The 10 Best Professional Athletes Born in Illinois

Ricky FrechCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2011

The 10 Best Professional Athletes Born in Illinois

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    Illinois is home to a slew of all-star athletes, mostly because they lay claim to a huge sports city in Chicago. With all of the Windy City's major sports teams it's not hard to see what inspires young Illinois athletes to put in the hard work it takes to become an elite athlete.

    Illinois' list doesn't quite match up to star power of some of the bigger states, but it's top 10 is solid. Want to find out which of your favorite players comes from Illinois? Read on to see that and more.

Honorable Mentions

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    Tony Allen

    Hank Bauer

    CM Punk

    Owen Daniels

    Curtis Granderson

    Andre Iguodala

    Shawn Marion

    Donovan McNabb

    Derrick Rose

    Michael Turner

10) Dwyane Wade

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    Born: Chicago

    Sport: Basketball

    Position: Shooting Guard

    Notable Achievements: 2006 NBA Champ, seven-time All-Star, six-time All-Pro

    After seeing fellow Chicago native Derrick Rose win the NBA MVP this year, it was hard to decide which pro basketballer to put in the 10th spot of this list. I decided to go with Wade because he's been able to prove over a longer career that he's one of the best guards in the game. 

    If Dwyane Wade and Lebron James are able to come through on their promise of multiple championships, then Wade might move up the list. For now, he's left fighting off the young gun Rose in the 10th spot.

9) Kirby Puckett

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    Born: Chicago

    Sport: Baseball

    Position: Center Fielder

    Notable Achievements: 10-time All-Star, two-time World Series Champ, six-time Silver Slugger Award winner, six-time Gold Glove award winner.

    Kirby Puckett was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 and, with a resume like his, there really wasn't any argument. Some would even argue that his career numbers could have been better if he hadn't been forced to retire at the age of 35 due to loss of vision in one eye.

    As the Twins' all-time leader in almost every batting category, it's impossible to keep him off this list. Him being so low is a testament to how stacked Illinois' list is. 

8) Rickey Henderson

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    Born: Chicago

    Sport: Baseball

    Position: Left Fielder

    Notable Achievements: 10-time All-Star, two-time World Series Champ, three-time Silver Slugger, 1990 AL MVP.

    Rickey Henderson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 as major league baseball's best lead-off hitter and baserunner. The man was a terror on the base paths, amassing 1,406 career steals. Add to that 3,000 career hits, 300 home runs, and over 2,200 runs scored, and you can see why people call him the best lead-off hitter in the history of the game.

    The Man of Steal is more than worthy of a spot on this list based purely on career numbers. The race between him and Kirby Puckett for this spot was tight, but in the end I had to give it to Henderson because no one else can claim the MLB record for steals and runs scored.

7) Shannon Sharpe

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    Born: Chicago

    Sport: Football

    Position: Tight End

    Notable Achievements: eight-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro, three-time Super Bowl Champion.

    Until Tony Gonzalez came along and destroyed the record books for tight ends, Shannon Sharpe was statistically the best tight end to ever play in the NFL. He was the first man to ever amass 10,000 yards from the position. In fact, his career numbers are something most elite wide receivers can't even touch. 

    Sharpe was the first, and one of the best, athletic, pass-catching tight ends. He's been passed by Tony Gonzalez in the tight end record books, but his numbers are still more than good enough for a spot on this list.

6) Ray Nitschke

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    Born: Elmwood Park

    Sport: Football

    Position: Linebacker

    Notable Achievements: Seven-time NFL Champion, seven-time Pro Bowler, 1964 Pro Bowl.

    Ray Nitschke was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978 after a storied career as the anchor of the 1960s-era Packers defense. His stout presence in the middle of the defense helped lead the Packers to five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls. During that time, the team was basically unstoppable, and Nitschke was one of the big keys, along with quarterback Bart Starr.

    As one of the best linebackers to ever play in the NFL, it was easy to include him on this list. Amazingly, he's not even the best linebacker to come from Illinois. Read on to see who in the world is better than Nitschke.

5) George Mikan

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    Born: Joliet

    Sport: Basketball

    Position: Center

    Notable Achievements: Seven-time Champion, five-time scoring leader, four-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA.

    George Mikan was the first of professional basketball's giant players to dominate the game. His statistics don't jump off the page at you, but his game was played in a different era and, during those times, he was the league-leading scorer and rebounder. He was so good that the Hall of Fame inducted him into their halls in 1959, the first year of its existence.

    George Mikan's career might not be quite as impressive as a few of the guys who came before him, but he was the pioneer for the modern game. He transformed the NBA into a league of big men, something we're still seeing today. His innovation and solid career numbers get him this spot on the list.

4) Jackie Joyner-Kersee

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    Born: East Saint Louis

    Sport: Track and Field

    Notable Achievements: Six Olympic Medals (three Gold), four World Championship Gold Medals.

    Jackie Joyner-Kersee is widely regarded as the greatest women's athlete at the heptathlon, and one of the best Olympic athletes period. To this day, her world record-setting score in 1988's heptathlon still stands as the best score ever. In fact, no one has even gotten within 250 points of her score.

    Joyner-Kersee might be the greatest female athlete in the history of the Olympic games. She's more than worthy of her spot on this list, which is saying a lot considering how strong the list has been to this point. 

3) Isiah Thomas

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    Born: Chicago

    Sport: Basketball

    Position: Point Guard

    Notable Achievements: Two-time NBA Champion, 11-time NBA All-Star, five-time All-NBA.

    It's unfortunate that Isiah Thomas had to ruin his Hall of Fame career by becoming a terrible general manager and coach. The man ranks fifth all-time in assists and ninth in steals. He is one of the best point guards to ever play, with nearly 20 points and 10 assists per game for his career.

    Thomas hurt his image while in New York, but you can't deny how great he was as a player. In leading the "Bad Boys" of Detroit to two consecutive championships, Isiah Thomas cemented his spot on this list.

2) Otto Graham

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    Born: Waukegan

    Sport: Football

    Position: Quarterback

    Notable Achievements: Seven-time Champion, five-time Pro Bowler, 10-time All-Pro, five-time MVP.

    Otto Graham's Browns dominated every league they played in with him at quarterback. In his first 10 years, he led the Browns to 10 championship games and won seven of them. His passing numbers aren't amazing because of how different the league was when he played, but he was a proven winner, and he won the MVP award multiple times in multiple leagues.

    Not only was he so good at football that the Hall of Fame inducted him in 1965, but he was also able to play pro basketball for the Rochester Royals and help them capture a title in 1945-46. His ability to win the big game in any sport is what put him so high on this list. 

1) Dick Butkus

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    Born: Chicago

    Sport: Football

    Position: Linebacker

    Notable Achievements: Eight-time Pro Bowler, eight-time All-Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

    Remember earlier when I said there was a better linebacker than Ray Nitschke on this list? Dick Butkus is that guy. He is widely regarded as one of the two best linebackers to ever play in the NFL (Lawrence Taylor being the other), and his dominating performance during the 1960s and 70s put him in the Hall of Fame in 1979.

    As one of the most intimidating players to ever put on the pads, Dick Butkus was feared by everyone for his hard hitting, amazing strength and knack for forcing and recovering fumbles. There was no way the top spot was going to anyone else, because Butkus proved over and over again during his illustrious career that he was the best pro athlete born in Illinois.