My favorite pro athletes of all time

By Steve Sell
April 06, 2016

I’m a list guy. I like to read various stories where writers list their “top this” or “top that.”

There are no right or wrong answers. It’s just one person’s opinion and nobody is twisting your arm to like it or dislike it.

I’ve done a lot of list stories in the past, but never my Top 10 professional athletes of all time. I’ve always been a baseball guy, which puts me in the minority as in this day and age the sports lags drastically behind football and basketball and it’s not even close.

But that’s OK. My list shows my advancing years and some people probably aren’t all that acquainted with my faves.

Here we go:

1. Arnold Palmer — "The King." I get heartburn when I hear LeBron James referred to as "The King,” but I get it, King James from the Bible. But Arnie is one of a kind. He’s still relevant and beloved even though his best days have been behind him since the late 1960s. I loved his slashing, swashbuckling style on the golf course. For one day I’d like to live his life.

2. Muhammad Ali — Before the boxing game disappeared from the public consciousness and now is seen as nothing more than second-rate seediness, Ali was the most spellbinding figure in all of sports, not to mention the most skilled. When he was in his prime, he would barely get nicked and nobody ever seemed to get a clear shot on him. It was so sad that he hung on far too long and has spent the second half of his life paying the price for all the hits he took. When he left boxing, it was never the same.

3. Bob Gibson — Most everyone who has followed my column knows I’m a big St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan and it all started with Bob Gibson. He was the ultimate fierce competitor and big-game pitcher. I couldn’t believe it in the 1968 World Series when he couldn’t deliver in the deciding Game 7. I didn’t think he’d ever lose a big game.

4. Lou Brock — My other favorite Cardinal and you can't mention Gibson without Brock. Sweet Lou was the ultimate leadoff hitter and basestealer. Like Gibson, he was a tremendous competitor who carried himself with class.

5. Lenny Dawson — “Lenny The Cool” was my all-time favorite Kansas City Chief. The 1970 Super Bowl was his coup de grace and he always seemed so cerebral as well as never getting rattled.

6. Jim Brown — The greatest running back of all time, no matter what fans of Walter Payton or Barry Sanders say. The bruising Brown walked away at the peak of his career when he could easily have dominated another five years. He was the epitome of men against boys.

7. Oscar Robertson — I always felt that Robertson was the most under-appreciated NBA player of all time. He was a big guard (6-5) in a time guards were around 6-0 or 6-1. He once AVERAGED a triple-double in a season. 

8. Larry Bird — He couldn’t jump, couldn’t run and had a bad back for much of his career. But could he ever shoot a basketball and what a competitor he was. Nobody seemed to hit more big shots or more creative shots.

9. Johnny Unitas — It’s amazing how forgotten Unitas is as for those who don't remember he was once one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. He was to the NFL in the 1950s and 1960s what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been the last 15 years. That flat-top and high-top shoes were priceless. He wasn’t the smoothest quarterback and didn’t have the greatest arm, but he had a knack of delivering in the clutch.

10.  Jo Jo White — My favorite Kansas Jayhawk basketball player of all time and later an All-Star with the Boston Celtics. I’ll never forget when Jo Jo made a shot in the final seconds of overtime against Texas Western in the 1966 NCAA Tournament regional semifinals that was ruled no good as he had stepped out of bounds and that cost KU a victory. Texas Western went on to win the national championship and it changed the course of college basketball forever. Jo Jo always maintained he did step out of bounds and while Jayhawk fans swear he didn’t, it showed a lot of class on his part.