Every few weeks, the contributors to The Writers, as well as some special guests, will submit a Top 5 list
on a given topic.
Top 5 All-Time Athletes I Would Pay to Watch
Special Guests: Alan Hahn (Newsday), Clay Luraschi (Topps), Dave Starman
(Hockey Analyst, CSTV).
1. Babe Ruth - I could only imagine what it would be like to watch a guy who would out homer entire
teams. Ruth changed the way that baseball is played.
2. Wilt Chamberlain - 100 points in a game is pretty good. They had to change several rules because of
the way Chamberlain dominated games. Anytime you are so good they have to change the rules, you
are worth the price of admission.
3. Willie Mays - If I didn’t include Willie Mays on this list, my father might disown me. Not only could Mays
do it all on the baseball field, but I grew up listening to my Dad tell me about how good Willie Mays was.
I’d love to see for myself.
4. Jim Brown - I can picture the NFL Films I’ve seen of Jim Brown, running over everyone and anyone
that got in his way. Seeing a running back attack defenders that way puts him on the list.
5. Pele - The best soccer player ever for some of the greatest soccer teams ever. A player who
transcended his sport is worth paying to see no matter what sport he plays.
1. Wayne Gretzky - In the most graceful sport to watch, #99 was the most creative, athletic and brilliant
ever to lace up skates.
2. Michael Jordan - He delivered each time out. If you needed a basket, he made it. If he was covered,
he found the open man. If you need a defensive stop, he was there. He could play every facet of a
basketball game to perfection.
3. Tiger Woods - To those who feel that golf is not an athletic contest, Eldrick has proved them wrong.
When he dominated the tour it was amazing to watch him make perfect shot after perfect shot. When he
became a mere mortal, it was just as amazing to watch him get out of trouble. And his chip at 16 this
year at Augusta may be the signature golf shot of his career
4. Willie Mays - The original five tool baseball player. He could do it all. To roam center field at the Polo
Grounds and make a name for himself as a fielder says it all. Watch the film of his 1954 World
Series catch off Vic Wertz. Not only was that his defining moment, it set the stage for years to come.
5. Jim Brown - No running back before or after was like him. If there was a hole, he founded it and
rumbled through it...not with speed, but brute power. When there was no hole, he made his own. I'll
always have a memory of Brown carrying defenders on his back for an additional 5-10 yards. He left the
game much too soon.
Baseball - Bob Gibson
Football - Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning
Hockey - Jean Beliveau, Bobby Orr
Boxing - Roy Jones Jr
Basketball - Willis Reed, Walt Frazier
1. Babe Ruth - There has never been another like him, and never will. His impact on society, not just
baseball, makes him one of the most influential Americans of the 20th Century. When he hit 60 home
runs in a single season, it was more than many TEAMS. By comparison, Barry Bonds would have to hit
250 home runs in a season to have the kind of clout (pardon the pun) that Ruth had in the sport.
2. Muhammad Ali - I was on a plane recently and JetBlue has this little TVs. I was watching ESPN
Classic, and saw Ali take apart a younger, fresher George Foreman in Zaire, little by little. It wasn't a
boxing victory. It was a work of art.
3. John McEnroe - He had hands like no other tennis player I ever saw (I didn't see Don Budge). Power
wasn't his game, touch was. I remember, quite fondly, the old Arthur Ashe line about McEnroe. "A little
nick here, a little nick there, and pretty soon you're bleeding to death."
4. Secretariat - I still get chills when I see that thoroughbred's 25-length (or was it a 250 length) victory at
the Belmont. A beautiful horse, with personality and a regal bearing. Like he knew he was something
5. Mickey Mantle - To all those who never saw him play, and think that Carlos Beltran (good as he is) is
the ultimate five-tool player, well, I feel sorry for you. Mantle was so quick, he'd often drag-bunt just to
keep the infield from always playing too far back. Who does that these days? People forget when he
retired, Mantle was third on the all-time home run list, and played much of his career on bad knees.
1. Vintage Mike Tyson - Before Robin Givens and Don King, Tyson was a terminator. Pure adrenaline,
pure excitement. He brought fear to the ring and for a short period -- before fame destroyed him faster
than he destroyed Michael Spinks in 1988.
2. Michael Jordan - The greatest great of all greats that proved greatness over and over again. And
damn, he was great.
3. Ilya Kovalchuk - Dynamic. Scary-good. He makes the building buzz when he has the puck. If hockey
had more guys like this....never mind.
4. The former Anna Kournikova-Martina Hingis doubles team - Do I really need to explain this?
5. Derek Jeter - Because every man who has a son wants him to grow up to be just like this guy.
1. Babe Ruth - The greatest hitter in baseball history. I would pay just to watch him circle the bases.
2. Wayne Gretzky - I actually have paid to watch him pay.
3. Michael Jordan
4. Lawrence Taylor - In my opinion he was the best defensive player in NFL history.
5. Wilt Chamberlain
1. Muhammad Ali
2. Josh Gibson
3. Jim Thorpe
4. Michael Jordan
5. Babe Ruth
In no particular order (I took the liberty of selecting 6 'all-time' athletes because I only listed 4 'current'
athletes I'd pay to watch):
1. Steve Prefontaine - Anyone who said (and ran like he meant it when he said) "someone may beat me,
but they're going to have to bleed to do it" is my type of competitor.
2. Jesse Owens
3. Wilma Rudolph
4. Michael Jordan
5. Jim Brown
6. Ted Williams
1. Michael Jordan – I guess we should all consider ourselves fortunate to have seen his exploits on TV.
And many of them can be described and remembered with a single phrase…..”the flu game”, “the
shrug”, “the last shot”, the mid-air hand change layup, the dunk contests, Craig Ehlo, etc. I was lucky
enough to be courtside for “the double nickel” and it remains one of the most unforgettable nights of my
2. Mickey Mantle – A combination of power and speed rarely seen in sports, all on one bad knee. There
is a reason he is so revered in New York among Baby Boomers. You can have Barry Bonds, I’ll take
3. Muhammad Ali – The grace. The charisma. The flashiness. Ali had it all. Which makes seeing him in
his current state so saddening. But in his prime, he was possibly the greatest fighter ever.
4. Barry Sanders – One of the most elusive runners the game of football ever saw. If you weren’t lucky
enough to catch him in the backfield, you could only hope to force him out of bounds, since you weren’t
tackling him in the open field.
5. Mike Bossy – Possibly the best pure goal scorer the NHL has ever seen (and my favorite athlete while
growing up). Deadly from anywhere on the ice, he scored 50+ goals every year of his ten season career
except the last, when a bad back “held” him to 38 in 63 games and prematurely ended his amazing
career after just 752 games and 573 goals at the ripe old age of 30. Quite possibly the most overlooked
star in New York sports history.
1. Michael Jordan - Always gave you your money’s worth, never took a night off.
2. Wayne Gretzky - The grace, the skill, the effortlessness, the perfect player.
3. Bill Bradley - How many of us who loved to play basketball, but couldn’t run, jump, etc. watched and
tried to emulate this guy? The forerunner to Reggie Miller and possible successor Rip Hamilton, he
defined ‘move without the ball’.
4. Secretariat - If you ever got a chance to see this horse close-up, you would be awestruck. Could run a
little, as well.
5. Jackie Robinson - Took my dad’s cue on this one. Arguably, the greatest athlete of all time, he
changed the way baseball approached its game and had to play at the highest level every day given
what was at stake.
1. Babe Ruth
2. Muhammad Ali
3. Joe Lewis
4. Jesse Owens
5. Joe Montana
1. Wayne Gretzky - The best player in their individual sport ever. Wayne Gretzky was a better hockey
player than Michael Jordan was a basketball player.
2. Babe Ruth - How can he not be on your list?
3. Larry Bird - Actually grew up hating him as an athlete. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, he was just
an incredible basketball player.
4. Jackie Robinson - His unreal athletic ability is overshadowed by his more significant social
5. Josh Gibson - Would love to be able to see for myself, and have the inside knowledge, that he really
was better than the guys permitted to play in the majors at that time.
1. Gordie Howe - Explosive personality on ice. Scored, fought, hit, backchecked and came back from a
cracked skull. He exemplifies what a hockey player should be.
2. Jacques Plante - The legendary goalie responsible for innovating so much of what goaltending was
for many years.
3. Bill Russell - I have just heard too much about how great he was as a player. Not a basketball fan,
but he seems to transcend the game for the type of player he was.
4. Dick Butkus - Another of my type of players, mean and nasty.
5. Pele - Watching highlights of him, I see Wayne Gretzky on a big soccer field.
Honorable mention: Lou Gehrig and Arthur Ashe
1. Michael Jordan - There has never been, nor will there ever be, a better basketball player in the clutch.
From his 63-point playoff performance to the shot he hit over Craig Ehlo, all the way to the final shot he
hit over Bryon Russell to win the last of his six NBA titles, Jordan not only defined a generation, but an
2. Larry Bird - Arguably the best pure shooter in the history of the game. Bird could roll out of the bed in
the morning and knock down 100 jumpers. His duels with Magic Johnson and others in the 80s helped
lead the NBA through arguably their most prominent period.
3. Ted Williams - The greatest hitter the game of baseball has ever seen. His .406 will never be
touched, regardless of whatever tweaks the game makes to promote more offense.
4. Cal Ripken Jr. - Mr. Oriole. In a franchise with names such as Robinson, Belanger, Palmer and
Murray, Ripken is the most identifiable face ever to don the orange and black. He handled his
consecutive-games streak as he did everything else in the game, with complete class and respect.
5. Pele - While I've never been that much of a soccer fan, Pele truly changed the face of his sport. He is
still arguably the most popular player ever to step onto a pitch in America, and I would love to see his
wizardry in person.