Was at Rich and Leigh Becker’s house the other night, cooking out in the backyard, when the conversation turned to icons. Who’s an icon? Who’s not an icon? It all stemmed from Michael Jackson—odd, yes, but an undeniable all-time icon. To be, an icon is someone who transcends; who moves people beyond their confined worlds. Or, in simpler terms, if my mother has heard of you …

So we played the game: WHICH LIVING CELEBRITIES ARE SPORTS ICONS? (Side note: I laughed aloud when Michael, Rich and Leigh’s son, asked whether Wayne Chrebet is an icon).

Here’s my take—feel free to chime in … (I’ll add as suggestions are made)


Muhammad Ali.

Bobby Orr.

Tiger Woods.

Arnold Palmer.

Jim Brown.

Michael Jordan.

Jack Nicklaus.

Hank Aaron.

Ernie Banks.

Willie Mays.

Sandy Koufax.

Derek Jeter.

John Wooden.

Larry Bird.

Magic Johnson.


Joe Namath.

John Elway.

Bill Russell.

Joe Torre.

Wayne Gretzky.

Mario Lemieux.

Dean Smith.


NEAR ICONS (but not quite):

Cal Ripken, Jr.

Joe Montana

Jerry Rice (calling oneself “G.O.A.T” does not an icon make)

Lawrence Taylor.

Reggie Jackson.

Shaquille O’Neal.

Dr. J.

LeBron James (waaay too young)

Jerry West.

Earl Monroe.

Rickey Henderson.

Mark Messier.

Mary Lou Retton.

Brett Favre.

Tom Brady.

Kobe Bryant.

Peyton Manning.

Michael Irvin (oddly)



O.J. Simpson.

Barry Bonds.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Troy Aikman.

Emmitt Smith.

Dan Marino.

Jim Kelly.

Dale Murphy.

Jim Rice.

Gary Carter.

Hosken Powell.

16 thoughts on “Icons”

  1. Cal Ripken Jr.

    Whether you’re a fan or not, and whether you think he’s overrated or a product of good PR, the guy is in the Hall of Fame, and instantly recognizable to any baseball fan.

  2. I would put John McEnroe as an icon, Agassi as a near icon, Sampras as a no chance. the Williams sisters are probably at least near icons.

    Where would Mickelson fit? Near icon?

  3. In the sports context, I personally think of an icon as someone who not only was one of the best ever at his/her sport, but transcended sports so that people who care nothing about sports know who he/she is. Examples are Ali, Tiger, Palmer and Nicklaus, MJ, Hank Aaron, John Wooden, Bird, Magic, Namath, Gretzky, Phelps. Dean Smith probably is an icon, Coach K probably is too, although the number of people who hate Duke basketball may be an impediment there!
    There is no way Mickelson is an icon — heck, I would put someone like Lee Trevino above Mickelson. Mary Lou Retton has had staying power — people still remember who she is.

  4. Annoying as it is, Favre has to be considered an icon. He breathes and it makes national news, plus he owns several passing records and will be an instant hall of famer (assuming he eventually retires!).

  5. No way Favre is an icon — too many people dislike him for him to be able to achieve icon status. Just because the media force feeds Favre stories to us does not make him an icon. Plus, many feel that he has long been overrated — no one feels that way about a true icon.

  6. Wilt Chamberlain or Vince Lombardi?

    And, I gotta disagree with the inclusion of John Elway. Undeniably a phenomenal talent, but the guy was branded a loser who couldn’t win until the last two(?) years of his career. I’m not saying the label was deserved, but still…

  7. If we use the standard of Icon as someone who is recognizable by one’s mother, we are probably at 60-70% recognition in the US Population. At that standard, the list is considerably shorter than what you have. I would remove:

    Bobby Orr
    Ernie Banks
    Willie Mays
    Sandy Koufax
    John Elway
    Joe Torre
    Mario Lemieux
    Dean Smith

  8. Icons: Bobby Knight, Pete Rose.

    Near: Connors, Mac, Navratilova, Evert, Rod Laver, Tom Watson, Musial & Oscar Robertson.

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