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The 50 Greatest North Carolina Sports Figures

Sports Illustrated This list of the top 50 greatest 20th-century athletes originally appeared in the Dec. 27, 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated. Have someone to add to SI's list? Click here to submit your choices.

20th Century Top 50
Rank Profile
1 Michael Jordan, Wilmington
College player of year at North Carolina in 1984; six NBA titles with Chicago Bulls; member of '84 and '92 U.S. Olympic gold-medal-winning teams.
2 Richard Petty, Randleman
Seven-time Daytona 500 champion; tops NASCAR in wins (200), poles (127) and wins in a season (27 in 1967).
3 Buck Leonard, Rocky Mount
Known as the Black Lou Gehrig; batted .340 and averaged 34 home runs during 17-year Negro leagues career.
4 David Thompson, Shelby
Three-time All-America led North Carolina State to 1974 NCAA basketball title.
5 John Lucas, Durham
Two-time basketball and tennis All-America at Maryland; broke Pete Maravich's single-season state high school scoring mark.
6 Dale Earnhardt, Kannapolis
Alltime NASCAR money leader with more than $34 million; seven-time points leader; sixth in career wins with 73.
7 Catfish Hunter, Hertford
Cy Young winner with 1974 A's; won 20 games or more five straight years ('71 to '75); played on five World Series winners with A's and Yankees.
8 James Worthy, Gastonia
MVP of 1982 Final Four led North Carolina to NCAA title; seven-time NBA All-Star with Lakers.
9 Sonny Jurgensen, Wilmington
Set then NFL records for attempts (508), completions (288) and yards (3,747) with Redskins in 1967; played in five Pro Bowls.
10 Ray Floyd, Fayetteville
Only man to win on PGA Tour and Senior tour in same year (1992); won four majors.
11 Enos Slaughter, Roxboro
As Cardinals outfielder from 1938 to '53 twice led the NL in triples; batted .300 over 19 seasons.
12 Gaylord Perry, Williamston
Confessed spitballer won Cy Young in AL (Indians, 1972) and NL (Padres, '78).
13 Bobby Bell, Shelby
All-state high school quarterback; starred as Chiefs linebacker in Super Bowls I and IV; eight-time All-AFL.
14 Charlie (Choo-Choo) Justice, Asheville
As senior tailback at Lee Edwards High led offense that outscored opposition 400-6; at UNC from 1946 to '49 racked up then NCAA-record 4,883 yards of total offense.
15 Hoyt Wilhelm, Huntersville
Pitcher played in major-league- record 1,070 games from 1952 to '72, winning 143 and saving 227.
16 Phil Ford, Rocky Mount
Three-time All-America guard is UNC's alltime leading scorer, with 2,290 points; ACC player of the year in 1979.
17 Dominique Wilkins, Washington
Nine-time All-Star forward for Hawks is one of nine NBA players to score more than 25,000 points.
18 Charlie Sifford, Charlotte
First black man to win a PGA Tour event, the 1967 Hartford Open; won '75 PGA Seniors championship.
19 Carl Eller, Winston-Salem
Starred as a two-way starter at Minnesota; six-time All-Pro as defensive end with Vikings.
20 Jim Beatty, Charlotte
Track standout at North Carolina set U.S. record with 3:58.9 mile in 1960; first person to run sub-four-minute indoor mile.
21 Bob McAdoo, Greensboro
Won state high jump title for Greensboro High in 1969; '75 NBA MVP; led league in scoring three times.
22 Roman Gabriel, Wilmington
North Carolina State All-America quarterback; was NFL MVP with Rams in 1969; All-Pro four times.
23 Al Dowtin, Arden
All-America basketball player at Wake Forest in 1920s; Demon Deacons' first golf coach; played in '35 U.S. Open, '41 U.S. Amateur.
24 Sam Jones, Wilmington
Five-time NBA All-Star; scored 15,441 points and helped Celtics win 10 championships.
25 Dwight Clark, Charlotte
Niners' No. 2 career receiving leader; made leaping catch against Dallas in 1981 NFC title game to boost team to first Super Bowl.
26 Lou Hudson, Greensboro
Minnesota All-America; averaged 20.2 points and 4.4 rebounds with Hawks and Lakers from 1966 to '79.
27 Dale Jarrett, Newton
First driver to win Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in same season (1996); won career-high six events in '97.
28 Wes Ferrell, Greensboro
Six-time 20-game winner went 193-128 over 15-year major league career; led AL in complete games four times.
29 Walter Davis, Charlotte
Member of 1976 U.S. Olympic gold-medal-winning basketball team; six-time NBA All-Star.
30 Bobby Jones, Charlotte
Four-time NBA All-Star and eight-time all-defensive selection; mainstay on 76ers' 1983 NBA title team.
31 Luther (Wimpy) Lassiter, Elizabeth City
Regarded by many as greatest nine-ball player; won 1969 BCA U.S. Open and 1971 Stardust World all-around championship.
32 Walt Bellamy, New Bern
Two-time All-America at Indiana; played on 1960 Olympic gold-medal-winning basketball team; averaged 31.6 points as a rookie with Chicago Packers.
33 Smokey Burgess, Caroleen
Five-time All-Star catcher; batted .333 in Pirates' 1960 World Series win over Yankees.
34 Prince Nufer Dixon, Goldsboro
America's dominant female swimmer in 1930s and '40s; set world record in 50-meter backstroke in 1941.
35 Cedric Maxwell, Kinston
Led underdog UNC Charlotte to 1977 Final Four; with Celtics, MVP of '81 NBA Finals.
36 Kathy McMillan, Raeford
Hoke County High track star won long jump silver medal in 1976 Olympics ; took '76 national title with U.S.-record 22' 3" leap.
37 Mike Caldwell, Tarboro
Quarterbacked Tarboro High to 3A title; struck out 36 in 18-inning game vs. Washington High; went 137-130 in majors from 1971 to '84; was AL Cy Young runner-up in '78.
38 Lee Petty, Randleman
Won 1954, '58 and '59 NASCAR championships and inaugural Daytona 500, in '59.
39 Junior Johnson, Ronda
Won 47 poles and 50 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races from 1953 to '66.
40 Floyd Simmons, Charlotte
UNC's greatest all-around athlete won bronze in decathlon at 1948 and '52 Olympics; played fullback for Tar Heels.
41 Meadowlark Lemon, Wilmington
All-state football and basketball player at Williston High; played in 5,000-plus games with Globetrotters.
42 Buck Baker, Charlotte
Won 46 races, including the Southern 500 three times; first back-to-back Winston Series champion in 1956 and '57.
43 Andrea Stinson, Charlotte
Charlotte Sting guard was runner-up in 1997 WNBA MVP voting; led North Carolina State in scoring in '89, '90 and '91.
44 Brad Daugherty, Asheville
Started at North Carolina as 16-year-old freshman; Cavaliers' career leader in points and rebounds.
45 Harvie Ward Jr., Tarboro
Two-time U.S. Amateur golf champ (1955, '56) also won British Amateur, Canadian Amateur championships.
46 Ned Jarrett, Newton
NASCAR pioneer won 36 poles and 50 races; won 1965 Southern 500 at Darlington.
47 Buck Williams, Rocky Mount
Member of 1980 U.S. Olympic team; '82 NBA Rookie of Year; averaged 18.3 points and 12.5 rebounds in 1986-87.
48 Francis Rogallo, Kitty Hawk
In 1940s the Father of Hang Gliding created delta wings, which led to design of hang gliders.
49 Charlie Sanders, Greensboro
Lions tight end from 1968 to '77; played in seven Pro Bowls; caught then team-record 336 passes for 4,817 yards.
50 Walter (Teepot) Frye, Stoneville
Stoneville High shortstop is considered the best fielding infielder in state history; coached Oak Ridge High to a state title in 1974.

Photograph by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images


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