With Indiana executive Larry Bird recently winning the NBA Executive of the Year award to add to his MVP’s and Coach of the Year previously won, it opens up an interesting question. Is Larry Bird the best all around sports figure in the past 50 years? While individual accomplishments garnered during ones playing career are important, the brevity of American sports requires that the answer to this question is an athlete who has excelled on multiple levels. For example Micheal Jordan is the best NBA player of all time, but he had a sub-par MLB stint and is an awful owner so far, and thus would not be on this list. Without further ado lets look at the top 5 sports figures of the past 50 years:
5. Deon Sanders
“Prime Time” is on this list because of his dominance in Football, while playing in the MLB at the same time. He was an 8 time NFL All-Pro, 2 time super bowl champion, who simultaneously competed for 12 years in the Major Leagues. He led the MLB in triples one year, but otherwise had a rather average career, which limits him to the fifth spot on the list.
4. Wayne Gretzky
Gretzky is on this list because his name is synonymous with hockey, more than anyone else. During his 20 year playing career he became the all-time points leader, and is the only player to have his number retired throughout the entire league. After his career ended, “The Great One” was the executive director of an Olympic gold medal winning Canadian team, and coached for 4 years in the NHL. The coaching did not end very well, but one could bet Gretzky is not finished with hockey.
3. Bo Jackson
Jackson was the most successful multi-sport athlete of the past 50 years. He was a Heisman trophy winner, 2-time all-american, and a Pro-Bowler in the NFL, while winning an MLB All-Star game MVP. He was an athletic monster, running the fastest 40 meter dash time ever recorded at an NFL combine. Bo’s career was cut short due to injury, but his short time in both leagues were extremely impressive.
2. John Madden
Much like Gretzky is synonymous with hockey, John Madden is with the NFL, for a wide variety of reasons. Though drafted into the league, Madden was never able to take field after sustaining an injury in training camp, but shortly moved on to his first success, coaching. Madden spent 9 years as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, winning a Coach of the Year award, conquering a Super Bowl, and ended with a 103-32-7 record. After this, Madden became a sports broadcaster, winning 14 Sports Emmy Awards, and becoming an icon on Monday Night Football. Even more than this, Madden has been a huge part of the award-winning EA Sports Madden football game, produced yearly since 1988. Due to his immense popularity and name recognition Madden would be first on this list, except for the lack of playing experience.
1. Larry Bird
Predictable? Probably. Deserving? Absolutely. Larry Bird has conquered the NBA in a way that no one else has been able to duplicate in any other sport. He is legendary as a player, collecting 2 first team All-Americans, and a National Player of the Year Award, before moving on and winning 3 NBA titles, 3 MVP’s, and garnered 9 All-NBA first team selections. He had great success after his career, winning a Coach of the Year, and leading the Indiana Pacers to 2 straight conference finals and 1 NBA final. To complete the cycle, Bird just recently won Executive of the Year for his work as President of the Pacers.
In my opinion Larry Bird is by far the top sports figure of the past 50 years. Whose on yours?