This morning on ESPN Radio, drive time hosts Mike and Mike were discussing at length which professional sports city could boast the best combination of stars between the big four sports of football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, because apparently we’re still pretending hockey is a major sport. Anyway, when Detroit came up, Syracuse’s own Mike Tirico chimed in to suggest Dave Bing would be that city’s best basketball player, and obviously when Cleveland was brought up – despite not having a hockey team – Brown’s name was immediately thrown into the ring. That got us thinking: which college has the single best combination of football and basketball greats?
One of the difficulties with a list like this is that, obviously, not every football school is great at basketball, and vice versa. You also have schools like Jackson State and Indiana State producing guys like Walter Payton and Larry Bird, respectively. As Syracuse fans, we’re pretty fortunate to have a storied history in both of the major college sports, and guys we can legitimately put on a list such as this one. So who are the all-time best combinations? Well, we’re going to look at some of the contenders and then, because this is the kind of subject that is better left to ongoing discussion than anything else, we’re going to ask you to chime in with your thoughts on Twitter, or our Facebook page, or even right down below in the comments section.
We’ve already touched on the two guys we’d put forward for this list with Jim Brown and Dave Bing. Brown is a no-brainer as arguably the best football player in history, whose career only lacked a Heisman because of the racism of the time and who doesn’t own every rushing record simply because he chose a burgeoning career in Hollywood over a continued career on the gridiron.
Bing is the guy who is a little bit of a harder sell, no matter how great he was. He’s arguably the greatest Detroit Piston of all-time, and was one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest when they came out with that list back in back in 1996. That said, there’s a very realistic chance that in the nearly 20 years since that list was created, Bing would be one of the guys bumped in favor of, for instance, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki. You could also make the argument that Carmelo Anthony is the best player to ever emerge from Syracuse, but we’re going to stick with Bing, because we have to give a little extra credit to the guy for basically putting Orangeman basketball on the national map.
Right away we’ve got a pretty outstanding contender to a possible Syracuse crown with the Jayhawks, who may not have Jim Brown in their football history but do boast a pretty damn good running back of their own in former Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers. The people who watched Sayers play speak of him as one of the smoothest backs to ever play the game, which is why it was especially fitting that he was portrayed by the one and only Billy Dee Williams in Brian’s Song.
On the basketball side of things, there are few schools who can boast a better player than Wilt Chamberlain. Nothing against our own Mayor Bing, but Chamberlain obviously gives Kansas the nod in a head-to-head matchup with our own all-time great. What more can be said about how dominant Chamberlain was on the court, and just athletically in general? Here’s a guy who was not only a great basketball player, but also a track and field superstar as well. He’s also the kind of guy who, when he wasn’t bedding every woman who moved, was deciding to lead the NBA in assists simply to prove he could do it when people said he shot the ball way too much.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to argue against the Tar Heels having perhaps the strongest duo in college sports history, starting with Lawrence Taylor on the football side of things. The guy practically defined what it meant to be a freak athlete during the 1980’s, and when he wasn’t snorting copious amounts of cocaine he was annihilating quarterbacks for the New York Giants. Just ask Joe Theismann. Sorry, still too soon?
And of course on the basketball side you’ve got some dude named Michael Jordan who, oh yeah, is only the greatest basketball player who ever lived. Apologies to Bill Russell and LeBron James, but to us, Jordan will always wear the crown, no matter how much his reputation has been tarnished by gambling habits, minor league baseball, and the worst management of an NBA front office since Isiah Thomas. One of the things people always bring up in the discussion of Russell as the all-time greatest is his eight straight titles, conveniently forgetting that Jordan won six in eight years and more than likely would have won at least one, if not both, of the two titles that the Rockets snagged when he was out of the league.
Believe it or not, Louisiana Tech has one of the best duos around, starting with Terry Bradshaw. Now no one is ever going to mistake Bradshaw for one of the best quarterbacks in history, just based on his stats alone. But you can never take away from him the fact that the dude is one of the rare quarterbacks in professional football history to have ever won four Super Bowls.
Over on the basketball court, Tech can boast Karl Malone who, while not the greatest power forward who ever lived, is certainly among the top five at that position in NBA history, and is one of the most consistent scorers the game has ever seen. After all, this is a dude who finishes his career ranked second all-time in points, pumping in just under 37,000 for his career. Still, even with some outstanding players like Bradshaw and the Mailman, we can probably all agree that Louisiana Tech isn’t really in the discussion with UNC, KU, and SU.
There are obviously several other outstanding schools we haven’t touched on yet, including UCLA, which you could probably put ahead of Louisiana Tech based on whether or not you think Troy Aikman was a better quarterback than Terry Bradshaw, considering the center formerly known as Lew Alcindor would almost certainly get the nod over Malone on the hardwood. Another school that it feels like you almost have to throw into the mix is Notre Dame, since they produced Joe Montana – among other football greats – but when your best hoops players of all-time are Austin Carr and Adrian Dantley, you probably don’t really belong in the mix.
When you really look back through the annals of college football and college basketball, having a truly all-time great in each sport is a rarity for even the biggest college programs. Texas, for instance, can boast Earl Campbell, but on the basketball side it’s more of a wait and see where he ends up approach with Kevin Durant. What about USC, you ask? Well sure, they’ve had some of the greatest football players in history, including OJ Simpson, Anthony Munoz, and Marcus Allen, among others, but who could you possibly put up on the hoops side of things? Bill Sharman? Please.
So we leave it to you to let us know who we missed. Who has the greatest combination of the best football player, and best basketball player in college sports history? Do you agree that Carolina, Kansas, and ‘Cuse are at the top of the heap? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, and right here in our comments section.