50 States, 50 Greats: The Greatest Athlete Of All-Time From Every State

Wyoming – Boyd Dowler – NFL

1
Diamond Images/Getty Images
Diamond Images/Getty Images

Having grown up in Wyoming, Packers Great Boyd Dowler had to have been pretty comfortable playing in the frozen tundra. Dowler won 5 championships and 2 Super Bowls as a wide receiver with the Packers and is widely considered one of the best players in the franchise’s storied history.

Vermont – Andrea Mead Lawrence – Skiing

62[1]
George Silk/Getty Images
George Silk/Getty Images

The Rutland County native was well versed on the slopes. From a young age, Lawrence (along with her family) routinely participated in winter sports. She ultimately parlayed this experience into becoming the first American alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals — winning both the slalom and the giant slalom at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo. Lawrence passed away in 2009 at the age of 76.

Alaska – Lance Mackey – Dog Sledding

3
Jim Watson/Getty Images
Jim Watson/Getty Images

Lance Mackey is a legendary dog musher and dog sled racer out of Fairbanks, Alaska. In 2007, Mackey became the first person to win both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest races; a feat once labeled impossible. He doubled up on his achievement and won both races again in 2008.

North Dakota – Roger Maris – MLB

4
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Maris won two World Series Championships with the New York Yankees and held the record for most home runs in a season (61) for 37 years. The 2-time MVP and 7-time All-Star had his No. 9 jersey retired by the Yankees, and is remembered as one of the best power hitters in MLB history.

South Dakota – Brock Lesnar – MMA/WWE

5
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Lesnar is a wrestler, mixed martial artist, former amateur wrestler and professional American football player. Lesnar’s UFC legacy has been tarnished by various doping allegations, but he will continue to represent WWE in the meantime. At 6-foot-3 and 286 pounds, Lesnar is a guy no one wants to mess with.

Delaware – Elena Delle Donne – WNBA

6
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Born in Wilmington, DE, Delle Donne has established herself as one of the premier players in the WNBA. She was the MVP of the 2015 season and is certainly making the Diamond state proud.

Montana – Dave McNally – MLB

61[1]
Bob Gomel/Getty Images
Bob Gomel/Getty Images

Born and bred in Billings, the left-handed pitcher was a very productive pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles throughout the 1960’s and into the 1970’s. A winner of at least 20 games on four separate occasions, McNally also was a 3-time All-Star and a 2-time World Series winner. Perhaps the coolest stat is that McNally holds the distinction as being the only pitcher to have clubbed a grand slam in a World Series game.

Rhode Island – Nap Lajoie – MLB

8
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

There aren’t a ton of athletes to choose from who were born in the Ocean State, but Lajoie is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest. Lajoie was the AL batting champion five times and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1937.

Maine – Ian Crocker – Swimming

9
Chris Ivin/Getty Images
Chris Ivin/Getty Images

For reasons unbeknownst, Maine isn’t a center for athletic achievement. However, Portland native Ian Crocker has won almost two dozen medals in international competition. Although the water is a little chilly up north, it hasn’t slowed Ian down thus far.

New Hampshire – Carlton Fisk – MLB

2
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Carlton Fisk is one of the most offensively gifted catchers in the history of baseball. He’s second all-time in home runs for a catcher (351), and truly was proficient in hitting the ball to all parts of the field. The 11-time All-Star was born in Vermont — though grew up in the small town of Charlestown, New Hampshire.

Hawaii – B.J. Penn – UFC

60[1]
Jon P. Kopaloff/Getty Images
Jon P. Kopaloff/Getty Images

Penn has developed into a transcendent fighter for UFC. His skilled yet aggressive approach looks downright effortless in the octagon. Penn’s versatile nature essentially had him fighting well before his time. Many regard Penn as the most well-rounded fighter from a weight class standpoint of all-time.

Idaho – Harmon Killebrew – MLB

12
Focus On Sport/Getty Images
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

The pride of Payette, Idaho, Killebrew’s ascension to stardom rose via Idaho semi-pro ball. When the home run savant retired, he trailed only Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron in career home runs.

West Virginia – Jerry West – NBA

13
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Despite retiring more than 40 years ago, West’s silhouette remains the NBA’s logo. Undoubtedly the greatest athlete in West Virginia’s history, West has a combined 9 NBA titles as a player and executive.

Nebraska – Bob Gibson – MLB

14
Focus On Sport/Getty Images
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Gibson played basketball, baseball and ran track in high school, eventually attending Creighton on a full basketball scholarship. After graduation, Gibson signed a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, but decided to play basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters. After his stint with the ‘Trotters, Gibson switched to baseball, winning two NL Cy Young Awards while earning nine All-Star selections.

New Mexico – Al Unser Sr. – NASCAR

59[1]
RacingOne/Getty Images
RacingOne/Getty Images

“Big” Al Unser is the patriarch of one of the most successful NASCAR families in sport history. A wily competitor, Unser is one of three individuals to have won the Indy 500 on four separate occasions. His brothers, son, and nephews all have or currently do participate in the sport. Who knew Albuquerque was a hot bed for racing talent?

Nevada – Andre Agassi – Tennis

16
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Coming from “Sin City,” it’s hardly surprising that Agassi had a flair for the flamboyant. Rocking a long-haired, rock star look, Agassi was dominant in his prime, notching nine Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal.

Kansas – Barry Sanders – NFL

17
Focus On Sport/Getty Images
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Although many great athletes have hailed from Kansas, Barry trumps them all. At 5-foot-8, Sanders won a Heisman while at Oklahoma St. and went on to have a brilliant NFL career with the Detroit Lions. He was named to the Pro Bowl every year of his career, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

Arkansas – Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant – NCAAF

58[1]
Focus On Sport/Getty Images
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

With apologies to Nick Saban, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant is the most iconic college football coach of all-time. He grew up in Cleveland County, Arkansas, where he starred as a prep football player. From there, Bryant ultimately led the University of Alabama to six National Championships and 232 career victories.

Mississippi – Jerry Rice – NFL

19
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

It’s virtually impossible to leave the Mississippi Valley State legend and the best wide receiver in NFL history off this list. Rice’s list of accolades (1,549 catches, 22,895 yards and 208 touchdowns) is borderline incomprehensible and he maintained the highest degree of play for 20 years.

Utah – Merlin Olsen – NFL

57[1]
Focus On Sport/Getty Images
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Olsen is known both for his dominating play on the gridiron, and for his acting role on the hit television show <em>Little House on the Prairie.</em> As a player, the 14-time Pro Bowler was a phenomenal defensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams. Olsen currently holds the record for the most consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. Sadly, Olsen passed away in 2010 at the age of 69.

Iowa – Dan Gable – Wrestling

21
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Gable was a standout wrestler for Iowa State, and wrestled both nationally and internationally on the freestyle circuits, while also winning a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. As a coach, Gable built a dynasty at the University of Iowa, winning nine straight titles from 1978-86.

Connecticut – Caitlyn Jenner – Decathlon

22
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1976, Jenner won the Olympics decathlon title at the Montreal Summer Olympics, gaining fame as “an all-American hero.” The winner of the Olympic decathlon is traditionally given the unofficial title of “world’s greatest athlete,” so this one was a no-brainer.

Oklahoma – Jim Thorpe – Decathlon/NFL/MLB

23
Interim Archives/Getty Images
Interim Archives/Getty Images

Thorpe has been written in history books as the greatest athlete in American history, period. Whether it was football, baseball, basketball or track, he excelled in each and is widely considered the best athlete in Oklahoma’s history.

Oregon – Danny Ainge – NBA

56[1]
Dick Raphael/Getty Images
Dick Raphael/Getty Images

While the state of Oregon hasn’t produced a ton of notable athletic talent, Danny Ainge will proudly hold the mantle for this Pacific Northwest gem. Ainge’s exploits as a key cog in the Boston Celtics’ numerous championship runs are well known. The 2-time NBA Champion is now back with the Celtics — though he’s currently behind-the-scenes as one of the game’s best front office executives.

Kentucky – Muhammad Ali – Boxing

25
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The Greatest doesn’t need an introduction. He sits atop the throne as Kentucky’s greatest athlete and I doubt anyone will ever end his reign. His accomplishments need no reciting. Rest easy, Champ.

Louisiana – Peyton Manning – NFL

26
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, Peyton eschewed Ole Miss (Archie’s alma mater) to play his college ball at the University of Tennessee. Selected No. 1 overall by the Colts in 1998, Manning began his illustrious career in Indianapolis. As the all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, Manning made Louisiana proud with his Hall of Fame career.

Alabama – Bo Jackson – NFL/MLB

27
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Mike Powell/Getty Images

A native of Bessemer, Alabama and a proud Auburn alum, Bo is one of the few athletes to be named an All-Star in two major sports, and the only one to do so in baseball and football. Oh, and with a 4.12 40 yard-dash, he blew away the other competitors.

South Carolina – Joe Frazier – Boxing

28
Anthony Barboza/Getty Images
Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

“Smokin’ Joe” was one of the greatest U.S. heavyweight boxers in history. Frazier was known for his powerful left hook and his iconic “Thrilla in Manila” fight against Muhammad Ali. Even though Frazier lost the fight, he is still considered a boxing legend.

Colorado – Jack Dempsey – Boxing

29
Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images

Born to a poor family in Manassa, Colorado, the late Dempsey, or the “Manassa Mauler,” became the World Heavyweight Champion from 1919-1926. He’s one of the most cherished boxers in the history of the sport, and his fights broke records in both attendance and income. Dempsey has been a member of the Boxing Hall of Fame since 1951.

Minnesota – Bronko Nagurski – NFL/Wrestling

30
Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Famed fullback Bronko Nagurski was raised in International Falls, Minnesota, before attending the University of Minnesota. Nagurski signed with the Bears in 1930 before eventually retiring in 1937. Nagurski also maintained a career as a wrestler while playing in the NFL, and won his first National Wrestling Association world title in 1939.

Wisconsin – Eric Heiden – Speed Skating

31
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Heiden is considered to be one of the best speed skaters in the sport’s history. When he brought home five individual golds at the 1980 Olympic Games, it was an Olympic record for both Winter and Summer games.

Maryland – Michael Phelps – Swimming

phelps[1]
Matt Roberts/Getty Images
Matt Roberts/Getty Images

Although many incredible athletes reign from Maryland (Kevin Durant, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken Jr.), I gave the top slot to Phelps. He is the most decorated Olympian of all-time with 23 gold medals, and dominated the sport of swimming in unprecedented fashion.

Missouri – Stan Musial – MLB

33
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

24 All-Star game appearances. What? Playing 24 years is something to hang your hat on, but making the All-Star game 24 times is out of this world. Oh yeah, he also set numerous individual records and won 3 World Series as a player and one as a GM. He really was Stan the Man!

Tennessee – Pat Summitt – NCAAW

55[1]
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

The impact Pat Summitt had on women’s college basketball cannot be overstated enough. A native of Clarksville, Summitt held the position as head basketball coach of the Tennessee women’s program from 1974-2012. During this time, the Vols won 16 conference titles and eight National Championships. Sadly, Summitt passed away in 2016. She was 64 years of age.

Indiana – Larry Bird – NBA

10-4[1]
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The Celtics legend was born in West Baden, Indiana, where he became a star in high school and college. Drafted by Boston, Bird led the organization to three NBA titles, solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest players in NBA history. Once his playing career ended, Bird returned to his home state of Indiana to coach the Pacers from 1997-2000, then served as president of basketball operations from 2003-2012 and 2013-2017.

Massachusetts – Rocky Marciano – Boxing

36
The Stanley Weston Archive/Getty Images
The Stanley Weston Archive/Getty Images

While Sylvester Stallone depicted the ultimate underdog, Marciano was the undisputed favorite in heavyweight boxing. “The Brockton Blockbuster” is still the only undefeated heavyweight in history.

Arizona – Jim Palmer – MLB

54[1]
Focus On Sport/Getty Images
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Jim Palmer doesn’t get nearly the amount of respect he should as one of the game’s very best pitchers of all-time. A native of Scottsdale, Palmer quickly rose through the ranks to carve out a 20-year career with the Baltimore Orioles. The 6-time All-Star won three Cy Young Awards, and also won at least 20 games on eight separate occasions. In other words, Palmer was an absolute stud.

Washington – John Stockton – NBA

24-1[1]
Dick Raphael/Getty Images
Dick Raphael/Getty Images

Stockton was raised in Spokane, smashed high school records and had an illustrious career at Gonzaga University (also in Spokane). The Jazz point guard has 3,000 more assists and 500 more steals than any other player in NBA history. Simply put, he has made Washington proud.

Virginia – Arthur Ashe – Tennis

39
Staff/Getty Images
Staff/Getty Images

No other Virginian has matched Ashe’s importance as a societal icon, while also providing superior athletic excellence. Ashe won 3 Grand Slams and was a pioneer as an African American athlete.

New Jersey – Carl Lewis – Olympics

53[1]
David Cannon/Getty Images
David Cannon/Getty Images

A native of Willingboro Township, New Jersey, Lewis was an absolutely fantastic winner for the United States in multiple Olympic competitions. Over a span of four Olympics, the track and field dynamo won nine medals — including eight golds. Throughout his career, Lewis shattered multiple records, and truly dominated the sport for over a decade.

Michigan – Magic Johnson – NBA

4-7[1]
Dick Raphael/Getty Images
Dick Raphael/Getty Images

Magic became a living legend in his state, where he won state championships at Everett High and then took his talents to Michigan State where he won the 1979 NCAA championship over Larry Bird. Widely regarded as the best point guard of all-time with averages of 19.5 points, 11.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game, Johnson truly was “magic” on the floor.

North Carolina – Michael Jordan – NBA

1-7[1]
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Michael Jordan might be the best athlete to ever do it, regardless of sport/state/country/continent. The six championships, the competitiveness, the passion and the confidence all combined to create the biggest living sports legend in our world today.

Georgia – Jim Brown – NFL/Lacrosse

42
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Brown is a former professional American football player who in 2002, was named by Sporting News as the greatest football player ever. Although many great athletes came out of the Peach State, Brown’s consistent dominance took the cake. In addition to his brilliance on the football field, Brown was also a two-time All-American lacrosse player at Syracuse.

Ohio – LeBron James – NBA

43
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

James is undoubtedly the King of Ohio. Everyone knows his accolades on the court, but the biggest of all is the championship he delivered for the Cavs in 2016. With the 54-year championship drought officially over, LeBron’s legacy as one of the best all-around basketball players ever has been cemented.

Pennsylvania – Wilt Chamberlain – NBA

5-5[1]
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

100 Points in one game, come on. That stat alone is unreal. Chamberlain tore it up in high school in Philly and came back to the city of Brotherly Love as a member of both the Warriors and 76ers. Chamberlain has a legitimate case as the most dominant athlete to ever play in the NBA.

Illinois – Jackie Joyner-Kersee – Olympics

52[1]
David Madison/Getty Images
David Madison/Getty Images

Jackie Joyner-Kersee makes a case in being the most prolific female athlete of all-time. The East St. Louis native thrived in multiple Olympic Games — winning three golds, one silver, and two bronze medals over the course of her career as a track and field star. Joyner-Kersee set the world record for the heptathlon in 1988.

New York – Lou Gehrig – MLB

6-2[1]
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Whether it was his time as a stud at Columbia, or his 17-year career with the Yanks, Gehrig’s entire athletic career took place in New York. Widely considered one of the best first baseman in MLB history, the “Iron Horse” played 2,130 consecutive games before having his career cut short due to ALS.

Florida – Deion Sanders – NFL/MLB

48
Monica Davey/Getty Images
Monica Davey/Getty Images

“Primetime” was as dynamic a playmaker as the NFL has ever seen, and was the epitome of a human highlight reel. In addition to his jaw-dropping brilliance on the football field, he was also a stud on the diamond.

Texas – Rogers Hornsby – MLB

51[1]
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Rogers Hornsby was a sometimes temperamental yet fantastic baseball player. The second baseman enjoyed a 23-year MLB career — which included two MVP trophies, seven National League batting titles, one World Series ring, and two Triple Crowns. A lifetime .358 hitter, he ranks second all-time behind only Ty Cobb in terms of career batting average.

California – Serena Williams – Tennis

50
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Serena Williams is quite simply a living legend. She rose to prominence against all odds, going from learning tennis in Compton as a child to dominating the tennis world. She is the rightful winner of 23 Grand slams, which has made her a household name across the globe.