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Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Updated: April 23, 10:58 AM ET
Who's your hero?

Page 2 staff

They're the best of the best, exemplifying all the courage and nobility and genius and hard work and modesty and ambition and humility and grace that can be displayed in modern American sports. They're the ones we really want to be like when the going gets tough, they're the ones we want to show our sons and daughters. They are our heroes.

Page 2 gave you our list, then asked for your opinion and you answered the call.

We've received more than 3,500 emails. Here are your most popular selections along with some of the best letters.

David Robinson
David Robinson
David Robinson rises above the rest of today's athletes.
In the present time of outlandish contracts and disloyalty to teams in every sport, David Robinson has shown commitment like no other. When his team was losing and disheartened for a number of years, he stuck around, whereas most other athletes would have split town for more money or a shot at a title. Eventually, it paid off and he won a title (and quite possibly another this year.)

Robinson was the ultimate team player. He stepped aside and let Tim Duncan be the man as a rookie, he himself having been the No. 1 guy since he was drafted. Most athletes with big heads and egos and contracts would have left or whined about something like that. He shows on and off the court how a professional should conduct themselves. Off the court, he gives back to his community and didn't get caught up in drugs and all that junk. He also served his country in the military and I respect that.

He doesn't whine about calls, he RESPECTS other players and coaches, and proves that determination and commitment can accomplish anything. He's an MVP, he is a champion and he is a representative of this country on many fronts. David Robinson is a symbol of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage on and off the court. He is a true hero.
Brian
Bethesda, Md.

Walter Payton
The greatest sports hero has to be Walter Payton. Walter was a man small in stature but big in heart. He was my inspiration throughout my athletic career. A fan in Chicago once said that Micheal Jordan was a great hero, but inaccessible. Not Walter. He was great and very accessible. He was the people's hero. He embodied the virtues that many of our sports figures lack. He was faithful, responsible, determined, humble, and honest. An all-around class act. He was a truly refreshing face in sports history.
Marc
Sarasota, Fla.

Lou Gehrig
He faced life with the same dignity and commitment that he faced death. He showed young ballplayers what it meant to play the game and never forgot that he was blessed.
Cathi
Newport Beach, Calif.

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan
We'll never forget the heroics of Air Jordan.
Maybe its just because we had so much overkill with his retirement, I don't know, but to slight Mr. Michael Jordan on a list of greatest sports heroes is an obvious revisionist's take on the situation. He's gotta be on your list.

I shouldn't have to list reasons why, but here it is, for those with severe memory loss:

  • Countless buzzer-beating shots. Today's players are commended for one or two of these -- MJ made them commonplace.
  • His playing style is emulated worldwide. From the playground, to high school, college, and the pros, we STILL try to "be like Mike."
  • The dramatic tension only he could create. Look at the title win on Father's Day to complete his voyage back to the top.

    Nobody in sports could be a bigger hero than MJ. Who else could command a five-minute standing ovation as a visiting player -- in PHILLY?
    Luke MacAulay
    Marietta, Ohio

    Cal Ripken
    My grandfather passed away when I was 7. My parents got divorced when I was 12. I went away to college when I was 18, and my dog died when I was 21. That's a lot of changes and endings. But since I was 2, Cal Ripken was always there. The guy saved baseball and never let the fans down, no matter how silly the rest of the game appeared around him. He might not have had the jaw-dropping highlights like some of the other heroes on the list, but he redefined the position of shortstop, his statistics are as good as anyone's (with 3,000 hits and 500 homers), and his relationship with the fans was as good as any player who ever played the game.

    In an era of overpaid athletes and whiny superstars, Cal may not have coddled the media like the Jordan's of the world, but he was there at the ballpark every single day, talking to the fans that he played for. As he made his way around Camden Yards during his victory lap after breaking Gehrig's streak, the fans weren't just reaching out to him, they were reaching out to an old friend. And he was reaching right back, to the average-Joe fans that he so embraced.
    Kevin Rosenberg
    Los Angeles, Calif.

    Lance Armstrong
    Lance Armstrong
    Lance Armstrong's determination always puts him ahead of the pack.
    All cancer survivors are heroes. Period.

    After the personal, physical and emotional tests that he has been through; I can't believe you left Lance Armstrong off of your list. Battling back to health is quite an accomplishment, but to dominate the most strenous athletic event in the world -- three times -- certainly makes him a hero. Go, Lance, go ...
    Jamie
    Oakland, Calif.

    Jesse Owens
    You speak of Jackie Robinson in glowing terms, which is how he should be spoken about. Robinson was a professional who had to face an overwhelmingly racist America. However, Jessie Owens was an amateur who traveled to Berlin at the height of the Nazi regime and embarrassed Hitler with his incomparable talent. He lifted up America and its people. It was an act not just for African Americans but for the world against intolerance.
    Ryan Earle
    Shamong, N.J.

    Greg Louganis
    Besides his huge Olympic, world, and national domination of diving for close to 10 years, Greg Louganis was able to confront homophobia in sports and deal with and disclose his HIV status in front of the world ... all the while handling himself like a true gentleman and professional
    Joey Con
    New York

    Arnold Palmer
    I'll get a lot of grief for this, but if it is the "everyman" that captures the heart and imagination of the sports fan, then some recognition must go to my hero, Arnold Palmer.

    He took the game of golf to the masses, brought it to the public golfer. His working-class attitude toward the game (yes, I know, he was raised on a country club), his work ethic and his charisma carried golf to the next level. The masses became the audience. It wasn't just for the golfers anymore.

    In some sense, he gave birth to golf on television. He enjoyed the crowds, the attention, the chance to give back (unlike someone in today's game) and carried their hopes in each slashing swing. There were greats before him (Jones, Hogan, Nelson, et al.) and great players, perhaps the greatest of all-time, followed him. But, no one gave the game at the most proper moment a true gentleman, hero, and spokesperson. Arnold Palmer IS an American and worldwide hero.
    JT Tomlinson
    Albuquerque, N.M.

    Pele
    How on earth can you be so Xenophobic? There is no question about it. Mr. Edson Arrantes do'Nacimento -- "PELE".

    Even Muhammad Ali knew it as soon as he met him. For crying out loud, wars in some countries actually stopped when he came to play there. If they would have had the endorsement machines that they have today, you would be saying, "Michael who?" Simply the greatest player in the world's favorite sport. And I am a true blue American!!
    Kalani Revier
    Carlsbad, Calif.

    Babe Didrikson Zaharias
    The only woman you've listed was Billie Jean King. How about Babe Didrikson Zaharias? An Olympic gold and silver medalist in javelin, hurdles and high jump, she was a three time All-American in basketball, earned her nickname after hitting five home runs in a single baseball game, and once won a team title in track and field when she was the only team member (the second place team, with twenty members, came in six points behind her).

    Not too shabby, huh?

    And all of this was before her golf career, which gave her 82 titles in twenty years and included a 17-in-a-row amateur tournament win streak. She won her third US Women's Open after undergoing an operation for intestinal cancer. She is a founding member of the LPGA, and probably most driving force in its creation. She ultimately died of cancer at only 42. Imagine what her legacy would have been with another twenty or thirty years in sports? She was a trailblazers for women's athletics and a hero for all.
    Curtis Ostler
    Waterbury, Vt.

    Bobby Orr
    Especially in New England, it's gotta be Bobby Orr. He completely changed the game. It wasn't long after Orr signed with Boston that all the kids were playing hockey in the street.

    Wayne Gretzky was the greatest scorer, but Orr was the best player. To this day I have never seen a single hockey player take the puck and skate around the rink with opponents chasing him trying to get the puck away. Orr would do that on a regular basis. You'd think he had Velcro on his stick to make the puck stay with him as he circled around opponents, leaving them wondering where he went. In hockey -- he was the combination of Bird and Magic. And on top of all that, he maintained a squeaky-clean image.
    Bob Carney
    Derry, N.H.

    Arthur Ashe
    A black man in a white sport, he transcended all barriers, globally. He became a credit to his sport, his family and his culture. His tough spirit on the court was never expressed in his life. A soft-spoken man, but his words spoke volumes to many. He was taken before we were ready for him to go. He left a mark that won't soon be forgotten.
    Jack Mangione
    Webster, NY

    Ted Williams
    I am in full agreement that Jackie Robinson is the greatest hero in the history of sports ... no question about it. But I cannot imagine a reason why Ted Williams was not on the list. We're talking about the greatest hitter of all time, and a man who sacrificed the heart of his career to go off to fight in WWII. His numbers are unbelievable as is, but give him those years in the prime of his career, and they would become sublime. As far as a clutch player, does it get any better than homering in your last at-bat? And for guts, how about NOT taking a seat in the last game of his .400 season when he would have been assured of reaching that remarkable number. Hard-nosed, courageous, a flare for the dramatic, a war hero, and utterly brilliant.

    Teddy Ballgame should be on the list.
    Bob
    Atlanta, Ga.