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The 50 Greatest Sports Figures

Sports Illustrated There's a difference between loyalty to the home team -- athletes imported to play for our local colleges and pro franchises -- and the deep emotional bond we share with hometown heroes, the local legends we knew back when. They are the boys and girls from next door, or the next town. We watched them grow up, watched them play when it was still play. Unfortunately, these luminaries are almost inevitably dispersed because of sport's mercenary nature, lured away by scholarships or contracts. Well, we're bringing 'em all back home for the millennium -- not necessarily to where they were born, but to where they first showed flashes of the greatness to come. Thus, Broadway Joe is in Pennsylvania, not Alabama or New York; and the Mailman is in Louisiana, not Utah. The result: the top 50 from each state plus our neighbors to the north, Canada. In short, the ultimate home teams.

Use the drop-down menu above to navigate alphabetically through the states, or click on your favorite from the ranking below. Looking for a particular person? Check out our master list of all 2,550 names.

Issue date: December 27, 1999

Ranking the States
Having drawn up rosters of the top 50 sports figures from each state, we couldn't resist ranking the states themselves. Weighing the magnitude of talent at the top of each list and the depth of talent throughout each list, here's how the states stack up.
Rank States
1 California
You should see the list of athletes who didn't make its top 50.
The state where football is king -- and Babe is queen -- is a formidable second.
3 New York
And it didn't even get credit for Brooklyn-born Michael Jordan.
Want a quarterback? Six of the greatest keyed the Keystone State.
5 Alabama
This football-crazy state bred plenty of baseball legends.
A rich source for the three biggest U.S. sports: baseball, basketball and football.
7 North Carolina
Tobacco Road is the fertile crescent for basketball players and stock car drivers.
A powerful mix: It's home to greats in most every sport.
9 Illinois
Land of Halas is well represented by Butkus, Grange and Nitschke.
Speed rules here, from Bullet Bob Hayes to Big Daddy Garlits.
11 Maryland
Birthplace of baseball royalty: Ruth, Ripken, Grove, Foxx and Kaline.
An awesome NFL offense could be assembled with its stars.
13 Oklahoma
Nothing unlucky about a state that produces both Jim Thorpe and Mickey Mantle.
South Carolina
An all-around effort: Top 50 athletes hail from more than 30 hometowns.
15 Virginia
Need an NBA center? Malone, Robinson, Sampson and Mourning grew up -- way up -- here.
Not surprisingly, it's glory is basketball, from the Wizard of Westwood to Larry Legend.
17 Arkansas
Won record eight world calf roping titles and three world all-around championships (1963, '64, '65).
A winning environment: Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp had 1,755 coaching victories.
19 Missouri
Home to sports sages Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel and Bill Bradley.
State's best include a President (Gerald Ford) and a General (Pete Dawkins).
21 Georgia
Talk about diversity: from terrible-tempered Ty Cobb to the gentlemanly Bobby Jones.
The greatest horses (Man o' War, Citation) run far behind the Greatest.
23 West Virginia
Emerging stars like Randy Moss and Jason Williams could raise its status in the next century.
New Jersey
The Garden State has cultivated a bumper crop of track and field stars.
25 Connecticut
Surprisingly fertile state edges out its more populous neighbor to the north.
Bay State goes into battle with boxers, hockey stars and Leo the Lip.
27 Nebraska
A few superstars and a whole lot of Cornhuskers lead the way.
Numerous notables who performed feats of the feet include Steve Prefontaine and Dan O'Brien.
29 Minnesota
Many on this list stayed at home to play for the Golden Gophers.
Fittingly, many gridiron greats populate Curley Lambeau's frozen tundra.
31 Tennessee
A liberated list: Women are ranked first, second and fourth.
Set 'em up (John Stockton, No. 1) and knock 'em down (Earl Anthony, No. 2).
33 New Mexico
The auto racing Unsers (Al Sr., Bobby, Al Jr. and Robby) all make the top 25.
The desert delivers righthanded pitchers: Jim Palmer, Curt Schilling, John Denny.
35 Iowa
The only state list topped by a wrestler, the fabled Dan Gable.
A duo of unique doubles: two Madduxes and a pair of boxing referees.
37 Idaho
Unpopulous state impressive at the top: Harmon Killebrew, Jerry Kramer, Picabo Street.
New Hampshire
In a land of snow, the hottest stars are a baseball player and a swimmer.
39 Colorado
Mecca for U.S. Olympic training has turned out pioneering Olympians.
List gets a big boost from a pair of homegrown BYU quarterbacks.
41 Hawaii
More than just surfing and sumo: 12 NFL players are on the list, too.
North Dakota
From the far north came a home run king and a six-time NBA champion coach.
43 South Dakota
Billy Mills and Frank Leahy aren't only the best in the state; they're also among the best in history.
Rhode Island
A prized pair of second sackers head the smallest state's list of biggies.
45 Montana
Big Sky's best includes a cowboy, a rifleman and a daredevil.
A century of snow and ice has produced a blizzard of winter warriors.
47 Wyoming
The top 10 of this list is heavy with guys who threw their weights around.
Leading the way Down East is marathoner supreme Joan Benoit Samuelson.
49 Alaska
Would clearly be No. 1 on list of century's alltime dog-sledding states.
It's a constitutional thing: The first state has the last list.

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