: Adultery scandal or not, there is no doubting what Tiger Woods accomplished on the golf course in this last decade. Whether he won by a 15-stroke blowout (2000 US Open) or by a sudden death playoff on a virtually dead leg, one thing remains certain: Tiger Woods was the single most dominate golfer of this decade and perhaps the single most dominate player in any sport as well.
Tiger brings people of all walks of life together to watch him play. Tiger single handedly puts his sport in the spot light. Tiger Woods makes golf cool. So whether you love him or love to hate him, we all know the same thing. Everyone, golf fan or not, knows that this decade would have been a little less special without Tiger in it.
10 Athletes to watch in the next Decade
In no Particular Order:
1. Larry Fitzgerald
2. Usain Bolt
3. Tiger Woods
4. Lebron James
5. Albert Pujols
6. Jimmie Johnson
7. Tim Tebow
8. Adrian Peterson
9. Alex Ovechkin
10. Michelle Wie