With the death on Sunday at age 88 of NBA icon Bill Russell, the tributes to him include being called perhaps the greatest team sports champion of all-time since he was part of 11 NBA titles for the Boston Celtics. Russell played as a high schooler at McClymonds of Oakland (where one of his teammates was baseball Hall of Famer Frank Robinson). There’s no doubt that Russell would still go down as the greatest basketball player ever who is from a California high school. Here’s a sport-by-sport list of those we would rank No. 1 for each one:
FOR A LOOK AT OUR ALL-TIME 100 GREATEST ATHLETES (MEN) FROM CALIFORNIA HIGH SCHOOLS, CLICK HERE.
Baseball: Jackie Robinson (Muir, Pasadena)
His number of course is retired throughout every team in Major League Baseball. At the All-Star Game in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, his widow, Rachel Robinson, was celebrated for her 100th birthday.
Basketball: Bill Russell (McClymonds, Oakland)
In the announcement by his family upon his death, a reference was made to Bill having won two state championships in high school. It’s a tough time, but we don’t know where that comes from. McClymonds did not win state titles in those early 1950s seasons (the playoffs didn’t exist) and other teams in the state were ranked higher.
Diving: Greg Louganis (Valhalla, El Cajon)
An Olympic champion from 1984 and 1988, Louganis is still generally No. 1 on lists of the greatest divers in U.S. history.
Football: Tom Brady (Serra, San Mateo)
Winner of seven Super Bowls, Brady is beginning his 23rd season in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Most of his career, of course, was with the New England Patriots.
Golf: Tiger Woods (Western, Anaheim)
He probably won’t set the record for most major tourney wins, but is easily the most prominent golfer ever from the Golden State.
Soccer: Landon Donovan (Redlands East Valley)
The Major League Soccer MVP Award is named for him (similar to the NBA naming its Finals MVP after Bill Russell).
Swimming: Mark Spitz (Santa Clara)
People forget how good he was in the 1968 Olympics because in 1972 he won seven gold medals.
Tennis: Pete Sampras (Palos Verdes, PV Estates)
He was once in the discussion for greatest ever in his sport, but has been surpassed in recent years by players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Track & Field: Bob Mathias (Tulare)
After winning the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon a couple of months after graduating from high school in 1948, Mathias returned in 1952 to the Olympics and won the gold again.
Volleyball: Karch Kiraly (Santa Barbara)
This statement would be the same for beach volleyball as well as indoors for USA national teams. That’s how great Karch was.
Water Polo: Tony Azevedo (Wilson, Long Beach)
He went to Olympics five times from 2000 to 2016 and ranks top five in the sport at the Games for all-time goals scored.
Wrestling: Dave Schultz (Palo Alto)
Unfortunately, he’s known for being murdered by an eccentric millionaire in 1996, but Schultz won seven world championships is still regarded as one of the best wrestlers in USA history.