New York Sports History: The 20 Most Beloved Athletes
New York is a city that demands winning.
And if their wish isn't granted then they'll let you know about it.
Here in New York we have had to deal with some mythical performances from opponents(Reggie Miller), but luckily we had some tricks up our sleeve as well(Willis Reed).
There's no denying that New York Sports teams have had their fair share of bad luck. For information on that check out my other article on the ten most hated athletes in New York Sports history which can be found here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/348935-not-so-empire-state-of-mind-the-ten-most-hated-athletes-in-new-york-sports-history
However, for each and every villain we've had a hero.
Frank Sinatra said it best, "If I can make it there, I'll Make It Anywhere". Many have made it here, many haven't.
The next 20 names you're about to see will bring back some of the best memories of your life. Enjoy.
20. John Starks
If you look up overachiever in the dictionary you'll probably find a picture of John Starks next to it. He was never supposed to succeed.
Nobody wanted Starks during the Draft. Rather than giving up like most people would have, Starks continued to play in the independent leagues until he forced his way on to the Golden State Warriors.
After one season with limited playing time in Golden State, Starks left to try out for the New York Knicks. During a practice Stark tried the impossible, he attempted to dunk on Hall Of Famer Patrick Ewing.
In the process Ewing threw him down and Starks was hurt. Because his injury didn't heal by December the Knicks were not allowed to release him, so he stayed with the team.
And that's where Starks' story starts, but not where it ends.
Starks kept playing hard and impressed the Knicks enough to earn some minutes.
He continued to prove himself as the toughest, most dedicated player in the NBA, and that is why Knicks' fans truly got behind him. He represented everything New York was about.
Nothing ever comes easy in New York. Nothing ever came easy for Starks.
They were a match made in heaven.
Many people remember Starks for his dunk over Michael Jordan and Horace Grant.
However, the one Starks moment that I will never forget was his headbutt of Reggie Miller. It was then when the entire world realized that John Starks takes crap from nobody.
It was his toughness and dedication that made the Knicks one of the best teams of the 90s.
19. Mike Piazza
It's hard to not like Mike Piazza.
Finding a New Yorker (Yankee or Met fan) who doesn't like Piazza would be no easy task.
He is, without a doubt, the best offensive catcher in the history of baseball, and Cooperstown is waiting.
Piazza was always able to keep his cool, which is why he was so liked. Who could ever forget the whole Roger Clemens incident. How he managed to not wail Clemens in the face after he chucked that bat at him showed great self-control.
Piazza carried the team back in 2000, when they somehow advanced to the World Series.
The bottom line is that Piazza was a 12 time all star, and a fan favorite.
18. Mike Bossy
This pick probably won't be popular with Islander fans (all two of them), but I feel I made the right choice.
Do I want to put Mike Bossy higher?
Are the Islanders popular enough in New York for him to be placed higher?
If Mike Bossy were a Ranger he would have been an easy choice for the top five, but unfortunately his four straight Stanley Cup celebrations were in the arena that lives in Madison Square Garden's shadow.(Nassau Coliseum)
Mike Bossy was one of the greatest goal-scorers in the history of hockey. However, his acts have gone nearly unnoticed in the Big Apple.
The man was the best player on a team for four straight Stanley Cups. However, according to New York Sports fans those four don't hold a candle to Messier's one.
I can understand why people love the Rangers, heck I love any team that plays at the garden, but there is no reason why the best player on a team that four-peated as champions should not crack the Top 15.
If this were a list of the New York Athletes with the greatest achievements Bossy would be in my Top Five without hesitation. Unfortunately for him this is a list of the people, and the people say Mike Bossy was nothing but an Islander.
17. Walt Frazier
If not for Walt Frazier there is no Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere or Earl "The Pearl" Monroe.
He was and still is by far the best point guard in Knicks history.
He was the man at the helm for both Knicks Championship teams. He was also one of the greatest point guards in basketball history.
A lot of people like to remember Willis Reed's gutsy performance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. What most people don't know is that if not for Walt Frazier that moment would be as known as well, every moment of Stephon Marbury's Knick career.
Why you might ask?
Well it's simple, Frazier scored 36 points and dished out 19 assists in that game. There is no chance that they win that game without Frazier. Had they not won that game then Reed's injury comeback would have meant nothing.
Frazier is a Hall Of Famer and is honored as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players.
He is also one of the most clutch players in NBA history.
He's currently the lovable voice of the New York Knicks on MSG. His huge words have kept fans everywhere running for dictionaries.
I bet he would sound even better talking about LeBron.
16. Tom Seaver
Leave it to Seaver.
Mets fans became rather familiar with that saying during their World Series run in 1969.
The 'Amazin Mets were one of the worst offensive teams to ever win the World Series, so it was clear that their pitching carried them throughout the season.
Seaver won 25 games that season with an ERA of 2.21, which was pretty much an automatic bid onto this list.
Tom Terrific is still considered by many the best to ever wear the orange and blue.
The day he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds is still one of the saddest days in the history of the New York Mets.
15. Michael Strahan
Who doesn't love Michael Strahan?
From his tooth gap down to his cleats, Michael Strahan is one of the most charismatic players in NFL history, which is why he fit in so well in New York.
How many ex-football players get their own sitcoms?
However, New York's love affair with Michael Strahan goes well beyond his personality, because he is one of the greatest pass-rushers to ever live.
His 22.5 sacks back in 2001 is still the most ever in a season.
For years he provided them with a pass-rush that made opposing quarterbacks cringe.
Most of all, he was a key cog in the 2007 New York Giants machine that won the Super Bowl.
Who could ever forget the moment after the Giants won the Super Bowl, when Strahan jumped up and down like Mark Messier 14 years before him?
14. Patrick Ewing
The entire state of New York got dunked on by Patrick "Chewing," and they liked what they saw.
They saw a man that played with toughness, a man that played with heart, a man who truly deserved the ring he never got.
Patrick Ewing was dominant throughout his time in New York, he carried teams made up of sub-par players through the playoffs, and for that he deserved a whole lot more respect than he got.
He may be accountable for "The Missed Finger Roll Heard 'Round the World," but you could argue that the Knicks would never be in that situation if not for Ewing in the first place.
Patrick Ewing's respect from New Yorker's didn't truly come until he was gone. Since the day Ewing was traded to Seattle in 2000, the Knicks have never been the same.
Thanks again, Isiah.
13. Paul O'neill
Back in 2001 Yankee fans were aware of two things:
1) The great Yankee dynasty of the late 1990s was over.
2) Paul O'neill's career was also.
Next came the most touching moment in the history of baseball:
A sold out stadium of 56,000 fans chanting, "Paul O'neill!, Paul O'neill!, Paul O'neill!" in perfect harmony.
It brought a tear to my eye, and it brought more than a few to the eyes of Paul O'neill.
It was then that the whole world realized that the New York Yankees have the greatest fans in the world. Paul O'neill busted his ass every single time he was out on the field, and each and every Yankee fan knew it.
They also knew that without Paul O'neill they would have never won a single championship in the 1990s, and they truly appreciated it.
I don't care if you like Paul O'neill or not, you better respect the man willing to kick a baseball into the infield when his glove misses it.
12. Don Mattingly
Donnie Baseball never played in a World Series as a Yankee, or as a professional baseball player, but that never stopped him from achieving Ruthian Status.
The man was a god in New York, and with a stache like that, it's easy to see why.
Mattingly was the twelfth captain in the history of the most successful franchise in sports history, and New Yorkers made that known.
To this day, Mattingly is the favorite Yankee of many long-time Bombers fans.
11. Reggie Jackson
Reggie! Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!
Reggie Jackson's best years may have been spent elsewhere, but you'd be lying if you said you remembered him as anything but a Yankee.
Back in '77 the Bronx was burning, and right at the center of it was none other than Reggie Jackson. He didn't come without controversy, but he left without it.
It was clear that Reggie had to earn his respect in New York, and he did just that. His three home run game in the 1977 Fall Classic is still one of the most memorable performances in baseball history.
He won two rings in New York, and the people in New York love him for it.
10. Lawrence Taylor
What can you say about Lawrence Taylor?
He was the most dominant defender in NFL History, he single-handedly ended careers, he is the only defensive player in NFL History that could win a game by himself, he changed the way that football was played forever, he was a key player in two Giants Super Bowl victories.
Not bad, huh?
I'll tell you what is bad: He was addicted to cocaine, he sent prostitutes to his opponents rooms before a big game to try to tire them out, he was suspended twice for using cocaine, did I mention he was addicted to cocaine?
Taylor was beloved in New York for what he did on the field, but it's no secret that his lifestyle off the field dropped him a few spots on this list.
9. Yogi Berra
"50 percent of the game is half mental."
Yogi Berra won 10 rings as a Yankee. Enough said.
8. Mickey Mantle
Micky Mantle is similar to Lawrence Taylor.
They were both two of the most dominating players on the field of their respective generations, they were also two of the most disappointing off the field.
Mickey Mantle was the greatest switch hitter of all time, he could literally hit home runs at will, but he was also one of the biggest drinkers in MLB History.
The fans loved him, much like they loved Taylor, but he could have been even higher on this list if not for off-the-field problems.
7. Joe DiMaggio
The Yankee Clipper may be the greatest hitter in baseball history. In 13 MLB Seasons, he was named to 13 All-Star Teams.
The army took three seasons taken away from him in his prime, but that didn't stop Joltin' Joe from dominating at every chance he got.
He won three MVP Awards in just 13 seasons, he had a career .325 batting average, and at the time of his retirement he was fifth on the all-time home run list with 361 (Yes that was a lot back then).
Anybody who is good enough for Marilyn Monroe is good enough for you.
6. Willis Reed
Reed is the greatest Knick of all time. Period.
Willis Reed was a two-time NBA Champion on a team that has only won two NBA Championships in it's history. Reed was a one-time NBA MVP on a team that has only had one MVP in it's history.
You see where I'm going with this.
However, Reed's love affair with New York goes well beyond anything that can be shown with numbers.
Willis Reed was a GREAT player, but in 1970 he became a legend.
In Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, Reed limped into Madison Square Garden on one leg, in the greatest injury comeback in sports history. It was clear the second that Reed stepped out from the locker room that the Knicks had already won the game.
He added the Knicks first two buckets for good measure as they stomped over the Lakers 113-99 en route to their first NBA Championship.
5. Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter is the most dedicated athlete in the history of sports.
Whether he's diving head first into metal seats to catch a pop-up, or he's running across the entire field to cut-off a bad throw, Jeter's dedication is unquestioned.
He represents everything New York is about: Hard work and winning.
The one thing that separates Jeter is how badly he wants to win.
He would do ANYTHING to win, as proven by his five rings. If there is a New Yorker who doesn't like Derek Jeter, then I haven't met them.
4. Babe Ruth
I know what you're thinking: Babe Ruth at 4?!?!?! Just put down your pitchfork for a second and listen.
Babe Ruth is where the Red Sox vs. Yankees rivalry began. When the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees back in 1918, they never looked back, and Yankee fans have been eternally grateful for it.
Ruth crushed 659 Home Runs while in pinstripes, which for the time he played in was incredible.
With all Ruth did in New York, it's hard to believe that there are three other athletes that New Yorker's would leave there spouses for before Ruth, but that's the case.
3. Lou Gehrig
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth."
If that's not an automatic bid into the top three, then what is?
2. Joe Namath
Joe Namath changed football as we knew it.
Back in 1970 the AFL was considered the NFL's little cousin who got to play once a year.
After two years straight of the Packers embarrassing the Raiders and Chiefs it was clear that the AFL wasn't on the same level of talent that the NFL was.
However, nobody told Joe Namath as he guaranteed a victory over the HEAVILY favored Colts in Super Bowl III. Broadway Joe's guarantee was funnier than Mike Tyson in "The Hangover."
You had to be out of your mind to bet on the Jets in that game, and even then you still picked the Colts.
Namath then delivered on the guarantee that wasn't doubted as the Greatest Moment in New York Sports History until Mark Messier topped it 24 years later.
Joe Namath is forever a legend in New York, and all of sports. He changed the game forever.
1. Mark Messier
You know you're from Canada when you love hockey.
You know you're from New York when you love Mark Messier.
Let me make one thing clear: I am far from a diehard hockey fan, and even I love Mark Messier.
There is no such thing as a New Yorker who doesn't love Messier.
He ended a 54-year drought for the Rangers as Champions. He is the greatest leader in the history of sports, period.
His time in New York was limited, but anybody who says it's forgettable better move to Boston.
The guarantee, the hat trick that delivered on the guarantee, the Stanley Cup. He did it all!
This man is immortal!
He raised the Stanley Cup, and New York raised it with him.
I've been to Madison Square Garden during Knicks games in the '90s, a.k.a I've heard noise that I swear broke the sound barrier.
I watched Game 7 of the '94 Stanley Cup on television, and I assure you that I've never heard anything that loud in my life.
The 1994 Rangers Stanley Cup celebration was the greatest moment in the History of New York Sports, and maybe the greatest moment in hockey history.
You don't want to take my word for it?
Let's break out the video.