In this first decade of the new millennium, the sports scene in Michigan produced a lot of quality athletic performances; so many, in fact, that it was quite difficult to pick a quality list from the professional teams.
This list of athletes is sure to create controversy in both how the athletes are ranked, as well as who is not on the list. Some of these athletes were a big part of championship-winning teams and/or in other cases set individual marks of achievements that were worthy of national recognition.
Ben Wallace was the heart and soul of the Detroit Pistons when they captured the 2004 NBA Championship. One of the defining moments was when Wallace used spray paint to cross off on the floor display each game they won on their way to a championship. His 'Fro was a fan favorite, as all ages took to wearing it at the Palace.
Wallace was by nature a quiet person, but on the floor, he brought thunderclaps of blocks and dunks that sent Piston fans to their feet. He won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year four times (2002-03 and 2005-06) and made the All-Star team four years in a row (2003-06) during the decade for the Pistons.
His departure from the Pistons in 2006 did leave Pistons' fans feeling betrayed. However, his return to the Pistons in 2009 has provided the team with a badly needed veteran presence.
In 2007, Curtis Granderson of the Detroit Tigers became the third player in MLB history to hit at least 20 home runs (23), 20 triples (23), 20 doubles (38), and 20 stolen bases (23) in one season. Only Frank Schulte and Willie Mays have accomplished the feat prior to Granderson. His 23 triples were the highest total since 1949 and only three off the AL and team record of 26 by Sam Crawford.
In 2008 he would follow up with 13 triples, which led the American League, and also hit 22 home runs, 26 doubles, and ran for 12 stolen bases. All of this was done after he started the season on the 15 day DL with a broken finger.
His first All-Star appearance in 2009 would be a game in which he would fittingly hit one of his triples and score the winning run for the American League.
His career with the Tigers sadly ended when he was traded to the dreaded Yankees after the 2009 season.
During the course of the Millen era of the Detroit Lions, there has been one constant that hasn't faltered: Jason Hanson. Quietly he lines up after failed Lions drives in order to prevent the Lions from being shut out. He wears the captaincy with a sense of resolve that in itself is Hall of Fame worthy. Not many players could have done the same under similar conditions.
On November 28th of 2002, he passed Eddie Murray to become the all-time scorer in Lions' history. On December 14th of 2008, he kicked his 41st 50+ yard field to set the NFL all-time record. He also set the NFL record for kicking 24 consecutive 40+ yard field goals, which he started in 2007 and ended in 2009 against the Steelers. He currently has 1,824 career points, which is seventh all-time.
Chauncey Billups was the brains of the operation for the Pistons. His on-court leadership took a team made of players the Pistons obtained mostly through trades and toppled the last Kobe/Shaq Lakers team in five games for the 2004 NBA Championship.
His nickname of Mr. Big Shot was given for his clutch shooting, as well as his role as the leader on the floor. In winning the 2004 NBA Finals MVP, he became the first player to win the Finals MVP without being in the All-Star game for that same year since Joe Dumars in 1990.
He would help lead the Pistons back to the NBA Finals in 2005, only to lose in seven games to the Spurs. He made it to three All-Star teams for the Pistons before being traded to the Nuggets in 2008.
The Pistons fans showed their love for Billpus when he returned to the Palace with the Nuggets on March 3, 2009. Mason, the Pistons' PA announcer, did his signature starting lineup roll call for Billups. The fans gave him the loudest round of applause for any player introduced that night, as if he never left.
The career of Pavel Datsyuk in the decade was one blessed with opportunity. His rookie season with the Red Wings was when they won the 2002 Stanley Cup. This team featured two of the greatest forwards in NHL history - Brett Hull and Steve Yzerman - as Datsyuk's mentors. Their influence is a big reason why Datsyuk is considered the best two-way forward in the game.
The other proof of Datsyuk's ability as a two-way player is the trophy haul he has put up during his career. He has won the Frank Selke trophy for defensive forward the past two seasons (2008-09). He has won the Lady Byng award for Gentlemanly Play four consecutive seasons (2006-09). He won the NHL Plus Minus award in 2008. He has also been to three All-Star games (2004, 2008-09). His presence as a leader on the ice earned him the 'A' for associate captain to start the 2007 season.
Placido Polanco has put together an impressive career with the Tigers with a nearly unmatched combination of hitting and fielding. When the Tigers shocked the world and made it to the World Series in 2006, it was Polanco who was named MVP of the ALCS.
As Maggilo Ordonez was pursing the 2007 batting title, Polance finished third, hitting .341. Also in 2007, he set a new MLB record to become the first second baseman to go error-free in a single season. He has also won two Gold Gloves (2007 and 2009). The 2009 season was his last as a Tiger when he opted for free agency to rejoin the Phillies, who he played for prior to joining the Tigers.
Magglio Ordonez's greatest moment in the decade has to be Game Four of the 2006 ALCS against the Oakland A's. The Tigers were up 3-0 in the series. It was the bottom of the ninth and the score was tied 3-3. Ordonez launched a 1-0 pitch from Huston Street into the sea of humanity in the left field seats for a three-run home run to send the Tigers to their first World Series since 1984.
As an encore in 2007, he won the AL Batting Title with a .363 batting average. It was the first time a Tiger won the AL batting title since Norm Cash in 1961. He also led the league with 54 doubles, which is the first time a Tiger did it since George Kell hit 56 doubles in 1950. He also had 139 RBI, which is the highest for any Tiger in 46 years. He finished second in voting for the AL MVP.
The Captain. #19. Steve Yzerman. One of the greatest hockey players to ever lace up the winged wheel and play in the NHL. The longest serving captain in NHL history. His legendary career ended after a first round upset elimination by the Edmonton Oilers in 2006.
He finished his career with 692 career goals (8th), 1063 assists (7th), and 1,755 points (6th). In the decade he lead the Red Wings to the 2001-2002 Stanley Cup, which was the 10th all-time for the Red Wings. This Stanley Cup title defined Yzerman's resilience, as he played the entire playoffs with a bad knee, a fact that Chris Pronger tried to exploit by taking a run at him during the Blues/Wings series, which ended up tearing his own knee in the process.
His #19 was retired with a captain's "C" on January 2, 2007 to reflect his years as captain of the Red Wings.
He currently serves as Vice President of the Red Wings as part of GM Ken Holland's brain trust. He is also the executive director of the Canadian National Hockey Team for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. If all of this wasn't enough, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
There hasn't been a pitcher for the Tigers like Justin Verlander since Jack Morris. He has a 100mph fastball, takes little time between pitches, and has an intensity that is similar to Morris.
Verlander's arrival to the pros in 2006 helped the Tigers shock the world in reaching the World Series. He won the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year for his contributions to the AL champs.
In 2007 he pitched the first Tigers no-hitter since Morris did in 1984 and the first Tigers no-hitter at home since Virgil Tricks in 1952.
In 2009 he lead the AL in strikeouts (269), innings (240), and tied for victories (19) to finish third for the Cy Young Award.
There is no doubt why Niklas Lidstrom is the best professional individual athlete of the decade for sports in the state of Michigan.
Niklas Lidstrom is still playing, and yet his play as a defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings has already created loud whispers that he is the greatest defenseman ever.
He won six Norris Trophies (2001-03, 2006-08) in this decade in which one season was lost to a strike. He won these Norris Trophies without having a McGinnis slapshot or a Pronger-style of hitting.
Instead, he plays the "D", a commitment to fundamentals that creates very little noise because he rarely makes a mistake. Hence the locker room nickname of the Perfect Human.
He became the first European-born player to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP when the Wings won it all in 2002.
He started in six All-Star games (2000-03, 2006-08) during the decade.
His play has also earned him another accolade - Captain of the Red Wings after Steve Yzerman's retirement in 2006. It only took him two seasons to lead the Red Wings to their 11th Stanley Cup in the 2008-2009 season. By doing this, he became the first European born player to captain a team to the Stanley Cup title.