By Brian Kalchik @RantsportsBrian on June 5, 2014
When the Houston Texans selected Jadeveon Clowney (pictured) No. 1 overall a month ago, the Texans banked on getting the best player in the country. In any draft, not just football, whoever selects at No. 1 overall hopes that their selection will turn around their franchise for years to come. While some No. 1 picks have not performed up to par or have been total busts, these 15 athletes panned out and justified their status as greats at No. 1.
Before another member of this list arrived, Ken Griffey Jr. was the face of the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners never had a winning season before Griffey joined the team. With Griffey Jr. in center field, he won 10 straight Gold Gloves and the 1997 American League MVP award. Seattle went on to enjoy its first five winning seasons and its first two postseason berths with Griffey Jr. in the lineup.
The leader of the Buffalo Bills' defense that won four consecutive AFC titles from 1990-93, Bruce Smith made 11 Pro Bowl teams during his 15-year tenure in Buffalo. During that time, Smith and the Bills became the only team in NFL History to reach four consecutive Super Bowl games. He amassed 171 of his NFL- record 200 career sacks while playing for Buffalo.
Troy Aikman spent his entire 12-year-career in Dallas, winning three Super Bowls, one Super Bowl MVP and making six Pro Bowl teams with the Cowboys. Aikman was the top pick in one of the most top heavy drafts in NFL history, with three other Hall of Famers (Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders) also going in the top five. It was Aikman who led the Cowboys to team of the decade status in the '90s.
Although Terry Bradshaw was a heralded quarterback coming out of Louisiana Tech, it took him awhile to adjust to the pro game. As a rookie, he threw six touchdowns to 24 interceptions in eight starts. But in the 13 seasons with the Steelers after that, he led Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl rings, winning MVP honors in Super Bowls 13 and 14. Bradshaw made clutch plays during each game that led to ultimate victory.
No team ever got more out of the No. 1 overall choice than the Braves got from Chipper Jones. Jones spent his entire 19-year, soon-to-be Hall of Fame career with the team that drafted him in the Atlanta Braves. Jones' teams made the postseason in 12 of those 19 seasons and won the World Series in his rookie year in 1995. Jones was one of the best switch-hitters and third basemen in MLB history.
O.J. Simpson won the Heisman Trophy after the 1968 season at USC, but his NFL stardom didn’t come until 1972 when he rushed for 1,251 yards behind the Buffalo Bills' "Electric Company" offensive line. A year later, he became the league’s first 2,000-yard rusher and was named NFL MVP. Simpson, who played nine seasons in Buffalo, was the team's MVP as he did not play with other elite-caliber players with the Bills.
Hakeem Olajuwon was the first pick of the most famous NBA Draft in league history. Olajuwon headlined a class that featured Michael Jordan, John Stockton and Charles Barkley, all greats at their respective positions. After making the Finals in 1986, Olajuwon won back-to-back titles in 1994 and '95. He was the Finals MVP in both seasons and averaged 28.9 points with 11.0 rebounds in '94 and 33.0 points with 10.3 rebounds in '95.
As a Pittsburgh Penguin, Mario Lemieux won two Stanley Cups, was a three-time MVP and a six-time scoring champion. Lemieux also won an Olympic Gold Medal with Canada and has mentored the Penguins' current star in Sidney Crosby. Lemieux played his entire career in Pittsburgh, and during his career he was one of the faces of the NHL along with Wayne Gretzky.
Tim Duncan entered the league in the 1997-98 season and won his first championship in his second season. He has gone on to win three more (2003, '05, '07) and was Finals MVP for three of the four championships. In his 13 seasons in San Antonio, Duncan has been a 12-time All-Star, was league MVP in 2002 and 2003 and has been a first-team All-Defensive selection eight times.
Originally drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1992, Shaquille O'Neal began his road to dominance with a young, up-and-coming team. In 1995, O'Neal would help the Magic reach their first NBA Finals in franchise history, a 4-0 loss to Olajuwon and the Rockets. Then in 1996, O'Neal signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. What followed were three championships in L.A. from 2000-02 and another title in Miami with the Heat in 2006.
John Elway may have the best career of any top overall pick in NFL history when all is said and done, but it wasn't for the team that originally picked him. After a trade to the Denver Broncos, Elway started his path of greatness that would feature numerous fourth-quarter comebacks and three Super Bowl disappointments. Finally, in 1997 and '98, Elway capped off his historic career with back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Before becoming a champion with Miami in 2011 and '12, LeBron James spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After several impressive postseason runs with little to no support behind him, James took his "talents" to South Beach and became a winner with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Now, James and the Heat will be looking to complete a three-peat for the first time since the 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers.
For 14 seasons, Peyton Manning made the Indianapolis Colts franchise relevant. With 11 Pro Bowl appearances, four NFL MVP awards, one Super Bowl win and nearly 54,000 passing yards under his belt, Manning has been one of the greatest players in NFL History. Manning and the Colts parted ways in March 2012, and now Manning is now setting records with the Denver Broncos with Elway in charge of football operations.
Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) played an amazing 20 seasons in the NBA, the first six with the Milwaukee Bucks and the last 14 with the Los Angeles Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar was a 19-time All-Star and a six-time regular-season MVP (1971, '72, '74, '76, '77, '80). Abdul-Jabbar holds the record for most points in a career with 38,387, is second in games played with 1,560 and is third in total rebounds with 17,740.
Between his arrival in the NBA for the 1979-80 season through his premature retirement early in the 1991-92 season, Magic Johnson led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA championships and to four other NBA finals appearances. Johnson was a 12-time All-Star and nine-time first-team All-NBA selection. Johnson was also the regular-season MVP three times, and of his five championships, Johnson was the Finals MVP three times.
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