Photos: Keith Allison
I have a bit of a death wish, I guess, making a list so incredibly subjective that it’s bound to get some people riled up.
While making this list, I was looking for players that fit into three categories: 1.) How good they were while playing in Miami (obviously); 2.) How strong their connection is to the South Florida community; 3.) The length and success of their tenure. As a side note, I purposely did not include any University of Miami players because I figured I’d get enough angry letters without bringing the U into it.
Jose Fernandez (SP – Marlins) – He will make this list very soon, we can book it. Not only is he terrifyingly productive, but his story makes him uniquely endearing in South Florida.
Zach Thomas (LB – Dolphins) – Zach was probably the hardest cut I had to make, but I could not justify putting him over any of the other Dolphins who made the list.
Miguel Cabrera (3B/LF – Marlins) – His popularity seems to have tripled AFTER he got traded. I guess you don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone.
Chris Bosh (PF/C – Heat) – See: Thomas, Zach.
Mercury Morris (HB – Dolphins) – Just kidding.
10. Roberto Luongo, Panthers
A little love must be shown to that hockey team in Sunrise we all pretend doesn’t exist. It’s not very often one of our teams can right one of their many wrongs, but the Panthers reacquiring perhaps the best player in franchise history is a great story.
While it may seem blasphemous to put a Panthers player over others from more popular teams, any Panthers fan can tell you how much Luongo meant (and means) to the team. He’s probably the best goalie in team history, leading the franchise in shutouts and saves. Luongo is one of only three Panthers (joining John Vanbiesbrouck and Pavel Bure) to be named to a NHL All-Star Team.
His roots in South Florida are deep, as he met his wife here and still kept his home in Ft. Lauderdale after being traded to Vancouver. When Luongo was placed on the trading block, there was only one place he wanted to go to. Although he’s done very little winning with the Panthers, he is still one of the most gifted goalies in the game.
9. Larry Csonka, Dolphins
Arguably the best player on Miami’s Super Bowl teams of the 1970s (and certainly the most important cog on offense), Csonka was an absolute bruiser at fullback. He is still the all-time leading rusher in Dolphins history with multiple 1,000-yard seasons and All-Pro selections to go along with a Super Bowl MVP trophy. Csonka is the only offensive player to ever get flagged with an unnecessary roughness penalty while carrying the ball.
So how could a man with a fearsome style and retired jersey number possibly rank so low? His commitment to Miami was tenuous at best. After the 1974 season, Csonka left the Dolphins for a bigger contract in the upstart WFL. After the WFL proved to be even less successful than the USFL, Csonka played several years with the New York Giants (where he was part of the infamous Miracle at the Meadowlands play) before returning to Miami for his final season. After his retirement, Csonka packed up his bags and moved as far away from Miami as possible – Wasilla, Alaska, also known as the town where Sarah Palin was once mayor.
8. Mike Lowell, Marlins
It was incredibly tough to pick a Marlin for this list because for every compelling case, there were major flaws that came with it (that and great players rarely last down here). In a tight race between Lowell and “Mr. Marlin” himself, Jeff Conine, I went with Lowell for two reasons: He undeniably has better roots in South Florida. He moved to Miami (with his Cuban parents no less!) when he was four years old and graduated from Coral Gables High (also the alma mater of UM greats Frank Gore and Jonathan Vilma); Second, he was simply a better player with the Marlins.
In addition to contributing to the 2003 World Series team, he was named an MLB All-Star three times with the Fish and also was selected for both a Golden Glove and a Silver Slugger. Plus, the team got back Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez when they traded Lowell, meaning the Marlins were actually not fleeced by a deal, for once.
7. Bob Griese, Dolphins
Griese is the only Dolphins quarterback to win a Super Bowl, but he is still one of the most underrated passers in NFL history, though he’s now seen as merely a “game manager,” someone who handed the ball off to Csonka and threw five passes all game to a wide-open Paul Warfield.
His accomplishments can better be appreciated when compared to two of the greatest contemporary quarterbacks of his time in Joe Namath and Roger Staubach. Griese threw for 3,000 more yards and 40 more TDs than Staubach did. Compared to Namath, Griese threw for 20 more TDs while also throwing 50 less interceptions.
While Griese was never a flashy passer, his poise and leadership suited his teams well. Without him, they probably would have never won a Super Bowl. He still resides in the South Florida and is frequently part of Dolphins television and radio broadcasts.
Fun fact: I had a teacher in high school whose wife babysat for Griese. That’s right, I know someone who babysat Brian Griese. Try to contain your jealousy.
6. Udonis Haslem, Heat
To those not from South Florida, the inclusion of Udonis Haslem would seem to be completely out of place. On a list filled with All-Stars, All-Pros, and Hall of Famers, it might seem odd to include a player who averaged a mere 12 points and 9 rebounds during his best season. The best way to explain what Haslem represents to his team and this community is to quote Heat coach Erik Spoelstra from a few days ago:
“What UD brings us, we know, [is] incredible toughness, competitiveness, fierceness. You want to go into battle with him. I have a big picture… of just his look. It’s just his eyes. That motivates me. You get to this time of year and, I think LeBron said it, if you go down a dark alley that’s the guy you want with you.”
As a Miami native and the real “Mr. 305,” Haslem is one of the most popular and loved players in the history of the city. Clichés such as “toughness” and “grit” are thrown around all the time, but Haslem exemplifies the hard work and dedication needed to succeed. After going undrafted, he currently leads the franchise in rebounds (the only undrafted player to lead an NBA franchise in rebounds). A popular anecdote is how the Big 3 all took an additional pay cut in order to retain Haslem, showing how crucial he is to the team. He has been a component of all three championship teams, and has played the second most games behind Dwyane Wade in a Heat uniform.
5. Alonzo Mourning, Heat
Congratulations are in order for Zo, who will reportedly become the first player who spent a majority of his career with the Heat to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame. A two-time Defensive Player of the Year and the first Heat player to have his jersey retired, let’s focus on his off-the-court achievements to truly understand what he meant to the city.
Like UD, Zo was an intense, brutal competitor on the court. He came back from a debilitating kidney disease that probably should have ended his career, and his final play in the NBA involved going up to block a shot as his body betrayed him for the last time. After his retirement, Zo has remained in Miami as part of the Heat’s front office while also remaining engaged with community outreach and charity programs.
4. Jason Taylor, Dolphins
On a team with a history of outstanding defense, from the No-Name Defense to the Killer B’s, with countless hall-of-famers, All-Pros, and Pro Bowlers on the defensive side of the ball, Jason Taylor is, unequivocally, the greatest Dolphins defender ever.
Like Mourning, he also won Defensive Player of the Year in his league and was a four-time All-Pro. His 139.5 sacks are the sixth most all-time and ahead of other notables like Richard Dent and Lawrence Taylor. Perhaps, most importantly, he played 204 games with the Miami Dolphins, more than any other player except for Dan Marino. His play speaks for itself, and it’s a tragedy he sampled very little playoff success in his career – though it certainly was not his fault.
The Jason Taylor Foundation is one of the most successful and visible athlete-run charities in South Florida, and like Zo, Jason has fully integrated himself within the community. The one knock on JT’s resume? He did kinda play for THAT TEAM for a season. You know the one.
3. LeBron James, Heat
Is it a little premature to put LeBron this high on the list? Maybe. But if when he comes back for another stint Miami, his position at the three spot will be solidified.
Although his time in Miami is the shortest of all other players listed, he has had the most success. With two MVPs and two championships through three seasons in Miami, LeBron is the best athlete to ever play in the city. No other athlete in Miami sports history has reached the pinnacle of their sport in the way that LeBron has.
With his wife recently opening up a smoothie/healthy lifestyle emporium along with rumors that he is part of the group that will bring an MLS team back to the area, it looks like LeBron has fit nicely into our community.
2. Dwyane Wade, Heat
I agonized over the placement of the Top 2 for a long time. Wade and Marino both have compelling arguments for owning the top spot in the hearts of South Floridians. Nevertheless, I’ll show deference to the retired player and, by the slimmest of margins, put Wade in the No. 2 spot.
Like nearly all the players on this list, Wade has the skills and hall-of-fame pedigree to belong, but he also owns a unique distinction. Not many players mean more to a sports franchise (at least in the last 20 years) than Dwyane Wade means to the Miami Heat. While Glen Rice, Alonzo Mourning, and Tim Hardaway were all great players, Wade was the first true mega-superstar in Heat history while having never played for another franchise.
It was Wade who effectively delivered all three titles to the Heat, first by perhaps having the most dominant finals performance ever in 2006 and then by masterminding (along with Pat Riley) the greatest coup in NBA Free Agency by bringing the Big 3 together in Miami. It is because of what Wade has done here that Miami has become a basketball town. Imagine what would have happened if Riley drafted Chris Kaman or Kirk Hinrich instead of Wade (allegedly very possible). Scary stuff.
1. Dan Marino, Dolphins
And yet, despite everything mentioned, Miami has historically been a football town. It has only been since the Big 3 arrived that football was truly challenged in South Florida (despite the team’s best attempt to implode the fan base for a decade). Of course, this means the greatest player on South Florida’s most popular and oldest team has to be in the top spot.
Marino retired as the most prolific quarterback of all-time, and I could quote a million pundits who call Marino the greatest pure quarterback to ever play. We all know the one flaw in Marino’s career, so I won’t bring it up, but his greatness is only amplified when compared to what a mess the team has been in since his retirement.
Simultaneously a tragic and triumphant figure, he was one of the greatest to ever play the game, burdened by bad timing, bad luck, and mediocre teammates. Marino has fulfilled all my categories in ranking the most beloved players of South Florida. He was one of the best, played in Miami for nearly two decades, and has called South Florida his home ever since.