Once upon a time, before the Internet was used to transfer information across the world instantly, society was limited in ways that stories could be told. This was especially true in the sports world, where many historic figures did not get to experience the advantages of the Internet. Rather, they based their stories and accolades on performance and word of mouth.
As a professional athlete, honors can come in small or big ways. Some athletes are happy with receiving recognition and becoming player of the week, while others want more to achieve All-Star and potentially Hall of Fame honors. While these awards, recognitions, and accolades are momentous acknowledgements, there are only a few athletes that become the top of the sport that they play in.
These are the figures that get statues created in their honor. These are the athletes who have conquered all they could in their own sport and have become so beloved in their own town, that the city feels it necessary to show some love. This is not an accolade to those athletes who are just loved in their town, but are loved amongst their own respective sports community. This article is dedicated to the athletes who have statues built in their honor.
10. Magic Johnson
The rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird brought the NBA into the common limelight. It took two young players of different races and two cities with opposite cultures, to revitalize the NBA. One of the best players of his generation, Magic helped revolutionize his position.
After numerous Championships, multiple MVPs and All-Stars votes, Magic had to announce his retirement in 1991 after contracting the HIV virus. Although he came back a couple of times as a player and as a coach, he never returned as the same player. The wonders that Magic did for the team has earned him a spot in Lakers history forever.
9. Arnold Palmer
Palmer has been regarded as one of the best golfers in history. When the man is nicknamed “The King,” it’s safe to bet that he is seen as one of the trailblazers. He, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, are commonly regarded as The Big Three, for their efforts for popularizing and commercializing golf.
After winning 62 PGA Tours, and various winnings of the majors, Palmer has solidified himself as one of the most influential golfers of all time. Now, a statue of Palmer stands proud at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Although Latrobe isn’t the size of big cities like Los Angeles or Philadelphia, Palmer’s contribution to commercializing golf cannot be refuted and his love for the city that he grew up in makes it feel right that they housed the statue of him.
Now we know that Rocky was a movie that was written by and starred Sylvester Stallone. But what is rarely discussed is the impact that the movie had on the city of Philadelphia. Rocky’s story as an up and coming boxer is an inspirational one for all to follow.
Although Rocky didn’t technically win the fight against Apollo Creed, he won the hearts of millions viewers. Rocky’s story demonstrated the hustle, grind, and hardwork that it takes to become a Champion in the boxing world. This is the same kind of attitude that is rough and tough like the citizens of Philadelphia. Even though he was based out of a movie, Rocky did for Philadelphia what sport legends like Ty Cobb and Larry Bird did for their respective cities.
7. Johnny Unitas
Unitas was one of the best original quarterbacks ever to see the field in the NFL. However, this wasn’t always the image of Unitas, as he was originally cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team that drafted him in 1955.
After spending 16 years with the Baltimore Colts, Unitas cemented himself as one of the best players and quarterbacks of all time. His legendary talent led him to multiple MVPs, three NFL Championships, one Super Bowl victory, and was announced to the NFL 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Unitas left a historic seed with the Baltimore franchise and has been embraced by the city of Baltimore.
6. Hank Aaron
The Hammer held the MLB record for the most home runs in a career for over 33 years. As Hank Aaron was considered the best home run hitter of all time for so long, the fence that his 715th home run went over has been kept for 40 years outside of Turner Field. The home run record is the equivalent of having the goals record in the NHL or the points record in the NBA.
As one of the first African-Americans to be fully accepted into the MLB, Hank Aaron made the cities of Milwaukee and Atlanta proud. And as such, both cities keep Hank Aaron close to heart as they have both erected statues of Aaron outside their respective baseball fields. Even though his home run record is no longer intact, the love for Aaron in the baseball community and in these cities will remain everlasting.
5. Ted Williams
Ted Williams, like Ruth, left an everlasting impact on the MLB. His legend is so significant that he was nicknamed The Greater Hitter Who Ever Lived. Granted, his playing career ended over 50 years ago, but his legacy will always be remembered amongst MLB fans. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966, Williams has earned many awards and recognitions.
During the middle of his career, Williams took off about five years to serve for the American military in WWII and the Korean War, making his character even more loveable and patriotic. As a left fielder, Ted Williams legacy will never be forgotten as one of the best left fielders to ever play the game.
4. Jerry West
Although he was a monumental figure in the 60s and 70s, West remains one of the most important characters in LA Lakers and NBA history. Nicknamed Mr. Clutch, West made a living with the Lakers hitting shots down the stretch and is most famous for his 3-quarters length shot. He is now the logo of the NBA and was the GM during the Lakers era of Shaq and Kobe.
West now sits as a basketball consultant with the Golden State Warriors. He left a legacy in the NBA as a consummate professional and as one of the most clutch players ever to hit the hardwood. He’s earned a statue outside of the Staples Center and his legend will forever live on.
3. Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth is one of the most legendary baseball players in MLB history. After a 20 year career, Ruth established records for all-time home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage. Although he may not hold all his records to this day, he was one of the main players to bring the MLB to the major spotlight. He brought fans into seats in two of the biggest baseball markets in the country.
With a charismatic character, Ruth became one of the first to begin the long ball era which is still seen in baseball today. On top of all that, Ruth was also known for his antics off the field, with his constant obsession of eating hot dogs and drinking beer, which are now commonly seen amongst fans at baseball games.
2. Wayne Gretzky
Gretzky is literally named The Great One because he has been constantly referred to as the best hockey player ever to lace up skates. Gretzky broke Bobby Orr’s record for the most points in a season with 164 and then had a personal best of 215 points. Gretzky still holds numerous records in the NHL, more than can be written.
The magnitude of Gretzky’s impact to the game was so significant that the Edmonton Oilers erected a statue of Gretzky following the 1988-1989 season, while he was still a player in the league. Following that, the LA Kings also put up a statue of Gretzky in 2002, years after his retirement. Although he spent three years in New York towards the end of his career, Gretzky will always be remembered and loved for his abilities with the Oilers and Kings.
1. Michael Jordan
As a basketball legend, Michael Jordan took basketball to another level with marketability and skill. Known as the best basketball player of all-time, Jordan’s ability to close out games and his sox Championships soldify his place in sports history.
Jordan’s statue stands erect outside the United Center in Chicago. Jordan was known as a prolific scorer, dunk champion, and the star of Space Jam. Jordan continues to impact the NBA community and the sports world overall.