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Last night, after Syracuse University dropped a heart breaker to Duke University, a tweet by Brent Axe triggered a lively discussion among Syracuse fans about what constitutes a legitimate Orange legend. Obviously, this is some ground we’ve covered a bit in the past with our Ultimate Orangeman Challenge, but it’s a fun idea to revisit. Everyone has different ideas about who is and who isn’t a legend, with a few obvious exceptions. So what does constitute “legendary” status, anyway?

That’s the tweet from Axe that started off the discussion. I’ll admit, I was eager to help this discussion along, and tweeted out the names of Syracuse players I consider to be “legendary” – at least, the ones who would fit into the 140 character limit on Twitter. Obviously, a couple names were left off of the list simply because their names didn’t immediately occur to me, and also because I simply didn’t have enough space in my tweet. Here’s what I responded back to Axe with:

Add in Louie and Bouie, and I think that’s a pretty strong list. Others differed, thinking that Leo Rautins deserved a spot, while Rony Seikaly did not. Others mentioned names like Andre Hawkins, though I’m not sure anyone can seriously consider a player to be a legend when he had career averages of 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Other names could be thrown into the mix, like maybe Jimmy Lee or Greg “Kid” Kohls, and NBC Sports and Golf Channel analyst Ryan Burr (a Newhouse graduate) even got into the discussion, tossing out the name Red Autry.

So really, it got me thinking about that same question I led off with: what constitutes a legend?

There are a few factors at play. To go down in history as a legend, you have to have a name that’s synonymous with Syracuse University basketball. Basically, can you tell the story of the Orangemen without mentioning this particular player?

That’s going to differ from person to person, obviously. Certain chapters in Syracuse history stand out more for some than they do for others. Obviously, people who grew up watching the Orange in the 70’s will have a better appreciation for a guy like Marty Byrnes, and early 80’s fans will have fond memories of Red Bruin, Wendell Alexis, Raf Addison, and Rautins. If you grew up watching the late 80’s and 90’s teams, the obvious choices will be Pearl, Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, Billy Owens, and Stevie Thompson, followed by John Wallace and Lawrence Moten.

Now you have to start deciding which of those players is essential to telling the story of Syracuse basketball. Can you relate to someone what Syracuse basketball means without mentioning Pearl Washington? Of course not. The same can be said for Dave Bing, Carmelo Anthony, and Derrick Coleman, and Billy Owens, and Sherman Douglas. As the school’s all-time leading scorer, Lawrence Moten will perpetually be a member of the list of legends, and based on how he helped save Syracuse basketball following the early 90’s probation, and leading the Orangemen on an improbable run to the national title game in 1996, John Wallace has to be considered a legend.

Stevie Thompson probably gets included as well, even though a lot of the younger generation probably isn’t overly familiar with him. But if you start talking about the Syracuse teams from the heyday of the Big East, Stevie Thompson is always one of the first four of five names to come to mind. And considering how well he stuffed the stat sheets over his career, and his high flying dunks, he probably deserves “legend” status as well.

In more recent years, Gerry McNamara has to be considered a legend. I don’t think that one is even up for debate. But since Gerry McNamara, has Syracuse had anyone who could be considered a legend? Now we’re getting into the kind of dicey situation where you might be including fringe guys who were great players, but not necessarily legends. Hakim Warrick, for instance, had The Block, and was a first team All-American. That should probably cement him as a legend, right? You can’t tell the history of Syracuse basketball without The Block, after all.

And now we’re back to which chapters are the most crucial in telling the history of Syracuse basketball. The six overtime game, for instance, was a legendary game – but could you technically tell the story of Syracuse hoops without including it? After all, it was only a quarterfinal game in the Big East Tournament. It was an amazing game, but how essential is it in telling the overall story of Orange basketball? And if you include the 6OT game in the overall story of Syracuse basketball, do you have to start talking about Jonny Flynn as a Syracuse legend?

Clearly, this is a subject that will lead to debate after the first seven or eight names on the list. Not everyone will agree about whether Leo Rautins, or Rony Seikaly, or even Hakim Warrick are true Syracuse legends. Again – great players, but not necessarily larger than life names in the Orange history books.

For me, these are the names that absolutely have to go down as legends in Syracuse basketball history, and the rest is all debatable:

Dave Bing, Jim Boeheim, Louis Orr, Roosevelt Bouie, Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens, Stevie Thompson, Lawrence Moten, John Wallace, Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara

See? I even talked myself out of Rony Seikaly, bumping him in favor of the Louie and Bouie show. So who do you consider a Syracuse legend? Sound off in the comments.

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Jeff is a 2003 graduate of Syracuse University, and has been published on various websites including Cracked.com, Spike.com, TheSportster.com, Gunaxin.com, and TopTenz.net, among others. His work was featured in the New York Times bestselling book You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News. He's got a wife, and a toddler he's brainwashing to love Syracuse. Jeff's a pretty great guy, overall, and would never steal your car. Follow him on Twitter: @jekelish
  • Scott Stone

    Can’t say I agree. If anyone watched the 1987 run to the Final Four (especially the win against UNC), Rony Seikaly is most definitely a legend. The University agrees as his uniform hangs from the rafters.

    I do not agree that it is un-debatable that Gerry McNamara is a legend. I think there is most definitely an argument either way. However, if you deem GMac a legend, you have to add Hakim Warrick. Quite frankly, Warrick was more talented, more athletic, a better basketball player, an All American, and has the most famous block in the history of the school. You cannot have GMac without Warrick.

    Personally, I think Warrick is in fact a SU legend.

    I am thrilled that you include Stephen Thompson. Along with Pearl, my favorite SU player ever.