Great Athletes Who Thrilled Us and Enriched Our Lives

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Crossposted at Daily Kos

If you’re a sports fan as I am of several sports, have you ever wondered who the greatest athlete ever was. Sure, you might have your own personal bias (for example, if you are a fan of Allen Iverson checkout Buysides buying guide and see if you can get your hands on his Georgetown jersey), but there are those few players who the vast majority of people would agree that they are the greats. If so, who among the greatest was your favorite of all time?

In late 1999, Sports Illustrated magazine held an awards ceremony to honor the ‘Sportsman of the Century.’ Among those honored in their respective sports were Muhammad Ali (Boxing), Jim Brown (Football), Wayne Gretzky (Hockey), Michael Jordan (Basketball), Babe Didrikson Zaharias (Best Female Athlete), Carl Lewis (Olympian), Jack Nicklaus (Golf), and Babe Ruth (Baseball).

“Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee”

Muhammad Ali aka “The Louisville Lip” knocks out Sonny Liston in the first round in their rematch fight in May 1965 in Lewiston, Maine to retain his World Heavyweight Boxing Crown (Photograph: Neil Leifer)

If one were to expand this list, you could add many more athletes – both male and female – whose sporting achievements left a legacy of accomplishment that sets them apart from their contemporaries.

Let’s look at the accomplishments of some of these great athletes

Arguably the most famous athlete ever, Ali was a three-time world heavyweight boxing champion. His colorful personality, outrageous claims, and refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War made him a hero to millions. Of Ali’s memorable appearance at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, author George Plimpton wrote

A poster promoting the 1974 Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight in Kinshasa, Zaire that came to be known as “The Rumble In The Jungle” (left) and underdog Ali knocks out Foreman in the 8th round using his now-famous “Rope-a-Dope” boxing strategy to regain his heavyweight title

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It was a kind of epiphany that those who watched realized how much they missed him and how much he had contributed to the world of sport. Students of boxing will pore over the trio of Ali-Frazier fights, which rank among the greatest in fistic history, as one might read three acts of a great drama. They would remember the shenanigans, the Ali Shuffle, the Rope-a-Dope, the fact that Ali had brought beauty and grace to the most uncompromising of sports. And they would marvel that through the wonderful excesses of skill and character, he had become the most famous athlete, indeed, the best-known personage in the world.

He sent shockwaves in the boxing world, when he returned to the boxing ring after a three-year-long hiatus, winning back the heavyweight title at age 32. Rewriting history, this event went down in history as one of the greatest sports underdog stories of all time. You may read up on many such stories on the Statistic Sports’ website.

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Widely considered to be the best running back ever in professional football, Brown may well have been the most dominant football player ever. His accomplishments included: 12,312 yards gained in nine seasons, 106 touchdowns, and winning an NFL-record eight rushing titles. He never missed a game in his professional career.

Playing for the Cleveland Browns from 1957-1965, Running Back Jim Brown bulldozed through football defenses en route to a Hall of Fame football career

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Brown’s memorable professional career led to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, while the The Sporting News selected him as the greatest football player of all time. Brown also earned a spot in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, Brown being one of the greatest in that sport as well. Brown’s football talents at Syracuse garnered him a berth in the College Football Hall of Fame, giving him a rare triple crown of sorts as well as being one of the few athletes to be a Hall of Fame member in more than one sport.

Brown’s claim to the title of greatest running back of all time is supported by statistics. In 118 career games, Brown averaged 104.3 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry. None of the NFL’s career rushing leaders come close to these spectacular totals.

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Known as the “The Great One,” Gretzky dominated the sport of ice hockey like no one before him – or since. A supremely gifted and graceful player on the ice, Gretzky set scoring and assists standards that will be very difficult to equal or surpass for any player for a very long time. He has also become a motivational speaker for those who are interested in hearing his story, all you have to do is get in touch with someone like this wayne gretzky agent to find out more information.

Wayne Gretzky is considered to be the greatest hockey player of all time. In his brilliant career, he didn’t just break previous records in the game. He shattered them

A few of his remarkable career highlights

  • He has the record for most career regular season goals (894), assists (1,962), points (2,856), and hat tricks (50). The next closest player in total points is Mark Messier with 1887 points. That is almost a thousand points difference.
  • He had dominated the playoffs like he had dominated the regular season. His 47 points in 1985 and his 31 assists in 1988 are still records for a playoff year. He is the career playoff leader in goals (122), assists (260), points (382), hat tricks (10), and game winning goals (24). These playoff numbers appear to be untouchable.
  • Bobby Orr is one of the greatest players in NHL history. In Gretzky’s second season, he broke Orr’s record for most assists in one season (102) with 109. Gretzky did not have fewer than 102 assists until the 1991-92 season.
  • Considering that only one player (Mario Lemieux) besides Gretzky has ever averaged two points a game in a season, what he did in 1985-86 is truly amazing. He averaged over 2 assists a game that season. He had 163 assists in 80 games and still managed to score 52 goals.

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Growing up in Texas in the 1920’s during a time when female athletes were afforded few opportunities to compete, she excelled in virtually everything she did in life. Defying female stereotypes of the day, she was a superstar in the pre-television age and became the country’s first female golf celebrity in the 1940’s. Accomplished in several sports, she won three Olympic medals and 31 LPGA titles, including 10 majors in golf.

Way ahead of her time, Babe Didrikson Zaharias was named by the Associated Press as the Greatest Female Athlete of the first half of the 20th century

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The first to prove a girl could be a stud athlete, Babe Didrikson began as a muscular phenom who mastered many sports and ended as a brilliant golfer. An exuberant tomboy whose life was athletics, she was accomplished in just about every sport – basketball, track, golf, baseball, tennis, swimming, diving, boxing, volleyball, handball, bowling, billiards, skating and cycling. When asked if there was anything she didn’t play, she said, “Yeah, dolls.”

As a teenager she knew her life’s ambition. “My goal was to be the greatest athlete who ever lived,” she said.

While others dispute her story, Didrikson said that she was nicknamed Babe early in her teens by boys awed at her long-distance homers. As she grew older, there seemed to be more Ty Cobb than Ruth in her, a dark rage that made losing intolerable. Like for Cobb, animosity seemed to be the fuel that stoked Babe’s competitive fire.

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He was simply one of the most magnetic personalities in sports history. As an NBA guard, Jordan was a ferocious competitor whose will to win was legendary. In a game that traditionally had been dominated by taller men who’d played either forward or center — which makes his multiple championships all the more remarkable — he was an incredibly gifted offensive and defensive player. In the 1990’s, his world-wide popularity approached that of Ali’s though one could question whether he had as much of a social impact upon our culture.

In a game of giants, Michael Jordan — or “Air Jordan” as he came to be known for his acrobatic moves — stood as tall as anyone who had ever played professional basketball

His career accomplishments

Six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and five MVP awards, MJ holds records for career scoring average (33.4) and most seasons leading the league in scoring (10). Jordan, who retired after the 1997-98 season, became one of the most popular athletes of the century, and his fame transcended basketball.

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He was a living legend and cultural icon during his life. Not only was he the dominant sports personality of his time but in an era of economic hardship and depression, his popularity exceeded even those of presidents. Before he set the record for most home runs ever in baseball history (714), Ruth was a world series winning pitcher – a feat unlikely to be ever achieved again in baseball.

How big was his fame? Consider this

A star pitcher with the Boston Red Sox (left), Ruth was sold to the rival New York Yankees in 1919 in one of the worst trades in sports history and the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” wasn’t lifted until the Red Sox won the Baseball World Series again in 2004 — 86 years later!

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Babe Ruth’s popularity and fame were so widespread that even America’s enemies knew of him. Almost a decade after he had bashed his last home run, his presence still was felt.

During World War II, when Japanese soldiers charged American troops, they would sometimes scream, “To hell with Babe Ruth.” Not “to hell with FDR” or “to hell with Douglas MacArthur,” but “to hell with Babe Ruth.”

What bigger compliment could an American receive?

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In my book, Laver is the greatest tennis player ever with Roger Federer a very close second. Laver possesses one of the most remarkable records in sports history and he would have shattered all records in tennis had he not turned professional in 1962 and been barred to compete for five years from 1963-1967. In the prime of his playing career, undoubtedly he would have won many more Grand Slam singles titles during this five year period.

One year after his return in 1968 when the Tennis ‘Open’ era started, Laver won the Grand Slam again – the only player to have won the Australian, French, U.S. Open, and Wimbledon championships twice in the same year (1962 and 1969).

How good a player was Laver?

Rod Laver in his prime (left) and embracing a worthy successor after Roger Federer broke Pete Sampras’ record of 14 career Grand Slam singles titles in 2009

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Rod Laver was so scrawny and sickly as a child in the Australian bush that no one could guess he would become a left-handed whirlwind who would conquer the tennis world and be known as possibly the greatest player ever.

Laver’s eleven titles currently place him tied for fourth place on the all-time list, along with Bjorn Borg. Only Roger Federer (16), Pete Sampras (14), and Roy Emerson (12) have won more Grand Slam singles titles. Laver also won eight Grand Slam doubles titles. He is the only player (male or female) to have achieved the calendar Grand Slam twice.

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How great an athlete was Jackie Joyner-Kersee? An outstanding student at UCLA and an accomplished Olympian, Sports Illustrated magazine voted her the best female athlete of the 20th century, ahead of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

She overcame a great deal to establish her place in sports history

On the cover of Sports Illustrated (left), Jackie Joyner-Kersee was an exceptional all-around athlete with explosiveness as her main weapon

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The early 1960s were considered a modern Camelot, with a vigorous President energizing the country and a beautiful wife standing by his side.

It was into such a feeling of prosperity that a baby girl was born to the Joyner family on the mean streets of East St. Louis, Ill. The baby was named Jacqueline, after President John Kennedy’s wife, because, as her grandmother said, “Some day this girl will be the first lady of something.”

Jeane Dixon couldn’t have made a better prediction. Jackie Joyner did become the first lady of something: Track and Field.

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Known as “The Golden Bear,” Nicklaus was, until Tiger Woods burst upon the golfing world like a meteor in 1997, the most famous golfer in the world. His rivalry with Arnold Palmer helped to popularize a sport like few had done before him. His record of winning 18 major golf championships still stands with Tiger Woods in second place with 14 titles.

His impressive achievements

Jack Nicklaus being congratulated by Arnold Palmer after winning the 1962 U.S. Open (left) and winning the 1986 Masters Tournament at 46 years old when he well past his prime

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Over the course of his 25-year span (1962-1986) of winning 18 major championships, Nicklaus finished second an astounding 18 times (excludes the second place finish at the 1960 U.S. Open as an amateur). In addition to the 18 runners-up as a professional, Nicklaus placed third four times and fourth one time and in each case was one shot out of a playoff. Nicklaus’ total span of 73 top-10 finishes was 39 years (1960-1998) which is a record in total number as well as longevity among the four major championships and encompassed his tenure from an amateur through the majority of his Champions Tour career.

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Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele (as he was known as) was probably the best soccer player ever, winning the World Cup three times (1958, 1962, and 1970) as a member of the Brazilian national team. Raised in a very poor family in Tres Coracos, Brazil, he did perhaps more than any other player to glamorize the world’s most popular sport, soccer.

How great was he as a player?

Soccer legend Pele on the cover of Sports Illustrated (left) and controlling the ball with his head during a game

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He scored an average of a goal in every international game he played – the equivalent of a baseball player’s hitting a home run in every World Series game over 15 years. Between 1956 and 1974, PelĂ© scored a total of 1,220 goals – not unlike hitting an average of 70 home runs every year for a decade and a half.

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Growing up in the Native American nation of Sac and Fox in Oklahoma, Thorpe starred in several sports. Decades before anyone had ever heard of Bo Jackson and multi-sport athletes, Thorpe played professional football, baseball, basketball, and won Olympic gold medals. After several bouts of alcoholism and wandering from job to job, he lived in poverty once his sports career ended during the years of the the Great Depression.

He really could do it all

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He was voted The Greatest Athlete of the First Half of the Century by the Associated Press (in 1950) and became a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Thorpe’s legend was galvanized into America’s conscience at the 1912 Olympics.

He won the decathlon and pentathlon in Stockholm. When King Gustav V of Sweden congratulated Thorpe, he said, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.”

Thorpe reputedly replied, “Thanks, king.”

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Robinson’s place in sports history is firmly secure. Making his debut in 1947 as the first ever African-American baseball player in Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he endured more humiliation and racism than many of us can ever imagine. Yet, he carried himself with great dignity and paved the way for many who followed in later decades, notably Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

Robinson entered MLB at age 28 after excelling in several sports in college. Baseball was probably his fourth best sport at UCLA

Jackie Robinson pictured on a Brooklyn Dodgers magazine during his rookie year in 1947 (left) and sliding safely into home plate and history books

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Robinson transferred to UCLA, where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was one of four black players on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team… At a time when only a handful of black players existed in mainstream college football, this made UCLA college football’s most integrated team. Belying his future career, baseball was Robinson’s “worst sport” at UCLA; he hit .097 in his only season, although in his first game he went 4-for-4 and twice stole home.

At the end of Robinson’s rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he had become National League Rookie of the Year with 12 homers, a league-leading 29 steals, and a .297 average. In 1949, he was selected as the NL’s Most Valuable player of the Year and also won the batting title with a .342 average that same year. As a result of his great success, Jackie was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

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It’s hard to think of another major athlete who did more to advance the cause of equality in sports for women than Billie Jean King. Her brilliance as a tennis champion gave her the moral authority for long-time social activism. Denied many sponsorship opportunities when she was outed as a lesbian, she continued to persevere and, finally, prevailed.

A few of her accomplishments outside the world of tennis

Billie Jean King on the cover of Sports Illustrated (left) and before her ‘Battle of the Sexes’ with Bobby Riggs, an important event in the 1970’s women’s movement in which King defeated Riggs

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As one of the 20th century’s most respected and influential people, Billie Jean King has long been a champion for social change and equality. She created new inroads for both genders in and out of sports during her legendary career and she continues to make her mark today.

  • Named one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” by Life Magazine in 1990.
  • Empowered women and educated men when she defeated Bobby Riggs in one of the greatest moments in sports history – the Battle of the Sexes in 1973. This match is remembered for its effect on society and its contribution to the women’s movement.
  • In August 2009 King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The award was presented to King by President Obama on Aug. 12, 2009 in ceremonies at The White House.

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And finally…

In one of the most memorable performances in sport history, Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, deflating Adolf Hitler’s notion of Germans being the ‘superior race’

Jesse Owens on the victory stand at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (left) and an artist’s portrait of him

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For most athletes, Jesse Owens’ performance one spring afternoon in 1935 would be the accomplishment of a lifetime. In 45 minutes, he established three world records and tied another.

But that was merely an appetizer for Owens. In one week in the summer of 1936, on the sacred soil of the Fatherland, the master athlete humiliated the master race.

A personal story. As a teenager, I once met Jesse Owens and I remember him as a very decent, soft-spoken person who was full of stories about his athletic past. One that made a terrific impression on me was Jesse reminiscing about his return from the 1936 Berlin Olympics on a train ride from New York to Ohio – one which stopped at all the small towns en route to his home in Ohio. He recalled the train stopping late into the night at a small town in Central Pennsylvania. After the usual speeches and ‘meet ‘n greet’ with local politicians, Jesse and his wife reboarded the train and just as it was leaving the platform, a young, well-dressed white boy came running after them through the crowd and thrust a small brown paper bag in his hand. Jesse said he didn’t think much of it and put the paper bag along with the dozens of other presents they were showered with. Upon his return home, he opened all the presents and in the bag was an envelope containing $10,000! Remember, this was at the height of the Great Depression in the mid-1930’s. My lingering memory of this encounter was of a man who reeked of integrity and character and, given the segregated past he had to overcome in his native Alabama, with not a bitter bone in his body.

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A Note About the Diary Poll

The diary poll is not one where you are asked to choose the best athlete ever. It is virtually impossible to do so across sports that are very different from each other and require different skills. Nor does the poll list all of the great athletes in several other sports. Rather, it asks you as to who your favorite athlete was from among the ones listed. Perhaps, you’ve met a few of them or seen them compete at some point in your life. If so, I’d definitely want to hear of your experiences or impressions of them.

I could have as easily included many others in the poll. This incomplete list includes Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Magic Johnson (basketball); Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Ted Williams (baseball); Walter Payton, Joe Montana, and Johnny Unitas (football); Maurice Richard, Mario Lemieux, and Bobby Hull (hockey); Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson (boxing); Don Bradman (cricket); Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Margaret Court, and Bjorn Borg (tennis); Lance Armstrong (cycling); Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps (swimming); Carl Lewis and Bob Beamon (Track and Field); Diego Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer, and Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer); Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, and Olga Korbut (gymnastics); and others from sports not included above.

See this list for more names of the Top North American Athletes of the Century and The 20th Century Awards by Sports Illustrated (scroll down for additional names in various sports).

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  1. … I’ve had the honor of meeting two of them when I was a kid — Jesse Owens (just before he passed away, as I mentioned towards the end of the diary) and Rod Laver.  I met Laver at a tennis club where he was filming a commercial.  I had the thrill of my life when I hit a few tennis balls with him.  He was a perfect gentleman and one who cared deeply about his sport and the people involved in it.

    An autographed copy of the famous Owens photograph below at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is one of my prized possessions

    Tips and the like here.  Thanks.  

  2. Bill Russell was the greatest team player in basketball history, winning 5 MVP awards and 11 NBA championships in his 13-year playing career with the Boston Celtics – a feat no one has come even close to matching so far.

    Celtic Center Bill Russell boxes out Center Wilt Chamberlain of the

    Philadelphia 76ers for a rebound during one of their many battles

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    They were pro basketball’s most dominant team.  Never mind “three-peats.”  The Boston Celtics of the 1950’s and ’60s pulled off an “eight-peat.”

    Bill Russell — the prototypical defensive center — was a champion from his rookie season until his last game in his last championship series.  Before he arrived, the Celtics had never won a National Basketball Association title.

  3. Steffi Graf was the most versatile singles player in tennis history – winning more Grand Slam titles (22) than any male or female player other than Margaret Court (24).  As evidence of her versatility on different playing surfaces, she is the only player to win the four major championships (Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open and the Australian Open) at least four times each.  She was relentless in her pursuit of tennis perfection.

    What was her appeal?  

    Steffi Graf displays her trademark controlled slice backhand stroke

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    A few sports stars win something rarer than trophies or championships – an enduring place in the public’s affections.  Steffi Graf is one of them.  She hung up her racket five years ago after winning an amazing 22 Grand Slam titles, but that doesn’t mean she is any less busy or beloved.

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  4. walter johnson Pictures, Images and Photos

    In baseball, how many have heard of Walter “Big Train” Johnson?  The Sporting News, on their list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time, listed Walter Johnson #4, the highest ranking by any pitcher on the list, surpassed only by Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ty Cobb.

    Johnson played twenty-one seasons with the Washington Senators, who, for most of that time, had an overall losing record.  Unlike some other athletes, who benefited from playing on great teams, Johnson did not enjoy that luxury.  We might recall that it was not easy to pitch around Babe Ruth, since, if memory serves correctly, if a pitcher walked Ruth, they would then face Lou Gehrig with an additional runner on base.  

    At a time when there were relatively few teams in the major leagues, pitchers did not have the benefit of watered-down talent facing them at the plate.  Despite this, Johnson struck out 3508 batters, a record that stood for 55 years, until surpassed by Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Gaylord Perry, all doing so during the 1983 season.  Among pre-World War II pitchers, only two pitchers came within 1,000 strikeouts of his totals — Cy Young, with 2803 and Tim Keefe with 2562.  

    Johnson and Cy Young were the only two pitchers ever to win more than 400 games, Young with 511 and Johnson (again playing mostly on a losing team) with 417.  Johnson had twelve 20+ win seasons, including ten in a row, and two 30+ win seasons (33 in 1912 and 36 in 1913).  During his career, Johnson pitched 110 shutouts, a major league record, and in the 1-0 games he pitched, he won 38 and lost 26, major league highs in both categories.  On September 4, 5 and 7, 1908, he shut out the New York Highlanders in three consecutive games.  

    Johnson won Three Triple Crowns for pitchers (1913, 1918 and 1924), tying him with Grover Cleveland Alexander and Sandy Koufax for the most ever in pitching. (To win the Triple Crown, one must lead the league in wins, strikeouts and earned run average).  He won the American League Most Valuable Player award twice, in 1913 and 1924, a feat accomplished by only two other pitchers, Carl Hubbell (1933 and 1936) and Hal Newhouser (1944 and 1945).  His earned run average of 1.14 in 1913 stands as the sixth-lowest of all time.  

    From April-May, 1913, Johnson pitched 55.2 consecutive scoreless innings, which remains an American League record, and the third-longest streak in history.  In May of 1918, Johnson pitched 40 consecutive scoreless innings, becoming the only pitcher to ever have two streaks of 40 or more consecutive scoreless innings during a career.  

    As a batter, unlike most pitchers, he was by no means an automatic out.  He had a career batting average of .235, including a record .433 average in 1925.  He hit a total of 23 home runs during his career, the ninth-highest total ever by a pitcher.  

    Johnson was one of the first five players ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, a fitting tribute for one of the best athletes ever.

    The Washington Senators, under his leadership, narrowly missed the World Series in 1912 and 1913, and achieved that honor in 1924 and 1925, winning in 1924.

    This writer would contend that if Johnson wasn’t the greatest athlete of all time, he certainly qualifies as one of the best ever, and if there were ever an award for the best unknown athlete of all time, he would likely win this award hands down.

    Oscar Robertson Pictures, Images and Photos

    A second choice would have to be Oscar Robertson,a 6-foot5, 220 pound shooting guard/point guard, twelve-time All-Star, eleven-time member of the All-NBA Team and one-time winner of the MVP during his fourteen seasons in the league.  Robertson remains the only player ever in the history of the game to average a triple double for an entire season, at a time when the criteria for assists was more stringent and before the advent of the three-point shot.  His efforts helped to win the Milwaukee Bucks their only ever NBA championship during the 1970-1971 NBA season.  

    Robertson averaged more than 30 points per game during six of his first seven seasons in the league.  Only two players ever had more 30+ point per game seasons during their respective careers.  

    Robertson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980 and voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.  He was one of five chosen to represent the inaugural National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame class in 2006.  

    Robertson averaged more than 30 points per game during six of his first seven seasons in the league.  Only two players had more 30+ point seasons.  He was the first player ever to average more than ten assists per game, and remains the only guard in NBA history to average more than 10 rebounds per game, doing so three times.  He won the regular season MVP award in 1964, and won three All-Star Game MVPs during his career, in 1961, 1964 and 1969.  He has the highest all-time scoring average in the All-Star game for players participating in at least four games, an average of 20.5 points per game.  

    Robertson concluded his career with 26,710 points (25.7/game, ninth-highest of all time), 9,887 assists (9.5/game) and 7,804 rebounds (7.5/game).  He led the league in assists six times and was the NBA’s all-time leader in career assists and free throws made and was the second leading scorer behind Wilt Chamberlain at the time of his retirement.  

    Perhaps the most impressive records were related to his versatility, having averaged a triple double over the course of his first five seasons in the NBA, averaging 30.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 10.6 assists during this span of more than 400 games.  During his career, he had 181 triple-doubles, far ahead of anyone else in this category.  

    In 1967-1968, Robertson became the first of only two players in NBA history to lead the league in both scoring average and assists per game in the same season.  

    Robertson’s achievements do not end here, but for the sake of brevity, will soon conclude my case. I would add that Robertson was considered the first-ever legitimate “big guard”, paving the way for such players in the future, such as Magic Johnson.  He was also credited with inventing the head fake and fadeaway jump shot, later made famous by Michael Jordan.  

    Finally, Robertson received the “Player of the Century” award by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2000 and was ranked third on SLAM Magazine’s Top 75 NBA Players in 2003, ranking behind Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.  In 2006, ESPN named Robertson the second greatest point guard of all time, praising him as the best post-up guard of all time, and overall placed him second only to Magic Johnson.  

    Robertson as definitely one of the best athletes in history, and again might qualify as one of the best players who is not a household name.

  5. … for promoting this diary to the front page.

  6. iirc- Jackie Robinson was the first black major league baseball player in the 20th Century. There were black player in the 1800’s, but the majors eventually segregated, leading to the formation of the Negro Baseball League.

    Speaking of which, let’s add Josh Gibson to the list for his 900+ career home runs in the Negro League, including being the ONLY player to ever hit a home run out of Yankee Stadium. Could he have done as well in the Major Leagues? Sadly we’ll never know.

    Great diary, great history, and some great memories.

  7. Although I admire Mohammed Ali more than any other boxer, I still have to say that his truest greatness only appeared in his principled refusal to be inducted into the Army in 1966, which cost him his title and would have also cost him long years in prison, if public opinion hadn’t turned against the war in the middle of his appeals all the way to the Supreme Court.

    “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong … They never called me nigger.”

    Tell it like it is, Champ!  

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