by Rob Joyce
His range isn’t limited to a basketball court. Last weekend two-time MVP Steph Curry, an avid golfer, made his professional debut on the Web.com Tour (a step below the PGA Tour) at the Ellie Mae Classic. Using a sponsor’s exemption, Curry shot a 74 on both Thursday and Friday – missing the cut, but leaving a positive impression among some of golf’s best.
Though unlikely Curry ever makes a living out of pro golf, he does bring to mind these seven athletes throughout the last century that have not only performed at the highest levels in multiple sports, but thrived:
Those of a certain age argue vehemently that Brown is the greatest football player ever, leading the NFL in rushing in eight of his nine pro seasons, making the All-Pro first-team eight times and winning league MVP on three occasions. By the time he retired in 1965 he owned nearly every major rushing record. The Hall of Famer didn’t limit his excellence to the gridiron. Well before the days of pro lacrosse, Brown was a two-time All-American in the sport at Syracuse, while also lettering on the basketball and track teams.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias:
Arguably the greatest female athlete of all-time, she was the jack-of-all-trades. At the 1932 Summer Olympics she won a pair of gold medals in the javelin and 80-meter hurdles (breaking a world record in the process) and a silver in the high jump. Turning to golf a few years later, she made a name for herself by competing in a PGA Tour event in 1938 (though she missed the cut, she’d make it in seven other PGA events). Soon after she took the LPGA Tour by storm, winning 10 majors and 41 events overall, winning even after being diagnosed with colon cancer that would cut her life short in 1956.
His nickname was “Bullet” for a reason. At age 21 the speedster flirted with history at the 1964 Summer Olympics. First he took home gold in the 100-meter sprint, tying a world record. He followed that up with a 4×100-meter relay that set a new world record, including a hand-timed leg under nine seconds for Hayes. He then turned his hand to football, where as a wide receiver he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns in his first two seasons, was named to a pair of All-Pro first teams and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.
The most famous two-sport athlete in modern day sports, Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in 1985 at Auburn while also playing baseball. After a drawn-out drama with the Buccaneers, he opted for pro baseball initially, joining the Royals in 1986 and averaging over 110 games a year with them through 1990. His shining moment was the 1989 All-Star Game in Kansas City, where he hit a mammoth home run in being named the game’s MVP.
He’d eventually be drafted in football by the Raiders and immediately made a positive impact in 1988, averaging 6.8 yards per carry as a rookie. A 1990 Pro Bowler, his football career was cut short after a hip injury suffered in 1991, so he turned to baseball full-time before retiring from pro sports entirely in 1994. His final numbers: 141 home runs and 2,782 rushing yards.
The basketball legend’s accolades speak for themselves: six Finals appearances, six championships, six Finals MVP awards, aside from all of his other regular season awards on both sides of the ball. Of course a big part of the Jordan legacy is his decision to retire from basketball in 1993, in part to pursue professional baseball. Playing for the Birmingham Barons, Double-A affiliate for the White Sox (Terry Francona was his manager), Jordan struggled, hitting just .202 with 114 strikeouts. By March 1995 he quit baseball and was back on the hardwood for the Bulls.
The eight-time All-Pro was the most electrifying playmaker in football in the 1990s, whether it was as a cornerback (53 career interceptions, 10 touchdowns) or return man (nine kick or punt return TDs). The Hall of Famer remains one of the biggest talents (and personalities) to ever step on a field.
Sanders also excelled at baseball, and was a part-time major leaguer for the better part of a decade. At first a Yankee, his best years came with the Braves. In 1992 he hit .304 and stole 26 bases in 97 games, capping it with a .533 average in the World Series, making him the only person to play in both a World Series and a Super Bowl. A stolen base specialist, he’d swipe 56 bags with the Reds in 1997 before leaving baseball for a few years, making a short-lived comeback bid in 2001.
He was the first true multi-sport superstar of the 20th century. It began at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1911, when as a football player he scored 25 touchdowns while acting as running back, defensive back, kicker and punter. He’d ultimately be named an All-American in 1911 and 1912. He then won a pair of gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics.
Turning pro, he spent parts of six seasons in the major leagues as a baseball player, while also partaking in the early formation of what would become the NFL. His efforts both on the field (he was a first-team All-Pro in 1923) and off it (acting as league president, a coach and organizer) place him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ward ran away with the 1993 Heisman Trophy as he quarterbacked Florida State to its first national championship, but he didn’t want to play in the NFL unless he was drafted in the first round. That’s because he also showed talent on the basketball court, where he spent four years playing for the Seminoles.
Alas, he wasn’t a first-round draft choice, so he opted for the NBA, where the Knicks drafted him 26th overall. It began an 11-year career that would see him average six points and four assists per game.