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Ten greatest athletes in Oakland sports history

Yahoo Contributor Network
YCN Cities Oakland
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Ricky Henderson, Chris Mullin, Ken Stabler. Yahoo! Sports Photo Illustration.

Editor's note: YCN contributor Jared Stearne has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Oakland. Hometown product Rickey Henderson easily claimed the No. 1 spot in user poll voting. Complete results are to the right.

[Vote for No. 1: Baltimore | New York | Philadelphia | Pittsburgh | Complete series]

The San Francisco Bay Area sometimes feels like a tale of two cities. On one side of the Bay Bridge you have iconic San Francisco: beautiful, unique, wealthy and progressive. And on the eastern shore you have Oakland, a transportation hub built on the back of container cranes and train tracks.

Oakland, and the East Bay in general, is a diverse and multifaceted place with countless new wrinkles to explore. But because of its proximity to, and stark contrast with San Francisco, Oakland has always been known as a blue-collar town: rough around the edges and occasionally misunderstood or underestimated.

It's no wonder that the city's professional sports franchises, and their most beloved players, have often come to embody these characteristics. But judging Oakland's favorite sports icon is no easy task: the city has been home to some of the greatest American athletes in history. Here's a list of some contenders for the title, in alphabetical order.

Oh, and spoiler alert: There are a healthy number of 1970s (Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter) and '80s (The Bash Brothers, Dave Stewart) A's who didn't make the cut.

Rick Barry (Oaks, 1968-69; Warriors 1972-78)
A career-long underdog like so many Warriors greats, Barry's teams were rarely powerhouses. In fact, Barry only enjoyed one 50-win season in Golden State. But that didn't stop him from raising the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy in 1975, when his Warriors trounced the heavily favored Washington Bullets in four games.

Barry's strong will to win, well-rounded game and sweet shooting powered an underwhelming roster to the top of the NBA, and made him one of Oakland's favorite athletes. His unorthodox (and highly effective) free throw form, in which he famously flips the ball underhanded, makes Barry easy to remember.

Fred Biletnikoff (Raiders, 1965-78)
This was another hard call, especially considering that Tim Brown is likely the best and most beloved Raider of the past 25 years. Brown is so loved in Oakland that he received a standing ovation when he caught his 100th career touchdown pass as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- the same team that crushed the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII two seasons earlier.

But Biletnikoff is yet another of the beloved cast of characters from the Raiders glory days when the team was a perennial title contender. Not only was he a member of the Raiders' first Super Bowl-winning team, but he has a prestigious award named after him. And like several others on this list, he's a Hall of Famer.

Dennis Eckersley (Athletics, 1987-95)

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Dennis Eckersley was a huge part of the A's teams that went to three straight World Series. (USA TODAY Sports)

Perhaps the most famous closer of all time, Eckersley is one of the most well-known Athletics ever. Following in the footsteps of Rollie Fingers, "Eck" was a converted starter who became a dominant, feared closer with Oakland in 1987.

In Oakland, Eckersley was part of a star-studded roster that won the 1989 World Series. In 1990, he had what many consider to be the finest season ever by a relief pitcher, as he compiled 38 saves and a 0.61 ERA in over 73 innings pitched. Eckersley entered the Hall of Fame as an Athletic in 2004.

Rollie Fingers (Athletics, 1968-76)
The quirky, rambunctious, mustachioed Athletics of the early 1970s were one of baseball's greatest dynasties. And perhaps their most well-known face was reliever Fingers with his legendary handlebar mustache.

Fingers helped to pioneer the modern relief pitcher role, entering games in the late innings to secure a victory. Additionally, he was a prominent member of three World Series championship teams, earning the World Series MVP in 1974.

Rickey Henderson (1979-84, 89-93, 94-95, 98)
Oakland Technical High School alum Henderson is truly a chip off the city block. Brash, supremely confident, and relentlessly talented, Rickey took the baseball world by storm and kept going for more than two decades. Along the way, he obliterated baseball records for stolen bases, leadoff home runs and walks (among many, many others), becoming one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Rickey epitomized the dominant Athletics of the late 1980s, with a jaw-dropping swagger and boundless confidence. And Oakland loved to have him: so much so that he joined the Athletics four separate times over his long career.

Reggie Jackson (Oakland Athletics, 1968-75, 1987)
There's a reason Reggie's No. 9 is retired by the Oakland A's. Big personality and all, Jackson enjoyed some of his best years in the Bay Area, helping the A's win three World Series titles in 1970s.

Despite his tendency to strike out (tops in the majors five times in his career) and his brash behavior, Jackson always supplied power. In his Oakland A's career, Jackson belted 268 home runs, was a six-time All-Star, and led the AL in home runs twice. He won the AL MVP in 1973, leading the league in runs (99), HRs (32), RBIs (117), slugging (.531) and OPS (.914).

Chris Mullin (Warriors, 1985-97, 2000-01)
Raised in Brooklyn, Mullin was a smooth-shooting small forward with lethal range. One of the most accomplished small forwards in NBA history, Mullin has two Olympic gold medals, was a member of the original Dream Team, was a five-time All Star and is a member of the Hall of Fame.

Mullin was the face of the Warriors for most of his initial 12-year career in Oakland, and to this day he receives a raucous ovation whenever he's spotted at Oracle Arena (usually during ESPN broadcasts). For Warriors fans, Mullin was the face of the fun to watch, high-scoring, upset-minded Warriors of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Jim Otto (1960-74)
The Raiders of the '60s and '70s were known for a lot of things, but winning is absolutely at the top of the list. Otto probably exemplified that on the field as much as any other player in Silver & Black.

Otto was a 12-time Pro Bowler, 10-time first-team All-Pro and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (1980). The Raiders won seven division championships and the AFL championship in 1967 during his 15 years with the club.

Kenny Stabler (Raiders, 1970-79)
The Raiders of the 1970s were loaded with Hall of Fame talent. But if anyone symbolized the swashbuckling, renegade Raiders, it was the star quarterback. Stabler quickly developed a reputation as a party-loving womanizer as a member of the Raiders, but the wins kept on coming. Stabler's Raiders won Super Bowl XI in 1977.

As much as anyone, "the Snake" helped to build the national perception of the Raiders as thugs, brigands and misfits -- a perception that endures to this day. But more than that, he'll remain a Raider Nation favorite for the wins he earned on the field.

Gene Upshaw (Raiders, 1967-81)
There was almost no stopping "Uptown Gene" on the field. In his 15 seasons in Oakland, Upshaw was as durable and fierce as they come, starting 207 straight games on the Raiders' offensive line at the guard position from 1967-81.

Leading the Raiders' rushing attack over the course of three decades, Upshaw played in three Super Bowls, winning two (XI, XV). In his rookie season, he was a stalwart on a Raiders team that won the 1967 AFL Championship. When all was said and done, Upshaw became the only player to start on championship teams in the AFL and NFL.

He got the call to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Jared Stearne is a Yahoo! Contributor covering the Golden State Warriors. You can follow him on Twitter: @JaredStearne

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