Philadelphia has long been known for its rich sports heritage. Fervent fans have rallied behind its sports franchises since Connie Mack made the Philadelphia Athletics into baseball’s first dynasty in the early 1900s. Whether it be Chuck Bednarik’s miracle tackle at the goal line in the 1960 NFL Championship game, Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points against the New York Knicks in 1962, Moses Malone leading the 76ers to an NBA Championship title in 1983, or Rocky Balboa epicly knocking out Apollo Creed, Philadelphia has had its fair share of success. These events have given rise to a passionate city both living and dying with its beloved teams and athletes. A debate many Philly Fanatics have had for some time is who are the most important Philadelphia sports figures of all time? Here’s a look at Philadelphia’s finest:
#5. Jay Wright
From Bucks County, PA, Jay Wright was born and raised in Philadelphia’s suburbs. Immediately after graduating from Bucknell University, Wright jumped into the world of coaching professional basketball. He started at the University of Rochester and slowly gained recognition for his old-school tactics and desire for perfection from his players. He also went on to become the head basketball coach at Drexel University, spent eight years as an assistant under legendary coach Rollie Massimino at Villanova University and UNLV, and later served as the head coach of Hofstra University’s basketball team. Finally, Wright landed the Villanova head coaching job in 2001 and has never looked back. Since, his record over 15 seasons with the Wildcats is 354-157 (.693). He also has led the program to 20 NCAA tournament wins, including five trips to the Sweet 16, three Elite Eight appearances, and two trips to the Final Four. Coach Wright has officially won over Philadelphia fans’ hearts with last year’s NCAA Division I Championship title, when his players defeated the University of North Carolina with a thrilling three-point buzzer beater.
#4. Chuck Bednarik
Chuck Bednarik was born in Lehigh Valley, PA and went on to play football for the University of Pennsylvania. A star in college, Bednarik won the Maxwell Award, which is given to the best all-around college football player each year. He was a finalist for the Heisman Award and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1994, “Concrete Charlie,” as he was often called, was drafted number one overall by the Philadelphia Eagles as both a linebacker and a center. Known as one of the hardest hitting defenseman in the game, Bednarik often sidelined opponents for entire seasons. He was selected to the NFL Pro Bowl eight times and awarded First Team All-Pro honors ten times. In the 1960 NFL Championship Game, he tackled Jim Taylor as time expired to secure the title for the Eagles. In 1967, Bednarik was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Additionally, the Bednarik Award was created to honor college football’s best defensive player each year.
#3. Joe Frazier
Boxer Joe Frazier was born and raised in Philadelphia. He had an outstanding career in the ring, with a record of 32-4-1 and 27 knockouts. He notably won a gold medal in heavyweight boxing in the 1964 Olympics and won the world heavyweight championship in 1970. Philadelphia embraced Frazier’s gritty personality. In his spare time, he worked in a slaughterhouse, where he would train by punching refrigerated beef. On March 8, 1971, Frazier’s status as a Philadelphia great was cemented when he was the first to defeat Muhammad Ali in a professional boxing match in what was later coined “The Fight of the Century.” Frazier would go on to lose two other matches to Ali in his career, one of which took place in 1975 and was famously named the “Thrilla in Manila.” Despite this, his place in history was set. In 1990, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” films were in large part inspired by Frazier’s career.
#2. Mike Schmidt
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Mike Schmidt quickly found a second home in Philadelphia. Schmidt spent his entire 18-year professional career playing third base for the Philadelphia Phillies. He has often been declared Philadelphia’s greatest baseball player of all-time, and arguably the greatest third baseman in MLB history. Schmidt brought his own unique style to the game of baseball, mainly known for his combination of outstanding defense and power hitting. He won three National League MVP awards, 10 Gold Glove Awards, and 6 Silver Slugger Awards. He still holds the franchise record for WAR, offensive WAR, defensive WAR, games played, plate appearances, runs scored, hits, total bases, home runs, RBI, walks, and extra-base hits. He led the Phillies to an MLB title in 1980. In 1995, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Philadelphia fans not only admired Schmidt for his historic career on the field, but also his complete dedication to play for the city he loved the most.
#1. Wilt Chamberlain
In 1936, Wilt Chamberlain was born in Philadelphia. A star in his youth, he was eventually drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors in 1959, and would go on to play for the Philadelphia 76ers later in his career. In his first year in the League, he won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. He led the league in rebounds and scoring, with 37.6 points per game and 27.0 rebounds per game. If that isn’t impressive enough, Chamberlain made 13 of 14 all-star games in his career, won two NBA Championships, and two MVP awards. Most notably, “Wilt the Stilt,” as he was referred to, scored a record 100 points on March 2, 1962 against the New York Knicks. Even after 55 years, the record still stands. Chamberlain’s accolades speak for themselves. He laid a strong foundation for Philadelphia basketball, with players like Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and Allen Iverson following his footsteps.