The 15 Greatest Players in Seattle Sports History

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2016

The 15 Greatest Players in Seattle Sports History

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    There are some great sports cities in the United States, but one that's often forgotten about because it's all the way in the upper left of the country is the city of Seattle, which boasts rich history thanks to its teams' successes over the years.

    While the Emerald City no longer has an NBA team—that got snatched away by a greedy owner who straight-up lied to hoops fans— that doesn't erase years of memories, with the SuperSonics being remembered for having great players and unforgettable moments.

    Add in the history from the Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders and the list of iconic Seattle athletes is a long one, which made the task of trying to rank the top-15 greatest a daunting one. After debating with some friends from the Seattle area, I gave it my best shot, though—just as we've done with some other big sports towns around the country.

Honorable Mention: Alex Rodriguez, Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck

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    While there are other players who made their mark in the Seattle sports scene, the three most notable exclusions from the top-15 list were Alex Rodriguez, Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck, who all enjoyed great success with the Mariners and Seahawks, respectively.

    A-Rod, who bolted the Emerald City for greener pastures (and money) in 2000 by signing the richest deal in sports history at the time, played for the M's for seven seasons and averaged .309/27/85, making him one of the best players in the game at the time.

    Hasselbeck and Alexander shared the Seahawks backfield from 2001 to '07, guiding the team to its first ever Super Bowl appearance during the 2005 season and giving plenty of memories for fans who made it to CenturyLink Field.

    Before there was Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson, there were these two, as Alexander won a league MVP, reached three Pro Bowls and became the team's all-time leading rusher, while Hasselback also made three Pro Bowls and became a beloved fan-favorite for his exuberant style of play.

Fred Brown

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    Selected sixth overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1971 out of Iowa, guard Fred Brown had to wait his turn at becoming an impact player, but once he got that opportunity, he never looked back.

    Following a trade that saw veterans Lenny Wilkins and Dick Snyder shipped out of Seattle, Brown's stats increased tremendously from the 1972 season on, as he went from averaging a measly 4.2 points per game as a rookie to an 18.9 average from '73 to '78 by the time his career finally ended.

    An All-Star campaign in 1976 was his individual highlight, but winning an NBA title with the Sonics in 1979 as the team's captain was his shining moment, as he became one of the most adored players in franchise history.

    When he retired in 1984, Brown left as the Sonics' franchise leader in games played, points scored, and field goals and free throws made, leading to his No. 32 jersey being retired in 1986.

Felix Hernandez

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Just because he's still active doesn't mean that right-handed flamethrower Felix Hernandez isn't already an all-time great in the city of Seattle, as he's accomplished nearly as much as any other pitcher that the Seattle Mariners franchise has had.

    A six-time All-Star and a former Cy Young Award winner, King Felix carries a 143-111 career record with a 3.11 ERA into 2016, his 12th with the M's, continuing to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors.

    After inking a huge extension to stay in Seattle before the 2013 campaign, Hernandez and King Felix's Court are happy to see him march out to the bump every fifth day, where he's capable of striking out 15 one day, while pitching a perfect game the next.

    Hernandez is lethal with a baseball in his right hand—and he still has plenty of solid years left to move up this list.

Russell Wilson

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Much like the aforementioned Felix Hernandez, just because Russell Wilson is still active shouldn't take away what he's already accomplished in a Seattle Seahawks uniform.

    Point blank: He's arguably already the most successful signal-caller in franchise history, guiding the team to the postseason in each of his four seasons in the league, which includes two Super Bowl trips and one championship, leading many to believe he could become one of the best passers in the NFL over the next few years.

    Versatile, agile and one hell of a leader, the three-time Pro Bowler always seems to find a way to win, doing anything it takes to rally his troops and keep the faith no matter the deficit.

    Everyone in Seattle adores DangeRuss, as he's part of the community as much as he is "just" a football player.

Spencer Haywood

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    After playing for a season in the ABA straight out of college, Spencer Haywood found himself moving to the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics prior to the '70-71 season, where he promptly averaged 20.6 points per game, which began a string of five-straight seasons of scoring 20-plus points per game.

    One of the most lethal scorers in his era, Haywood made the All-Star team in all but one of his five seasons in Seattle, putting up video game-like numbers in the process, becoming arguably the franchise's first superstar.

    Although he was traded to the New York Knicks in 1975 and only lasted those five years in the Pacific Northwest, Haywood is remembered as one of the best Sonics ever, which the team recognized by retiring his No. 24 jersey during the 2007 season.

    A borderline Hall of Famer, Spencer Haywood could light it up back in his day.

Cortez Kennedy

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    CHERYL HATCH/Associated Press

    Drafted No. 3 overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the 1990 NFL draft, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy rewarded the team for using such a high pick on him, as he developed into the best defender the franchise has ever seen.

    That may be a bold statement, but the numbers for the Hall of Famer don't lie.

    Appearing in six Pro Bowls during his career with the Hawks—the only team he ever knew—Kennedy was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 despite Seattle going just 2-14, proving how dominant he was along the defensive line.

    Inducted into Canton in 2012, Kennedy is a Seahawks lifer who gave his all to the team even when they weren't very good, always bringing it each and every down.

Shawn Kemp

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    Coming straight to the NBA from high school, no one was really sure what type of player Shawn Kemp would turn into. After a slow start to his career during his rookie campaign, the Reign Man quickly proved what he could do.

    While playing for the Sonics, Kemp developed into one of the best dunkers in NBA history, destroying defenders by attacking the rim with no mercy and savagely posterizing opponents.

    A five-time All-Star during his eight years in Seattle, Kemp finished his Sonics career with averages of 16.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, helping the team reach the NBA Finals in 1995-96 and giving fans far too many jaw-dropping moments thanks to his high-flying ways.

Walter Jones

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    TED S. WARREN/Associated Press

    One could argue that former Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander could have easily been slotted in this position—especially since he won a league MVP—but it's the lesser sexy left tackle, Walter Jones, who gets the nod instead of the former Pro Bowl runner.

    That's because Jones was a beast along the offensive line, making a case for being the best left tackle in NFL history—which sure is saying a lot.

    In addition to opening up holes for Alexander to run through, Jones protected the blind side of every quarterback he ever blocked for, namely Matt Hasselbeck, helping the team reach a Super Bowl during the 2005 season.

    Starting all 180 career games he played for the Hawks, Jones was flagged for just eight holding penalties during his 12 years, which is why he's so highly regarded—he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

    He is simply one of the best ever.

Ichiro Suzuki

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Starting a revolution by simply putting "Ichiro" on the nameplate of his jersey, Japanese import Ichiro Suzuki became an instant sensation when he arrived to the Seattle Mariners in 2001.

    That season saw Ichiro help the M's win an MLB-record 116 regular-season games and join Fred Lynn as the only two players to win both the league MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.

    Playing in Seattle for 12 years, Ichiro was devastating both at the plate and in the outfield, leading the league in hits seven years, winning two batting titles, setting numerous records, reaching nine All-Star Games, earning 10 Gold Gloves and stealing 438 bases in a time when teams were cutting back on doing so.

    In his prime, Ichiro might not have been perfect, but had God built a perfect baseball player, he would have been the closest thing to it. That's how great he was.

Gary Payton

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    The second-overall pick in the 1990 NBA draft, point guard Gary Payton was well worth the Seattle SuperSonics' selection, as he became a Hall of Famer and one of the best players during his generation.

    A nine-time All-Star selection in his 13 seasons with the Sonics, Payton was more than just the leader of the offense, though, known for his defensive prowess even more thanks to his punishing defense that helped earn him the nickname "The Glove."

    Payton averaged 18.2 points, 7.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game while in a Seattle uniform, and he teamed up with the aforementioned Shawn Kemp to lead the team to an NBA Finals appearance during the 1995-96 season.

    Even more than the stats—and trash-talking ability—Payton only missed seven career games during his Sonics career, proving he was as reliable as anyone who has worn the uniform.

Edgar Martinez

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    ELAINE THOMPSON/Associated Press

    Moving to designated hitter following a torn hamstring injury in 1993, no one could have known that Edgar Martinez would develop into the best DH in major league history, earning seven All-Star appearances thanks to one of the purest strokes in the game.

    Playing his entire 18-year career in Seattle, Edgar was a natural fan-favorite, using a charismatic personality to go with his hitting ability.

    Winning two batting crowns and becoming a lethal part of the M's lineup during his tenure, it's no wonder Sports Illustrated named Martinez the best DH ever, with major league baseball all but agreeing by naming its annual award for the position after him.

    While he has fallen short so far in his bid to reach Cooperstown, many believe that he has a good chance at making it at some point.

Kasey Keller

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    There are few places in MLS with the home atmosphere that the Seattle Sounders have, and there are no players in the team's history better than goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

    A former starter for the U.S. men's national team, Keller may have starred on the international level and for various clubs in the English Premier League, but it was his time with the Sounders that many in the Emerald City remember him for the most—especially in influencing the local community in gaining exposure for the sport.

    During his three-year tenure defending the net for Seattle, Keller set the record for most minutes without a goal to start a season in MLS history—which he did for the expansion club in 2009—while also earning the league's Goalkeeper of the Year in 2011.

    A 2015 inductee of the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, Keller's ability between the posts while with the Sounders is unmatched by anyone since.

Jack Sikma

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    Playing for the Seattle SuperSonics for nine seasons, Jack Sikma became one of the best big men in the game during that time, earning seven-straight All-Star nods from 1978-85 after averaging 17.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game during those years.

    More than just the numbers, though, Sikma became a focal point for the Sonics in the middle, as he helped the team win its only championship during the '78-79 campaign following an NBA Finals appearance in his rookie campaign.

    One of the best defensive rebounders ever, Sikma's game is comparable to someone like Pau Gasol today, gritty and unflashy, yet productive for his fair share of solid teams.

    The club eventually retired Sikma's No. 43, proving how much he meant to the franchise.

Steve Largent

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    He wasn't the tallest or most physically dominating wide receiver ever, but what Steve Largent lacked in height he more than made up with in talent, as he became one of the best receivers in NFL history.

    A fourth-round selection from Tulsa in 1976 by the Houston Oilers, Largent ended up in Seattle via trade during the Hawks' expansion season for an eighth-round pick—which the Seahawks were happy to give up after seeing how he turned out.

    The first superstar in Seahawks history, Largent played all 14 NFL seasons in the Northwest, appearing in seven Pro Bowls and grabbing 819 balls for over 13,000 yards and exactly 100 touchdowns during that time.

    Starting more games than any player in the franchise history (197), Largent held five NFL records at the time of his retirement, including most career receptions, making him an all-time great and an easy choice for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was elected in 1995.

Randy Johnson

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    Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015, there wasn't anything like left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson during his Seattle Mariners days.

    Sure, the Big Unit won his World Series in 2001 as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but what Johnson did in the Great Northwest is what defines him.

    Playing nine-plus seasons in Seattle, the flamethrower compiled a record of 130-74 with a 3.42 ERA during that time, earning his first of five total Cy Young Awards in his career, as well as being the most feared pitcher anyone has ever seen.

    Standing 6'10" and throwing with a wild, three-quarter jerky motion, batters were unsure if they'd take a fastball up and in or a slider down and away, causing confusion anytime they came to the plate to face the guy.

    Randy Johnson may have entered Cooperstown donning a Diamondback cap, but it's his time in Seattle that truly defined him.

Ken Griffey Jr.

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    Who else but Ken Griffey Jr. could have landed as No. 1 on this list? Easy, no one.

    While some may remember Junior as the hobbled player who bounced around later in his career after leaving Seattle, those who remember his peak years marvel in a guy who was the best player in the majors for an entire decade.

    Selected No. 1 overall by the M's in 1987, the younger Griffey joined his dad in Seattle's outfield to become the first father-son duo in MLB history to play together—and then No. 24 decided to be one of the best the game has ever seen.

    Belting 417 homers during his 13 years in Seattle, Griffey Jr. finished in the top-five in AL MVP voting five times, winning the award once, while reaching the All-Star Game 11 times during that same tenure—which is why he set the voting record when recently inducted into the Hall of Fame.

    A charismatic player who was built with a smile on his face, Ken Griffey Jr. was the most polarizing baseball player of his era, known for wearing his hat backwards and playing the game with joy.


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