New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera plans to retire at the end of 2013 as the best relief pitcher - and in the discussion for greatest pitcher - in the history of baseball. The man with the two-seam fastball has recorded 643 saves (a major league record) and an eye-popping 2.22 career earned run average. He has many off-field admirers as well, as he is famous for his professionalism and his devout Christian faith.
The Rivera story got me to thinking: what are the best athletes that have performed in my lifetime (so no Babe Ruth or Wilt Chamberlain here)? Rivera probably has to top the baseball list, since most of the other great players of my lifetime have been tainted with steroids in one way or another. I only have faint memories of Michael Jordan, but I’m certainly enjoying Lebron James right now as something pretty special. Jamaican track star Usain Bolt also has to be seriously considered on the list - he’s won international sprint competition with margins of victory that I never thought possible.
Thinking about the best athlete ever on the teams I root for (Philadelphia sports), I’m torn between three players that all were both great in their own right and were central to leading their team to at least a conference title: the Eagles’ Brian Dawkins, the Phillies’ Chase Utley, and the Sixers’ Allen Iverson.
Dawkins anchored the NFC’s greatest early 2000s defense with his Hall-of-Fame-caliber play at free safety as well as his fiery demeanor and team leadership. Utley is the ultimate five-tool baseball player, and also one of the smartest athletes you’ll ever see.
But I think the best Philadelphia athlete of my lifetime has to go to Sixers guard Allen Iverson. A born scorer, Iverson once led the Sixers to a conference title with a team that consisted of himself, Dikembe Mutombo, and what might as well have been the Intramural Basketball Club of the St. Ignatius Society of Royal Monks. Many people never gave him the credit he deserved because of the lack of talent around him and his at-times difficult personality.
Who do you think is the best athlete you've ever seen?