Today’s Lunce’s List takes a look at all of the big name athletes that have become synonymous with the cities they play in. Some of these are obvious, but I decided to look at it from the perspective of not only an athlete’s pro career, but their entire career. Where were they born? Where did they play high school/college ball? How long have they been with their home town city and how successful have they been?
For instance, arguably two of the biggest athletes in the history of sports are Tom Brady and Michael Jordan. While you say their name and automatically go to the Patriots and Bulls, I didn’t include players like that in the list. Tom Brady is from California, played college in Michigan and professionally in Boston.
Michael Jordan is from New York, played college in North Carolina, professionally in Chicago, but now is back in North Carolina. But no one is ever going to say North Carolina if you pick one place to say he belongs.
With all of that said, here are my top five:
1. LeBron James (Cleveland)
I feel like Tim has set me up to have LeBron at the top of Lunce’s List multiple times just to keep the NBA relevant. However, this has to be #1.
LeBron was born in Akron, Ohio, about 40 miles south of Cleveland. He played high school basketball and football at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, a school which now features “LeBron James Arena” after he donated $1 million to renovate their gym. He was recruited as a football player and was a first-team all-state wide receiver as a sophomore. However, he quit playing due to breaking his wrist in AAU.
Of course he has every basketball accolade in the world from high school and was drafted #1 by his home town team in the 2003 NBA Draft. He won two league MVP’s with Cleveland in his first stint (although surprisingly hasn’t won it yet since coming back). I could name all of his accolades, but I don’t feel like typing it all out. You know how good of a basketball player he is…
The big question now is whether or not he will stay in Cleveland for the rest of his career. His current contract is a 3-year deal, but the third year is a player option, so he can opt out and make for the hills if another team comes calling. If he stays, he’ll get a bump of about $2.4 million in salary. If he leaves, he will have the chance to do what he did in Miami, but with another franchise. It seems like every franchise has been mentioned in some form or fashion, so who knows where he will end up.
Will he retire as a Cav? We’ll see. Either way, he could go play another 10 years somewhere else, and he will always be known as an Ohio guy.
2. Joe Mauer (Minneapolis/St. Paul)
Maybe not the biggest name in all of baseball, but he was the AL MVP in 2009 along with being a 6x All-Star, 3x AL batting champion, 3x Gold Glove winner and 5x Silver Slugger winner. He just hit 2,000 hits as well and his entire career has been with the Minnesota Twins (since 2004) which make their home in Minneapolis.
Mauer grew up in St. Paul, playing football, basketball and baseball for Cretin-Derham Hall High School. In his senior year, he became the only athlete ever to be selected as the USA Today High School Player of the Year in two sports – QB in football and catcher in baseball. Of course his career ended up in baseball, but he was an extremely accomplished football player in the state of Minnesota. His two-year career as a starter included throwing for 5,528 yards and 73 touchdowns and winning the school’s first ever state championship in 1999.
He was named the 2001 Gatorade National Player of the Year in football, putting him in the same category as other football greats like: Emmitt Smith, Peyton Manning, Tim Couch and more.
He committed to play football at Florida State, but ultimately decided to enter the MLB draft instead and was selected by the Twins with the first overall pick of the 2001 draft. He was promoted to the Twins roster in 2004 and the rest is history.
3. Marshawn Lynch (Oakland)
Despite the fact that he played most of his career in Buffalo and Seattle, and is perhaps best known for his time up north with the Seahawks, I think he qualifies for Oakland now that he is back playing for his hometown team and might not even make it to Las Vegas. He is going into the final year of a two-year deal, and he would have to re-up to stay with the team as it moves.
Lynch was born and raised in Oakland and went to Oakland Tech in high school where he was a four-sport athlete in football, basketball, track and wrestling. He was the San Francisco East Bay Player of the Year. He then attended Cal, which is only about 10 miles up the road from where the Raiders currently play. He rushed for 3,230 yards over his three years at Cal before turning pro and was the Pac-10 offensive player of the year in 2006 and a first-team All-American.
After making one Pro Bowl in Buffalo, four Pro Bowls in Seattle and winning one Super Bowl before losing a Super Bowl – he’s finally back home in Oakland and I think everyone will forever associate him with Oakland when it’s all said and done, even though he had his best NFL years in Seattle.
4. Deontay Wilder (Tuscaloosa)
It’s one thing to be billed from a certain place when you’re a fighter, but it’s another to live the life of your hometown like Deontay Wilder has done. Due to his roots here in the south, he has brought multiple title fights to the state and his support of Alabama during their success in football has only helped elevate his success as well.
He probably could have moved on at any point in his career, either when he won the bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics or when he became a professional boxer and has now traveled the world fighting and defending his title.
He went to Central-Tuscaloosa high school, graduating in 2004. He went to Shelton State in Tuscaloosa and still lives in Tuscaloosa. He is the embodiment of the entire city.
5. Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles)
Lonzo was born in Anaheim. He went to Chino Hills High School which was in neighboring San Bernardino County. He played college basketball for UCLA. He plays now for the Los Angeles Lakers.
I’d have him higher if I didn’t hate the Ball family so much.
Nothing but, LaVar had to get his son on the Lakers. He’s talked a big game about LiAngelo and LaMelo, but those kids will probably amount to nothing thanks to dad pulling them out of school to go overseas and play basketball. (click that link, trust me, you’ll agree)
Lonzo may very well have a good career in LA. He was an assist machine in college and didn’t play abysmal as a point guard in his rookie season, although his shooting needs some major work. That whole family is definitely all in on Los Angeles, but Lonzo is the only one of the entire family that will actually have any kind of serious pro career in the city (and probably at all).