Selena Roberts, formerly of the New York Times, now writes for Sports Illustrated.
1. Joe Namath
With his Super Bowl III guarantee, with every commercial he made next to Farrah Fawcett, Namath started the celebrity cult of the quarterback. Sports haven’t been the same since.
2. Willis Reed
The clip of Reed limping onto the floor in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA finals has become the most influential highlight reel in sports. If you’re an athlete with an injury, that moment is how your courage is always measured.
3. Billie Jean King
Okay, the “Battle of the Sexes” was waged in Houston, but it began in Manhattan, at the Town Tennis Club, in July 1973, when Billie and Bobby Riggs announced the libber would play the lobber. As a player, King owned Flushing Meadows.
4. Mark Messier
Bald folk legend who defined what it means to be a leader of a team in Gotham. In 1994, he guaranteed victory over the Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, then delivered on his promise by scoring a hat trick.
5. Lawrence Taylor
With little argument, the best defensive player to ever put on an NFL uniform. His jersey is still a fixture at every Giants game. He made the Giants and, in some ways, made Bill Parcells.
6. Walt Frazier
A city icon of hoops, fashion, and lexicon. Dishin’ and swishin’, and, more important, stealin’, Frazier led the Knicks to two titles while managing to pull off the velour fedora. In a time capsule of New York in the seventies, you’d find Clyde.
7. Grete Waitz
Her domination broke gender barriers. Before her, many believed women would come down with the vapors if they ran distances. Thanks in large part to Waitz, the women’s marathon became an Olympic sport in ’84.
8. Reggie Jackson
Who else has a month named after him?
9. Mariano Rivera
For more than a decade, Mo, the master of the cutter as the Yankees’ closer, has changed the way opponents play the game. It’s an eight-inning sport when he exits the bull pen with a Yankee lead.
10. Roger Federer
How many people have managed to make Queens a chic place to be? As a self-professed New Yorker, Federer, arguably the best tennis player of all time, owns the U.S. Open as winner of five straight titles. At the Carlyle hotel, if you know the right person, you can get the Federer suite.