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The most iconic cities

1. Boston

Ted Williams, Larry Bird, Bobby Orr

Three of the most revered names in all of sports history. Williams is called the greatest hitter who ever lived. Bird helped save the NBA and brought the Celtics back to prominence in the 1980s. And more than a few people swear Orr is the best hockey player who ever lived. Boston is a provincial town that doesn't always welcome outsiders. Williams grew up in California. Bird was from rural Indiana. Orr was from Canada. But all three will always be sons of Boston.

2. Chicago

Ernie Banks, Walter Payton, Michael Jordan

Some Chicago fans might consider Dick Butkus or maybe even former coach Mike Ditka as the face of Bears history. But we believe the late Payton is the franchise's most beloved figure and one of the greatest football players ever. Jordan isn't one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He's the greatest player of all time. And Banks still is called Mr. Cub even though he retired 40 years ago.

3. Detroit

Gordie Howe, Al Kaline, Bobby Layne

Howe is known as Mr. Hockey in a town known as Hockeytown. Like Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub, Kaline is Mr. Tiger, having spent all 22 seasons of his Hall of Fame career in Detroit. In football, maybe a younger generation would select Barry Sanders. But Sanders retired abruptly and never won a championship. Layne is the last quarterback to lead the Lions to an NFL title, way back in 1957.

4. Philadelphia

Julius Erving, Mike Schmidt, Bobby Clarke

Dr. J remains one of the most mind-blowing, acrobatic players in NBA history and the most popular player in 76ers history. Schmidt is a local legend because he led the Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980. In hockey, Clarke, with his toothless and devious smile, was the epitome of the Broad Street Bullies, a bunch of outlaws who could beat you and beat you up. Philly fans can't get enough of that.

5. New York

Babe Ruth, Joe Namath, Walt Frazier

A case could be made that Ruth stands alongside Muhammad Ali and Jim Thorpe as the most iconic sports figures in this country's history. Namath wasn't the best football player in New York history, but he remains the favorite for representing the glitz of New York. He's even called "Broadway Joe." Frazier represents the Knicks' glory days of the 1970s and remains a popular figure because of his jobs as the Knicks' TV analyst and local pitchman.

Just missed the cut

Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh probably should be among the top five, especially when you consider the first two names on the list, the Pirates' Roberto Clemente and Penguins' Mario Lemieux. The problem is it's hard to name the ultimate Steeler. If you asked 10 Pittsburghers, you might have 10 answers. No matter which player you put in there, it would be good enough to get Pittsburgh among the top five of our list. But because we can't definitively name just one football player, we couldn't rank Pittsburgh.

Which city has the greatest sports icons? Well, for starters, let's define a sports icon. Not only does he have to be great, he has to be revered in the city he played. LeBron James and Brett Favre are among the greatest in their respective sports, but neither is respected or liked in the city where they became famous. What we did was sift through major sports cities and pick one athlete per sport who remains the most beloved in that city. No city had what truly was an icon in all four major sports, and most cities didn't even have three. Then we ranked the cities based on their most beloved sports icons.

Best of the rest

Los Angeles: There's Magic Johnson in basketball, and ex-Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela still is revered, especially among the Mexican community. After that, football offers up who? Deacon Jones? Merlin Olson? Hockey's Wayne Gretzky is more Edmonton than L.A.

Baltimore: Baltimore's love for the Orioles' Cal Ripken is as strong as any city's love for any athlete. And you can't do much better than Johnny Unitas in football. But that's it.

Denver: Broncos quarterback John Elway remains the town's most revered athlete and even more so now that he has joined the team's front office. Hockey's Joe Sakic is beloved throughout Colorado. But the Rockies and Nuggets give us no one.

Dallas: Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach remains a legend in Big D, and the Stars' Mike Modano always will be a favorite of local hockey fans. When it comes to baseball, you probably would have to pick current part-owner Nolan Ryan. But he spent only five of his 27 seasons pitching for the Rangers. When we think of Ryan, we think of Houston.

Houston: Like we said, Ryan belongs to Houston. And actually, Houston has impressive icons if you add Earl Campbell, the old Oilers great who grew up in Texas, and Hakeem Olajuwon, who went to college and won NBA championships in Houston.

Atlanta: In baseball, there's Hank Aaron, but he spent much of his career playing in Milwaukee. Dominique Wilkins is a basketball legend in Atlanta, but the most popular football players are not all-time greats.

San Francisco: We start strong with the 49ers' Joe Montana and Giants' Willie Mays. But what about basketball and hockey? Maybe Wilt Chamberlain, but he spent only two full seasons among 14 in San Francisco.

Milwaukee: We start well with baseball's Robin Yount. The Packers are Milwaukee's team, and the iconic Packer is a coach, Vince Lombardi. The Bucks never really had an iconic figure as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson played the bulk of their careers elsewhere.

Minneapolis: Depending on the generation, Minnesotans would select Harmon Killebrew or Kent Hrbek in baseball. In football and hockey, it might be legendary coaches Bud Grant and Herb Brooks, respectively. Basketball's George Mikan was a legend but not generally remembered.

Cleveland: The Browns' Jim Brown and Indians' Bob Feller would stack up well with any city's top two stars. But there's no one is basketball or hockey, especially now that Cavs fans have turned on LeBron James.

The leftovers

The Bucs' Lee Roy Selmon would be our pick in Tampa Bay. He is the only Hall of Famer in Bucs history, and with his restaurants and ties to USF, he remains a local treasure. But the Rays and Lightning are still too new to have produced an icon. In Miami, a coach (the Dolphins' Don Shula) is the only one who really fits this list. In St. Louis, there's Cards great Stan Musial and that's about it. Seattle gives us Ken Griffey Jr. and, if you want to stretch it, Seahawks receiver Steve Largent. Washington, D.C., when you think about it, really doesn't have the type of iconic figures who would stack up against the other names we've mentioned today. And Phoenix hasn't had teams long enough to create those kinds of icons.

The most iconic cities 02/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 6:46pm]

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