By Jason Iannone
A couple weeks ago, we discussed the most overrated athletes in sports. But what about the opposite end of the court/diamond/ring/rink/whatever else people sport on? There are many athletes out there who, despite being among the best at what they do, simply aren’t appreciated as much as they should be. Whether it’s because a teammate was more charismatic, they played on bad teams, or they were simply a victim of the times, these athletes deserve way more credit than they’ll probably ever get.
5. Charley Burley (Boxing)
Charley Burley is a guy who should’ve been way bigger than he was. It never happened, not because he was an underachiever or because of an untimely injury, but because he was so damn good, nobody wanted to fight him.
Burley might well have been, almost without question, the best boxer ever. He fought 98 times in 14 years, winning a ridiculous 83 times. When he lost, it was always because some judge decided to give his opponent extra points for incredibly shady reasons — not once was he knocked out.
And yet, he only held two championships: the World Colored Welterweight and World Colored Middleweight. He never even received a shot at an integrated championship, and was perennially ducked by the top names. Legends like Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson continually refused to give him a chance, sometimes due to race, other times because they were just plain afraid of him. It’s like what Floyd Mayweather does with Manny Pacquiao, only industry-wide. That’s a mighty quick way to bury somebody.
4. Devon White (Baseball)
Devon White is an underrated player with three World Series rings, all of which were won with underrated teams. His first two rings came with the Toronto Blue Jays, who won back-to-back titles in the early ’90s and yet never really received consideration as a dynasty in the making (perhaps because they fell apart in 1994 and haven’t put themselves together since). His third came in 1997 with the Florida Marlins, a team largely seen as the penultimate “buying a title” team, especially since they disbanded just a year later and the remnants lost over 100 games.
Outside of multiple forgotten rings though, White’s entire career was worthy of mention. Three All-Star selections, seven Gold Gloves, and coming one blown call away from scoring a World Series triple play all help the man’s cause. Plus, they nicknamed him “Devo.” It’s pretty much impossible to call yourself that and NOT be awesome.
Baseball, more than the other team sport, is focused on individual stats. White doesn’t have those in abundance (a couple hundred homers and a .263 average, for example). But if your goal is to win a title, chances are you’ll want this guy like this in your outfield.
3. Tim Brown (Football)
By all accounts, Tim Brown should be in the Football Hall of Fame. He holds multiple records for touchdowns, receptions and longevity, scored over a hundred touchdowns and was selected to nine Pro Bowls. The problem is, he played almost his entire career for the Raiders (which explains why he never won a ring), under an owner who hated him, both for his race and where he went to school, and that drama defined him more than his amazing career ever could.
Al Davis, in an apparent effort to display just how old, white, and out-of-touch he truly was, made it clear from the start he didn’t like Brown, or any black person from Notre Dame. Apparently, they all waste their scholarships by focusing on academics too much or something. Nice guy.
Their relationship never really thawed out, to the point where Brown had to hold his own retirement press conference, since Davis wouldn’t arrange an official team one for him. Virtually nobody from the team attended, probably because Davis told them not to. To this day, Brown doesn’t get the respect he deserves, and getting caught up in the reality show that was “Fun Times with Al Davis” didn’t help one bit.
2. Ron Francis (Hockey)
Ron Francis is proof that you can make it to the Hall of Fame and still be underrated. A member of the hockey Hall since 2007, Francis rarely gets mentioned alongside the greats of hockey, like Gretzky and Orr. And that’s too bad.
Francis was an incredibly consistent player, starting strong, playing strong throughout his career, and staying strong almost until the very end. In addition, he was very sportsmanlike and nonaggressive, with his sportsmanship garnering him the Lady Byng Trophy three separate times. He also hoisted up the Stanley Cup twice, proving that not only could he score, he could win.
Yet after all that, the average hockey fan still doesn’t know who he is. That’s what you get for being a nice guy in a tough sport.
1. Robert Horry (Basketball)
If we told you there was a basketball player with seven rings — more than anybody who didn’t play on the ’60s Celtics dynasty — who not only wasn’t in the Hall of Fame, but didn’t have a T-Rex-sized statue of himself smack-dab in the middle of the main lobby, you’d think the NBA had gone crazy. But it’s true, and it’s the price one pays for being the ultimate unselfish team player.
Robert Horry played for four teams and won championships with three of them: two with the Houston Rockets, three with the Los Angeles Lakers, and two with the San Antonio Spurs. Each time, a super-duper star hogged the spotlight. Whether it was Hakeem Olajuwon with the Rockets, Kobe and Shaq with the Lakers or Tim Duncan with the Spurs (yes, a quiet guy can absolutely steal the spotlight), there was always somebody the media gravitated towards before Big Shot Rob.
Anybody who bothered to watch him though, realized that Horry might have been the best clutch player ever. His numbers weren’t always great, but they sure as heck were when they counted.
There’s a very good reason why Horry got to be on so many title teams, and it wasn’t pure dumb luck. He knew how to win and when to take over and make it happen, and everybody charged with putting together winning teams knew it.
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