An ESPN reporter and anchor, Jeremy Schaap is the author of Triumph and the New York Times best seller Cinderella Man.
1. Lawrence Taylor
Alone among the athletes who starred for New York’s nine major franchises in the last 40 years, Taylor changed his position and his game—he made watching your team’s defense more thrilling than watching its offense.
2. Walt Frazier
The best player on the most beloved New York team of its time. The Knicks who won the 1970 and 1973 NBA titles belonged to all local fans; the Mets and Jets who won championships then were, at best, the team of only half the population.
3. Reggie Jackson
No other New York baseball player since Ruth so effortlessly combined talent, charisma, and a gift for the dramatic gesture. From 1963 to 1976, the Yankees failed to win a single world championship; in Jackson’s first two seasons in the Bronx, they won two.
4. Tom Seaver
Few days in New York sports were darker than the day Seaver was traded to Cincinnati. In his first ten seasons, he was a nine-time All-Star and won three Cy Youngs and a World Series—no one else rivals him as the greatest Met.
5. Joe Namath
Don’t believe the revisionists. Namath wasn’t and isn’t overrated. He was, rather, one of the most dynamic quarterbacks ever—whose knees just happened to grow old before he did.
6. Mark Messier
Like Jackson, Messier was at his best and won more championships elsewhere. But also like Jackson, Messier used the force of his personality—not to mention ability—to return a much-loved franchise to the apex of its sport.
7. Willis Reed
The sheer putridity of the franchise of late has only enhanced New Yorkers’ fondness for the team of the seventies. Reed was a true pro who, at only six nine, ably countered giants such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (originally of upper Manhattan) and Wilt Chamberlain.
8. Grete Waitz
Waitz won nine New York City marathons from 1978 to 1988. If the marathon is the quintessential New York sports event, she was, far and away, its greatest champion.
9. Mike Bossy
The best player on the only team in New York in the last four decades to win four consecutive championships, Bossy scored at least 50 goals in each of his first nine seasons in the NHL. If he’d led the Rangers rather than the Islanders, he’d be ubiquitous.
10. Martin Brodeur
Suffers from playing for a franchise not headquartered at the Garden, but the numbers are indisputable: four Vezina trophies. Second all-time in wins and shutouts. Three Stanley Cups.