The connection between an athlete and fan base is the most important part of sports. Championships, awards and overall success are greatly significant, but legacies need more than that. The memories and time spent with a franchise will mean more to a fan than anything else. It is extremely rare for a star to spend his entire career with one franchise. The recent retirements of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan were huge deals for the NBA world but it meant more to the fans of the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. They saw their icons leave and felt thankful to get to witness the journey.
On the opposite side, Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors reminded us of the popular turn of events. Stars choose to leave for a better situation or franchises deal them when they can’t produce at a high level. The landscape of the sporting world makes it tough but many superstars have done it. We’ll look at the top stars to leave a remarkable legacy on their organizations by never leaving the team. These are the most memorable fifteen athletes to spend their entire careers with one team.
15 Derek Jeter - New York Yankees
The New York Yankees lucked out with Derek Jeter instantly becoming the face of the historic franchise during the late 90s dynasty. Jeter would lead the Yankees franchise for many years and never looked to join another team. The fan base made it clear the Yankees would have to pay Jeter big to keep their beloved superstar for the entirety of his career. Heck, the shortstop icon could probably run for New York mayor and win the vote.
Jeter embodied everything fans want in an athlete. The captain of the Yankees hustled on every play, left his all on the field and treated the game with respect. You never saw him involved in bickering or controversy with other players unless it was one-sided with someone going after him. Jeter retired in 2014 with the memorable moment of hitting a game-winning single in his final home game as a member of the New York Yankees.
14 Reggie Miller - Indiana Pacers
Greatness and loyalty are the two traits fans want from the star player on their team. Reggie Miller delivered both to the Indiana Pacers but never could bring home an NBA Championship. The career of Miller proved sports are more about memories than just winning rings. Miller’s theatrics and clutch gene led to him hitting unbelievable game-winning or game-saving shots throughout his entire career. It was important for Reggie to finish his career with the Pacers and didn’t want to leave for a better chance at a ring.
The Boston Celtics recruited Miller in 2008 during their championship season a few years after his retirement but he turned them down. Miller recently criticized Kevin Durant for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder and implied his career would have meant more if he didn’t ditch them for an easier chance at winning with the Golden State Warriors. Pacers fans will always associate the franchise with Reggie Miller and that is the highest of honors in the NBA.
13 Barry Sanders - Detroit Lions
The historical debate trying to figure out who the best running back in the NFL is always provides many different sides. One name that has to be in the conversation is Detroit Lions legend Barry Sanders. Over the course of ten years, Sanders proved to be one of the most dominant stars to ever play the position. Sanders is one of the rare running backs to rush over for 1000 yards during every season of his career.
The Lions franchise fell apart following the retirement of Sanders and have been mostly been a laughingstock of the NFL. There’s nothing like being humbled with a terrible team to appreciate the star you had for years and that is the story of Detroit football. Running back is the toughest position to remain consistently great at for a long time on one team. Sanders did it and left an impact in the NFL that will never be forgotten.
12 John Stockton - Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz were lucky enough to draft John Stockton and watch the unsuspecting basketball superstar mature into one of the greatest point guards of all time. Stockton and Karl Malone made up the dynamic duo to make Utah a force in the NBA for many years. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls prevented them from winning an NBA Championship. The legacy of Stockton is still highly respected for being one of the hardest workers in the sport.
Stockton’s unselfishness is what made him stand out on the basketball court as an elite facilitator making his teammates better. Malone would try to get a ring by joining the Los Angeles Lakers towards the end of his career after Stockton retired. That will always leave a slightly negative memory for Jazz fans. Stockton luckily never had the desire to leave Utah and made sure he ended his career in his NBA home.
11 Jackie Robinson - Brooklyn Dodgers
The historical impact of Jackie Robinson will always be his lasting memory but he was also a hell of a baseball player. Robinson broke barriers by ending the segregation in the sport when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and blossomed into a star. The culture of the game changed for the better with his great character matching his outstanding athletic talent. Robinson’s accolades proved he belonged in the MLB making the All-Star team six teams and winning the NL MVP Award.
Robinson became the face of the Brooklyn Dodgers franchise and eventually left the legacy of an all-time great in MLB history. The on-field success and pioneer work both joined together to make him an iconic athlete in American sports. Robinson is the first and only MLB player to have his own jersey retired through the entire sport. After Mariano Rivera’s career ended, no one else was allowed to wear the number 42.
10 Mario Lemieux - Pittsburgh Penguins
Hockey stars don’t transcend the sports world the way basketball, baseball and football stars do. It takes a very special NHL superstar to become a legend in the world of sports. Mario Lemieux was one of the few to do it with an outstanding body of work. The Pittsburgh Penguins were fortunate enough to draft Lemieux and have him spend his entire career there. Following years of success on the ice, Lemieux ended up putting together a plan to purchase the team.
Lemieux returned from retirement to become one of the very few athletes to both own and play for his team. The Penguins won two Stanley Cups with Lemieux as a player and another two with Lemieux as the owner. No one has meant as much to a hockey franchise as Lemieux does for the Pittsburgh fan base. We will likely see Lemieux play a role in the Penguins organization for the rest of his life and that shows how special of a bond he was with the team.
9 Dan Marino - Miami Dolphins
The excellence of Dan Marino made him one of the biggest stars in Miami sports history. Marino broke numerous records with just about every accolade possible during his sixteen year career with the Miami Dolphins aside from a Super Bowl ring. The inability to win the big caused many fans to view him with an asterisk in the all-time rankings. Marino dominated at every other aspect of the game and was still beloved by Miami fans.
The resume of Marino is spotless with 9 Pro-Bowl selections, Rookie of the Year, MVP Award winner and 3 first-team All-Pro selections. Marino gave his all to the Dolphins franchise and was rewarded with the love of the fan base for his entire and beyond. Miami still holds a great affection towards their star quarterback and appreciates all he did on the field. Every NFL franchise hopes to draft a quarterback as dominant as Marino to spend his entire career with them.
8 Tim Duncan - San Antonio Spurs
The recent retirement of Tim Duncan made it official that he would have spent his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs. Most fans forget but the Spurs were already a good team with superstar David Robinson on the roster. An injury to the big man forced the team to have a terrible season and win the draft lottery to land Duncan. The rest is history. Duncan became the most nondescript superstar and led the squad to five NBA Championships in his tenure.
Robinson, Sean Elliott, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard all contributed greatly to various titles but Duncan was the only source there for all five rings. Duncan dominated the game but never talked about it. He let his actions do the talking on the court. San Antonio found the perfect superstar for their market and Duncan became a hero to all Spurs fans. There’s no doubt he will be celebrated for many more years as he enjoys retirement.
7 Ted Williams - Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox hold a rich history in the sport of baseball as one of the elite franchises in MLB. Many legendary players have come in and out of the organization but one specific superstar spent his entire career with the team. Ted Williams made an astonishing nineteen All-Star appearances all in one uniform representing the folks of Boston. The .344 career batting average from Williams is the highest of any MLB player to have 302+ home runs in his career.
Williams dominated the game and is arguably the greatest left fielder in MLB history. The Red Sox have achieved great success over the past twelve years to give their franchise new moments. World Series titles are the most important thing but Williams contributed something more special. The longevity as the top star in Boston makes Williams a name that will live forever in the history of the Red Sox organization.
6 John Elway - Denver Broncos
Quarterback is always the most important position in the NFL and may be the most celebrated in the entire sports world. It is extremely tough for a quarterback to spend his entire career with one team considering the consistent greatness needed by the player and money shelled out by the franchise. John Elway is one the select few to get the honor of spending his career solely with the Denver Broncos.
The legendary career of Elway saw the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl eluded him until the final two years of his career. In true story book mode, Elway gave the Broncos fan base two Super Bowl trophies before retiring in the same jersey that he was drafted in. The legacy of Elway continues to grow as he still plays a part in the organization as a general manager. Elway used a role in the office to get deliver another title to Denver in Super Bowl 50.
5 Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles Lakers
NBA fans are still mourning the retirement of Kobe Bryant after he decided to end his career this season. The Los Angeles Lakers traded for him on draft night because they saw something special in him coming straight out of high school. Bryant took a few years to mature but became one of the all-time greats. The personality, scoring ability and desire to win made Bryant a unique star that dominated his era.
The Lakers won five titles during the Kobe era and he was the Finals MVP for two of those championships. No one will ever forget Bryant scoring 81 points in a single game and creating one of the most astonishing performances in league history. Bryant almost forced a trade out of Los Angeles when things were getting rough between the two parties but he stayed to give Lakers fans one of the best runs you could ever dream of.
4 Joe DiMaggio - New York Yankees
The New York Yankees have been home to more iconic athletes than just about any other team in sports. Most find their way on other teams but a select few have been able to spend their entire careers in New York. Derek Jeter, Mickey Mantle and Mariano Rivera are three of the most popular to come to mind but Joe DiMaggio has to go down as the best of those names.
DiMaggio had an amazing career but the one specific accomplishment that always stands out is his streak of getting a hit in 56 consecutive games. No one has come close to topping such an impressive feat and it is likely to never happen again. DiMaggio not only succeeded on the field but made headlines for his highly publicized relationship with Marilyn Monroe. The personality, talent and success made DiMaggio an ideal candidate for the Yankees so they kept him for his entire stint in the MLB.
3 Jim Brown - Cleveland Browns
Cleveland sports are currently most known for the success of LeBron James in the NBA world ever since he returned to the Cavaliers to bring home a championship. Before James came home, Jim Brown was the most popular athlete in the city as a member of the Cleveland Browns. The unbelievable talent was one of a kind and absolutely dominated the running back position for his entire career in Cleveland.
Brown led Cleveland to a championship in 1964 and had numerous individual accomplishments. The four MVP Awards stand out as the most impressive note on his resume. Running backs rarely win the MVP Award but Brown had such a level of dominance that he deserved it each time. Cleveland still loves him as the standard bearer for anything football related and that’s because he left it all on the field for them. Every fan base dreams of drafting a player like Brown to bring the fun of rooting for a superstar that never leaves.
2 Larry Bird - Boston Celtics
The most important attribute for someone making this list is breaking down what they meant to a franchise. Larry Bird led the amazing run of the Boston Celtics throughout the 1980s. Following a great collegiate stint, Bird was drafted to the Celtics and completely changed the organization. There were many talented pieces to the team but Bird was definitely the leader and superstar. Boston won three NBA Championships with Bird but his connection with the fans was most important.
Every Celtics fan knew Bird would work his hardest for the goal of winning every time out. The drive and desire made Bird one of the fiercest competitors in the history of the league. Boston lucked into being the only NBA franchise that would get to see him wear their uniform. The competition and love of the game was on display every time Bird put on a Celtics jersey and that’s all you can ask for from a star player.
1 Magic Johnson - Los Angeles Lakers
A fun aspect of the legendary Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson rivalry is the fact each man only played for one NBA team in their careers. We’ve established Bird’s story but the same applied to Magic taking over the basketball world with the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson provided an exciting style of play that also coincided with winning. The Lakers won five NBA Championships under the leadership of Johnson. Magic also achieved the impressive feat of three NBA Finals MVP Awards and three regular season MVP Awards.
The Lakers were always a must watch team under Johnson and he brought success until his career was unfortunately cut short due to getting infected with HIV. Johnson remained a member of the Lakers family throughout the years and is part-owner of the Dodgers to continue his legend in Los Angeles. The on-court success and sports reputation of Magic Johnson is the dream tale of any fan seeing their team drafted the next supposed superstar.