My high 10 favourite Cleveland sports activities athletes

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I was born and raised in Cleveland as a sports fanatic.

Both my parents, especially my father, and grandfather loved the Indians, Cavaliers, Browns, and Ohio State Buckeyes, and they made sure my sister and I knew who our family athletic loyalties were to. In fact, each of these four teams has their own wall in my father’s basement. Every time I get home these days, my father makes sure to show me new bobble heads, plaques, or other memorabilia that he has added to his shrines.

At a young age, I found it difficult not to fall in love with all of the sports memorabilia my father collected during his lifetime. My father’s love of sports in Cleveland rubbed off heavily on me. While I can’t remember much prior to 2000 in terms of sports memories, I loved every team and watched their games whenever I could.

For the second edition of Bill’s Banter, I thought I would enjoy taking a trip back in time and talking about the athletes I looked up to the most as a kid and in college. Remember, I was born in the mid-1990s, so unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to see Cleveland greats like Bernie Kosar, Mark Price or Sandy Alomar in their prime.

I had dozens of athletes going through my mind when I was putting this list together and I was having a really hard time narrowing it down to 10.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 favorite Cleveland athletes of all time.

10. Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers

Wild Thing. It was hard not to like Varejao. His iconic hair and the way he instantly energized every time he stepped on the floor made him a fan favorite. Varejao was a key piece of the first LeBron James era, and in the period leading up to the second James era, he put together some of his best seasons from a statistical point of view. This includes the 2012-13 season, in which he averaged a double-double with 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per game. Injuries unfortunately shortened this season and a number of others, short for Varejao. After being substituted in the 2016 season, it was nice to see Varejao return to the Cavs this season, even if it was only for five games. He may not have his number hanging in the rafters, but he has definitely left his mark on the franchise.

9. Michael Brantley, American Indian

Dr. Smooth. Brantley is another player whose time in Cleveland was filled with injuries. But when he was healthy he was and is one of the best pure hitters in the game. A three-time All-Star with the Tribe and an MVP finalist in 2014, Brantley produced countless clutch hits and was as consistent at the heart of the line-up as possible while delivering a solid defense on the outfield. His ’14 season – 200 hits, .327 / .385 / .506 slashlines, 45 doubles, 20 homers, 97 RBI, and 23 stolen bases – was one of the best for any tribe player lately. It’s still weird that he wears an Astros jersey these days. Nonetheless, he was an integral part of the tribe’s success for much of the Terry Francona era.

8. Kenny Lofton, Indian

Lofton was one of the first players I became attracted to when I first started chasing baseball. As a 5 year old, I was impressed with his baserunning, slick defense, and ability to lay a perfect bunt and lay a single. While he has worn many hats throughout his career, the 10 years Lofton played in Cleveland were some of his best. Five of his six All-Star selections came with the tribe, and all four of his gold gloves were won in Cleveland. When Lofton returned to the tribe via trade in 2007, it may have been the first time in my young life that I felt any real nostalgia. I’ll never forget his double homer in Game 3 of the ALCS in front of Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka – his only homer with the Tribe this year. After an incredible career, I’m glad Lofton finished it in Cleveland.

7. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, cavaliers

Big Z. I don’t know a single person who didn’t like this guy. His Pick and Pop with James was my favorite piece growing up, so much so that my pals and I practiced playing it in our driveways and backyards. Although Ilgauskas struggled with foot injuries early in his career, he played a vital role in the Cavs’ success in the late 2000s. As a two-time All-Star, Ilgauskas played 12 of his 13 seasons for the Cavs and consistently scored 13.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He was a constant defensive presence in depth and reliable in the middle class. Every time I go to the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, I make sure to look at his jersey hanging in the rafters.

6. Omar Vizquel, Indian

I know I’m not alone when I say Vizquel was the best defensive shortstop I’ve ever seen. I would watch games and hope the batter would hit a grounder near Vizquel just to see him play. It still amazes me how it covered so much ground. Growing up, my baseball coaches yelled at me and my teammates for trying to throw balls like Vizquel on the ground with my bare hands. All three of its all-star selections came with the tribe, as did eight of its eleven gold gloves. As a shortstop he has the best field quota (.985) and has made the most double plays in MLB history (1,734). Vizquel wasn’t lazy at the plate either. In 24 years he had a total of 2,877 hits, 1,616 of them in his 11 years in Cleveland. We hope he will be elected to the Hall of Fame in the years to come.

5. Josh Cribbs, Browns

The first Browns player to make my list. For most of my life the Browns have been, well, downright terrible. Before last season, the 2007 Browns were my favorite team and Cribbs was a big reason for that. Every time the Browns got a punt or kickoff, my eyes were glued to the screen to see what Cribbs could do. That season, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt for a score, while hitting the league’s top 1,809 yards on kick-returns. I can still hear Jim Donovan’s call for Cribbs’ 100 yard return in Pittsburgh. In his Browns career, he returned eight kicks and three punts for TDs, while also having some good moments as a wide receiver. Cribbs, a three-time pro bowler, has been one of the main reasons they stick with it week after week.

4. Victor Martinez, Indian

The 2007 Indians are one of the most underrated regular teams of recent times. If they hadn’t taken the Red Sox 3-1 up, I still think they would have won the World Series this season. This team had a lot of talented players, but Martinez was my favorite. A three-time All-Star in his eight years in Cleveland, Martinez was a constant presence at the heart of the order, making for a strong defense behind the plate and at first base. Martinez was just as heartbroken as any of us when he was traded to Boston in 2009. Although he didn’t end his career with the tribe, he recorded his 2,000 in 2017. Career hit in Progressive Field as a member of the Detroit Tigers. I was there to cover this game for my internship at MLB.com and the moment gave me goosebumps.

3. Jim Thome, Indian

I adored Thome. When I started paying attention to the tribe, Thome blew moon-shots left and right. My father had – and has – so many memorabilia from Thome that I chose the number 25 of my small league teams and even imitated my batting stance after him when I was young. His 52 homers in 2002 are still the most by a tribe player in a single season, and his 337 career homers are the most in the club’s history. Although I was devastated when he left for ’02, I was thrilled when he returned to the team in 2011. Watching him get a home run back in his second game I will never forget. I was at the game a few years later when they unveiled his statue in Progressive Field. He’s one of the greatest players in franchise history and my favorite Cleveland Indian to date.

2. Joe Thomas, Browns

Thomas may be the perfect embodiment of Cleveland – worker, do your job and do it to the best of your ability whatever the circumstances. Circumstances were never great for Thomas when he was Brown, but his dedication to the team, the city and the fans made him a popular figure. On the field, holding it in the left tackle position, he became one of the most dependable players the Browns have had since returning to Cleveland in 1999. Thomas was a 10-time pro bowler and six-time all-pro selection in his first 10 seasons, not missing a single game and having played 10,363 consecutive snaps during that time. He became the first player to play 10,000 consecutive snapshots in the NFL since his draft. Unfortunately, a triceps tear in 2017 ended that streak and turned out to be the last game of his career. Thomas is a Cleveland legend and I just wish he could have won a few seasons.

1. LeBron James, Cavaliers

It seems like many Ohioans these days have mixed feelings about James, which I understand to some extent. But no matter how you feel, it’s hard to deny that James is the most talented athlete Cleveland has ever put on his chest. Watching him in my middle and middle school tied me up. I’ll never forget when he lit the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals or his buzzing 3-pointer against the Magic in Game 2 of the ECF 2009. Yes, 14-year-old Billy was heartbroken as James 2010 after Miami went. But when he returned to Cleveland in 2014, I was moved to tears with excitement. Then he brought me to tears as he led the Cavs to a title in 2016. I could keep telling about all of his successes on the pitch, let alone the fact that he built a school in his hometown of Akron. No matter how long he plays – it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon – the reality is that one of the best who has ever done spent 11 years in Cleveland. We may never see another athlete of his caliber playing in Cleveland for so long. While it’s weird to see him wear a Lakers jersey these days, I will forever be grateful to James for what he did during his time in Cleveland. He was and is my favorite Cavalier and Cleveland athlete. I’m looking forward to the day when I can take my future kids to his statue and tell them about his clutch hunting block during game 7.

Recognitions

Cavaliers: Daniel Gibson (2006-13); JR Smith (2015-19); Kevin Love (2014-present); Kyrie Irving (2011-17); Mo Williams (2008-11; 2015-16)

Indians: Asdrubal Cabrera (2007-14); CC Sabathia (2001-08); Carlos Santana (2010-17; 2019-20); Cliff Lee (2002-09); Corey Kluber (2011-19); Francisco Lindor (2015-20); Grady Sizemore (2004-11); Jose Ramirez (2013-present)

Browns: Baker Mayfield (2018-present); Joe Haden (2010-16); Jarvis Landry (2018-20); Nick Chubb (2018-20); Phil Dawson (1999-2012); TJ District (2010-13)