Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ten for Tuesday - Best First Picks

Oh, the joy of having the first overall pick in an upcoming draft. Teams that have suffered for decades know just how critical it is to make picks count early on in the draft, yet there have been so many horrible mistakes. Brien Taylor, Greg Oden, and JaMarcus Russell come specifically to mind. Today, I decided to take a look at what teams got it right over the course of baseball, football, and basketball history.

Before I begin, I would like to emphasize that this is more than just simply ranking talent. Superstars such as Shaquille O'Neal and John Elway will not be featured on this list despite being chosen first overall in 1992 and 1983, respectively. Shaq only played four full seasons in Orlando, where he was chosen, before leaving for Los Angeles and becoming the Hall of Famer we all know and love. Meanwhile, Elway was chosen first by the Baltimore Colts, who ended up losing out on the west coast wonder who wasn't interested in playing for an organization as bad as theirs was at the time. 

This list will constitute the best picks made that have impacted not only each franchise involved but the rest of the sport as well. I don't want to pretend to know any more about hockey than I do, so I excluded guys like Mario Lemieux, Alexander Ovechkin, and Sidney Crosby.

10 Best #1 Overall Picks

Honorable Mentions: Allen Iverson (1996, Philadelphia 76ers), David Robinson (1987, San Antonio Spurs), Alex Rodriguez (1993, Seattle Mariners), O.J. Simpson (1969, Buffalo Bills), Bruce Smith (1985, Buffalo Bills), Shaquille O'Neal (1992, Orlando Magic), John Elway (1983, Baltimore Colts)

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That list of names should warrant just how difficult it was to craft this Top 10. Allen Iverson was the heart and soul of the Philadelphia 76ers, leading them out of obscurity to the NBA Finals and taking home an MVP Award. Although AI played for several teams towards the home stretch of his excellent career, it was Philadelphia that got the best out of his talent. "The Admiral", David Robinson, also is well-deserving of a mention. Robinson made 10 All Star teams and won Rookie of the Year and the 1995 NBA MVP. He will go down as one of the greatest big men in basketball history, and it was so tough to keep him off this ten.

10 - Terry Bradshaw, 1st Pick of the 1970 NFL Draft
Chosen By: Pittsburgh Steelers

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Terry Bradshaw was a very good Quarterback in the NFL. Some go as far to say that he was one of the best, and while I disagree with this, he does have the accolades to back it up. He is the golden child of the rule some analysts use to rate Quarterbacks: "The best quarterbacks should be ranked by how many Super Bowl rings they have, and not by performance". I absolutely hate the entire idea of this (more on this later). Bradshaw won 4 Super Bowls as the anchor of the famous Steel Curtain team of the 1970's, and he was one of the NFL's best without question. But would I take John Elway, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, etc; over Bradshaw? Probably.

Regardless of where he ranks, his impact is unprecedented. He played his entire 14 year career in Pittsburgh, and is beloved all throughout the Steel City. Iverson and Robinson may have been more dominant at their peak (hard to compare sports, obviously), but who knows if the Steelers would have the most Super Bowl titles if it weren't for Bradshaw's elite performance under high pressure circumstances.

9 - Chipper Jones, 1st Pick of the 1990 MLB Draft
Chosen By: Atlanta Braves

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Growing up in Florida, Larry Wayne Jones was not Atlanta's original choice, but they grew to love and embrace their switch hitting mainstay. Chipper played 19 seasons for the Braves, and stayed consistent throughout his tenure at the hot corner and outfield positions. When he was 36, he won the batting title with a .364 average; and while he fell shy of 500 career home runs (468), he still had the most of any switch hitter in National League history. On top of it all, he made 8 All Star teams, won the 1999 NL MVP, and won the World Series in 1995. The Braves didn't know they were buying into a franchise legend in 1990, and with that in mind he definitely earned a place as one of the best 1st overall picks ever.

8 - LeBron James, 1st Pick of the 2003 NBA Draft
Chosen By: Cleveland Cavaliers

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Woah, woah, woah. LeBron James at #8? Is this some kind of madness? 

No, and I'll tell you why the King doesn't hold the throne on this countdown. LeBron James may be the most talented athlete mentioned in this entire post, and when Cleveland chose him straight out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School he became the biggest basketball prodigy since at least Kobe Bryant, if not "His Airness" himself, Michael Jordan. James played 7 seasons in Cleveland before his infamous ESPN special announced his departure to South Beach. Seven seasons should be more than enough to warrant a spot on this list, but had he not left and betrayed his Cleveland supporters in favor of winning championships with the Heat, he could have been towards the top.

Luckily for Cavs fans, LeBron hasn't completely forgotten his first fanbase, and returned to Cleveland prior to this past season to finish what he started. It may have resulted in an NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors, but at least they made it there. If LeBron can finally fulfill his promise and bring home a title to Cleveland, his importance to the franchise will forever be remembered. 

7 - Kareem Abdul Jabbar, 1st Pick of the 1969 NBA Draft
Chosen By: Milwaukee Bucks

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Kareem Abdul Jabbar has been regarded by many as the best basketball player to ever walk the Earth. But everyone had to start somewhere, and before changing his name to Jabbar, he was Lew Alcindor of the Milwaukee Bucks. Alcindor was no slouch, but it wasn't until his days in Los Angeles when his legacy was completely set in stone. He only played 6 years in Milwaukee, but won 3 MVP's and made the All Star team in each of those years. The icing on the cake as to why he ranks above LeBron is that he did lead Milwaukee to a title in 1971. Alcindor was named the Finals MVP after leading the league in scoring that year. 

6 - Troy Aikman, 1st Pick of the 1989 NFL Draft
Chosen By: Dallas Cowboys 

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Much like Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman may be defined more for being a critical part of one of the best football teams of all time than for his own personal achievements. In sports, that really is what you shoot for. There have been better Quarterbacks than Aikman, but I wouldn't have a problem with him placing in any Top 10 Quarterbacks list (I may have to attack that down the line). The three time Super Bowl champion was joined by Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin to quite possibly form the best three headed monster the NFL has ever seen. 

Still, with 32,942 career passing yards and 165 touchdowns, along with serving America's Team for all 12 of his years, he was qualified to make the list as well.

5 - Hakeem Olajuwon, 1st Pick of the 1984 NBA Draft
Chosen By: Houston Rockets

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Is there a basketball player more underrated than Hakeem Olajuwon? If you try to view his accomplishments on Wikipedia, they take up most of your computer screen! Two time NBA Champion. Two time Finals MVP. 1994 NBA MVP. 12 All Star Games. 6 Time All NBA First Team. He's the Houston Rockets all time leading scorer, and nobody in history blocked more shots. Plus, he played 17 of his 18 years in Houston, and up until this point is their best player to grace the court. His importance to that team can only be paralleled by the four following #1 picks.

4 - Tim Duncan, 1st Pick of the 1997 NBA Draft
Chosen By: San Antonio Spurs

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Despite his counterparts Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, Tim Duncan is everything symbolic of the history of the San Antonio Spurs organization. For a player so consistently at the top of the game to still be disrespected as much as he has is sad. Duncan more than deserves be of the same breath as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and just about anyone else from this generation. With 5 NBA Championships under his belt (and counting), Duncan has solidified his legacy with the organization and with the NBA as a whole. In case you don't agree, I'll let some of his numbers do the talking: 15 All Star selections, 2 NBA MVP's, Rookie of the Year, 10 All NBA First Teams, and 8 All Defensive Team selections. He's led San Antonio in points scored, and not only has he been a part of great teams but he was the glue that kept them together. In three of his five NBA Finals wins, he won the MVP. Is there anything more that could possibly be said to keep Duncan from the respect he clearly deserves? 

3 - Peyton Manning, 1st Pick of the 1998 NFL Draft
Chosen By: Indianapolis Colts

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The fact that we haven't seen Peyton Manning 'man' Colts blue since the conclusion of the 2011 season and he still owns a spot this high on the list goes to prove just how impactful he was to their team. Luckily for Indianapolis, they seem to have a bright future still set in stone with their most recent #1 pick, Quarterback Andrew Luck, but he has some huge shoes to fill. Peyton only helped lead Indianapolis to one Super Bowl title, but their 2008 title was the shining moment of the entire organization's history. The elder Manning brother is larger than life, even if he has struggled in the postseason throughout most of his career. This does keep him from being considered the greatest QB of all time, but it certainly does not hurt his status as much as some say.

As I mentioned before, I don't agree to the argument that quarterbacks should be judged solely off of postseason accomplishments. It certainly helps for someone of Joe Montana's stature to have 4 titles of his own, but let's keep in mind that championships are won based off offensive and defensive team performance.

2 - Ken Griffey Jr., 1st Pick of the 1987 MLB Draft
Chosen By: Seattle Mariners

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Imagine if Ken Griffey Jr. was a little luckier. We can take out the fact that he is one of the most famous, rich athletes of all time, but if "The Kid" could have stayed healthy, we may have had a clean home run king. Griffey was a prolific five tool player among his years in Seattle, and was a quiet leader for an emerging team that always seemed to fall just short of winning it all. If the Mariners could have afforded to keep Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Griffey together longer, I bet they could have won a World Series. Could have. In our collector universe, we glorify his 1989 Upper Deck rookie card, which may just be the best card printed within the past 30 years. He recently recreated that moment in Macklemore's new music video "Downtown", and while it made absolutely no sense, it was refreshing to see Griffey in the public eye again. Except, rather than crushing home runs with his trademark gorgeous swing or robbing home runs, he catches a fish and flashes a smile. 

1 - Earvin "Magic" Johnson, 1st Pick of the 1979 NBA Draft
Chosen By: Los Angeles Lakers

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You can not spell "Lakers" without "Magic". Technically you can, but there is no doubt that he should be the first face that pops up in your head when you think of one of the most storied organizations in sports history. Kobe Bryant has had a remarkable career, Kareem Abdul Jabbar contributed greatly, and Wilt Chamberlain may be the greatest basketball player ever, but Magic Johnson has been all about Hollywood ever since the day he was drafted first overall.

Magic compiled 3 MVP trophies and 5 Championship titles amidst a career that was threatened and shortened by his contraction of AIDS. He made the All Star team in all but his sophomore season. He was flashy and extravagant and always made his presence felt. In fact, he still does in Los Angeles through his work as part owner of the Dodgers. I had to shift the order of this list a few times, but he stayed at the top.

For now, that will do it for this week's Ten for Tuesday. In the future, we may see Bryce Harper, Andrew Luck, Anthony Davis, and others on this list.

See Ya!


  1. This is a pretty good list.

    No love for Oscar Robertson? I think A-Rod deserves a mention, too- "honorable" is debatable, but he has been one of the most prolific 1st overall picks of all time.

  2. Great picks. You did really well on creating "the impossible list".


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