NESN Makes Its Picks for Boston’s Biggest Sports Legend

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April 26, 2010

NESN Makes Its Picks for Boston's Biggest Sports Legend Boston has seen its fair share of great sports figures, but which one is the greatest?

We will find out what sports fans think June 7. Here are NESN?s picks.

Tom Caron: Bobby Orr
Boston's Biggest Sports Legend? We could crash the NESN.com server debating this one. Is there a city with more sports legends? I would argue no.
 
This is no easy task, and I'm prone to root for the underdog. That said, I have to go with a top seed here. For me, it comes down to two men: Ted Williams and Bobby Orr.
 
The NESN brackets have the two destined for a semifinal showdown, meaning one of them won't get to the championship. That's hard to believe. 
 
Ted Williams wasn't born in New England, but the Californian typified the values we hold dear. He never stopped working on his craft, tried to make other hitters around him better and selflessly left the game he loved — twice — to serve in the military. He was cantankerous and had no patience for the "Knights of the Keyboard," who lorded over the game from the press box. 
 
Theodore Samuel Williams won the Triple Crown. Twice. Next year, we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his .406 batting average in 1941. No one has hit .400 since. He was, arguably, the greatest hitter who ever lived.
 
Bobby Orr revolutionized the game of hockey. Orr made opposing skaters look foolish, skating by them with seemingly effortless grace. He changed the way the game was played, ushering in an era for puck-rushing defensemen to join the attack. Despite his grace on ice, he was tough as nails, playing with an intensity that led to the knee issues, which forced him to stop playing.
 
Robert Gordon Orr won the Norris Trophy. Eight times. No one else has ever been named the NHL's best defensemen that many times. He won two championships with the Black and Gold (no, they haven't won one since) and accelerated the building of MDC hockey rinks around Eastern Massachusetts.
 
Hard to imagine anyone else reaching the legendary status of Williams and Orr. As a kid, I got a copy of Williams' "The Science of Hitting" for Christmas. My first pair of skates were Rally Bobby Orrs.
 
It's almost impossible to choose between the two, but I go with Orr. His play had a more dramatic impact on the sport, and his legend as a player who stoked the passion of Boston hockey fans will never be debated. Williams played on very good baseball teams, but what we know as Red Sox Nation wasn't created until the Impossible Dream season of 1967.
 
In a classic semi, Orr edges Williams in overtime. Good luck to the poor sap that faces him in the finals.

Kathryn Tappen: Bobby Orr
The city of Boston has been blessed with some of the most legendary athletes of all time. Each decade has brought not one, but numerous names familiar to even the casual sports fan. Household names like Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Curt Schilling, Wade Boggs, Bob Cousy, Robert Parish and Terry O?Reilly.

Then, there are the superstars of this town: Tom Brady, Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, David Ortiz, Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and Paul Pierce.

But only a handful of names can be narrowed down to the top tier of Boston?s Biggest Sports Legend: Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Ted Williams.

And then, there?s Bobby Orr. Widely acknowledged to be the greatest hockey player to ever lace ?em up, Bobby Orr revolutionized the game. He remains the only defenseman to win the league scoring title with two Art Ross Trophies, and holds the record for most points and assists in a single season by a defenseman. Orr also won three consecutive Hart Trophies as the league's most valuable player, helping Boston to three regular-season first-place finishes. And No. 4 brought Lord Stanley to Beantown twice.

Bobby Orr is the symbol of professional sports in Boston. His memorable lateral leap in celebration after scoring "The Goal" against the St. Louis Blues, winning the 1969-70 Stanley Cup for the Bruins, remains to this day one of the most sought-after and coveted sports photos of all time.

No. 4 Bruins jerseys are worn by hockey fans all over the world, no matter their team allegiance, because Bobby Orr changed the game of hockey and is the most genuine, kind, personable human being around. His humility is why fans choose him as their role model.

Jack Edwards: Bobby Orr
He changed his game forever, unleashing the defenseman from the shackles that kept him no farther forward than the tops of the circles. His Mother?s Day goal is a moment that literally changed hundreds of lives in New England (including mine). His legacy extends to brick and mortar in the scores of rinks that never would have existed before he began making his reckless rushes up the Garden ice. He made every teammate better every time he pulled the spoked B over his head: Plus-124 in a 78-game season in 1971 is a record that will stand forever. He was a plus player every year of his career, even when he was crippled by ruined knees at the end. Only one defenseman ever has led the league in scoring, and he did it twice.

Best of all for me, when I found myself alone with the man in an elevator and said, "I know you?ve heard this a thousand times, but you?re the greatest player who ever laced up skates," he blushed.

Brilliant beyond words, the most dominant individual in the history of team sports, honest, humble, everything you could wish for in a brother or a son. No. 4. Bobby Orr. Boston?s greatest sports legend.

Mike Hurley: Bobby Orr
There are many worthy athletes, but to me, one stands above the rest as the biggest legend: Bobby Orr. Ted Williams? stats were remarkable, Bill Russell and Tom Brady have those rings, but nobody embodies Boston sports more than No. 4. To this day, no athlete is given such respect at any public appearance. No athlete completely changed his sport as much as Orr. And no athlete has shown the kind of genuine appreciation that Orr has shown the past four decades.

James Murphy: Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr beats Tom Brady in the final. Yes, Brady has won more championships than Orr, but No. 4 revolutionized his sport and put it on the map in Boston. By the end of Brady's career, this outcome could be different, but for now, Bobby Orr is Boston's greatest sports legend.

Naoko Funayama: Bobby Orr

Jade McCarthy: Bill Russell
Some quick thoughts on NESN?s Boston?s Biggest Sports Legend bracket. These picks aren?t easy. Manny Ramirez versus Roger Clemens in the opening round? Jason Varitek versus Troy Brown on the other end of the bracket?s opener? Come on. 

Then, I wound up with Tom Brady versus Pedro Martinez in the Round of 16. I finally made my choice based on number of rings — but Pedro is right up there with immortal athletes in Boston?s history. This is the Round of 16.
 
So, as you can imagine, the "Elite Eight of Boston" leaves a number of impossible picks. Red Auerbach takes on Ted Williams. I took Red — he built the franchise — but a NESN colleague cracked me up with this reminder regarding Williams: "They named a tunnel after him." Fair point.
 
On the flip side, I agonized over the Brady-Larry Bird matchup. There?s no real loser. They both spent games, seasons and years proving their ability to win. Repeatedly.
 
As for my overall "winner," no analysis needed there. Flip a coin. Any one of the final four could be in the champion?s circle.   

I went with Bill Russell. His bio on NBA.com put it this way: "He helped launch the greatest championship run in the history of professional sports." For any winner, that?s tough to beat.

Evans Clinchy: Bill Russell
To me, it's a no-brainer. Being a legend is about being a champion, and no one was a champion like Bill Russell. Eight NBA titles in a row. Eleven in 13 years. The man's got more rings than fingers. The Finals MVP award is named after him, and with good reason — he elevated his game when it mattered most, giving Boston a run of championships unlike anything seen before or since in the history of American sports. Bill Russell put Boston on the map. He's the ultimate sports legend in this town.

Evan Brunell: Bill Russell
Bill Russell deserves to be named the biggest Boston sports legend as the most decorated Boston athlete in history. Russell lays claim to this honor with 11 NBA titles, five MVP awards, 12 All-Star selections and numerous other honors. He also paved the way for racial equality by becoming the first black coach in American major professional sports. While every other athlete is deserving and my personal finalists (Ted Williams, Bobby Orr and Tom Brady) all have strong cases to state, Russell is the only one who put together an unbeatable resume of championships, production, success on and off the field and — despite an acrimonious departure — fan appreciation.

Cole Wright: Bill Russell
As I stared at this who?s who of Boston sports bracket, I found myself asking so many questions, like: Does the number of championships factor into being a great player? Ultimately, when I finally came around on making a decision, I went in the direction I originally anticipated. My final matchup was the Splendid Splinter going head-to-head with Bill Russell. Now I?m a baseball guy through and through, but I just can?t deny what Russell did during his time with the Celtics. No disrespect to Teddy Ballgame, but I have to go with Mr. Russell as my champion of the bracket. Eleven NBA titles in 13 years? Enough said.

Eric Ortiz: Larry Bird
The Great White Hope. Basketball Jesus. Larry Legend. When "Hope," "Jesus" and "Legend" are part of a man?s nickname, he has to be pretty good. Larry Bird wasn?t just good. Besides leading the Celtics to three world championships, winning three MVPs and being named All-NBA First Team nine times, he and Magic Johnson helped save the NBA. There are countless stories that illustrate the mythic greatness of Bird, but one stands alone in capturing who he is. Before the 3-point contest at All-Star Weekend in 1986, Bird informed his competitors how it was going to end: "I want all of you to know I am winning this thing. I'm just looking around to see who's gonna finish up second." The same holds true for Boston?s Biggest Sports Legend tournament. Many heroes have played in this town, but none were bigger than Bird.

Tony Lee: Larry Bird
The most singular athlete in Boston sports history. His floppy blond hair was a trademark, but so too was his unparalleled basketball sense and desire to win. Bird's arrival completely turned around the Celtics, and his departure precipitated the franchise?s spiral into the NBA basement. His blue-collar work ethic appealed to Bostonians, and despite a rural Midwest upbringing, he was just another guy at the bar on Causeway Street. He is the only member of the bracket to have "Legend" substituted for his last name, and fans were calling him that before he even retired.

Don Orsillo: Larry Bird
I wanted to pick a member of the Red Sox badly, but in the end, Larry Legend is the biggest. He was the ultimate Dirt Dog, only he played on the parquet. He played hurt and always made you feel he was going to find a way to win. I am not sure there has ever been, or will be, another athlete to instill that confidence in a fan base.

John Beattie: Ted Williams
To call Ted Williams the Splendid Splinter is a gross understatement. To call him a hero speaks volumes of his career both on the field and off. To call him Boston?s biggest sports legend seems about as accurate as it gets.

Williams is known as the greatest hitter who's ever lived, but in this town, that?s just the beginning. Sure, he never brought the World Series crown to Fenway Park, but Teddy Ballgame?s presence in the Red Sox outfield and in the left-handed batters box at Fenway Park is, and forever will be, irreplaceable. His career was sliced in half at his prime due to his active service in not one, but two wars, and his commitment to this city remains alive and well through the Jimmy Fund – one of the world?s most recognizable and profitable charity organizations for those battling cancer, and a group he adored till the day he passed.

How many sports figures in the New England region can boast both these on-field stats and off-field accomplishments? Just one: No. 9.

Adam Hirshfield: Ted Williams
Bill Russell, Bobby Orr and Tom Brady are worthy adversaries, but Ted Williams is Boston's biggest sports legend. He embodies the city and its fans in a way the others don't: the reluctance to the spotlight, the hard-edged struggle, the promise of excitement and the mystical nature of his greatness.

Jessica Isner: Ted Williams
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Ted Williams is "legend." The second thing is "Boston." And his road to the final four will be by far the easiest.

Jeff Howe: Red Auerbach
Light up a stogie when you vote for Red Auerbach as Boston's Biggest Sports Legend. Auerbach had a direct hand in 16 of the Celtics' world championships over a span of 30 seasons, crafting a dynastic run that should be considered the golden standard in professional sports. That's more world titles than the Red Sox, Bruins and Patriots have combined to win. Auerbach also helped break the NBA's color barrier, mastered a team-first philosophy and orchestrated some of the most brilliant trades in sports history.

Auerbach had the winning attitude and rock star personality that this town craved. He's not just a Boston sports legend — he should be considered this town's sports godfather.

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