Final Verdict? Boston Is America’s Greatest Sports City


Final Verdict? Boston Is America's Greatest Sports City As part of’s Boston’s Biggest Sports Legend tournament, I’ve been asked to compare Boston’s Elite Eight to the final eight athletes remaining from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

There are a number of ways to do this. I could total up numbers and compare the stats. I could count up the championships won by the 32 players and compare. I could compare how many Hall of Famers (current or in-the-making) are on the list.

Or I could go completely subjective and make the ultimate gut call. Since it’s my blog, that’s exactly what I’m doing. The four lists of eight were compiled by the editorial team.

Boston Chicago Los Angeles New York
Red Auerbach
Tom Brady
Larry Bird
John Havlicek
Bobby Orr
Bill Russell
Ted Williams
Carl Yastrzemski
Ernie Banks
Dick Butkus
Mike Ditka
Bobby Hull
Joe Jackson
Michael Jordan
Stan Mikita
Walter Payton
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kobe Bryant
Wayne Gretzky
Magic Johnson
Sandy Koufax
Tommy Lasorda
Jerry West
John Wooden
Joe DiMaggio
Walt Frazier
Derek Jeter
Mickey Mantle
Mark Messier
Joe Namath
Jackie Robinson
Babe Ruth

We’ve discussed the Boston list for weeks now, and the Elite 8 is a pretty good who’s who of local sports legends. In my honest opinion, it’s a bit heavy on the basketball side and not heavy enough on the hockey side (where’s Ray Bourque? Cam Neely? Eddie Shore?), but I’m a hockey guy, so we’ll move past that. 

What I like best about the list is that seven of the eight names spent all of their careers in Boston (no, I’m not including Bill Russell’s coaching time in Seattle and Sacramento.) Bobby Orr is the only legend on the list to move on to another team, and only because agent/villain Alan Egelson didn’t fully represent the offer the Bruins made to keep No. 4 in town.

Let’s compare that to the transient nature of the other three cities’ lists.

L.A.? Please. Wayne Gretzky won how many Stanley Cups with the Kings? None. Gretzky’s best years were with the Edmonton Oilers. That’s where he won four Cups, and where he posted his three seasons of 200 or more points. He played in Edmonton longer, accomplished more there, and only moved to L.A. to be alongside his Hollywood wife.

In fact, why is L.A. even on this list? If we were defending the Elite 8 Boston Celtics legends, we could have a good debate between the Celts and Lakers. Putting Gretzky on the list is a stretch at best, and Tommy Lasorda wouldn’t crack the field of 64 in Boston. And why aren’t there any football names on this list? Oh yeah, it’s because L.A. doesn’t have a team.

Chicago? Its biggest name turned his back on the city to play major league baseball on a team managed by Terry Francona — a man who bowed out early in Boston’s tournament. Shoeless Joe Jackson was part of his sport’s biggest scandal ever. Bobby Hull bolted for the Winnipeg Jets and a WHA paycheck. Folks from Chicagoland like to tell you how much they love Mike Ditka, but the Bears traded him away after five years as a player and fired him after 11 years as a coach.

New York provides some competition. Obviously, it is a baseball-heavy list, but let’s not forget that Babe Ruth first became a legend here in Boston. Walt Frazier was special, but was he more legendary than Willis Reed? And could either beat Bill Russell, Larry Bird, John Havlicek or Red Auerbach in a playdown? As for hockey, Mark Messier’s legendary guarantee led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. Yet, he spent twice as much time in Edmonton as he did in New York. 

Bottom line is this: If your legends can’t spend all, or at least most of, their careers in your city, you have to question their status in your pantheon of sports history. We have no need to question the eight names on the Boston list. They are legends in every sense of the word — just another reason why Boston is America’s greatest sports city.

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