Best Athlete Ever From Every State
The United States has over 325 million people today. Think about how many of them play sports. Now, imagine how many Americans have played sports since the country was founded in 1776. It's a big number.
In 2009, ESPN created a "Mt. Rushmore of Sports" and chose the best four athletes for all 50 states. This was decent fodder for water-cooler talk, but choosing four athletes is taking the easy way out. We have rectified this issue by picking the single greatest athlete from each state (plus the District of Columbia). Our criteria is simple: the high school that the athlete attended. So whatever state that school is in is the state the athlete falls under.
Here are the greatest athletes from every state.
Note: State population numbers are from World Population Review, and rankings include Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
Alabama: Willie Mays
2019 population: 4.89 million (No. 24 in U.S.)
Born: May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama
High school: Fairfield Industrial High School (Fairfield, Alabama)
Key stats: 660 career home runs. 24-time All-Star. 12-time Gold Glove winner.
Pro teams: New York/San Francisco Giants (1951-52, 1954-72), New York Mets (1972-73)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (1979)
Bottom line: Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were born just a couple of hundred miles apart in Alabama, but Mays gets the edge due to his all-around greatness and the fact that he missed a portion of his MLB career due to military service.
At various points during his playing days, Mays led the league in home runs, batting average, hits, runs, stolen bases and triples. In addition, he was a 12-time Gold Glove winner in center field and authored one of the most famous plays in baseball history with "The Catch."
As great as Willie Mays was on the field, he was equally great off of it and personified class. In 1971, MLB created the Roberto Clemente Award to honor the fallen Pittsburgh Pirate and recognize a player’s sportsmanship, community involvement and play on the field. Mays was honored as the first recipient of the award for his play with the Giants and his work in and around San Francisco.
Honorable mention: Hank Aaron (baseball), Bo Jackson (baseball and football) , Satchel Paige (baseball)
Alaska: Scott Gomez
2019 population: 735K (No. 49)
Born: Dec. 23, 1979, in Anchorage, Alaska
High school: East High School (Anchorage)
Key stats: Two-time Stanley Cup champion. Two-time All-Star. 2000 Rookie of the Year (Calder).
Pro teams: New Jersey Devils (1999-2007, 2014-15), New York Rangers (2007-09), Montreal Canadiens (2009-12), San Jose Sharks (2012-13), Florida Panthers (2013-14), St. Louis Blues (2015), Ottawa Senators (2016)
Hall of Fame: Alaska Sports (2007)
Bottom line: Scott Gomez was the first Alaskan-born athlete to ever play in the NHL, and he paved the way for future Alaskans as there have been a dozen more since him.
He also was the first Hispanic and entered the league with a bang, taking home the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year), making the All-Star Team and winning the Stanley Cup in his first season.
He won his second Stanley Cup with the Devils three years later and followed that up by leading the NHL in assists.
Honorable mention: Mario Chalmers (basketball), Trajon Langdon (basketball), George Attla (spring dog musher)
Arizona: Curley Culp
2019 population: 7.27 million (No. 14)
Born: March 10, 1946, in Yuma, Arizona
High school: Yuma High School (Yuma, Arizona)
Key stats: 1975 Defensive Player of the Year. Six-time Pro Bowler. One-time Super Bowl champion.
Pro teams: Kansas City Chiefs (1968-74), Houston Oilers (1974-80), Detroit Lions (1980-81)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (2013)
Bottom line: An all-around great athlete, Curley Culp was the NCAA’s heavyweight champion in wrestling while at Arizona State, and he also played both ways on the football team with the Sun Devils.
He focused solely on football and playing defense after leaving college, and he became one of the most dominant linemen of his era in the NFL. He was a Pro Bowler as both a 4-3 defensive tackle with the Chiefs and as a 3-4 nose tackle with the Oilers.
Culp was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a senior nominee in 2013.
Honorable mention: Jim Palmer (baseball), Randall McDaniel (football), Curt Schilling (baseball)
Arkansas: Don Hutson
2019 population: 3.02 million (No. 34)
Born: January 31, 1913, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Died: June 26, 1997, in Rancho Mirage, California (age 84)
High school: Pine Bluff High School (Pine Bluff)
Key stats: Two-time NFL MVP. Three-time NFL champion. 99 receiving touchdowns.
Pro teams: Green Bay Packers (1935-45)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (1963, inaugural class)
Bottom line: Jerry Rice is widely considered to be the greatest receiver of all time, but the discussion for No. 2 should start with Don Hutson.
Virtually every receiving record that Rice doesn’t have is held by Hutson, including most seasons leading the NFL in receptions (8), most seasons leading in receiving yards (7) and most seasons leading in receiving touchdowns (9).
In addition to his work on offense, Hutson was also a standout player on defense and special teams. He intercepted 30 passes in his career, including leading the league in 1940. He also was the Packers’ starting kicker and led the NFL in extra points made three times.
Sportswriter Zipp Newman called Hutson "the Ty Cobb of the gridiron."
Honorable mention: Sonny Liston (boxing), Bill Dickey (baseball), Scottie Pippen (basketball)
California: Jackie Robinson
2019 population: 39.74 million (No. 1)
Born: Jan. 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia
Died: Oct. 24, 1972, in Stamford, Connecticut (age 53)
High school: John Muir High School (Pasadena, California)
Key stats: Broke MLB’s color barrier. .311 lifetime batting average. Six-time All-Star.
Pro teams: Brooklyn Dodgers (1947-56)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (1962)
Bottom line: There were so many phenomenal California athletes to choose from, including Bill Russell, Tom Brady and Barry Bonds, but the way Robinson changed the sports landscape gives him the nod. We all know that he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, but his all-around excellence as an athlete shouldn’t be understated.
He was both the NL MVP and a World Series MVP despite not making his MLB debut until he was 28 years old. But baseball wasn’t his only sport.
He also lettered in basketball, football and track at UCLA. On the gridiron, Robinson was a running back and led the NCAA with 12.2 yards per attempt in 1939. One year later, he won the NCAA championship in the long rump while on the track and field team. On the hardwood, Robinson was the West Coast Conference’s MVP and averaged double-figures in both his junior and senior years.
Nearly 80 years after his last games at UCLA, Robinson remains the only Bruin to letter in four different sports.
Honorable mention: Joe DiMaggio (baseball), Bill Russell (basketball), Tom Brady (football)
Colorado: Missy Franklin
2019 population: 5.77 million (No. 21)
Born: May 10, 1995, in Pasadena, California
High school: Regis Jesuit High School (Aurora, Colorado)
Key stats: Five-time Olympic gold medalist. 18-time World Championship medalist. Two-time FINA Swimmer of the Year.
Hall of Fame: Colorado Sports (2019)
Bottom line: Most athletes are just getting their pro careers started at 23 years old. Missy Franklin retired from her sport at that age. But she certainly did enough before that to warrant her spot as Colorado’s greatest athlete.
She exploded onto the scene as a 17-year-old at the 2012 Olympics. In London, she set world records in the 200-meter backstroke and 4x100 meter medley relay on her way to winning four gold medals.
She won another medal at the 2016 Olympics in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay.
Honorable mention: Jack Dempsey (boxing), Goose Gossage (baseball), Byron White (football)
Connecticut: Brian Leetch
Population: 3.56 million (No. 29)
Born: March 3, 1968, in Corpus Christi, Texas
High school: Avon Old Farms (Avon, Connecticut)
Key stats: First American-born Conn Smythe winner (1994). Nine-time All-Star. Two-time NHL top defenseman.
Pro teams: New York Rangers (1987-2004), Toronto Maple Leafs (2004), Boston Bruins (2005-06)
Hall of Fame: Hockey (2009)
Bottom line: One of the most versatile hockey players of his era, Brian Leetch was an elite defenseman who also was known for his offensive skills.
He ranks in the top 10 all-time in goals, assists and points by a defenseman, and he remains one of three players at his position to notch a 100-point season.
En route to winning his lone Stanley Cup in 1994, Leetch had 34 points in the playoffs as the Rangers defeated the Canucks, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP>.
Honorable mention: Bruce Jenner (track and field), Steve Young (football), Calvin Murphy (basketball)
Delaware: Randy White
2019 Population: 975K (No. 46)
Born: Jan. 15, 1953, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
High school: Thomas McKean High School (Wilmington, Delaware)
Key stats: Nine-time first-team All-Pro. Super Bowl co-MVP. 52 career sacks.
Pro teams: Dallas Cowboys (1975-88)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (1994), College Football (1994)
Bottom line: Nicknamed "The Manster" (half man, half monster), Randy White continued the legacy of great Cowboys defensive tackles by replacing fellow Hall of Famer Bob Lilly along the line.
White was named the co-MVP of Super Bowl XII, becoming the first defensive lineman to win the award, and he remains one of two D-lineman to be a Super Bowl MVP.
Sacks were not tracked as an official statistic throughout the first half of White’s 14 NFL seasons, but he still accumulated 52 during the last half of his career and has 111 unofficial sacks in his career, according to the Cowboys.
Honorable mention: Judy Johnson (baseball), Delino DeShields (baseball), Margaret DuPont (tennis)
District of Columbia: Elgin Baylor
2019 population: 711K (No. 50)
Born: Sept. 16, 1934, in Washington, D.C.
High school: Spingarn High School in Washington, D.C.
Key stats: 27.4 PPG average. 13.5 RPG average. 10-time first-team All-NBA.
Pro teams: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (1958-71)
Hall of Fame: Basketball (1977), College Basketball (2006)
Bottom line: A predecessor to the likes of Julius Erving and Connie Hawkins, Elgin Baylor was the first NBA player to play above the rim on both ends of the court. He was a small forward who once averaged 20 rebounds per game, and he and Jerry West helped establish the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Baylor was the first NBA player to score 70 points in a game, and his 61 points in Game 5 of the 1962 NBA Finals are still a Finals record. The only thing Baylor didn’t do was win an NBA championship as he retired just months before the 1972 Lakers won the title.
Honorable mention: Kevin Durant (basketball), Vernon Davis (football), Dave Bing (basketball),
Florida: Deion Sanders
2019 population: 21.64 million (No. 3)
Born: August 9, 1967, in Fort Myers, Florida
High school: North Fort Myers (North Fort Myers, Florida)
Key stats: Two-time Super Bowl champion. 53 career interceptions. 186 stolen bases.
Pro teams: Atlanta Falcons (1989-93), San Francisco 49ers (1994), Dallas Cowboys (1995-99), Washington Redskins (2000), Baltimore Ravens (2004-05), New York Yankees (1989-90), Atlanta Braves (1991-94), Cincinnati Reds (1994-95, 1997, 2001), San Francisco Giants (1995)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (2011), College Football (2011)
Bottom line: Deion Sanders, somehow, often gets overlooked in the discussion for the greatest athlete of all time.
He is arguably the best cover corner in NFL history and was the premier return man of his era. He also dabbled at wide receiver, catching 60 passes in his career. And if he committed to that side of the ball, he would have been a Pro Bowl receiver at the very least.
Sanders’ baseball career wasn’t on par with his Hall of Fame football career, but he was no slouch on the diamond either. He profiled as a fourth outfielder, but he had elite speed and nearly led the National League in stolen bases in 1997 despite missing one-third of the season due to his football commitments.
Bo Jackson is considered a better two-sport star than Sanders due to his All-Star potential in both football and baseball, but Sanders had the longevity that Jackson never had. Jackson played a total of 12 seasons in both MLB and the NFL while Sanders played 23 combined seasons in those two leagues.
Honorable mention: Emmitt Smith (football), Steve Carlton (baseball), Chris Evert (tennis)
Georgia: Ty Cobb
2019 population: 10.62 million (No. 8)
Born: Dec. 18, 1886, in Narrows, Georgia
Died: July 17, 1961, in Atlanta, Georgia (age 74)
High school: Franklin County High School (Royston, Georgia)
Key stats: .366 career batting average. 12-time batting champion. 4,189 career hits.
Pro teams: Detroit Tigers (1905-26), Philadelphia Athletics (1927-28)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (1936, inaugural class)
Bottom line: Ty Cobb may not have been a saint, but no one in MLB history was better at getting base hits.
Cobb won a major league-record 12 batting titles to go along with his MLB record .366 lifetime average. He hit at least .400 three times and had an 11-year stretch in which his average never dipped below .368.
But Cobb could do more than just get base hits. He also excelled at what the game of baseball is all about: scoring and driving in runs. Ninety seasons after his final game, Cobb still holds the record for the most combined runs scored and runs batted in with a total of 4,065.
Honorable mention: Herschel Walker (football), Bobby Jones (golf), Walt Frazier (basketball)
Hawaii: Duke Kahanamoku
2019 population: 1.41 million (No. 41)
Born: August 24, 1890, in Honolulu, Hawaii
Died: Jan. 22, 1968, in Honolulu (age 77)
High school: Kamehameha School (Honolulu)
Key stats: Godfather of surfing. Three-time swimming Olympic gold medalist. Five-time swimming Olympic medalist.
Hall of Fame: Swimming (1965), Surfing (1966), U.S. Olympic (1984)
Bottom line: Surfing is the official sport of Hawaii, so it is fitting that the man who popularized the sport gets the billing as the state’s top athlete. But before Duke Kahanamoku took surfing global, he was a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming and was also an alternate on the Olympic water polo team.
But Kahanamoku is best known for his other sport in the water. After the Olympics, he traveled to various countries to put on surfing exhibitions. At the time, surfing was predominantly only known in Hawaii, but Kahanamoku introduced the sport to Australia and the mainland United States.
For his third career, Kahanamoku went into acting, but he is honored for his work in the water, and was inducted into the Hall of Fames for Swimming, Surfing and the Olympics.
Honorable mention: Chad Rowan (sumo), Russ Francis (football), Mosi Tatupu (football)
Idaho: Harmon Killebrew
2019 population: 1.79 million (No. 40)
Born: June 29, 1936, in Payette, Idaho
Died: May 17, 2011, in Scottsdale, Arizona (age 74)
High school: Payette High School (Payette, Idaho)
Key stats: 573 career home runs. 13-time All-Star. Six-time AL home run leader.
Pro teams: Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (1954-74), Kansas City Royals (1975)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (1984)
Bottom line: Harmon Killebrew was one of the first "three true outcomes" players in baseball as nearly 40 percent of his plate appearances resulted in either a home run, walk or strikeout.
He was never considered an all-around five-tool player, but his one tool was his prodigious strength, and he hit some of the most majestic home runs in MLB history. He was the first player to ever clear the left-field roof at Detroit’s old Tiger Stadium, and just three players accomplished that feat afterward.
Despite his worthy reputation as a feared power hitter and having the nickname of "The Killer," Killebrew was actually a reserved, soft-spoken man. When asked what he liked to do for fun, Killebrew once replied, "Well, I like to wash the dishes."
Honorable mention: Jerry Kramer (football), Picabo Street (skiing), Gary Stevens (horse racing jockey)
Illinois: Otto Graham
2019 population: 12.70 million (No. 6)
Born: December 6, 1921, in Waukegan, Illinois
Died: Dec. 17, 2003, in Sarasota, Florida (age 82)
High school: Waukegan High School (Waukegan, Illinois)
Key stats: 10 NFL Championship Game appearances. Seven-time NFL champion. Three-time NFL MVP.
Pro teams: Cleveland Browns (1946-55)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (1965), College Football (1956)
Bottom line: Tom Brady may be the first quarterback to win six Super Bowls, but he isn’t the first quarterback to win six championship games. That honor goes to Otto Graham.
Graham played way before the Super Bowl even existed, and he won the NFL championship in seven of his 10 appearances in the title game.
When Graham retired in 1955, he was the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards, ranked second in passing touchdowns and ranked third in rushing touchdowns.
Honorable mention: Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track and field), Dick Butkus (football), Red Grange (football)
Indiana: Larry Bird
2019 population: 6.71 million (No. 17)
Born: December 7, 1956, in West Baden Springs, Indiana
High school: Springs Valley High School (French Lick, Indiana)
Key stats: 21,791 career points. 1979 college player of the year. Three-time NBA MVP.
Pro teams: Boston Celtics (1979-92)
Hall of Fame: Basketball (1998), College Basketball (2006)
Bottom line: Only eight players in NBA history have won at least three MVP awards, but Larry Bird is one of just three players to win the award three years in a row, the others being Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
That’s the kind of company Bird is in, even if many think LeBron James has usurped him as the greatest small forward ever.
Bird still holds the unofficial title of "greatest stretch-4 in NBA history," although he played in an era that didn’t emphasize the 3-point shot. His 37.6 three-point percentage is the highest in NBA history for any player who also averaged at least 10 rebounds per game (min. 400 games).
Honorable mention: John Wooden (basketball), Oscar Robertson (basketball), Rod Woodson (football)
Iowa: Bob Feller
2019 population: 3.16 million (No. 31)
Born: Nov. 3, 1918, in Van Meter, Iowa
Died: Dec. 15, 2010, in Cleveland, Ohio (age 92)
High school: Van Meter High School (Van Meter)
Key stats: Pitched three no-hitters. Seven-time strikeout leader. 266-162 career record.
Pro teams: Cleveland Indians (1936-41, 1945-56)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (1962)
Bottom line: Kurt Warner may be Iowa’s most celebrated athlete, but Bob Feller has to be the state’s greatest athlete.
Feller was a baseball prodigy who made his major league debut at 17 and led the American League in wins three times by the age of 22.
He lost over three-and-a-half years of his prime due to military service but still accumulated over 2,500 strikeouts and ranked third all-time in that stat at the time of his retirement.
Honorable mention: Dan Gable (wrestling), Roger Craig (football), Kurt Warner (football)
Kansas: Barry Sanders
2019 population: 2.91 million (No. 36)
Born: July 16, 1968, in Wichita, Kansas
High school: Wichita North High School (Wichita, Kansas)
Key stats: 1988 Heisman Trophy winner. Four-time rushing champion. 15,269 career rushing yards.
Pro teams: Detroit Lions (1989-98)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (2004), College Football (2003)
Bottom line: The sports world knew it was witnessing something special when Barry Sanders was in college as he shredded the NCAA record books. Over 30 years from his final game at Oklahoma State, Sanders still holds several records, including most rushing yards in a season (2,628) and most touchdowns in a season (39).
The greatness continued with the Detroit Lions. Sanders was named to an All-Pro team in each of his 10 NFL seasons. He still holds the record for most consecutive seasons with over 1,100 rushing yards (10) and is the all-time leader in games with 150-plus rushing yards (25).
Honorable mention: Walter Johnson (baseball), Jim Ryun (distance runner), John Riggins (football)
Kentucky: Muhammad Ali
2019 population: 4.48 million (No. 26)
Born: Jan. 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky
Died: June 3, 2016, in Scottsdale, Arizona (age 74)
High school: Central High School (Louisville, Kentucky)
Key stats: 56-5 (37 KO) record. Three-time heavyweight champion. 1960 Olympic gold medalist.
Hall of Fame: International Boxing (1990)
Bottom line: Nicknamed the "Louisville Lip," Muhammad Ali proclaimed himself "The Greatest" boxer of all time, and it's hard to dispute. He clearly is the greatest athlete to ever hail from The Bluegrass State.
Two years after graduating from high school Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, won the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics. Soon after, he turned professional, and by 22 years old, he was the heavyweight champion of the world.
That would be the first of three heavyweight titles for Ali, who remains the only three-time lineal heavyweight champion in boxing history. He won 55 of his first 57 professional fights with those two losses coming via judges’ decisions.
Ali is the only boxer to be named The Ring’s Fighter of the Year six times, and he was declared the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.
Honorable mention: Mary Meagher (swimming), Wes Unseld (basketball), Pee Wee Reese (baseball)
Louisiana: Peyton Manning
2019 population: 4.65 million (No. 25)
Born: March 24, 1976, in New Orleans, Louisiana
High school: Isidore Newman High School (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Key stats: Record five-time NFL MVP. 14-time Pro Bowler. 71,940 passing yards.
Pro teams: Indianapolis Colts (1998-2011), Denver Broncos (2012-15)
Hall of Fame: College Football (2017), eligible for Pro Football in 2021
Bottom line: Arguably the greatest regular-season quarterback in NFL history, Peyton Manning rewrote the NFL record book during his 18-year career.
His career numbers resemble those of Joe Montana and Jim Kelly — combined. Manning has the most comeback wins, game-winning drives, Pro Bowl selections and MVPs in NFL history.
It will be quite a while before Drew Brees, Tom Brady or anyone else surpasses those records.
Honorable mention: Karl Malone (basketball), Mel Ott (baseball), Terry Bradshaw (football)
Maine: Ian Crocker
2019 population: 1.34 million (No. 43)
Born: Aug. 31, 1982, in Portland, Maine
High school: Cheverus High School (Portland, Maine)
Key stats: Three-time Olympic gold medalist. Five-time Olympic medalist. 13-time world champion.
Hall of Fame: International Swimming (2017)
Bottom line: Ian Crocker was a swimming prodigy who won his first Olympic gold medal at 17 during the 2000 Olympics.
He was the first person to ever swim under 51 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly and held that record for four years before Michael Phelps broke it.
Crocker won medals at five different world championships, and eight of his 13 world championship medals are gold.
Honorable mention: Joan Benoit (marathon runner), Cindy Blodgett (basketball), Jack Coombs (baseball)
Maryland: Babe Ruth
2019 population: 6.06 million (No. 19)
Born: Feb. 6, 1895, in Baltimore, Maryland
Died: Aug. 16, 1948, in Manhattan, New York (age 53)
High school: Cardinal Gibbons School (Baltimore, Maryland)
Key stats: 12-time AL home run leader. Seven-time World Series champion. 714 career home runs.
Pro teams: Boston Red Sox (1914-19), New York Yankees (1920-34), Boston Braves (1935)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (1936, inaugural class)
Bottom line: It takes a lot to unseat Michael Phelps as Maryland’s greatest athlete, but a lot is exactly what Babe Ruth did.
Everyone knows about Ruth’s accomplishments at the plate, but "The Sultan of Swat" was an equally dominant pitcher until he focused solely on hitting. He won 20 games in back-to-back seasons while also leading the American League in ERA in 1916. Even the advanced stats loved Ruth as a pitcher as he also led the league in ERA+ and won 94 games during his career, which is more than Cy Young winner Brandon Webb.
Ruth has seven World Series rings, and he was no shrinking violet in the postseason. He smacked 15 homers in 41 playoff games, and his OPS is actually higher in the playoffs than the regular season.
Honorable mention: Michael Phelps (swimming), Cal Ripken Jr. (baseball), Sugar Ray Leonard (boxing)
Massachusetts: Rocky Marciano
2019 population: 6.93 million (No. 15)
Born: Sept. 1, 1923, in Brockton, Massachusetts
Died: Aug. 31, 1969, in Newton, Iowa (age 45)
High school: Brockton High School (Brockton)
Key stats: 49-0 (43 KO) record. One-time heavyweight champion. Highest KO percentage of any heavyweight champion.
Hall of Fame: International Boxing (1990)
Bottom line: Professional boxing has been around and sanctioned for over 125 years, but Rocco Francis Marchegiano, aka Rocky Marciano, is the only heavyweight to retire undefeated as champion.
He knocked out 88 percent of his opponents and was only knocked down twice in his career. Marciano retired Joe Louis as Louis's last fight was a TKO loss to Marciano, who then had 11 more flawless fights before retiring in 1955.
Marciano died in a plane crash in 1969, but his legacy and name have lived on, not just due to his unparalleled career, but also since Rocky Balboa is based on Rocky Marciano.
Honorable mention: Doug Flutie (football), Patrick Ewing (basketball), Tom Glavine (baseball)
Michigan: Magic Johnson
2019 population: 10.02 million (No. 10)
Born: Aug. 14, 1959, in Lansing, Michigan
High school: Everett High School (Lansing, Michigan)
Key stats: Five-time NBA champion. Three-time NBA MVP. Four-time assists leader.
Pro teams: Los Angeles Lakers (1979-91, 1996)
Hall of Fame: Basketball (2002), College Basketball (2006)
Bottom line: There are a pair of notable boxers from Michigan in Joe Louis and Floyd Mayweather Jr., but Earvin Johnson was first dubbed Magic before he even left the state and became famous. A local sportswriter gave him the moniker of Magic after he posted a triple-double in a high school game as a 15-year-old.
Magic’s legend would only grow from there as he brought Michigan State its first NCAA Championship in 1979 and brought the Lakers five titles in the 80s. He retired as the NBA’s all-time leader in assists, still holds the all-time record for assists per game and finished in the top-three in MVP voting every year from 1983 to 1991.
Honorable mention: Joe Louis (boxing), Floyd Mayweather Jr. (boxing), Charlie Gehringer (baseball)
Minnesota: Bronko Nagurski
2019 population: 5.65 million (No. 22)
Born: Nov. 3, 1908, in Rainy River, Ontario, Canada
Died: Jan. 7, 1990, in International Falls, Minnesota (age 81)
High school: Bemidji High School (Bemidji, Minnesota)
Key stats: Three-time NFL champion. Four-time first-team All-Pro. Two-time wrestling heavyweight champion.
Pro teams: Chicago Bears (1930-37, 1943)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (1963, inaugural class), College Football (1951)
Bottom line: Bronko Nagurski was one of those legendary sports figures from the early 20th century whose mystique still carries on today.
A running back with the Chicago Bears, the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Nagurski often was bigger than the linemen at the time, and he would actually fill in at offensive tackle when he needed a rest from carrying the ball instead of heading to the bench.
During his pro football career, and for many years afterward, Nagurski also was involved in pro wrestling. He won 10 titles in wrestling, including the NWA World Heavyweight Championship by defeating legendary wrestler Lou Thesz.
Honorable mention: Dave Winfield (baseball), Kevin McHale (basketball), Patty Berg (golf)
Mississippi: Jerry Rice
2019 population: 2.98 million (No. 35)
Born: Oct. 13, 1962, in Starkville, Mississippi
High school: Moor High School (Oktoc, Mississippi)
Key stats: All-time leader in receiving Triple Crown. 10-time First-Team All-Pro. Three-time Super Bowl winner.
Pro teams: San Francisco 49ers (1985-2000), Oakland Raiders (2001-04), Seattle Seahawks (2004)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (2010), College Football (2006)
Bottom line: It takes a lot to bump Walter Payton and Brett Favre from the mantle of Mississippi’s greatest athlete, but the GOAT of NFL wide receivers, Jerry Rice, has the résumé to do just that.
Rice may be the only player in NFL history who, if you cut his career into halves, you would have two separate Hall of Famers.
He holds nearly every receiving record imaginable, and even in today’s age of pass-happy offenses, his Triple Crown marks of receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns won’t be touched.
In addition to all of his receiving records, his 10 first-team All-Pro selections are the most in NFL history, and he remains the only receiver/tight end to ever be named the NFL MVP.
Honorable mention: Walter Payton (football), Brett Favre (football), Frank "Bruiser" Kinard (football)
Missouri: Yogi Berra
2019 population: 6.14 million (No. 18)
Born: May 12, 1925, in St. Louis, Missouri
Died: Sept. 22, 2015, in West Caldwell, New Jersey
High school: St. Mary’s High School (St. Louis)
Key stats: 358 home runs. 10-time World Series champion. Three-time MVP.
Pro teams: New York Yankees (1946-63), New York Mets (1965)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (1972)
Bottom line: "Ninety percent of baseball is mental; the other half is physical." That Yogi Berra quote alone could merit him a spot on this list, but his accomplishments also justify his position as the Show Me State’s greatest athlete.
Berra is the only three-time MVP catcher in Major League Baseball history and finished runner-up two other times. He redefined the offensive expectations of a catcher and is the greatest winner in baseball history.
He won 10 World Series championships, which is more than anyone else, ever, and appeared in 14 total World Series as a player.
Honorable mention: Tom Watson (golf), Bill Bradley (basketball), James "Cool Papa" Bell (baseball)
Montana: Dave McNally
2019 population: 1.07 million (No. 44)
Born: Oct. 31, 1942, in Billings, Montana
Died: Dec. 1, 2002, in Billings (age 60)
High school: Central Catholic High School (Billings)
Key stats: Three-time All-Star. Two-time World Series champion. 184-119 career record.
Pro teams: Baltimore Orioles (1962-74), Montreal Expos (1975)
Hall of Fame: Baltimore Orioles (1978)
Bottom line: Longtime Orioles starter Dave McNally is best known for two things. He was part of the 1971 Orioles, one of two MLB teams to have four 20-game winners at pitcher. McNally led the AL with an .808 win-loss percentage that season, which culminated in a World Series loss.
The other thing about McNally is a record that he owns all to himself. He is the only pitcher to hit a grand slam in a World Series game. In Game 3 of the 1970 World Series, McNally notched a complete-game victory and smacked one over the fence with the bases loaded.
That game helped the Orioles defeat the Reds in five games to win their second World Series.
Honorable mention: Lones Wigger (sports shooting), Evel Knievel (daredevil), Dan Mortensen (rodeo)
Nebraska: Bob Gibson
2019 population: 1.94 million (No. 38)
Born: Nov. 9, 1935, in Omaha, Nebraska
High school: Technical High School (Omaha)
Key stats: 251-174 career record. 3,117 strikeouts. Two-time Cy Young winner.
Pro teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1959-75)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (1981)
Bottom line: An all-around great athlete, Bob Gibson could have become a professional basketball player. He was a Jesuit All-American at Creighton and received interest from the Harlem Globetrotters.
But he stuck to the diamond, where won two World Series with the Cardinals and also won two Cy Young awards. Gibson’s landmark season came in 1968 when he posted a 1.12 ERA, which remains a live ball era record.
Lost in the greatness of Gibson on the mound was the fact that he was also the best hitting pitcher of his era. He smacked 24 home runs in his career, including two in the World Series, and was often used as a pinch-hitter for St. Louis.
Honorable mention: Gale Sayers (football), Grover Cleveland Alexander (baseball), Sam Crawford (baseball)
Nevada: Greg Maddux
2019 population: 3.08 million (No. 33)
Born: April 14, 1966, in San Angelo, Texas
High school: Valley High School (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Key stats: 355-227 career record. 18-time Gold Glove winner. Four-time Cy Young winner.
Pro teams: Chicago Cubs (1986-92, 2004-06), Atlanta Braves (1993-2003), Los Angeles Dodgers (2006, 2008), San Diego Padres (2007-08)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (2014)
Bottom line: Greg Maddux didn’t look intimidating on the mound, but few pitchers had as great a career as "Mad Dog" did over 23 years.
No player, pitcher or otherwise won more Gold Gloves than Maddux's 18, and he was also the first pitcher to win four straight Cy Young awards. He won at least 15 games an astonishing 17 years in a row and also claimed four ERA titles.
Maddux relied more on accuracy than straight velocity, and fellow Cy Young winner Orel Hershiser once described Maddux as a guy who could "throw a ball in a teacup."
Honorable mention: Andre Agassi (tennis), Don Johnson (bowling), Lionel Hollins (basketball)
New Hampshire: Carlton Fisk
2019 population: 1.36 million (No. 42)
Born: Dec. 26, 1947, in Bellows Falls, Vermont
High school: Charlestown High School (Charlestown, New Hampshire)
Key stats: 376 home runs. 2,356 career hits. 11-time All-Star.
Pro teams: Boston Red Sox (1969, 1971-80), Chicago White Sox (1981-93)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (2000)
Bottom line: Carlton Fisk was born in Vermont but, according to him, that’s only because Vermont had the nearest hospital to his hometown of Charlestown, New Hampshire.
He made his debut at 21 and lasted until he was 45, giving him the most seasons in major league history for a catcher (24). Fisk retired as the all-time leader in home runs for his position, but he also had uncanny speed for a catcher as he stole 128 bases in his career and once led the American League in triples.
With a career that ranged from 1969 to 1993, he is one of 29 players in MLB history to play in four different decades.
Honorable mention: Jenny Thompson (swimming), Bode Miller (skiing), Lynn Jennings (distance runner)
New Jersey: Carl Lewis
2019 population: 8.92 million (No. 11)
Born: July 1, 1961, in Birmingham, Alabama
High school: Willingboro High School (Willingboro, New Jersey)
Sport: Track and field
Key stats: Nine-time Olympic gold medalist. 10-time world champion. Indoor long jump world record holder.
Hall of Fame: New Jersey (2010), Texas Track and Field Coaches Association (2016)
Bottom line: It’s one thing for a track and field athlete to excel at one event, but Carl Lewis was the best in the world in three different events.
He won Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump in addition to running on relay teams. The breadth of Lewis’ dominance is nearly unparalleled in a sport that relies so much on athleticism.
He is one of three people, ever, to win gold medals in the same event in four straight Olympic Games, winning gold in the long jump in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 when he was 35 years old.
For his efforts, the International Olympics Committee named Lewis the Sportsman of the Century.
Honorable mention: Rick Barry (basketball), Franco Harris (football), Marty Liquori (distance runner)
New Mexico: Brian Urlacher
2019 population: 2.09 million (No. 37)
Born: May 25, 1978, in Pasco, Washington
High school: Lovington High School (Lovington, New Mexico)
Key stats: 1,354 career tackles. Eight-time Pro Bowler. One-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Pro teams: Chicago Bears (2000-12)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (2018), College Football (2017)
Bottom line: Brian Urlacher’s career paralleled that of Ray Lewis so he was always the second name mentioned in the discussion for that era’s best linebacker. But Urlacher was every bit of the playmaker that Lewis was, and Urlacher's 41.5 sacks are tied for the third-most all-time by an inside linebacker.
His athleticism was on display throughout his amateur years, as he also was an all-state basketball player while at Lovington High.
While attending the University of New Mexico, Urlacher stuck to just football but played both ways. He lined up at linebacker and safety on defense, at wide receiver on offense and even returned kicks and punts as well.
Honorable mention: Ralph Kiner (baseball), Al Unser Sr. (auto racing), Nancy Lopez (golf)
New York: Jim Brown
2019 population: 19.49 million (No. 4)
Born: Feb. 17, 1936, in St. Simons, Georgia
High school: Manhasset High School (Manhasset, New York)
Key stats: Eight-time rushing champion. Three-time MVP. 12,312 rushing yards.
Pro teams: Cleveland Browns (1957-65)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (1971), College Football (1995), Lacrosse (1984)
Bottom line: There were so many great New York athletes to pick from, but this honor has to go to the man many consider to be the greatest ever to play football — and lacrosse.
We know about Brown’s football exploits that put him in both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame, but he is also in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame after being a first-team All-American in the sport at Syracuse.
As for what he did on the gridiron, Brown is one of nine NFL players to win multiple MVP awards, and he won it three times. But he is the only of those nine players who is a running back. The other eight are all quarterbacks.
Honorable mention: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (basketball), Sugar Ray Robinson (boxing), Lou Gehrig (baseball)
North Carolina: Michael Jordan
2019 population: 10.49 million (No. 9)
Born: Feb. 17, 1963, in New York City, New York
High school: Emsley A. Laney High School (Wilmington, North Carolina)
Key stats: Six-time NBA champion. 10-time scoring champion. 32,292 career points.
Pro teams: Chicago Bulls (1984-93, 1995-98), Washington Wizards (2001-03)
Hall of Fame: Basketball (2009), FIBA (2015)
Bottom line: Many people don’t realize that Michael Jordan was actually born in New York, but he moved to North Carolina as a toddler, which spares Jim Brown (NY) from missing out on this list.
While attending Laney High School, he didn’t make varsity as a sophomore and took it out on his poor JV opponents. Once he made the varsity team, he became one of the best high school players in the country and would then become one of the best college players of all time at nearby UNC.
When he got to the NBA, Jordan took the league to heights it has never been seen before and made coaches and general managers rethink how to build a team. Teams always had been built around big men, and no one ever thought a scoring guard could be the best player on a championship team. Six rings, five MVPs and over 30,000 points later, and now the NBA is built around guards and wings instead of big men.
One aspect of Jordan’s NBA career that many forget is that he came along at a time before exorbitant player salaries. He made less than $90 million in NBA earnings, which ranks just 135th all-time and is sandwiched between the likes of Khris Middleton and Al Harrington.
Honorable mention: Richard Petty (auto racing), Buck Leonard (baseball), David Thompson (basketball)
North Dakota: Roger Maris
2019 population: 760K (No. 48)
Born: Sept. 10, 1934, in Hibbing, Minnesota
Died: Dec. 14, 1985, in Houston, Texas (age 51)
High school: Shanley High School (Fargo, North Dakota)
Key stats: Seven-time All-Star. Three-time World Series champion. Two-time MVP.
Pro teams: Cleveland Indians (1957-58), Kansas City Athletics (1958-59), New York Yankees (1960-66), St. Louis Cardinals (1967-68)
Hall of Fame: North Dakota American Legion Baseball (1977)
Bottom line: For 37 years, Roger Maris held the single-season home run record after clubbing 61 homers in the 1961 season. That year, he won his second straight American League MVP award after also leading the league in RBI in the previous season.
Maris, who never hit even 40 home runs in any other season besides 1961, was part of a fearsome Yankees lineup that also included Mickey Mantle, and the duo was dubbed the "M&M Boys."
Even though Maris' home run record has since been surpassed by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, Maris' 61 dingers still stand as the AL record for most homers in a season.
Honorable mention: Phil Jackson (basketball), Darin Erstad (baseball), Pete Retzlaff (football)
Ohio: LeBron James
2019 population: 11.71 (No. 7)
Born: Dec. 30, 1984, in Akron, Ohio
High school: St. Vincent-St. Mary High School (Akron, Ohio)
Key stats: Four-time MVP. Three-time NBA champion. All-time leader in playoff points.
Pro teams: Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-10, 2014-18), Miami Heat (2010-14), Los Angeles Lakers (2018-present)
Hall of Fame: Not eligible yet
Bottom line: Jack Nicklaus was also under consideration for being The Buckeye State’s greatest athlete, but story of "The Golden Bear" has already been written. LeBron James is still adding chapters to his.
James already is fourth all-time in points scored in NBA history and could eclipse Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the top spot. But scoring isn’t even James’ best skill. It is his passing, and James is already the all-time leader in assists by a non-point guard.
His 12 first-team All-NBA selections are the most ever, but perhaps James’ greatest accomplishment is a team one. He led the underdog Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals to topple the 73-win Warriors. It was the first time a team came back from that series deficit in the Finals, and it brought Cleveland its first major sports championship in 52 years.
Honorable mention: Jesse Owens (track and field, Jack Nicklaus (golf), Pete Rose (baseball)
Oklahoma: Mickey Mantle
2019 population: 3.94 million (No. 28)
Born: Oct. 20, 1931, in Spavinaw, Oklahoma
Died: Aug. 13, 1995, in Dallas, Texas (age 63)
High school: Commerce High School (Commerce, Oklahoma)
Key stats: 536 career home runs. Three-time MVP. Seven-time World Series winner.
Pro teams: New York Yankees (1951-68)
Hall of Fame: Baseball (1974)
Bottom line: "The Commerce Comet" could have played in the NFL, but Mickey Mantle turned down a scholarship offer from the Oklahoma Sooners football team to concentrate on baseball. It turned out to be the right decision. At 20 years old, Mantle led the AL in OPS for the first of six times.
Mantle was one of the premier power hitters of the 1950s and '60s and was known for his mammoth home runs. He hit the third-deck facade at the old Yankee Stadium multiple times, nearly becoming the first player to hit a ball out of the stadium.
Despite his power, and the nickname of "Muscles," Mantle also was surprisingly adept at laying down bunts and ranks 10th all-time in bunt singles.
Honorable mention: Jim Thorpe (all-around), Johnny Bench (baseball), Steve Largent (football)
Oregon: Dale Murphy
2019 population: 4.24 million (No. 27)
Born: March 12, 1956, in Portland, Oregon
High school: Woodrow Wilson High School (Portland, Oregon)
Key stats: Two-time MVP. Seven-time All-Star. Five-time Gold Glove winner.
Pro teams: Atlanta Braves (1976-90), Philadelphia Phillies (1990-92), Colorado Rockies (1993)
Hall of Fame: Oregon Sports (1997), Georgia Sports (1997), World Sports Humanitarian (1991)
Bottom line: Despite a stellar career, Dale Murphy has to feel like the odd man out.
He’s one of just two major league players who have won multiple MVPs (and have no steroid allegations) to not be in the Hall of Fame. The other is Roger Maris, so at least Murphy is in elite company.
Murphy won his awards in 1982 and 1983 and then proceeded to lead the National League in home runs each of the following two seasons. His and the Atlanta Braves’ lack of postseason success often made Murphy an afterthought since he never won a playoff game in his career and left the team one year before it began its streak of 14 straight division titles.
Honorable mention: Danny Ainge (baskeball), Steve Prefontaine (distance running), Bob Lilly (football)
Pennsylvania: Joe Montana
2019 population: 12.81 million (No. 5)
Born: June 11, 1956, in New Eagle, Pennsylvania
High school: Ringgold High School (Carroll, Pennsylvania)
Key stats: 40,551 passing yards. Four-time Super Bowl champion. Two-time NFL MVP.
Pro teams: San Francisco 49ers (1979-92), Kansas City Chiefs (1993-94)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (2000)
Bottom line: It was a toss-up between Joe Montana and Wilt Chamberlain for The Keystone State, but Joe Cool’s postseason success gives him the edge.
No one was better when the lights were brightest, and Montana’s Super Bowl stats of 11 touchdowns to 0 interceptions is astounding. He never had a bad game in The Big Game and has the highest cumulative passer rating in Super Bowl history.
He also wasn’t too shabby in the regular season. He reached 100 wins faster than any other quarterback and retired second all-time in passer rating.
Honorable mention: Wilt Chamberlain (basketball), Arnold Palmer (golf), Josh Gibson (baseball)
Rhode Island: Davey Lopes
2019 population: 1.05 million (No. 45)
Born: May 3, 1945, in East Providence, Rhode Island
High school: La Salle Academy (Providence, Rhode Island)
Key stats: 557 stolen bases. Four-time All-Star. Two-time World Series winner.
Pro teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (1972-81), Oakland Athletics (1982-84), Chicago Cubs (1984-86), Houston Astros (1986-87)
Hall of Fame: None
Bottom line: Davey Lopes was not just one of the most effective base stealers of his era. He's also one of the most efficient base stealers of all time.
He ranks eighth all-time in stolen base percentage (min. 100 attempts) and still converted 85 percent of his stolen-base attempts after turning 40 years old.
But Lopes was more than just a speed demon. He had uncommon pop for a leadoff hitter and is just one of four players in MLB history with at least 150 home runs and 550 stolen bases.
Honorable mention: Nap Lajoie (baseball), Mark van Eeghen (football), Ernie DiGregorio (basketball)
South Carolina: Ray Allen
2019 population: 5.14 million (No. 23)
Born: July 20, 1975, in Merced, California
High school: Hillcrest High School (Dalzell, South Carolina)
Key stats: All-time leader in made 3-pointers. 24,505 career points. 10-time All-Star.
Pro teams: Milwaukee Bucks (1996-2003), Seattle Supersonics (2003-07), Boston Celtics (2007-12), Miami Heat (2012-14)
Hall of Fame: Basketball (2018)
Bottom line: A military brat, Ray Allen was born in California and lived in England and Oklahoma before settling in South Carolina.
The only four years of his life he lived in The Palmetto State were when he attended high school, but that was the start to a Hall of Fame basketball career.
Allen was the premier 3-point marksman of his generation and helped usher in the current era of pace and space. He is the all-time leader in made 3-pointers in both the regular season and postseason, and Allen is the author of one of the greatest shots in NBA history with his game-tying 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, which boosted the Heat to the title and Allen's second career ring.
Honorable mention: Joe Frazier (boxing), "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (baseball), Kevin Garnett (basketball)
South Dakota: Adam Vinatieri
2019 population: 892K (No. 47)
Born: Dec. 28, 1972, in Yankton, South Dakota
High school: Central High School (Rapid City, South Dakota)
Key stats: Most points in NFL history. Four-time Super Bowl champion. Three-time first-team All-Pro.
Pro teams: New England Patriots (1996-2005), Indianapolis Colts (2006-present)
Hall of Fame: Not eligible yet
Bottom line: Few players are considered the consensus greatest at their position, but Adam Vinatieri is one of them.
He has everything that it takes to be the greatest kicker ever from clutch situations — Super Bowls, longevity and NFL records.
He holds the NFL record with 44 consecutive field goals made, which he accomplished at the ages of 42 and 43, and Vinatieri is still going strong with the Colts at the age of 47.
Honorable mention: Billy Mills (distance runner), Marlene Hagge (golf), Casey Tibbs (rodeo)
Tennessee: Reggie White
2019 population: 6.83 million (No. 16)
Born: Dec. 19, 1961, in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Died: Dec. 26, 2004, in Cornelius, North Carolina (age 43)
High school: Howard School of Academics and Technology (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
Key stats: 198 career sacks. 13-time Pro Bowler. Two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Pro teams: Philadelphia Eagles (1985-92), Green Bay Packers (1993-98), Carolina Panthers (2000)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (2006), College Football (2002)
Bottom line: One of a handful of NFL players to make two separate All-Decade Teams, "The Minister of Defense" is on the short list for the greatest defensive player in NFL history.
Reggie White was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year 11 years apart and is in both the Eagles' and Packers' Halls of Fame.
White currently ranks second in NFL history in sacks, trailing Bruce Smith, and also ranks second in sacks per game, trailing J.J. Watt.
Honorable mention: Wilma Rudolph (track and field), Steve Spurrier (football), Tracy Caulkins (swimming)
Texas: Simone Biles
2019 population: 29.08 million (No. 2)
Born: March 14, 1997, in Columbus, Ohio
High school: Homeschooled (Spring, Texas)
Key stats: Four-time Olympic gold medalist. 20-time world champion. First American gymnast to win a World medal on every event.
Hall of Fame: Texas Women's (2018), USA Gymnastics (2017)
Bottom line: Simone Biles, at 22, is the youngest athlete on this list and represents the second-biggest state in the U.S., so this selection is sure to stir up controversy.
But while "Mean" Joe Greene, Nolan Ryan, Shaquille O'Neal and so many other Texan athletes were great, only Biles is the greatest at her respective sport.
She has not one, but two moves are named "The Biles" because she is the only one to ever pull off doing them, and Hack-a-Shaq just doesn’t compare to that. Other Olympic gymnasts have often joked that she should have her own category and medal set at the Olympic Games just because she is so dominant.
Biles became the most decorated American gymnast at 21 years old and will only add to her legacy at the 2020 Olympics.
Honorable mention: Babe Didrikson Zaharias (all-around), Ben Hogan (golf), Shaquille O'Neal (basketball)
Utah: Merlin Olsen
2019 population: 3.22 million (No. 30)
Born: Sept. 15, 1940, in Logan, Utah
Died: March 11, 2010, in Duarte, California (age 69)
High school: Logan High School (Logan, Utah)
Key stats: 14-time Pro Bowler. Five-time first-team All-Pro. NFL 75th Anniversary Team.
Pro teams: Los Angeles Rams (1962-76)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (1982), Colllege Football (1980)
Bottom line: For 26 years, the answer to the trivia question, "Who has made more Pro Bowls than anyone in NFL history?" was Merlin Olsen. And Merlin Olsen alone.
Many others have since tied Olsen’s record of 14, but the standout defensive tackle always will be the first to accomplish the feat.
Olsen also was part of what Dick Butkus called "the most dominant line in football history" as he was part of the "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line. The unit had several members during the 1960s and '70s, but the one constant was Olsen, who was one of three members of the group to make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Honorable mention: Natalie Williams (volleyball, basketball), Jim McMahon (football), Mac Speedie (football)
Vermont: Larry Gardner
2019 population: 627K (No. 51)
Born: May 13, 1886, in Enosburg Falls, Vermont
Died: March 11, 1976, in St. George, Vermont (age 89)
High school: Enosburg Falls High School (Enosburg Falls, Vermont)
Key stats: .289 lifetime average. 1,931 career hits. Four-time World Series winner.
Pro teams: Boston Red Sox (1908-17), Philadelphia Athletics (1918), Cleveland Indians (1919-24)
Hall of Fame: Vermont Sports (2012)
Bottom line: A total of 47 athletes from Vermont have ever made it to the NFL, NBA or MLB, so the pickings were slim for The Green Mountain State. But Larry Garner is very deserving of his spot on this list for his work during the deadball era of MLB.
He was on three of the first four Red Sox World Series-winning teams and also was on the first Indians championship team in 1920.
Gardner hit .300 five times in his career, including four times after turning 30 years old, and he was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2000, which was 83 years after his final game with the team.
Honorable mention: Andrea Mead Lawrence (skiing), John LeClair (hockey), Clarence DeMar (distance running)
Virginia: Lawrence Taylor
2019 population: 8.57 million (No. 12)
Born: Feb. 4, 1959, in Williamsburg, Virginia
High school: Lafayette High School (Williamsburg, Virginia)
Key stats: 132.5 career sacks. Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Two-time Super Bowl winner.
Pro teams: New York Giants (1981-93)
Hall of Fame: Pro Football (1999)
Bottom line: The NFL has been around for 100 seasons, and just twice in its history has a defensive player won league MVP. The last of those instances was Lawrence Taylor, doing so in 1986 behind a historic season that included 20.5 sacks while leading the Giants to the NFL's best record and a Super Bowl victory.
LT was named the greatest defensive player in NFL history by the NFL Network, and he changed the way the game is played. His pass-rushing ability from the outside linebacker position created the two tight end offense as teams needed a blocker to focus on Taylor, as longtime Redskins coach Joe Gibbs explained.
"We had to try in some way to have a special game plan just for Lawrence Taylor," said Gibbs. "Now you didn't do that very often in this league, but I think he's one person that we learned the lesson the hard way. We lost ball games."
Honorable mention: Arthur Ashe (tennis), Moses Malone (basketball), Sam Snead (golf)
Washington: John Stockton
2019 population: 7.66 million (No. 13)
Born: March 26, 1962, in Spokane, Washington
High school: Gonzaga Preparatory School (Spokane, Washington)
Key stats: All-time leader in assists (15,806). All-time leader in steals (3,265). 10-time All-Star.
Pro teams: Utah Jazz (1984-2003)
Hall of Fame: Basketball (2009), College Basketball (2017)
Bottom line: The greatest assist man in NBA history was a record scorer at Gonzaga Prep as he broke Spokane’s all-time record for points in a single season.
But by the time he arrived in Salt Lake City in 1984, Stockton knew his calling was to set up others, and no one in the 73-year history of the NBA has done a better job than Stockton.
His all-time assists mark (15,806) is one of those records that will likely never be touched. Second place on that list, Jason Kidd, only had roughly 75 percent of Stockton’s number of assists.
Honorable mention: Earl Anthony (bowling), Phil Mahre (skiing), Ryne Sandberg (baseball)
West Virginia: Jerry West
2019 population: 1.79 million (No. 39)
Born: May 28, 1938, in Chelyan, West Virginia
High school: East Bank High School (East Bank, West Virginia)
Key stats: The NBA’s logo. 14-time All-Star. 25,192 career points.
Pro teams: Los Angeles Lakers (1960-74)
Hall of Fame: Basketball (1980), College Basketball (2006)
Bottom line: The Logo also has another nickname, "Zeke from Cabin Creek," which refers to the creek near his hometown of Cheylan, West Virginia.
When Jerry West was in high school, he led East Bank High to a state championship on March 24 of that year. The win prompted the school to change its name to “West Bank High School” on every March 24 thereafter.
Many of West’s NBA records have been surpassed over the years, but one still stands, and that’s the highest points per game average in a playoff series. "Zeke from Cabin Creek" put up 46.3 points per game in the 1965 Western Division semifinals against the Baltimore Bullets, which remains an all-time mark over 50 years later.
Honorable mention: Mary Lou Retton (gymnastics), Hack Wilson (baseball), Randy Barnes (shot putter)
Wisconsin: J.J. Watt
2019 population: 5.83 million (No. 20)
Born: March 22, 1989, in Waukesha, Wisconsin
High school: Pewaukee High School (Pewaukee, Wisconsin)
Key stats: Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Five-time first-team All-Pro. 92.0 career sacks.
Pro teams: Houston Texans (2011-present)
Hall of Fame: Not eligible yet
Bottom line: The only unanimous winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award (2014), J.J. Watt is also one of just two players to be a three-time winner of the award, joining Lawrence Taylor. That’s the type of company that Watt has put himself — in the midst of his career.
Perhaps just as impressive as his three awards is that Watt overcame several debilitating injuries and surgeries to regain his status as the best defensive end in the league.
He was named a first-team All-Pro for the 2018 season.
Honorable mention: Eric Heiden (speed skating), Ernie Nevers (football), Al Simmons (baseball)
Wyoming: Brett Keisel
2019 population: 572K (No. 52)
Born: September 19, 1978, in Provo, Utah
High school: Greybull High School in Greybull, Wyoming
Key stats: Two-time Super Bowl winner. One-time Pro Bowler. 30 career sacks.
Pro teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (2002-14)
Hall of Fame: None
Bottom line: A key member of the last two Steelers' Super Bowl teams, "Keisel the Diesel" was an anchor at defensive end in the team’s 3-4 alignment.
The Steelers had the league’s top scoring defense four times during Keisel’s career and gave up the fewest yards five times.
The highlight of his career came on a 79-yard interception return for a touchdown in 2010. It is the longest return touchdown by a defensive lineman in Steelers franchise history.
Honorable mention: Boyd Dowler (football), Kenny Sailors (basketball), Tom Browning (baseball)