Welcome to Part One of Athletes by the Numbers.
In sports, there are certain numbers that are synonymous with greatness.
Some of those numbers, including Wilt's 100 point game, DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak, and Russell's eleven NBA championships, are (in my opinion) sports feats that will never be broken.
There will be much debate along the way, and if you care to disagree with my selection of the greatest athletes to wear jersey numbers double zero through 99, I'm all ears.
But enough of this chatter.
(Part II to follow)
The most recognized player ever to were double zero was Hall of Famer Robert Parish. A four-time NBA champion, Parish, at 43 years old became the third oldest player to ever play an NBA game. At the start of the 2010 season, his 1,611 games played over 21 seasons will never be challenged by any player to ever wear an NBA uniform. Parish, a member of the "Big Three" along with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, were all named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. Regarded as one of the greatest frontcourts in NBA history, Parish will forever be known as the "man-in-the middle" during the Celtics reign as NBA champions during the 1980s.
Agent Zero gets this nod.
Gilbert Arenas, who ranked third in the NBA in scoring during the 2006-2007 season is one of the deadliest shooters in the NBA, and has the potential to score 30 points anytime he wants.
But he is also one of the "deadliest" people in the league, as well.
After he was charged and convicted of carrying a pistol without a license, Arenas pleaded guilty to the felony as his career resume now includes being a convicted felon.
It was just three years ago that Arenas signed a contract worth $111 million over six years with the Wizards. But he was suspended during the 2010 season without pay for the firearm incident, ending his NBA season.
Plagued by injuries and convictions, Arenas never lived up to his ability.
Although when Arenas returns to the NBA, he will be donning a new uniform number, he's still the "greatest" athlete to wear the rare number zero. Not because of his skill, but because of the lack of other options.
Hall of Famer Warren Moon, who completed 3,988 of 6,823 passes for 49,325 yards and 291 touchdowns in 17 NFL seasons, wore this number.
As did the greatest defensive shortstop of all-time, "The Wizard," Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
Smith was a 15-time All-Star, stole 580 stolen bases and collected more than 2,400 hits. Smith was also named the National League MVP in 1985 and was a 13-time Gold Glove award winner.
But the "Big-O" is number "1" in my book.
He is the only player in NBA history to average a triple double for an entire season, and was a key player on the Bucks only championship team (1970-1971).
He's a Hall of Famer, one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, and the College Player of the Year Award was renamed the Oscar Robertson trophy.
And if you forgot, Robertson was the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season.
That is why he's getting my vote.
Derek Jeter or Secretariat (who also wore No. 2)?
Captain of the New York Yankees, five-time World Series Champion, World Series MVP or a horse that won the 1973 Belmont Stakes by an extraordinary 31 lengths, clinching the Triple Crown in 1973.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but can you really pick an animal over a human being?
I can't, so I'm going with Jeter.
This one number there is no debate.
I'm not going with the Jimmie Fox, Harmon Killebrew, the late Dale Earnhardt, or Allen Iverson.
There's only one athlete worthy of this distinction, and that's the "Sultan of Swat."
Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest baseball player of all-time had a .342 lifetime batting average, hit 714 career home runs, drove in 2,213 RBI, and scored 2,174 runs.
And by the way, he was also a World Series winning pitcher.
Considering so many great athletes wore No. 4, this is another difficult decision.
Do I go with Hall of Famer and former captain of the New Jersey Devils Scott Stevens, who won three Stanley Cups, won the Conn Smythe award in 2000, and never had a negative plus/minus rating during his 22 NHL seasons?
How about another fellow hockey great and Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, who won eight straight Norris Trophies as the league's top defenseman, three consecutive Hart Trophies as league MVP, and was the only defenseman to win the Art Ross Trophy after leading the league in points and assists in a single season?
Or even future Hall of Famer Brett Favre who is the only player to win the MVP award three consecutive times, and holds the NFL records for most career touchdown passes, most career passing yards, most consecutive starts and most career victories as a starting quarterback?
However, the greatest player to ever wear the No. 4 was the "Iron Horse," Lou Gehrig.
Until Cal Ripken broke it, Gehrig held the record for consecutive games played for 56 years at 2,130. He finished his career batting an astounding .340, to go along with 493 home runs and 1,995 RBI.
Gehrig may never get the full credit he deserved, because he played in the shadows of Babe Ruth, but he certainly ranks amongst the greatest players of all-time.
He's also the luckiest man on the face of the earth because he got the opportunity to wear the pinstripes, and play for the "Bronx Bombers."
Throughout an era of Major League Baseball that's been clouded by steroids, Albert Pujols is the greatest player in the majors.
By the end of the 2009 season, he led all active players with a batting average of .334, a slugging percentage of .628, was selected by ESPN.com as the greatest player of the decade from 2000-2009, and has won three National League MVP awards.
But whether or not Pujols is a steroid user because he played during the steroid period, fair or unfair, he will forever be under the assumption of a steroid user.
So the time has come to the cue the music and ask the question, "Where you have gone Joe DiMaggio?"
Although "Joltin' Joe" has left and gone away, his 56-game hitting streak, three MVP awards, playing his entire career with the Bronx Bombers, and lifetime batting average of .325 will never be forgotten and makes him the greatest player ever to wear No. 5.
Both Stan "The Man" Musial and Julius "Dr. J" Erving wore this number, but neither gets the nod for being the best.
Who am I?
I am a five-time NBA MVP: 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1965.
I am an eleven-time NBA Champion: 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, and 1969.
I am a twelve-time NBA All-Star: 1958-1969.
No other athlete in NBA history has won more NBA championship than me.
The NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award trophy was renamed in my honor.
I am the greatest athlete who ever wore this number.
I am Bill Russell.
Hall-of-fame quarterback John Elway is a two-time Super Bowl champion and has lead the Broncos to a record 47 fourth-quarter comebacks.
But he's going to need one more comeback because he's not winning this battle.
Mickey Mantle, also known as "The Mick" is the best player to ever wear the No. 7.
He's a three time AL MVP, seven-time World Series champion, 20-time All-Star, and in 1956 he won the Triple Crown by leading the majors with a .353 batting average, 52 home runs, and 130 RBI.
Some say he's the greatest player of all-time, and if he wasn't plagued by injuries, Mantle was well on his way to becoming just that.
Just because Cal Ripken Jr. holds the record for consecutive games played at 2,632, is a member of the 3,000 hit club, and hit 431 career home runs doesn't make him a great baseball player.
Rather, Ripken was lucky he never landed on the disabled list prior to the 1999 season.
And even Yogi Berra, who was a 13-time World Series champion, was named the MVP of the American League three times, led both American and National League teams to the World Series as a manager, and was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, doesn't quite get the vote.
One of the greatest quarterback of all time is the clear choice for the number 8.
Even though the three-time Super Bowl champion, six-time Pro Bowler, and MVP of Super Bowl XXVII played for the hated Dallas Cowboys, Troy Aikman's career is simply remarkable and cannot be overlooked.
As much as I'd love to put Mr. Hockey in this slot, Gordie Howe, who's a four-time Stanley champion with the Detroit Red Wings, won six Hart Trophies as the league's most valuable player, six Art Ross Trophies as the leading scorer, and scored 801 career goals, I cannot.
Ted Williams, who is the arguably the greatest hitter in baseball history, won the Triple Crown twice, hit .406 in 1941 and had a lifetime average of .344, gets the award.
"The Splendid Splinter"...The nickname says it all.
I'm not a soccer fan, nor will I ever be.
However, it's impossible to look past the greatest footballer of all-time, who played on three World Cup-winning teams with Brazil, and is the biggest ambassador for his beloved sport.
The man who was born Edison Arantes do Nascimento was a soccer talent, but to everyone else, Pele was a legend.
Born and raised in New Jersey, growing up idolizing the legendary Martin Brodeur, and being a die-hard New Jersey Devils fan my entire life, this one hurts.
But there's no denying Mark Messier is the greatest athlete to wear number 11. Messier is a two-time Hart Trophy winner as league MVP, has the second most points of anyone ever to play in the NHL, and is the only player to captain two teams to a Stanley Cup championship.
Yes, one of those teams were the New York Rangers.
And just as Messier guaranteed a Game Six victory in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals against the rival Devils and backed it up by scoring a natural hat trick, I'm guaranteeing that Messier defines this number.
If Tom Brady didn't play for the cheat of the National Football League, Bill Belichick, he'd be in this slot.
And even though he has the stats to back it up by quarterbacking three Super Bowl winning teams, winning two Super Bowl MVP awards, and holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single regular season, many of his records might have been accomplished under a false pretense.
So the greatest athlete ever to wear number 12, led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a record four Super Bowls within six years, was the 1978 NFL MVP, a four-time Super Bowl champion, and a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
And although Brady is married to Giselle, Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw gets the nod for being the greatest athlete to wear the number 12.
"Hey Ace, you got any more of that gum?"
"Dan, that is none of your damn business and I'd appreciate you staying out of my personal affairs!"
Although Dan Marino was a nine-time Pro Bowler, an NFL MVP, and is the greatest quarterback in NFL history to never win a Super Bowl championship, this spot is unlucky thirteen for Marino.
Wilt Chamberlain, who finished his career averaging 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds, was a four-time league MVP, two-time NBA champion, and was the most dominating force in NBA history, is the clear-cut choice for this number.
And if you're still not convinced: He's the only person in NBA history to score 100-points in an NBA game.
If I was deciding based on a person's character and morals, I'd select "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks as the greatest athlete to wear this number, but I'm not awarding the Nobel Peace Prize.
I'm selecting the greatest athlete to wear number 14, and in my mind, that is Pete Rose.
He's a three-time World Series champion, three-time NL batting champion, holds the all-time Major League record for hits, games played, at-bats, and won the NL MVP award in 1973.
And if you need a great bookie, call Pete—he'd love to help.
"Bart (Starr), don't have a cow man," because you're not getting my vote.
Although he lead the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships, and was named the Super Bowl MVP of the Packers first two Super Bowl victories, there's one person who deserves this spot, and that is Thurman Munson.
He is the only New York Yankee to win both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player award.
Considering the great players that have worn the Yankee pinstripes that is a remarkable accomplishment.
Even at the age of 32, Munson was already a superstar, but the former "Captain" of the Yankees will always be a Yankee legend.
This is another one of the numbers where it's an easy choice.
Joe Montana is the greatest athlete to wear number 16. He's a four-time Super Bowl champion, three-time Super Bowl MVP, eight-time Pro Bowler, and is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.
But Montana will forever be remembered for his fourth quarter, game winning Super Bowl drive of Super Bowl XXIII against the Cincinnati Bengals.
And if you've never seen it, check out NFL Films because it's a must watch.
Although "Golden" Brett Hull got some consideration, there is no debating this choice.
John Havlicek is the Boston Celtics' all-time leader in points and games played. He became the first player to score 1,000 points in 16 consecutive seasons, and is the best sixth-man in NBA history.
What else did he do?
He's only an eight-time NBA champion, 13-time All-Star, NBA Finals MVP, and in 1997, was named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All-Time.
Jari Kurri and Dizzy Dean also wore number 17, and if you feel they deserve this spot, go ahead.
But I'm going with Havlicek.
Peyton Manning, now and forever, will be the greatest athlete to ever wear No. 18.
Need I say more?
Johnny Unitas was the first quarterback to throw for over 40,000 yards, was a three time NFL MVP, and to date, holds the record of throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games.
However, the former captain of the Detroit Red Wings Steve Yzerman is the greatest player to ever wear No. 19.
Overshadowed by playing in same era as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Yzerman should be considered among the best centers of all time. And he retired as the longest-serving captain of any team in North American sports history.
Also known as Stevie Y, he led the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup championships, and won numerous awards during his NHL career, including the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1998, the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward in 2000, and was a ten-time All-Star.
But more importantly, Yzerman turned the Red Wings into one of the premier franchises in the NHL, and his number nineteen banner will always be hanging in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.
Mike Schmidt, three-time NL MVP, 12-time All-Star, is considered among the greatest third basemen in the history of major league baseball, but is not the greatest athlete to wear No. 20.
That distinction belongs the greatest running back of all-time, Barry Sanders, and if you disagree, you obviously never watched Sanders play in an NFL game.
Sanders led the NFL in rushing four times, was the first player to rush for 1,000 yards in his first ten seasons, is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, and was the co-league MVP during the 1997 season.
Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards in 1997, and then unexpectedly announced his retirement in 1999.
Not often the question of "What if" can be asked, but what if Sanders didn't retire and allowed his career played out.
There is no question, Sanders would've ran himself into the record books holding every NFL rushing record to this day.
Another athlete, whose life was cut short by tragedy, is the best player to wear number 21.
Roberto Clemente, known also for his humanitarianism, was also an accomplished baseball player.
Clemente was awarded the NL MVP award in 1966, participated in the league's All Star Game 12-times, and won a remarkable 12 Gold Glove awards.
Clemente also led the league in batting average in four different seasons, and won two World Series championships.
If you think Deion Sanders deserves this spot because he was the best cornerback during the time he played, you might be right. If you think Dominique Wilkins deserves a shout out, that's okay too.
But Clemente, whose selfishness cost him his life, will always be appreciated for the work that he accomplished both on and off the baseball diamond.
Thank God Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith was a better running back than he was NFL analyst on ESPN Countdown, otherwise Clyde Drexler or Elgin Baylor would be taking over this spot.
But Smith is the choice for greatest athlete to wear No. 22.
He's the NFL's all-time rushing leader, and in 1993, became the first and only NFL player to win the league MVP, rushing crown, and Super Bowl MVP, all in the same season.
Smith won a total of three Super Bowl championships with the Dallas Cowboys, as he went from being a former late first round pick of the 1990 NFL draft to one of the most complete backs to ever play the game.
Is this really a discussion?
In the city of San Francisco, May 24 is known as Willie Mays day.
If that's not enough, he's a two-time NL MVP, won the 1951 NL Rookie of the Year, was a 24-time All-Star, and won the NL batting title in 1954.
And he's arguably the greatest "five tool" athlete of all-time, as Mays was able to do it all on the baseball field.
From Godfather (Willie Mays) to Godson, Barry Bonds is the greatest athlete to wear No. 25.
He's a seven-time NL MVP, became the first MLB athlete to win four MVPs in a row, won eight Gold Glove awards, is the only member of the 500/500 (500 homers / 500 steals), and is the single-season home run leader with 73 home runs in 2001.
I don't approve of this selection and if there was another option, I'd select someone else, but there is not.
Therefore, an asterisk (*) will be assigned to this number, and this number, only.
Rod Woodson was one the most dominant, shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL during his career, was named the NFL defensive player of the year in 1993, and his 71 career interceptions is the thirrd-most in NFL history.
Woodson was also named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, but he isn't my choice for this spot.
Answer: Wade Boggs (even though he wore No. 12 for the New York Yankees).
Why?: After the Yankees won Game Six of the 1996 World Series, capturing their first World Series championship in 18 years, Boggs celebrated by jumping on the back of an NYPD horse, touring around the field with his index finger raised in the air.
Now that's a sports moment that will never be forgotten.
From what I've heard, and read, Juan Marichal was one the most dominant pitcher's during the 1960s, and that is why he gets my vote as the greatest athlete to wear No. 27.
He won 20 games six times during his career, had a lifetime ERA of 2.89, was a nine-time All-Star, had 2,303 career strikeouts, and led the NL twice in complete games and shutouts.
While I'm sure all the Boston Red Sox fans are going to be disappointed that Carlton Fisk wasn't chosen, Marichal was too dominant during his career to pass on.
Despite being drafted with the number two overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 1994 and winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, Marshall Faulk didn't make a name for himself until he was traded to the St. Louis Rams prior to the start of the 1999 season.
Along with Kurt Warner and "the greatest show on turf," Faulk had a remarkable NFL career, which included a Super Bowl championship in his first year with the Rams.
Faulk also won the NFL MVP in 2000, was named the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1999, 2000 and 2001, was the NFL rushing touchdown leader, and was a seven time Pro-Bowler.
Imagine if Faulk played his entire career with Peyton Manning: what a dynamic duo they would've been.
I could've gone with Eric Dickerson because he holds the record for most rushing yards in a season with 2,105 in 1984.
But I'm going with Hall of Famer Rod Carew instead.
Martin Brodeur is my pick for the best athlete to wear the number 30.
Not Nolan Ryan and his 5,714 career strikeouts, the seven no-hitters that he threw or the six 300-strikeout seasons.
Brodeur won the 1994 Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year, won three Stanley Cup championships, was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner as the league's top goaltender, and holds numerous NHL goaltending records (too many to even write).
Brodeur is the greatest goaltender of all-time.
End of story.
I'd love to put New York Knick killer Reggie Miller in this spot, but I couldn't do that to all the Knick fans out there.
Miller's on court performances have left all Knick fans with the feelings of frustration, agony, and disappointment, and that is satisfying enough for me.
That is why I'm choosing the four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux as the greatest athlete to don the number 31 jersey.
Maddux won more games during the 1990s than any other pitcher, and is eighth on the all-time win list with 355 victories.
Maddux did not dominate the games with his speed, but created a pitching masterpiece with his control every time he was on the mound.
No other number on this last that has produced more Hall of Famers than the No. 32: Jim Brown, Bill Walton, Sandy Koufax, Franco Harris, Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson.
And let's not forget about Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone, whom one day will be enshrined into the basketball Hall of Fame.
But my choice for the greatest athlete to wear this number is Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
At 6'9", 255 lbs. Johnson redefined the point guard position and is one of the most successful and unique players in NBA history.
He is a five-time NBA champion and a 12-time All-Star. He earned a spot on ten All-NBA teams, and was three times named MVP of the regular season and the NBA Finals.
Johnson finished his NBA career by scoring 17,707 points, grabbing 6,559 rebounds and dishing out 10,141 assists.
Johnson was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history, and in my opinion, will always be remembered as the greatest point guard ever to wear an NBA uniform.
This athlete holds the NBA record for career points and won a record six MVP awards. Not only is he a six-time NBA champion, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also one of greatest "pilots" in Federal Aviation Administration history.
I could've gone with the superstar from French Lick Indiana, Larry Bird. Or the former first overall draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 1977 (Tony Dorsett), who led his team in rushing yards and touchdowns in his rookie season, despite not starting until the 10th game of the year.
But anytime an athlete is the NBA record holder for career points, the argument is over.
Walter Payton, the 1977 NFL MVP, retired as the NFL's all-time rushing leader (until broken by Emmitt Smith), and by many (not me) is considered the greatest running back of all-time.
However, I do consider "Sweetness" to be the greatest athlete to wear No. 34, and that is not debatable.
Knuckleballer Phil Niekro won 318 games during his 24-year career, was a five-time Gold Glove award winner, pitched a no-hitter during his career, but isn't my choice for the greatest athlete to wear number 35.
The pioneer of the butterfly style of goaltending, Phil Esposito, who was a three-time Vezina Trophy winner, and 1969 Stanley Cup champion, doesn't get my vote either.
The best athlete to wear number 35 is two-time league MVP, the "Big Hurt," Frank Thomas.
Thomas is one of four players in MLB history to have at least a .300 batting average, 500 home runs, 1,500 RBI, 1,000 runs and 1,500 walks in a career.
There is no doubt, Thomas is the greatest "non-steroid" hitter of the 1990s, and must be commended for that.
The best athlete to wear the number 36 is former Phillie great and Hall of Fame pitcher, Robin Roberts (and no, he didn't work for ESPN).
Roberts was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1976, and won 286 games for the Phillies, including six 20-win seasons.
Many will go with Doak Walker, who does have an college football award named after him for the premier running back in the country, as the greatest athlete to wear No. 36, but I'm not.
I'm going with Hall of Fame manager, "The Professor," Casey Stengel.
He won 1,905 games as a manager, and was a seven-time World Series champion.
Stengel is the only person to have worn the uniform (as player or manager) of all four Major League Baseball teams in New York City in the 20th century: The New York Giants (as a player), the Brooklyn Dodgers (as both a player and a manager), and the New York Yankees and New York Mets, both as a manager.
Stengel was the influence for the character "Casey" in the poem Casey At The Bat.
Stengel was known as a comedian, but was a genius in the dugout, and that is why he's the greatest athlete to wear this number.
Curt Schilling, who compiled a postseason record of 11-2, is arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time.
He has over 3,000 strikeouts for his career, he's a three-time World Series champion, and was the 2001 World Series MVP.
Schilling will forever be known for his postseason dominance, including his Game Six performance of the 2004 American League championship series (we all know what happened by now), en route to winning the 2004 World Series with the Boston Red Sox.
As a hockey guy, I'd love to select Dominink Hasek for this slot, but it wouldn't be right, since he doesn't deserve to be named the greatest athlete to wear No. 39.
However, Roy Campanella does.
Campanella won the MVP in the NL three times, and in each of his MVP seasons, he batted over .300, hit over 30 home runs and had over 100 runs batted in. He had 142 RBI in 1953, and hit 41 home runs that year in games in which he appeared as a catcher (a record that lasted until Todd Hundley broke it in 1996).
Having not been around to see Campanella play, it sure sounds like I missed out on watching one incredible baseball player.
Have you not seen the movie, Brian's Song?
(If you want more, go ahead and please do your own research.)
This one's easy (it's about time).
Tom Seaver, was a three-time Cy Young award winner, won the 1967 Rookie of the Year award, was nominated as the 1969 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, won the 1969 World Series Championship, had 311 career wins, and finish his career with an astounding 3,640 career strikeouts.
Boy, are the Mets missing Seaver these days, huh?
The man to break the color barrier in major league baseball, and the man whose number is now retired for every major league baseball team, Jackie Robinson is not the greatest athlete to wear No. 42.
Although he was the 1947 NL Rookie of The Year, 1949 NL MVP and batting champion, was a six-time All-Star and finished his career with a .311 batting average, the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera is the greatest athlete to wear this number.
Rivera is a five-time World Series champion. He has the lowest ERA and most saves in postseason and American League history. And in the history of baseball, there will never be a greater and more dominant closer than "MO."
If NASCAR is a sport, than seven-time Winston Cup champion Richard Petty is the king of No. 43.
But does anyone really think NASCAR is a sport?
I don't and that is why Dennis Eckersley is the greatest athlete to wear this number.
He's one of only two pitchers in Major League history to have both a 20-win season and a 50-save season in a career, he won the 1992 AL MVP and CY Young award, and was a 1989 World Series champion.
Eckersley was a successful starting pitcher, but gained his fame as a dominant closer.
The "Real" Home Run King.
"Who's Your Daddy? Who's Your Daddy?"
Pedro Martinez has a career record of 219-100, a lifetime 2.93 ERA, 3,154 career strikeouts, was a three-time Cy Young award winner, won the pitching Triple Crown in 1999, and was a World Series champion in 2004.
And the New York Yankees will forever be his daddy.