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Five best professional athletes in Memphis sports history

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Five best professional athletes in Memphis sports history
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Marc Gasol, already one of Memphis's all-time greats.

For a metropolitan area of its size, Memphis is fairly new to the game of hosting a professional sports franchise.

Nonetheless, the Grizzlies have become an absolute phenomenon in the city since their arrival in 2001, while Memphis minor-league franchises have continued to flourish. AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate), is a gem in a revitalized downtown. The Mississippi (formerly Memphis) RiverKings, now housed in nearby Southaven, are among the most stable and successful minor-league hockey franchises.

A town that rabidly consumes its local sports has unsurprisingly compiled some great ones at each level. The following are the five who combined playing excellence with their ability to become a truly integral and beloved part of the Memphis sporting community.

In alphabetical order.

Shane Battier (Grizzlies, 2001-06, 10-11)

Battier was, for most intents and purposes, the very first fan favorite in the young history of the Grizzlies. Drafted sixth in the team's first draft in Memphis, Battier rode a wave of popularity from his college days at Duke to being a cherished part of a fledgling franchise devoid of star players. While he was a statistically productive player for the Grizzlies and helped to lead them to their first playoff appearance, his value to the city and fans exceeded that which could be measured.

Stubby Clapp (Redbirds, 1999-2002)

Clapp, nicknamed "Stubby" for his 5-foot-8-inch height, was a mainstay for the Triple-A Redbirds in the early part of the 2000s before ultimately getting his cup of coffee with MLB's St. Louis Cardinals and moving on via free agency.

Stubby quickly became a fan favorite due to his hard-nosed style of play and his signature backflips before games, a tribute to Cardinals great Ozzie Smith. In a league in which hot prospects and trades cause a great deal of player movement, Clapp found the longevity to become beloved in Memphis, own much of the Redbirds' franchise hitting records, and, ultimately, be the only player in franchise history to have his number retired.

Marc Gasol (Grizzlies, 2008-present)

In the aftermath of the trades of big brother Pau and Battier, as well as a return to the league's proverbial basement, Memphis found a great diamond in the rough in Marc Gasol. Coming in as part of the package for his older brother, Marc was a product of nearby high school Lausanne and was a very raw talent when acquired.

In his five seasons with the Grizzlies, Marc has helped lead the team to three straight playoff appearances, including the franchise's first playoff series victory in 2011. He was also awarded the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year Award, which is emblematic of the type of development Marc has undergone in such a short span.

Pau Gasol (Grizzlies, 2001-08)

Drafted just three spots ahead of Battier in the Grizzlies' first draft in Memphis, \Gasol is arguably the most statistically accomplished player in this group and may eventually be in Hall of Fame discussions. While Battier may have been more beloved, Gasol was the team's first true star player and helped lead the Grizzlies to their first seasons as a truly competitive franchise before his ultimate trade to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Don Parsons (RiverKings)

Parsons is one of minor league hockey's all-time greats and in a system in which franchises relocate just as often as players do, Parsons and the RiverKings gave Memphis and Southaven a consistent contender for years.

One of just two retired numbers in the history of the RiverKings, Parsons led the squad to three consecutive playoff appearances and two consecutive CHL championships, the franchise's first. In the process of winning those two titles, Parsons won back-to-back league MVP Awards to go along with a playoffs MVP.

In the community, Parsons helped found and operate the Jr. RiverKings and Jr. SteetKings, while becoming a prolific fundraiser for area charities.

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