Sunday, June 25, 2017

Top 10 Athletes from Virginia

June 25, 1788: Virginia becomes the 10th State to ratify the Constitution of the United States, thus joining the Union.

Top 10 Athletes from Virginia

You know how we sometimes say about a great athlete, "He's not human!" Well, the greatest athlete from Virginia might not have been human. It might have been a horse: Secretariat.

At any rate, in spite of Virginia being a Southern State, basketball dominates this list, not football. And the Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Hampton Roads area dominates, not the suburbs of Washington, D.C., or the State capital of Richmond.

Honorable Mention to Ken Clay of Lynchburg. He was a relief pitcher who helped the Yankees win the 1977 and 1978 World Series.

Honorable Mention to Wendy Gebauer of Reston, and Kim Maslin-Kammerdeiner of Fairfax, both suburbs of Washington, D.C. They were members of the U.S. team that won the 1st Women's World Cup in soccer, in 1991.

Honorable Mention to Ali Krieger of Dumfries, also a D.C. suburb. She was a member of the U.S. team that won the 2015 Women's World Cup.

Honorable Mention to Jonathan Clay Redick of Roanoke -- his parents called him "J" for short, but one of his baby sisters turned it into "J.J." -- who won the James E. Sullivan Memorial Award as the outstanding amateur athlete in America in 2005, as a basketball player at Duke University. While still Duke's all-time leading scorer, and they retired his Number 4, his pro career has been a letdown, although he did reach the 2009 NBA Finals with the Orlando Magic. He will play the 2017-18 season with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Honorable Mention to Andrew Rodriguez of Alexndria. The linebacker for the Army football team overcame a severe back injury to not only play again, but win the 2011 Sullivan Award. He has remained in the U.S. Army, and is unlikely ever to play pro ball, especially since his father, David M. Rodriguez, is a retired 4-star General (and also a former West Point football and baseball player), and all the branches of the armed forces the Army like to train the sons of "flag officers" to be flag officers as well.

10. Allen Iverson of Hampton. At 6-foot-1, he is one of the shortest great basketball players ever. A star at Georgetown University in Washington, he became an 11-time NBA All-Star, including winning 2 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player awards. He was a 4-time scoring champion, a 3-time steals leader, and league MVP in 2001, when he led the Philadelphia 76ers to their only Finals appearance since the man at Number 5 on this list led them to their last title.

His Number 3 has been retired by the 76ers, and has been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Clearly, some practice paid off for him.

But he's not the highest-ranking former Georgetown University basketball player on this list. The man at Number 8 on this list is.

9. Grant Hill of Reston. Although born in Dallas while his father Calvin Hill was a running back for the Dallas Cowboys, he great up in the D.C. suburbs, because his father finished his career with the Washington Redskins, and the family stayed there. A member of Duke University's National Championship basketball teams in 1991 and 1992, he got them back into the National Final in 1994. Duke retired his Number 33.

Like his father in his sport, Grant was Rookie of the Year in his, in the NBA in 1995. He was a 7-time All-Star, but injuries and bad luck with his teams' management decisions -- the Detroit Pistons, the Orlando Magic and the Phoenix Suns -- meant that he never got that elusive NBA title. He did, however, win an Olympic Gold Medal in 1996.

He is married to R&B singer Tamia, has done some acting, and is now a minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks. He is eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame, and, considering that it includes collegiate achievements, he should be in it.

But he is not the highest-ranking Duke University athlete, or even basketball player, on this list. The man at Number 7 is.

8. Alonzo Mourning of Chesapeake. The successor to Patrick Ewing as the great center on the Georgetown University basketball team, he was Big East Conference Player of the Year in 1992. When he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, a Reebok commercial imagined all the honors he would receive, including the retirement of his Number 33.

Well, that did happen -- but it was the Miami Heat that retired it, after a career in which the center was a 7-time NBA All-Star, a 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a 2006 NBA Champion. He is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

7. Clarence "Ace" Parker of Portsmouth. When he died in 2013, at the age of 101, he was the oldest living former Major League Baseball player, having played shortstop for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in 1937 and '38. But baseball wasn't his best sport: Football was. Ironically, in football, he played for teams named the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees.

He was a star athlete at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, half a century before Mike Krzyzewski's basketball team made that cool. He played baseball, football and basketball there. He finished 6th in the 1936 Heisman Trophy balloting, as a quarterback and safety, and Sammy Baugh was the only quarterback taken ahead of him in the 1937 NFL Draft.

He was a 2-time All-Pro, led the NFL in passing yards in 1938, and in 1940 led it in interceptions -- made, not thrown. He was also named NFL Most Valuable Player in 1940. He was named to the All-AAFC Team in 1946, and probably would have had more honors had his career not been interrupted by World War II, in which he was an officer in the U.S. Navy, well before the man at Number 2 on this list was born. Alas, no team for which he played survived the 1940s, so there is no team around to have retired his Number 7.

He later returned to Durham, managing the Durham Bulls minor-league baseball team, and serving as head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Duke. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the 1st member of any of the 4 major pro sports' Halls of Fame to live to be at least 100 years old. (Amos Alonzo Stagg lived to be 102, but he was in the College Football Hall of Fame, never having worked in pro ball.) He was also elected to the Sports Halls of Fame of both Virginia and North Carolina, and was a charter inductee into the Duke University Sports Hall of Fame in 1975.

6. Willie Lanier of Richmond. One of several players from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to play for the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs (Morgan State University in Baltimore -- Buck Buchanan of Grambling State in Louisiana was another), Willie was the greatest linebacker in AFL history, and one of the top NFL linebackers in his era.

A 2-time All-AFL player and a 6-time NFL Pro Bowler (that's 8 All-Star Teams), he arrived too late to play for the Chiefs team that won the 1966 AFL Championship and lost Super Bowl I, but he led the defense that won the 1969 AFL Championship and won Super Bowl IV. He was named to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame. The Chiefs retired his Number 63.

5. Moses Malone of Petersburg. In 1974, he became the 1st high school basketball player to jump directly to the pros, signing with the ABA's Utah Stars. He played the ABA's last 2 seasons, then 19 more in the NBA, proving remarkably durable.

He was an ABA All-Star in his rookie season, 1974-75, then an NBA All-Star 12 straight times. He was a 6-time rebounding leader and a 3-time Most Valuable Player: 1979, 1982 and 1983. He got the Houston Rockets into their 1st NBA Finals in 1981.

The Philadelphia 76ers, desperate for a title after some agonizing close calls, made the trade that brought Big Mo in, and he joined with Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Bobby Jones and Andrew Toney to build one of the greatest teams ever. In his Hampton Roads accent, Malone predict a sweep of all 3 Playoff series: "Fo', fo', fo'." It didn't quite work out, as they went 12-1. (The 2002 Los Angeles Lakers went 15-1, and this year's Golden State Warriors topped that with 16-1. Going undefeated has never been done, not even by the old Boston Celtics in the 2-round era.) But they did win the title, with Malone winning the Finals MVP, and the Sixers haven't done it since.

His Number 24 is retired by the Rockets, and his Number 2 (Jones wore 24) by the 76ers. He was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame, the ABA All-Time Team and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.

4. Bruce Smith of Norfolk. No Virginia native has ever won the Heisman Trophy. A man named Bruce Smith won it in 1941, but he was a running back at the University of Minnesota. This Bruce Smith might have been better. You know what he did as a defensive end for 19 years in the NFL? As Dennis Hopper said in a Nike commercial, "Bad things, man! I mean bad things!"

He -- not Michael Vick -- is the greatest athlete in Virginia Tech history, winning the 1984 Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in college football. Playing professionally, mostly with the Buffalo Bills, and toward the end for the Washington Redskins, he was an 11-time Pro Bowler. He starred on the Bills' 4 consecutive AFC Championship teams (but, of course, losing all 4 Super Bowls. And, while the statistic of sacks was not kept by the NFL until 1982 -- it is believed that Deacon Jones is the real all-time leader -- officially, Bruce Smith had more sacks than any player in the League's history: An even 200.

He was named to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, the NFL's 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Teams, and the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame. Virginia Tech does not retire numbers, but the Bills retired his Number 78.

3. Arthur Ashe of Richmond. If we were going by importance, rather than by achievement, he would easily be at Number 1. It was considerable appropriateness that he went to UCLA, the school that also produced the 1st black player in modern baseball, Jackie Robinson; and the 1st 2 players to break the color line in the NFL, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode. He also received coaching from the 1st great Hispanic tennis player, who lived in Los Angeles: Ricardo "Pancho" Gonzales.

He was the 1st black male tennis player to be ranked Number 1 in the world, in 1968. That year, he became the 1st to win the U.S. Open. In 1970, he became the 1st to win the Australian Open. In 1975, he became the 1st to win Wimbledon. (He didn't quite get the "career Grand Slam," getting only as far as the Quarterfinals in the French Open, in 1970 and 1971.)

Althea Gibson was the 1st black person to win the French (in 1956), Wimbledon (1957 and '58) and the U.S. (1957 and '58). And the Williams sisters have won so many titles, it's hard to keep track. But Ashe remains the only black man to win the Australian, the U.S., and Wimbledon. The only one to win any of those, and he won all of them. I checked: Yannick Noah won the French, but none of the others.

Ashe's importance goes beyond what he did to raise the profile and acceptance of black athletes at home. He also helped break down the barriers of apartheid in South Africa. And, due to his own misfortune, he became an advocate for AIDS research. For this reason, as he was dying in 1992, Sports Illustrated named him its Sportsman of the Year. Early in 1993, after his death, they put him on the cover again -- but it was hardly "The Dreaded SI Cover Jinx," as he was doomed anyway. Nevertheless, ESPN named its annual Award for Courage after him.

2. David Robinson of Manassas. Like his father before him, he entered the U.S. Navy (he was born in Key West, Florida, while his father was stationed there), after growing up in and around D.C. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, and became the greatest basketball ever to play at one of the service academies, sweeping the player of the year awards in 1987. He wanted to serve on a submarine, but at 7 feet even, was way too tall. After serving his 2-year commitment, he was discharged so that he could play pro ball.

A center for the San Antonio Spurs, "The Admiral" (he actually left the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade) was a 10-time NBA All-Star, Rookie of the Year in 1990, rebounding leader in 1991, blocked shots leader and Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, scoring leader in 1994, Most Valuable Player in 1995, and, finally having another great player alongside him in Tim Duncan, an NBA Champion in 1999, and retired as an NBA Champion in 2003. That year, Sports Illustrated named him and teammate Tim Duncan as their Sportspeople of the Year. He won Olympic Gold Medals in 1992 and 1996.

He was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and, while still active and not yet an NBA Champion, to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. 50 was also his uniform number, which the Spurs retired.

1. Lawrence Taylor of Williamsburg. The town is famous for its role in the American Revolution and the American Civil War, but L.T. got medieval on a few asses.

The linebacker was an All-American at the University of North Carolina, and they retired his Number 98. He was a 10-time Pro Bowler, the NFL Most Valuable Player in 1986 (a rare feat for a defensive player), and a 2-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants. More than that, he was a symbol for defensive players in the 1980s, an era of reckless abandon, which included his runaway cocaine use, and his career-ending leg break of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann.
He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and its 1980s All-Decade Team, and the New York Giants Ring of Honor, with his Number 56 retired. In 1999, The Sporting News named its 100 Greatest Football Players. He came in at Number 4. In 2010, the NFL Network named its 100 Greatest Players. He came in at Number 3. In each case, he was the highest-ranking defensive player.

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