A player’s greatness is defined by so many different things. For some, it is his contribution’s to the team day in and day out on the court, field or ice. In other instances, a players‘ greatness is defined by his or her leadership to their team. However, while a number of players are considered great, only a select few could be said to be greater than the entirety of their team. The notion seems somewhat far-fetched, but in certain cases some players regardless of their sport are the embodiment of not only a team, but the city they play in.
Some teams have erected statues to celebrate certain players, which will live on long after their careers and even lives have come to an end. Even though these larger than life players were exceptional at what they did, they were also among the most criticized and despised. To be great doesn’t necessarily mean they had to be liked, it meant that they had to win and without them, their teams would be lost.
15. Mark McGwire
During his major league career, McGwire was known for playing for two different teams, and both the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals were known for having the homerun hitter as a part of their teams. While he was with the A’s, McGwire shared the spotlight with names such as Eckersley, Canseco and Henderson. However, when he played for the Cardinals, McGwire was a huge cog in the teams’ success. Playing in a smaller market such as St. Louis meant that everything McGwire did would stand out. McGwire made a huge impact playing at Busch Stadium as he would crush ball after ball over the fence and in the process put his name in the record books. He was the first man to break Roger Maris’ single season homerun record in 1998 and finished the season with an astounding 70 for the season.
14. Dan Marino
If there was ever a player that represented the best of their team and was the embodiment of what the organization meant, it was NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Dan Marino. He is often called the best Quarterback never to win a championship. It doesn’t define however, the player he was and the records he broke. When fans look at what the man achieved, despite never winning a Super Bowl, it is astounding. He was the NFL Rookie of the Year, NFL MVP, a five-time passing leader, three-time touchdowns leader, and offensive player of the year to name just a few. As Marino went so did the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins made it to the playoffs in ten of his seventeen seasons. The unfortunate part was his regular season sacrifices caught up with him as he was only able to play in two of the ten games the team played in the playoffs.
13. Hank Aaron
Nicknamed ‘Hammerin Hank’, Aaron left an incredible mark on the baseball world. He retired with a career batting average of just over .300 and 3770 career hits. He is best known as the man that broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record by hitting 755 home runs in his career. While his record has since been broken, he was the man that broke the record set by another Hall of Famer over thirty years before. One of the most remarkable things to note was that Aaron was an all-star nearly every year throughout his career, his rookie season and his final season being the only two where he was not selected to the team. Aaron achieved success after coming to the major leagues after competing in the Negro leagues in the 1950s, and was the face of the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves. To this day he is regarded as the greatest Atlanta Brave of all time.
12. Shaquille O’Neal
At 7’1 and over 300 lbs, O’Neal was recognized for his contributions to basketball both on and off the court. He has played with some of basketball’s greatest players such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, but there is no missing it when O’Neal was on the court. He first came to prominence with the Orlando Magic and was undoubtedly the go-to man. He captured the Rookie of the Year, and with the Magic was a six-time all-star. Despite not winning championships with Orlando he made them known throughout the league. His dominance at centre and ability to control the paint with his intense defensive prowess made him a threat on both ends of the court. He is still recognized off the court today for his role on TNT as a basketball analyst that offers not only insight into the game, but without question is colourful.
11. Ted Williams
He has been called ‘the greatest hitter that ever lived,’ and owns a mark that still stands today. He was arguably the greatest Boston Red Sox player ever. Despite never getting to 3000 career hits he is the last man to ever hit .400 for a career. Williams playing career was interrupted for four years as he was drafted to the military and fought for the United States during World War II and in the Korean War, and would certainly have accumulated over 3000 hits had he not missed those years. Williams disliked having to discuss his personal life with the media as he felt it was his baseball performance that should have been the focus. He had a bit of a rough relationship with the fans early in his career, but it isn’t to be forgotten that it was Williams that was a key to the Red Sox success.
10. Sidney Crosby
‘Sid the Kid,’ the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins has been an active part of the teams success since he joined the league in the 2005-2006 season. He is a generational player much like Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky before him. He has captured the Stanley Cup twice, but has certainly seen his share of challenges. His career appeared to be in doubt when concussion problems shortened two seasons. However, if anything, the concussions helped to motivate him to get better. This past year, Crosby appeared to bring his game to a new level as he led the Penguins to the playoffs and eliminated any doubt fans, or media had of him. He is without question a major key to the success of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
9. Barry Bonds
Regardless of what some may think of him, Bonds was unquestionably one of the most productive players of his time. Whether or not it was through unscrupulous of means, Bonds smashed records. He had a near .300 career average, was a fourteen-time all-star, a seven-time National League MVP, eight-time Gold Glove winner, a multi-time batting and home run champion, along with a multi-time Silver Slugger award winner. Much like many of those on this list, Bonds saw his share of controversies. Whether or not he enters the Hall of Fame remains a question. What doesn’t remain a question is the all-time home run leader was an extraordinary baseball player that wasn’t just the face of the San Francisco Giants, but was without question the Giants franchise for more than a decade.
8. LeBron James
It’s hard to believe, but James has already been in the NBA for thirteen seasons. During that time he has seen his share of challenges and triumphs. As he goes, so do the Cleveland Cavaliers. While he is surrounded with incredible talent such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, it is James’ performance that will dictate whether or not the Cavaliers win. He has received his share of criticism for leaving Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat, but when things didn’t work out the way he had hoped there he returned home to Ohio. James’ career accomplishments and decisions have made him a polarizing figure in the NBA. He has often talked about wanting to help his home team be successful, and this past season, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers captured the 2015-2016 NBA Championship and brought a championship to Cleveland for the first time in over half a century.
7. Babe Ruth
He was known as ‘The Bambino’ or ‘The Sultan of Swat,’ and when the legendary New York Yankee stood at the plate one thing was for sure, he would surely put on a show. While the New York Yankees have had an incomparable number of great players throughout their history, Ruth still stands out as he was the man demolished existing records. He was the all-time homerun leader with 714 until Hank Aaron broke his record, runs batted in and base on balls. However, he was also known for having his share of demons. His long battle with alcoholism may have been a contributing factor in his death, as may his use of chewing tobacco given he died from throat cancer. His legacy cannot be understated. He was one of the first five people that were inducted into Major League Baseball’s hall of fame, and was considered the greatest player of his time.
6. Joe Montana
One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is Hall of Famer Joe Montana. While he may have been supported by talented players such as Jerry Rice and Roger Craig, Montana spearheaded the San Francisco 49ers attack and led them four Super Bowl championships. He played the tail end of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, but it was with the 49ers that Montana made a name for himself. He was a three-time Super Bowl MVP, two-time NFL MVP, eight-time Pro Bowler, and two-time passing touchdowns leader among his numerous accomplishments. Other quarterbacks have come after him and earned the right to be called great, but only one had the uncanny ability to come from behind and win. While one person alone cannot win a championship, Montana was certainly the man that led the charge and dictated the offense for the four-time champions.
5. Kobe Bryant
The recently retired Bryant is truly a remarkable player. After being drafted out of high school, by the Charlotte Hornets and refusing to play for them, Bryant was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and played his entire career there. He was often considered one of the most important players of his generation. It was reported that he had issues with former teammates due to his need to win. However, the Black Mamba didn’t let that define him as he worked through those issues to become a five-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP. Despite playing with notable players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, Bryant was the mainstay that rose above criticism to demonstrate how a champion carries himself. His achievements will certainly put him into the NBA Hall of Fame.
4. Mario Lemieux
While Gretzky was ‘The Great One,’ Lemieux was “The Magnificent One”. If there was ever a player that made the game look easy, it was number 66. He played with composure and a calm manner, but when he was pushed the six-foot, four inch 230 lbs centreman was a force to be reckoned with. Although injuries plagued his career, it didn’t prevent him for still performing at the very highest level. Lemieux is also an inspiration to those around him, as he battled Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer, and returned to the NHL after a three-year absence without missing a beat. He scored at a rate of more than a point per game clip in each of the seasons he played in after his first ‘retirement.’ The three-time NHL champion and Hall of Famer will always be remembered for being someone who was greater than his team regardless of their performance.
3. Gordie Howe
The late “Mr. Hockey” transcended the sport. Gordie Howe was so big both physically and in terms of impact that he was nicknamed after his sport. He held the record for the most career points by player with 1850 points until the man that idolized him as a child, Wayne Gretzky, overtook him. The Saskatchewan native played in parts of five different decades, and was among the first men to have his number retired by the Detroit Red Wings. Howe could do it all; he could score goals, pass the puck and wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves and take part in his fair share of fights. The term ‘Gordie Howe Hat-trick’ is a term used when someone scores a goal, gets an assist and gets into a fight in a single game. He will long be remembered and his legend will live on.
2. Wayne Gretzky
“The Great One” is a name that isn’t bestowed too many players. In the case of Gretzky, he was so exceptional that the success of not only one team, but two was tied to him. Although the end of his playing career saw him have stints in both St. Louis and New York, it was his time in Edmonton and Los Angeles that hockey fans will remember. He is the all-time scoring leader with over 2850 career points, with his next closest, Mark Messier, being almost 1000 points behind him. Gretzky is known not only for what he has meant to those teams, but what he has meant to the expansion of hockey throughout the United States, especially in Sunbelt cities such as Anaheim, San Jose, Florida and Tampa Bay. He truly is an ambassador for the sport, and one hockey fans will never forget.
1. Michael Jordan
Often called the greatest of all time, His Airness stood head and shoulders above the rest of his team as he played for the six-time world champion Chicago Bulls. Jordan only cared about was winning, and he wasn’t a nice guy; he was a winner. He was often criticized for not being the best teammate, but he was undoubtedly the straw the stirred the drink for the Bulls. Jordan’s career achievements beside being a six-time NBA champion include being a six-time NBA finals MVP, five-time NBA MVP, fourteen-time all-star, three-time all-star MVP and a ten-time all-NBA scoring champion. He delivered in the clutch; in fact he thrived on it. Whenever the game was on the line, Jordan demanded the ball. Although he ended his career playing for Washington, it was his time with Chicago that represented where he was bigger than the team that he played for.
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