By Daniel Friedman
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Over the next two days, the NBA and NHL will welcome in the next generation of prospects.
Most of the anticipation centers around the first overall pick, and when you’re taken first, you’re expected to be a game-changer. Here are 15 players who lived up to the hype more than anyone else:
15. Troy Aikman — Dallas Cowboys, 1989
The Mets actually offered Aikman a contract after high school, but he chose to play college football at Oklahoma instead. Wise choice, because he wound up being an outstanding NFL quarterback for the Cowboys, winning three Super Bowls and appearing in six Pro Bowls.
14. Terry Bradshaw — Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970
If Bradshaw was half as good an actor as he was a football player, he’d be a regular Academy Award nominee. He won four Super Bowls in six years and was the first QB to win three (and then four) titles.
13. Chipper Jones — Atlanta Braves, 1990
Oddly enough, the Braves didn’t want to take Chipper with the first overall pick, but their preferred choice — a pitcher named Todd Van Poppel — said that he wouldn’t sign with Atlanta if chosen by the organization. So, they went with Jones. He had more career RBIs than any other third baseman in Major League history, was an eight-time All Star and helped the Braves win a World Series in 1995. And he made life really miserable for the Mets.
12. Guy Lafleur — Montreal Canadiens, 1971
Lafleur was the first player in NHL history to record 50 goals and 100 points in six-consecutive years. He was a five-time Stanley Cup champion. He is the Canadiens’ all-time leading scorer (1,246 points), led the league in points three times and was a two-time NHL MVP.
11. Alex Rodriguez — Seattle Mariners, 1993
Before the steroid allegations, before “A-Rod” became the infamous name it is today, Rodriguez was a special, special ballplayer. He became the third member of the “40-40” club (at least 40 homers and 40 stolen bases) in 1998, is a 14-time All Star, has won 10 Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves. Had he not juiced, he could’ve been revered as one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. Instead, he’s become a disgrace, which is what puts him at No. 11 on this list and not in the top five.
10. Shaquille O’Neal — Orlando Magic, 1992
There is only one word to describe Shaq, and that is “big.” Throughout his NBA career he was a big-time player, winning four NBA titles (and was the Finals MVP in three of them), a league MVP award, and was named to 15 All-Star Games. He was one of the most dominant players of his era.
9. Sidney Crosby — Pittsburgh Penguins, 2005
When Wayne Gretzky retired in 1999, the NHL suddenly had a huge void to fill. And when the league cancelled the 2004-05 season due to a labor dispute, their problems became even bigger. Enter Sidney Crosby — the most hyped prospect since Eric Lindros and the kid tabbed by The Great One himself to one day shatter the same records he once did. Crosby might not be Gretzky, but he is the best hockey player on the planet and he has helped put the NHL back on the map. He essentially saved the Pittsburgh Penguins from almost certain relocation, too. Crosby has led the league in points twice, has been a two-time Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) winner, a Stanley Cup champion and four-time All Star.
8. Ken Griffey Jr. — Seattle Mariners, 1987
The Mariners were a scary-good baseball team in the ’90s, something Griffey Jr. had a lot to do with. By the time he wrapped up his career, he’d hit what currently ranks as the sixth-most home runs in MLB history and was a 10-time Gold Glover. He was one of the most prolific hitters and fielders of his generation.
7. John Elway — Baltimore Colts, 1983
Many point to the Colts’ inability to sign Elway — who threatened to play baseball in the Yankees organization if they didn’t deal him — as the biggest sign the team was leaving Baltimore. By the time he retired, Elway had the most wins of any starting QB. He led the Denver Broncos to five Super Bowls and emerged victorious in two of ’em. He was also a nine-time Pro Bowler.
6. Tim Duncan — San Antonio Spurs, 1997
The Spurs became the well-oiled machine they are today when they took Duncan in 1997. Since that time, they’ve won five NBA championships. Duncan is a two-time league MVP and a 14-time All Star. He’s a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the most consistent players in NBA history.
5. Denis Potvin — New York Islanders — 1973
When the Islanders drafted Potvin in ’73, they essentially kick-started the process of becoming a dynasty team. He is regarded as one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history and captained the Isles to four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. He was a three-time Norris Trophy winner (given to the league’s best defenseman) and a cornerstone of the dynasty-era Islanders.
4. LeBron James — Cleveland Cavaliers, 2003
Cleveland fans will never forgive him for ditching them for South Beach, but LeBron did resurrect that franchise at the time he was drafted. He then went on to help the Heat become a dominant force. He is the undisputed face of the NBA and one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet. His impact is almost indescribable, and he will walk away as one of the best players in NBA history.
3. Peyton Manning — Indianapolis Colts, 1998
Manning is certainly one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. He only has one Super Bowl to his name but is a five-time league MVP and 13-time Pro Bowler. Manning has more seasons with 4,000-plus passing yards than anyone else and, in 2013, had 5,477, the most anyone’s ever had in a single season. He also has the most playoff games with 300-plus passing yards (eight). The numbers don’t lie: Manning’s one of the greatest ever.
2. Mario Lemieux — Pittsburgh Penguins, 1984
There are lots of people who will tell you that Mario was better than Wayne Gretzky. They’ll shout it until their faces turn blue. Either way, he was one of the most skilled and dominant players to ever play in the NHL. He led the Penguins to two Stanley Cups (1991, 1992) and had the seventh-most points in league history when he retired. He still contributes to Pittsburgh’s success today, albeit in an ownership role.
1. Earvin “Magic” Johnson — Los Angeles Lakers, 1979
If for some reason you don’t know why he was called “Magic,” just watch his highlight reels or old broadcasts of his games. He’s one of the greatest players in the history of basketball and, for all intents and purposes, was the Los Angeles Lakers during his tenure there. He also changed the way basketball was played, introducing a faster-paced style with no-look passes off fast breaks and alley-oops from half-court, among other things. Johnson has the highest assists-per-game average in NBA history, was a five-time NBA champion, three-time MVP and a 12-time All Star. He had the second-most triple-double games in league history (only Oscar Robertson had more).
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