Top 20 Athletes in the History of the Bay Area

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2015

Top 20 Athletes in the History of the Bay Area

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    The Bay Area is one of the most beautiful and important sports areas in the country. Covering three major cities—Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose—the Bay Area has played home to some of the most prestigious franchises around.

    By now, you know the drill. The point of this slideshow is to hone in and talk about the top 20 athletes in the history of the Bay Area.

    Deciding who makes the cut comes down to statistics, championships won and overall legacy. With all of that info seeping into your cranium, let's get right into it and start the countdown.

Honorable Mentions

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    MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/Associated Press

    Per usual, we always have to pay our respects to another group of outstanding players that graced the Bay Area at point in their respective careers. Without a set order, here are some of those names:

    1. Eric Chavez, 3B, Oakland Athletics
    2. Roger Craig, RB, San Francisco 49ers
    3. Sal Bando, 3B, Oakland Athletics
    4. Terrell Owens, WR, San Francisco 49ers
    5. Bert Campaneris, SS, Oakland Athletics
    6. Lester Hayes, CB, Oakland Raiders
    7. Jason Giambi, 1B, Oakland Athletics
    8. Dwight Clark, TE, San Francisco 49ers
    9. Miguel Tejada, SS, Oakland Athletics
    10. Jim Otto, C, Oakland Raiders
    11. Barry Zito, Oakland Athletics/San Francisco Giants
    12. Tim Lincecum, P, San Francisco Giants
    13. Rich Gannon, QB, Raiders
    14. Gaylord Perry, San Francisco Giants
    15. Jack Tatum, S, Raiders
    16. Mark McGwire, 1B, Oakland Athletics
    17. Willie Brown, CB, Oakland Raiders
    18. Tim Hardaway, G, Golden State Warriors
    19. Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks
    20. Tim Hudson, P, Oakland Athletics
    21. Charles Woodson, CB/S, Oakland Raiders
    22. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
    23. Dennis Eckersley, P, Oakland Athletics

20. Stephen Curry

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Putting a young gunner like Stephen Curry on this list may be surprising to some folks. The 27-year-old has only spent six seasons hoisting jumpers in the Bay Area.

    But as the Golden State Warriors would tell you, six seasons is all it has taken for Curry to become a household name.

    The long-range, three-point sprayer has quickly turned into one of the NBA's best players. He's a lethal shooter, crafty ball-handler and an overall devastating scorer.

    Outside of being a statistic marvel—Curry's 28.06 PER is third-best in the NBA, per ESPN's Hollinger index—Curry's main contribution to the Bay Area is that he changed the face of a franchise.

    In 2015, Golden State has become the mecca of hoops. The Warriors clinched the top seed in the West during the regular season with 67 wins and a lot of that has to do with Curry.

    If somehow, someway, Curry can lead the Warriors to an NBA title this postseason, his legend will turn even wavier.

19. Patrick Willis

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    Patrick Willis held down the inside linebacker position for eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.

    Before walking away from the sport this offseason, per the 49ers official Twitter account, Willis had laid the groundwork to be considered one of the very best defensive players in the team's history.

    Some guys were born with a distinct nose for the football. Willis was one of those people. It felt like he was everywhere on the field pulling the strings of the defense.

    It's crazy to think that Willis was Ray Lewis-like so many times on film. And because of that, he was honored with seven Pro Bowl selections.

    Football enthusiasts will always remember No. 52 for his brilliant work and leadership out on the field.

18. Frank Gore

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Frank Gore's career with the Niners may have come to a close at the end of 2014, but the leading rusher in club history will always be remembered for the great things he accomplished.

    It may be nothing more than water under the bridge now, but this was the man who overcame two major knee surgeries in college before becoming a 49ers legend.

    Gore was more than runner with tremendous vision. He caught passes, he scored touchdowns and toward the end of his time in San Francisco, he managed to become a defining cog during the Jim Harbaugh era—an era where pounding the rock was a way of life.

    Had it not been for Gore's consistent and predatory contributions, the 49ers wouldn't have had a franchise player they could build around after Steve Young retired in 2000.

    True Bay Area fans will always pull for Gore to have success, whether he's in a 49ers uniform or not. When you've been a part of as many great 49ers teams as he has, you're bond to become a certified legend.

17. Fred Biletnikoff

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    Associated Press

    Fred Biletnikoff is one of the defining members of the Oakland Raiders. He was a hyper-talented wide receiver who was elected to six Pro Bowls for all of his beastly efforts.

    Remember, Biletnikoff worked during an era where running the ball was more prevalent. Even with the odds stacked against him, he won a Super Bowl MVP in 1977 and followed that up with a Hall of Fame induction in 1988.

    He doesn't have the numbers that Tim Brown or Jerry Rice do. But as far as Bay Area wide receivers go, Biletnikoff was one of the greats.

16. Chris Mullin

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    There were times when Chris Mullin was considered to be the NBA's iron man. During the 1990-91 season he logged a league-high 3,315 minutes. Without skipping a beat, the next season he topped those minutes with 3,346 in 81 games of action.

    Mullin was not only indestructible, but he was also very talented. His 13 seasons with the Warriors led to 20.1 points, 1.7 steals and 4.4 rebounds per game.

    He's appreciated even more for overcoming adversity. He battled alcoholism early on, as Malcolm Moran and William C. Rhoden writing for the New York Times discussed, before finding redemption on the hardwood.

    Mullin's time with Golden State resulted in his No. 17 being hung from the rafters. He was a core component of the team's plans from 1985 until he left the squad in '97.

15. Ken Stabler

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    Rick Browne/Associated Press

    Ken Stabler was another one of those underappreciated quarterbacks to come from the Bay Area. Outside of his loyal fanbase in Oakland, his name barely gets mentioned with the all-timers.

    Stabler spent nine years with the Raiders, passing for 19,078 yards and 150 touchdowns along the way. He was also the guy under center for the Raiders' victory in Super Bowl XI.

    Like a lot of great QBs, Stabler's claim to fame was the fact that he won a ton of games. In 10 seasons he racked up 69 victories and walked away with just 26 losses.

    Surprisingly, Stabler never made it into the Hall of Fame. Even so, he's still one of the important cornerstone pieces to ever suit up for the Raiders.

14. Juan Marichal

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    Gene Smith/Associated Press

    Juan Marichal was so much more than a pitcher with an unorthodox delivery. He was, quite simply, the best pitcher in San Francisco Giants history.

    Marichal won 238 games with the Giants, striking out 2,281 batters and posting a solid 2.84 career ERA. His style of throwing the ball may have been unique, but it was everlasting.

    Baseball's Cy Young award proved to be elusive when it came to Marichal, despite posting crazy numbers for 14 years in San Francisco. Awards are great and all, but they don't take away from true artistry displayed by the Dominican Dandy.

13. Tim Brown

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    PAUL SAKUMA/Associated Press

    Bay Area sports fans were lucky enough to watch two of the NFL's best wide receivers compete around the same time. One was Jerry Rice—we'll get to him later—and the other was Tim Brown.

    A Silver and Black stalwart, Brown played 16 out of his 17 seasons with the Raiders. One of the best parts about Brown's game was that he wasn't the tallest pass-catcher around. At a mere 6'0", he figured out a way to play larger than life.

    After being used mainly as a return man early on, Brown was able to become the team's clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver.

    Starting in 1993, he caught 80 passes or more until 2001—that season he hauled in 76 balls. The receptions were there and the yardage followed—Brown finished his career with over 1,000 yards receiving nine seasons in a row.

    Brown's legacy led him to nine Pro Bowls and a Hall of Fame bid. He's widely recognized one of the greatest receivers to ever come into the NFL.

12. Willie McCovey

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    The 6'4", 198-pound Willie McCovey brought a surge of power with him each and every time he stepped to the dish.

    McCovey spent 19 years with the words "San Francisco" pressed across his chest, and he did that moniker proud. He crushed 469 home runs, drove in 1,388 RBI and slugged a whopping .524 percent.

    Those numbers allowed McCovey to play in six All-Star Games, win a National League MVP award in 1969 and of course, join the Hall of Fame in 1986.

    Plus, what other baseball player has a body of water named after them? McCovey Cove has become the defining feature of the sprawling magnum opus that is AT&T Park.

11. Ronnie Lott

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    Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

    All of this talk about great offensive players makes you think that's the only reason the 49ers won so many championships.

    Well, that's not entirely true. Defensive back Ronnie Lott—among others—was also a critical part of the Niners' infrastructure for 10 years. Without his versatility, who knows if the 49ers would have won all of those titles.

    Lott played cornerback from 1981 until '84. Then, starting in '85, he switched over to safety. No matter where he lined up, Lott was a turnover machine. His 63 career interceptions tie him for seventh best in NFL history.

    Few athletes have played with the integrity and intensity that Lott did. It was Robert Klemko of the MMQB who talked about Lott's infamous "tough guy" moment:

    "And then there is Ronnie Lott, who famously had his broken pinkie finger amputated in April 1986 to avoid the long recovery time that would have followed reconstructive surgery."

    Think about that. The dude got his shattered pinkie sliced off by doctors in order to get back on the field faster.

    That's some legendary stuff right there.

10. Reggie Jackson

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    Associated Press

    Reggie Jackson mainly gets recognized these days because of his affiliation with the New York Yankees. The things he did in pinstripes made him a true celebrity in the Bronx.

    Despite that notion, Jackson was also a marquee Bay Area player with the Oakland Athletics early in his career. In 10 seasons, Reggie slammed 269 home runs, 776 RBI and slugged .496 percent.

    Those totals in Oakland led him to an MVP award, six All-Star appearances and three World Series banners.

    Jackson was a premier slugger for one of baseball's top franchises. It's just too bad he left the team after 10 years.

9. Rick Barry

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    Rick Barry spent his basketball career playing in NBA and the ABA. Shattering expectations in both leagues, Barry created his own folklore in the Bay Area.

    The stuff he did in a Warriors uniform was breathtaking. He averaged 25.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.3 steals per game. As one of the true pioneers of basketball, Barry even snagged an NBA Finals MVP in 1975 and was selected to eight All-Star teams.

    Named as the one of the 50 greatest players in league history by the NBA, Rick Barry will always be a Bay Area treasure.

8. Rickey Henderson

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    Associated Press

    Rickey Henderson is the Athletics. He was a cultural aberration and one of the most talented men to ever suit up in the city of Oakland.

    In various stints with the team, Henderson stole 867 of his record-setting 1,406 bases. He was an electric player who changed the Athletics thanks to his knack for getting on base and moving around the diamond without any additional help.

    When you talk about pure, unfiltered speed, you have to throw Henderson's name into the conversation. Factoring in all types of sports, the man was simply one of the fastest guys around.

    Henderson was the AL MVP in 1990 while playing in Oakland. He may have dabbled with other clubs over the course of his career, but he will always be an Athletic at heart.

    When he was selected to join the baseball Hall of Fame in 2009, the cap he chose to wear was green and yellow.

7. Steve Young

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    DOUG MILLS/Associated Press

    Few teams in NFL history have had the luxury of losing one great quarterback and replacing him with another. The 49ers were one of the lucky ones.

    When Steve Young came to the Bay Area in 1987, he was slotted in as Joe Montana's backup. In limited work, Young thrived manning the offensive ship that coach Bill Walsh had built.

    It wasn't until 1991 that Young finally got his chance to take over as the starting QB, because of an injury suffered by Montana.

    His storybook career would hit a few bumps in the road—like the sudden emergence of backup QB Steve Bono in 1991—before it evolved into something truly extraordinary.

    Young found himself in San Francisco, becoming the franchise's first—and best—dual-threat gunslinger. He won a Super Bowl in 1994, two league MVP awards and despite battling injuries, he worked his way into the Hall of Fame.

    The leap from Montana to Young was special. Both men were awesome quarterbacks and true Bay Area titans.

6. Art Shell

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    Jack Smith/Associated Press

    Around the same time Gene Upshaw was holding down the left guard position, Art Shell was right there alongside of him cementing his own special legacy at left tackle for the Raiders.

    A lot of people will remember Shell for the time he spent as the Raiders head coach. But his best work was actually done as an offensive lineman.

    Shell's career lasted from '68 until '82. Like Upshaw, he turned out to be a remarkably durable force in the trenches. For all of the great things he accomplished as a player—including being part of two Super Bowl winning teams—Shell was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.

    To this day, there are only a minimal amount of left tackles who can stack up to Shell.

5. Barry Bonds

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    An asterisk may be permanently pinned next to his name, but former Giants slugger Barry Bonds will always be remembered for what he did in the Bay Area.

    After seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bonds traveled out west to San Francisco. Turning his production up a notch, the pure hitter shattered the single-season home run record in 2001 and wound up with the most dingers in MLB history when he finally walked away from the sport of baseball—762 of them.

    Bonds never was able to capture a World Series title, but his production on the field was the stuff legends are made from.

    The tough part about adding a guy like Bonds to this list is that he's followed around by shadows of doubt. An admitted steroid user—though he claims he didn't know what he was taking at the time—Bonds' accomplishments will forever be tainted.

    It's a shame too. For a lengthy period of time during the early 2000s, there wasn't a more entertaining player to watch in all of sports.

4. Gene Upshaw

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    Associated Press

    Offensive linemen need love too. When it comes to the brick walls that protect quarterbacks and allow offenses to thrive, Gene Upshaw of the Raiders was second to none.

    Upshaw started 207 games in a row at left guard for the Silver and Black, bullying any defensive player who dared to come into his territory.

    His career lasted from 1967 all the way up until 1981. So, when you talk about durability, accountability and skill in terms of the NFL, Upshaw is the definition of those qualities. He's a Hall of Famer and one of the top players in league history, regardless of position.

3. Willie Mays

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    Willie Mays played 2,857 games in a San Francisco Giants uniform. Before that, he was part of the New York version of the team.

    When you talk about accolades defining an individual, Mays more than fits the bill. He was a five-tool player who was able to do it all with serious power and harmonious grace.

    Mays was a 24-time All-Star, a home run blaster and a defensive wizard in center field. Few players have been able to do the things he did during his noteworthy MLB career.

    The Say Hey Kid is San Francisco through and through. And these days, it's a challenging endeavor not to consider him the top player in Giants history.

2. Joe Montana

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    George Nitikin/Associated Press

    There are a lot of people out there today who believe in their hearts that former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana is the best to ever do it.

    Bill Bender of the Sporting News is one of those disciples. "Joe Montana is still the greatest quarterback of the Super Bowl era," Bender penned.

    Even if you lean in a different direction on that debate, Montana is without question the best QB in the history of the Bay Area. With Bill Walsh and the West Coast offense serving as stablemates, Montana helped the 49ers capture four Super Bowl titles.

    Joe Cool was smooth, efficient and laser-focused. To this day, he's one of the the leading faces on the Mount Rushmore of 49ers greats.

    Montana may only be 13th in career passing yards and 11th in touchdowns, but having four Super Bowl rings tends to alleviate those numbers.

1. Jerry Rice

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    Joe Pugli/Associated Press

    The NFL has a lot of great wide receivers running around its fields these days. Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown are just a few. But none of those guys would have anyone to compare themselves to had it not been for the great Jerry Rice.

    Jerry Rice was the best in the business for close to two decades. Playing with greats like Joe Montana and Steve Young during the peak of his career, Rice was able to set—and hold onto—NFL records in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

    What sets Rice apart from a lot of other receivers is the fact that he enjoyed a lengthy and productive tenure on the gridiron. After spending 16 beautiful years with the 49ers, he went onto to play for another Bay Area staple: the Raiders.

    The three full seasons he spent with the Silver and Black were also very productive. Even at age 39, he still went out and caught 83 balls for 1,139 yards and nine TDs. Being the true ageless wonder that he was, Rice would follow that season up with 1,211 yards and seven scores.

    Rice is one of the most decorated Bay Area athletes ever. Three Super Bowl rings, 13 Pro Bowl appearances and countless seasons over 1,000 yards receiving make him the top athlete on this list.

    Unless noted otherwise, all game scores, stats and information courtesy of


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