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Ten greatest athletes in Philadelphia sports history

A City of Great Sports History Has Plenty to Choose From

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Philadelphia YCN greatest athletes by city. Yahoo! Sports photo illustration.
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Philadelphia YCN greatest athletes by city. Yahoo! Sports photo illustration.

Editor's note: YCN contributor Kevin McGuire has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Philadelphia. Wilt Chamberlain edged Julius Erving for the No. 1 spot in user poll voting. Complete results are to the right.

[Other 'greatest' cities: Los Angeles | Oakland | San Diego | San Francisco | Complete series]

Philadelphia sports may feel like a chore to pay attention to these days, with one full calendar year without a single playoff game from any of the four main franchises in town, but the sports history is nothing short of legends and great history. Though championships have come few and far between over the course of time, some of the most iconic players in their sports and their generations happened to pass through the City of Brotherly Love. But which one would be considered the ultimate fan favorite?

Icons such as Harry Kalas, Gene Hart and the Phillie Phanatic have a special place in the hearts of Philadelphia sports fans, but here we will stick with those who actually played the game on the field, court or ice.

When considering whom some of Philadelphia's fan favorites are, here are a few key characteristics worth considering: Which players had the closest identity to the city's attitude and grittiness? Which players came through in the clutch the most? Which players built a legacy in Philadelphia? After giving this some thought and consideration, this list has been trimmed down to 10 Philadelphia athletes up for your consideration.

So did Donovan McNabb, just one of two QBs to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance, make the cut? Listed in alphabetical order are your nominees:

Richie Ashburn (Phillies, 1948-59)
Perhaps the one Philadelphia athlete who truly transcended time and spanned the gap among baseball fans was Ashburn. After establishing himself as a fan favorite as a player during the Whiz Kid era of Phillies baseball, Ashburn later returned to become one of the voices of the Phillies broadcast team, partnering with longtime broadcaster and play-by-play voice Harry Kalas.

Steve Carlton (Phillies, 1972-85)
The best left-handed pitcher of all time according to some, Carlton was certainly the best pitcher in Phillies' franchise history. Though he may have been a little shy with the media or a little weird for others, fans knew that when Carlton was taking the mound they would get a solid effort, even when the Phillies were among the worst teams in the National League.

Bobby Clarke (Flyers, 1969-84)

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Former Flyers Bobby Clarke (R) and Mark Howe talk before the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game. (Getty …

It is not often that a team wins back-to-back championships, but the Flyers did just that with consecutive Stanley Cup victories in the mid 1970s. Clarke was the captain of the Broad Street Bullies, a team that embraced the attitude of Philadelphia that could only be rivaled by a small handful of teams in the city's sports history. While his stint as general manager may have failed to live up to expectations, Clarke will always be remembered for that patented, toothless grin, gritty puck handling, postseason success and intimidating the Red Army to the point where the Soviets retreated from the ice.

Wilt Chamberlain (Warriors 1959-62, 76ers 1964-68)
When it comes to the most dominant athletes in Philadelphia history, the conversation begins and concludes with Chamberlain. Some still debate Chamberlain to be the best basketball player in the history of the sport, topping Michael Jordan. Those who watched him play would probably tell you he was as physically dominant as Shaq in his prime, but Chamberlain's success was often overshadowed by the success of the Boston Celtics led by Bill Russell.

Chamberlain played with multiple teams during his career, including stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Harlem Globetrotters, but the best days of his career took place in Philadelphia with the Warriors and Sixers. While known for his 100-point game against the New York Knicks in Hershey Stadium, Chamberlain was an 11-time rebounding champion, seven-time scoring champion, 13-time All-Star and four-time MVP in the NBA

Brian Dawkins (Eagles, 1996-2008)
The most recent athlete on this list, Dawkins was a clear fan favorite when in town. A kind and gentle role model off the field, Dawkins morphed into a different character altogether once he suited up with pads and a jersey. Weapon-X was the heart and soul of the Eagles during the Andy Reid era and no player embraced the Philadelphia fans the way he did during his tenure in midnight green. Dawkins gets the nod here over Donovan McNabb because the longtime Eagles quarterback was never truly accepted by the fan base the way Dawkins was, despite being among the best players in franchise history.

Julius Erving (76ers, 1976-87)
One of the classiest individuals to ever play the game of basketball, Erving was also one of the best. Before Michael Jordan took over as the icon of the game, Erving was among the league's top players with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Erving's dunks became a major draw once he came to the NBA and he not only won over the fans in Philadelphia but also became a likeable star everywhere he traveled.

Allen Iverson (76ers, 1996-2006, 2009-10)

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Allen Iverson was once one of the NBA's most electric players. (Getty)

Iverson may not have been the best role model for younger fans, but his effort on the court once a game started was never questioned. Iverson's crossover on Michael Jordan in his rookie year remains one of his top memorable plays, his MVP season of 2000-2001 captured an entire city and his step over Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, despite losing the series in five games, remains one of the top highlights in franchise history. While he was in town, perhaps no athlete was more controversial or loved by the fans.

Bernie Parent (Flyers, 1967-71, 73-79)
Parent was the goalie for the two Stanley Cup championship Flyers teams in the mid-1970s, and he remains a fixture in and around the city. A Hall of Fame goalie, Parent proved himself among the best in Philadelphia and continues to represent the franchise in the community.

Mike Schmidt (Phillies, 1972-89)
Arguably the greatest Phillie of all time, Schmidt took a while for the fans to truly warm up to him while he played in his prime. What some perceived to be a relative lack of hustle was really just Schmidt performing at his position the way few ever have. As his career drew to a close, fans started to realize the greatness they had witnessed, and today he is received with a standing ovation anytime he appears at the ballpark.

Reggie White (Eagles, 1985-92)
One of the greatest Eagles of all time. Though he would go on to achieve Super Bowl glory after signing with the Green Bay Packers, the Minister of Defense became a star while playing for the Eagles in one of the most oddly cherished eras in franchise history to some. White and the Gang Green defense of the Buddy Ryan era never achieved postseason success but White made an impact in the city on and off the field through his Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame performance and his community service.

Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sportswriter. Follow him on Twitter @krmcguire.

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