Philadelphia is famous for its great sporting teams, and over the years the city has become the home of many a great athlete. Here are some of the most impressive sportsmen Philadelphia has ever seen.
He may have been born in Canada, but Bobby Clarke is very much an honorary Philadelphian as he spent the entirety of his decade and a half in the NHL playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. They picked him as 17th overall in the second round of the 1969 amateur draft, but he ended up becoming seen by some as one of the greatest NHL captains there has ever been.
Clarke scored 46 points in his rookie season, a performance that secured him a spot in the NHL All-Star Game. In 1970-71, he was the top scorer for the Flyers and got the side to the playoffs. When he was just 23, Clarke made history when he was named as the captain (the youngest there had ever been). He rose to the challenge, racking up 104 points in a season and leading the team to their first playoff series.
In 1973-74 Clarke’s team made it to the Stanley Cup and won it, repeating the feat the following year. By the time he retired in 1984, Clarke had won a plethora of awards, including the Hart Memorial Trophy thrice, the Brownridge Trophy twice, and (once each) the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, Frank J. Selke Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award, Lester Patrick Trophy, and the Lionel Conacher Award.
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Next up on our little list of Philadelphian sporting legends is none other than Smokin’ Joe Frazier, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers the world has ever seen and the man who gave Muhammad Ali a run for his money. Frazier started out boxing as an amateur and from 1962 to 1964 won the Golden Gloves championships, losing just once (to Buster Mathis). As an amateur, he competed in the 1964 Olympics, and despite breaking his thumb in the semis went on to claim gold.
The following year Frazier turned pro, and it was in this phase of his life that he shot to stardom. He won every bout in his first professional year, all by KO. Success earned him the attention of Eddie Futch, who helped Frazier become more of an evasive, bobbing, and weaving boxer. In 1967 Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title for shunning the draft, which put it up for grabs. Frazier was one contender in the ensuing bout, and his opponent was his old amateur adversary, Buster Mathis. Both were undefeated at the start of the fight, and Frazier knocked out Mathis in the 11th round to retain that record and stake a claim to be the best boxer in the world.
After several more victories, Frazier formally became World Champion when he defeated Jimmy Ellis in 1970. Shortly thereafter, the Fight of the Century was on between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Because the latter had been stripped of his title rather than losing it in the ring, both men were undefeated. Ali started out better but Frazier became stronger as the bout went on to claim the title after a unanimous decision in his favor. Both men ended up spending time in hospital to recuperate. In 1973 George Foreman ended Frazier’s undefeated run in commanding style, with the referee stopping the match in the second round after Frazier had been knocked down half a dozen times.
And so the comeback was on as Frazier sought to regain his former glory and bounce back after being trounced by Foreman. In 1974 he fought Ali again, though not for a title, but Ali triumphed in a unanimous decision. When Frazier defeated Jimmy Ellis the next year he was the clear challenger for the title, which was held by one Muhammad Ali.
So the two met for the third and final time in the Thrilla in Manila. The fight was held in sweltering conditions. It was close, but in the end, one closed eye and the other going the same way meant the victory went to Ali. Frazier did fight Foreman again in 1976 but was once again defeated. Nevertheless, his many victories and great record make him one of Philadelphia’s greatest ever sporting icons.
At a mighty seven feet and one inch, Wilt Chamberlain was both a figurative and literal giant on the basketball court. In Philadelphia born and raised, on the court is where he spent most of his days. But it was nearly all ended before it started, as Chamberlain came close to dying of pneumonia as a young child. Ironically, he shunned basketball early on, preferring track and field, but eventually changed his mind due to the sport’s popularity. Being so tall gave him a great advantage in high school and there (and in college) he made a name for himself.
Chamberlain was keen to turn pro but could only do so after finishing college, so in 1958-9 he was part of the Harlem Globetrotters (for a tidy paycheck). In 1959 he joined the Globetrotters as they toured the Soviet Union, and near the end of that year, he finally got into the NBA, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors. It’s kind of bizarre but also indicative of the esteem in which he was held that Chamberlain’s rookie contract made him the highest-paid player in the whole NBA. His rookie season saw him easily break the old best ever rookie averages with 37.6 points and 27 rebounds and made a new regular season scoring record into the bargain (clearly, he was earning that mighty salary). His very success made him the target of other teams, including by fouls.
The next year Chamberlain became the first player to make over 3,000 points and the first player to make over 2,000 in one season. The 1961-62 season saw more records including one at the famous 100-point game. Chamberlain scored 100 points against the New York Knicks, leading the Warriors to a stunning 169-147 victory. Not only that, he broke through the 4,000 points barrier in the regular season, a feat still unmatched to this day.
When the team was sold and became the San Francisco Warriors, players fell away and even more pressure was placed on Chamberlain’s shoulders. Chamberlain did see the 1964 NBA Finals, but the Warriors lost out to the Boston Celtics. Next season, he moved to the Philadelphia 76ers. From 1966 to 1968 he was named MVP (following up his 1960 first award), and the 1966-67 season finally saw the great Chamberlain secure his first NBA title.
Come 1968 he moved again, this time to the Los Angeles Lakers, where tensions soon rose between himself and coach Van Breda Kolff. Chamberlain’s prolific scoring plunged from record-breaking excellence to (in two games) single figures. Accusations of malingering marred the team’s narrow defeat to the Celtics in the NBA finals. The coach retired, and while Joe Mullaney came in Chamberlain could not return to former glory due to injury. He did his best upon recovery, but had lost some speed and suffered yet another Finals loss (this time to the Knicks). It was 1972 before Chamberlain could finally claim a second (and last) NBA title, and he retired after the following season.
And that concludes our look at a triumphant trio of Philadelphian sporting icons, from the ice to the court, and the drama of the boxing ring.