As I was driving home from work, an idea popped in my head. I began thinking about the best athletes I have seen during my 24 years in this world and I decided to put together a list of the top 10.
My brainstorming came to 20 total athletes ranging from four different sports: basketball, baseball, football and soccer.
While soccer, baseball and football have always been in my wheelhouse from the time I was a young child, basketball really began to come into the mix around 2009-10. I always followed it, just not as in depth as I do now.
After much self debate and narrowing down, I finally have it. I can confidently say that performing surgery might have been easier.
Before reading ahead, please make notes that I set several ground rules for myself before coming up with the list…
-The athlete must play in a team sport. That means superstars like Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods are ineligible. Trust me, both of them would be on the list otherwise.
-You had to watch the athlete with your own two eyes and understand what you were seeing. Sorry to the people my age who will complain that my list doesn’t have the great Michael Jordan. Why you ask? Because I was 7 when he won his last title. The only recollection I have from Michael Jordan is Space Jam, which trolls may say is reason enough for him to make the list.
-The athlete may not have translated to the professional realm, but perhaps you loved watching them so much in college and it is two to four years you wish you could have back.
The parameters are set. Let’s do it!
Ken Griffey Jr, Outfielder, Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox
Career Stats: .284, 630 Home Runs, 1,836 RBIs
Junior will be the only honorable mention for my list because I feel dirty leaving him off. He was THE GUY growing up in the late 1990’s. Let’s be honest, who didn’t love Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on Nintendo 64? He was truly a transcendent star because of his “I am here to have fun” kind of attitude. He also had one of the smoothest swings I have ever seen to go along with his smooth demeanor. Unfortunately, the second half of his career was injury-plagued. I always wonder how good his numbers could have been if he stayed healthy? Either way, the Kid will always be one of the greats that I will never forget.
10- Randy Moss, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers
Career Stats: 982 rec, 15,292 yards, 156 TDs
It did not take Moss long to show his talent. The first round pick from Marshall caught 17 touchdowns in his rookie season. From 1998 to 2004, Moss only had one season where he didn’t reach double digits in touchdowns and under 1,200 yards. Everyone thought his career was dead when he joined the Oakland Raiders (Rightfully so). After two long seasons, he returned to form and set the bar for receiving touchdowns in a season with 23 when he jumped ship to the New England Patriots. How many times have you heard someone scream that a defender got “Mossed” in a pick up game? There is a reason for that. Personally, I am glad he revitalized his career when he joined the Patriots because people began to forget how good he really was because of his off the field antics and his two years in limbo.
9- Kobe Bryant, Shooting Guard, Los Angeles Lakers
Career Stats: 25.4 points per game, 4.8 assists per game, 5.4 rebounds per game
Unfortunately, basketball was not a top priority for me when he and Shaq three-peated and tore up the league. However, the black mamba has had enough in the tank to sustain greatness for the last 18 years. The last two or three have been rough though. I started to really get into a basketball around the time of Kobe’s second run with Pau Gasol. Bryant has that “killer instinct” you always hear about. He is also one of the most gifted scorers in the history of the league. Unlike some of the elite scorers of today, like the Houston Rocket’s James Harden, Bryant gave the Lakers both ends of the floor. Because of his scoring ability, I feel like a lot of fans forget that he has accolades for his defensive prowess, like 9 time All-NBA defensive team. Much like Moss, when people shoot turn around jumpers, there’s a reason they yell “Kobe” in your local recreation leagues. He is a true transcendent star of the NBA.
8- LaDainian Tomlinson, Running Back, San Diego Chargers and New York Jets
Career Stats: 13,684 rush yards, 145 rush TDs, 4,772 rec yards, 17 TDs
Size, speed, power, the total package for a running back. LT was a blessing to watch through the early 2000’s. The three-time first team all-pro running back played in a time where the backfield fueled the offenses. He currently sits at fifth for most rushing yards and third in total touchdowns for a career. He also holds the record for touchdowns scored in a single season with 31. In 2003, he became the first and only running back to have over 1,000 yards rushing and catch 100 passes. I am just not sure there will ever be another running back who has a 9 year stretch of dominance the way LT did.
7- Abby Wambach, United States Forward
Career Stats: 183 international goals, World Cup Champion, Three-time Gold Medalist
The girl has a knack for scoring goals as she holds the international record for women. Not only did she score, she scored when it mattered most. I saw it happen time and time again. The header she sailed in the net during the 122nd minute against Brazil in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal match will always be a play I remember. It sent the game to a shootout, which the United States went on to win. I remember when Wambach first stormed onto the scene, she garnered comparisons to the great Mia Hamm. Wambach certainly lived up to all of the hype and it was amazing to see her finally get her first and only World Cup as a player.
6. Derek Jeter, Shortstop, New York Yankees
Career Stats: .310, 3,465 hits, 260 Home Runs, 1,311 RBIs
Loyalty. Honor. Respect. Jeter epitomizes the type of athlete you want your favorite organization to have. Spending his entire career with the New York Yankees, he helped them claim five World Series Titles. He was probably the most consistent athlete I have seen in my lifetime thus far. I mean, how many times did we see him poke a ball into right field for a base hit? His last at bat EVER was a freaking walk-off hit through the gap between first and second base. I have only seen one Major League Baseball game, which was in Tampa for Jeter’s last season. The second he announced 2014 would be his last year, I knew I had to go see the captain play. In that game, he made the same game winning RBI single he had made his entire career.
5- Lionel Messi, Forward, Barcelona and Argentina
Career Stats: 286 Club Goals, 46 International Goals, Four-Time Footballer of the Year
Messi is the biggest football/soccer star in the world right now. Messi is a god with a soccer ball. How is he so fast, yet so effective in keeping the ball attached to his feet? I have gone on Youtube binges in awe of his highlights. He knows how to slice defenders like butter and then finish at the goal. Despite the Argentine not winning a World Cup, he still receives recognition for arguably being the greatest of all time. He certainly is the best player that I have ever seen.
4- Barry Bonds, Outfield, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants
Career Stats: .298, 762 Home Runs, 1,996 RBIs, 514 Stolen Bases
To all the baseball purists who would scoff that I have Bonds on this list, stop. He was great before he started taking PEDs and he was great after. Baseball was infested with doping and I am tired of the argument so save it. Although I think Bonds is an arrogant jerk, good God he was talented. People forget that before his head and body swelled like a balloon from all the steroids, he was a 30 home run and 30 steal kind of player. On top of the that, he was a phenomenal defender. In 2001, he finished the season with 156 hits, 73 were Home Runs. People can try to erase what he did in his career, but my eyes and mind will always have vivid memories of Bonds crushing the crap out of the ball at the most pitcher-friendly ball park in the MLB.
3- Tim Tebow, Quarterback ,Florida Gators
Career Stats: 8,927 passing yards, 83 TDs/16 Ints, 2,947 rushing yards, 57 Rush TDs, Heisman Trophy Winner, Three-time Heisman finalist, Two-time National Champion
He is the greatest college football player that I have ever seen, period. Look above to the accolades and it is fairly easy to see why I believe that. His NFL career may not have panned out, but you can’t take away what he did at the college level. Urban Meyer knew he had a special talent in Tebow, which is why he used his QB as his main running back as well. At 6’3 and 240 plus pounds, Tebow is a monster and tough to bring down. If you stacked the box, he had weapons such as Riley Cooper, Percy Harvin and Aaron Hernandez to throw to. Tebow made it damn near impossible to stop Florida’s offense. I always loved his spirit and competitive nature. There will always be a spot in my memory bank for number 15.
2- Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos
Career Stats: 69,691 Passing Yards, 530 TDs/234 INTs, Five-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl Champion
Peyton Manning was the face of the NFL growing up. You could find him on every other commercial on NFL Sundays. There is a good reason for it, he helped change the game into what the quarterback position is now. Quarterbacks now need a greater understanding for the position before a snap is even taken. They now have to control the line of scrimmage and make pre-snap reads and audible if need be. Still to this day, I don’t believe there is a quarterback in the league who is nearly as good at the line of scrimmage. Towards the end of the season, Manning underperforms due to his age. If the latter for him is 35+ touchdowns and 4,600+ yards, most guys can’t do that in their best season. That’s not too shabby.
1- LeBron James, Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat
Career Stats: 27.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 6.9 apg, Four-time NBA MVP, Two-time NBA Champion
Since being drafted in 2003, he has been the most decorated player since Michael Jordan. He has also been the most criticized athlete I have ever seen. He has reached the finals five straight years, which is incredible. It is mesmerizing watching him play every year. There isn’t a single athlete who I have enjoyed more than LeBron. At 6’8 and 260+ pounds, he is a mammoth of a man. The fact he can dribble and pass the basketball like a point guard is amazing. There is no weakness in his overall game. He can score, rebound, pass and defend. He can literally do it all. Because of his size, speed and overall athleticism, he can defend a team’s best player regardless of position. That is sick. Even though Cleveland lost this past year’s NBA finals, watching LeBron do what he did during that run is something I don’t think we will ever see again. For all those who hate on him because you worship Michael Jordan, stop and enjoy the show. Put your fists away for a minute and enjoy the talent. There will never be a greater specimen than LeBron James.
While a lot of thought went into my top 10, I started thinking about the top 5 athletes of tomorrow. I will give you a short list of five young stars who I think could make their way onto this top 10 by the time their career is finished.
5- Neymar, 23, Forward, Brazil and Barcelona
Career Stats: 44 International Goals, 31 Club Goals
He is one of the brightest young stars in soccer at just 23. Neymar helped lead Brazil all the way to the 2014 Fifa World Cup Finals where they were demolished by Germany in his absence. The fact he is playing alongside Messi on Barcelona will only help him long term.
4- Bryce Harper, 22, Outfield, Washington Nationals
Career: .284, 82 Home Runs, 211 RBIs
I have been following Harper since he was in high school. Hype always surrounded him because of his ability to hit the long ball. So far, he has not been a disappointment. Harper is having a magnificent season in 2015 with a .330 average, 27 home runs and 64 RBIs.
3- Russell Wilson, 26, Quarterback Seattle Seahawks
Career Stats: 9.950 Pass yards, 72 TDs/26 INTs, 1,877 Rush yds, 11 rush TDs, Super Bowl Champion
Since coming to Seattle in 2012, he has been to two Super Bowls. I understand he has a great running back in Marshawn Lynch and one of the best defenses of all-time. I seem to remember a young guy by the name of Patriots Tom Brady having a similar set up early in his career, so let’s not use that as a write off to how good Wilson is. The 5’11 quarterback knows how to manipulate the pocket and make plays on the run. I see it about four or five times a game where makes a throw 25-30 yards downfield placing it in a perfect spot to where only the receiver can get to it. I am excited to see what he does with a legitimate go-to guy in Jimmy Graham.
2- Anthony Davis, 22, Forward, New Orleans Pelicans
Career: 19.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg
Davis is coming off of a fantastic 2015 campaign where he finished with 24 ppg, 10 rpg and nearly 3 bpg. With new head coach, Alvin Gentry, Davis is about to be milked into an even bigger star now that a high octane offense is coming to the Big Easy and I can’t wait to watch.
1- Andrew Luck, 25, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Career Stats: 12,957 Pass yards, 86 TDs/43 INTs
When Luck was drafted three years ago, I believed all the hype that he was destined to be a Hall of Fame QB and maybe the greatest to ever play. He took a 3-13 Colts team and made them a playoff contender. In his first three seasons, the Colts have yet to miss the playoffs and he has improved each year working with limited weapons and an abysmal offensive line. No signal caller has been pressured or hit more since Luck has entered the league. Luck has been knocked down or sacked 352 times in three years. Yet, he has not missed the playoffs and also managed to throw 40 touchdowns last season. Yep, I am still believing he could be the greatest of all time 10 years from now.
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