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Greatest athletes in Salt Lake City sports history

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Malone and Stockton statues

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Statues of John Stockton (right) and Karl Malone in front of
EnergySolutions Arena. (USA TODAY Sports)

Editor's note: YCN contributor Jared Bray has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Salt Lake City. Karl Malone won the top spot in user poll voting. Complete results are to the right.

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Who are Salt Lake City's finest?

That depends. Are we talking about the players who put up the best statistics, or those who collected the most wins? What about personality -- is that a factor?

For the purposes of this list, we'll define "finest" as someone who not only played his tail off but also connected with the community.

Oh, and no college athletes allowed. This is for the pros.

And now, the list (in alphabetical order):

Thurl Bailey (Jazz, 1983-91)
Probably more than any other player who's competed with "Jazz" across his chest, Bailey has woven himself into the fabric of Salt Lake. He married a Utahn, does "firesides" for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and runs Big TLC, a foundation that raises money for various charities.

Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake, 2007-present)
Real Salt Lake's captain makes this list for two reasons: 1) He's an amazing soccer player who's collected 19 goals and 24 assists since joining the Claret and Cobalt in 2007, and 2) He's a man's man, ruggedly hip and cool with a matted mane and 5 o'clock stubble.

Carlos Boozer (Jazz, 2004-10)
A stable force down low in leading the Jazz back to the NBA's elite. Check out his 2006-07 season: 20.9 points per game, 11.7 rebounds per game, NBA All-Star. A trip to the 2006-07 Western Conference finals was the high point of Boozer's career in Utah. In fact, in the playoffs that year, he totaled 23.5 points per game and 12.2 boards. Not bad.

Adrian Dantley (Jazz, 1979-86)
Six-time All-Star. Two-time All-NBA second team member. Two-time scoring champion. Hall of Famer. That's good enough to crack the top 10, right?

Mark Eaton (Jazz, 1982-93)
Up-and-coming Jazzman Derrick Favors definitely knows how to defend, but No. 53 -- who averaged 5.6 blocks per game during the 1984-85 season -- will always be Utah's Sultan of Swat. More of my favorite Eaton titles: Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star, chairman of the Mark Eaton Standing Tall for Youth organization, dunk contest gimmick.

Jeff Hornacek (Jazz, 1994-2000)
"Most of the people in the league thought Jeff was too slow, not good enough to play in the NBA," said former Phoenix Suns CEO Jerry Colangelo of Hornacek, "but there was something special about him. He had a big heart." That heart (coupled with his sweet stroke) won over fans and helped the Jazz clinch two Western Conference titles.

Karl Malone (Jazz, 1985-2003)

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Karl Malone (USA TODAY Sports)

The Mailman did so much for the community that the Salt Lake City council named a street after him -- Karl Malone Drive sits between 300 and 400 West -- and the Jazz planted a bronze statue of him outside EnergySolutions Area.

Mehmet Okur (Jazz, 2004-11)
Okur doesn't have the numbers that some of these other athletes possess, but he was classy (e.g., he never gave generic responses during interviews) and clutch (i.e., he always stepped up when the game was on the line). YouTube him, and watch one of the greatest shooting big men of all time.

John Stockton (Jazz, 1984-2003)
Even if the short-shorted one didn't collect 15,806 assists and 3,265 steals, or hit that buzzer-beating, 1997 Western Conference Finals-clinching 3-pointer, he would still be featured on this list because of his loyalty. Despite the fact that Stockton could've made a splash in the free-agent market back in 1996, he refused to do the whole let-me-see-what-other-teams-will-give-me thing and immediately re-signed with Utah for a modest $15 million over three years. At the time he said, "I'm staying here. I like it here."

Deron Williams (Jazz, 2005-2011)
Sure, Williams' time in Utah ended on a sour note, but it's hard to argue with what he meant to the Jazz in his five-plus years with the team. In his final 3 1/2 seasons in Utah, Williams averaged a double-double per game (10.5 assists, 19.6 points). The No. 3 pick in the 2005 draft, his game, leadership and big-play ability is still missed.

Jared Bray, a graduate of Brigham Young University's broadcast journalism program, has followed the Utah Jazz since 2008, when he covered the team as a sports correspondent for KBYU-TV's Daily News at Noon.

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