Editor's note: YCN contributor Sloan Piva has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Boston. Larry Bird (31 percent) edged Bill Russell (30) in voting by the users. Full results are to the right.
Regarded as one of the most sports-crazed cities in America, Boston is rich with elite athletes and traditions of winning. No other region of the world has experienced as much dominance in as many professional sports.
It's always been an incredibly difficult task to rank the best athletes of Boston sports history, and the past 10 or 15 years have made it even harder. But no one said we can't try.
To determine such a list, let's establish some parameters. Rankings will be based on statistics, work ethic, success, competitiveness, character, and fan adulation.
Obviously, one or two of those variables can tip the proverbial scales. For instance, a player with a longer tenure with a team might make this list over a different player with more championships. Similarly, more beloved competitors might surmount players with multiple seasons of superior statistics.
Lists and rankings like this remain a subjective exercise, with no incorrect answers. So be sure to leave a comment if you agree or disagree in any way, and feel free to include your own personal top 10 list.
In alphabetical order, here are the top 10 athletes in Boston pro sports history:Larry Bird (Celtics, 1979-92)
Career highlights: 24.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 6.3 apg, 3-time NBA champion, 3-time MVP, All-Star MVP, 12-time All-Star, 9-time All-NBA First Team
One of the greatest forwards in the history of the game, Bird will forever be revered in the city of Boston. "Larry Legend" served as the undisputed leader of one of the most dominant teams in NBA history. Possessing strength off the dribble, down low and outside the 3-point line, Bird could attack defenders in countless forms (he shot a staggering 49.6 percent from the floor and 37.6 percent from long-range). He was a hard-working, tough-as-nails champion, still honored by countless No. 33 jerseys through Celtics Nation.
Ray Bourque (Bruins, 1979-2000)
Bruins highlights: 395 goals, 1,111 assists, 1,506 points, five James Norris Trophies (best defenseman), one Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year), one King Clancy Memorial Trophy (leadership award)
Bourque was a defensive workhorse, consummate professional and Bruins fan-favorite. The longtime captain never won a championship in Boston, however, he did win the hearts of the city. Among defensemen, Bourque ranks as the all-time leader in career points, goals and assists. He was honored five times as the league's best defender, and made 13 All-Star squads (an NHL-record seven first-teams and six second-teams).
Tom Brady (Patriots, 2000-present)
Career highlights: Three-time Super Bowl champion, two-time NFL MVP, two-time Super Bowl MVP, eight-time Pro Bowler, 50 touchdowns in one season (record), 10 division titles (record)The first and only Patriot on this list, the quarterback changed the culture of New England football. In his first season as a starting quarterback (filling in for an injured Drew Bledsoe), Brady became the youngest at the position to ever win a Super Bowl. He went on to lead New England to two more Super Bowl victories in the next three years (2003 and 2004). He may forever be lauded as the greatest New England Patriot, and one of the greatest winners in the history of pigskin.
Bob Cousy (Celtics, 1950-63)
Career highlights: Six-time NBA champion, Most Valuable Player, two-time All-Star MVP, 13-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA First Team, eight-time NBA assists leaderThe first great point guard of the NBA, Cousy practically wrote the definition of the term "floor general." One of the best passers in the game, "Cooz" wasn't known for his jump shot, but "The Big Houdini" more than made up for that with smart, aggressive penetration.
John Havlicek (Celtics, 1962-78)
Career highlights: 13-time All-Star, eight-time NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP, four-time All-NBA First Team, five-time All-Defensive First Team, franchise's all-time points leader (26,395)
Havlicek began as the sixth man of the original dynasty led by Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, earning six titles (1963-'66, '68-'69) as well as the distinction of best reserve player in history. "Hondo" later captained championship squads in 1974 and 1976. He finished with All-Defensive honors from 1969 to 1976, and more all-time points than any other Celtic.
Boston Red Sox, 1998-2004)Pedro Martinez (
Red Sox highlights:Even though Martinez only played seven seasons in a Red Sox jersey, his contributions were as meaningful and widely beloved as any other player in Sox history. For starters, Martinez had the nastiest stuff in the league while with the BoSox, including 100-mph heat and a practically unhittable change-up. In 2004, Martinez helped the Red Sox (fondly referred to as the "Idiots") win their first World Series in 86 years. 117 wins, 1,683 strikeouts, 2.52 ERA, two Cy Young Awards, one World Series championship
Bobby Orr (Boston Bruins, 1966-76)
Career highlights: Three Hart Trophies (MVP), two-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Conn Smythe Award winner (Stanley Cup MVP), eight-time Norris Trophy winner, two-time Art Ross Trophy (NHL scoring leader)
One of the best players in NHL history, Orr set the standard for defenseman, passing with precision, penetrating aggressively and maintaining a lethal slapshot. Many Boston sports fans never experienced Orr's spectacular play in person. However, anyone familiar with the Bruins knows about the May 10, 1970 play commonly referred to as "The Goal." Forty seconds into overtime in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the St. Louis Blues, Orr sunk home Derek Sanderson's cross-pass despite getting tripped by a defender, proceeding to fly through the air with his fists pumped in jubilation. That play cemented Orr's legacy as the greatest scoring defenseman ever, and clinched Boston's first Stanley Cup since 1941. "The Goal" can still be seen outside the TD Garden today, and Orr remains one of the most influential athletes in the history of sports.
Bill Russell (Celtics, 1956-69)
Career highlights: 15.1 ppg, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 11-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, 12-time All-StarThe most decorated player in the history of basketball, Russell won 11 NBA championship rings in 13 seasons thanks to an incomparable balance of size and sheer athleticism. He changed the game, practically writing the anthology for NBA big men and serving as the leader and defensive anchor of the first major basketball dynasty. He provided monstrous defense, grabbed practically every rebound in his vicinity (leading the league in boards four times), and slashed to the hoop offensively. To this day, Russell remains one of the most adored members of Boston sports history, his ear-to-ear smile reflecting a true champion on and off the court.
Ted Williams (Red Sox, 1939-42, 1946-60)
Career highlights: .344 average, 1,839 RBIs, 521 home runs, 2-time MVP, two Triple Crowns, six batting titlesArguably the best hitter ever, Williams once hit .406 in a season. He recorded a hit 34 percent of the time, and reached base an unfathomable 48 percent of the time. Despite serving in the military during the peak of his career (1943-45), "Teddy Ballgame" posted a remarkable 19 years of service time in MLB. He never witnessed a Red Sox World Series victory (he was born in 1918 and died in 2002), but he certainly did all he could to win one.
Carl Yastrzemski (Red Sox, 1961-83)
Career highlights: 3,419 hits, 452 home runs, 1,844 RBIs, 1,816 runs, 646 doubles, 3,308 games played, one Triple CrownThe Hall of Fame left fielder spent 23 years as a Red Sox, tied with Brooks Robinson for the longest tenure with one team. He never won a championship, but came close in 1967, 1975 and 1978. Before Miguel Cabrera last season, "Yaz" was the last player in baseball history to win the Triple Crown (.326 average, 44 home runs, 121 runs batted in) in 1967. Red Sox Nation still speaks of him fondly, and probably always will.
Sloan Piva has lived in the Boston area for 28 years, and writes about the Boston Celtics. He has been published in a range of different publications and websites both locally and nationally. Follow him on Twitter @SloanPiva.
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