For such a small state New Jersey has produced some world class athletes. Some you may recognize, others you may be surprised to know are from the Garden State. What New Jersey lacks in numbers, we make up for in talent. The following is a top ten list of the greatest athletes.

Shaquille O'Neal Born in Newark

“Superman” was a force right from the start dominating the paint for 18 NBA seasons. The McDonald's All American was named 1st team all American in both 1991 and 1992 while at LSU. He was drafted first overall by the Orlando Magic in 1992. During his NBA career he won four NBA championships, three with the Los Angeles Lakes and one with the Miami Heat. O’Neal was rookie of the year, collected one MVP in 1999, three all star game MVPs and three Finals MVPs. The Big Aristotle ranks eighth in career points scored, 14 in total rebounds, first in career field goal percentage and eighth in career blocks.

Rick Barry born in Elizabeth

The Hall of Fame small forward was ahead of his time for the NBA. After bouncing between the NBA and the shortly-lived ABA Barry was a star. Barry was named to 12 all star appearances and won one NBA championship. Along with being named rookie of the year in 1965, Barry collected an all star game MVP award as well as an NBA Finals MVP award. Barry ranks 17th in career points and 6th in career free throw percentage.

Derek Jeter Born in Pequannock

“The Captain” is one of the most revered players in not only the New York Yankees illustrious history but in professional baseball's as well. Since entering the league in 1995 all Jeter has done is bring the Yankees back to greatness. During his career the Yankees have won five World Series, including four straight in his first four full seasons. Jeter has also made 13 all star games and received five gold gloves awards. In 2000 he won both the American League MVP as well as the World Series MVP. He is currently ranked 17th in career runs scored and 14th in career hits, most notably passing the 3,000 hit mark with a home run last year.


“The Worm” has been an integral part of five NBA championship teams. Rodman was integral part of both the Bad Boy Pistons where he won two championships, and Jordan’s Bulls where he collected three rings. The recent hall of famer made two all star game appearances and was one of the best defensive players during his tenure. Rodman was named defensive player of the year twice and made seven all NBA defensive first team nominations. The Worm was an animal on the glass where he ranks 11th in career rebounds per game and 23rd in career rebounds.


Most notably recognized for one of the most memorable plays in football history with the “Immaculate Reception,” Harris was not just a one hit wonder. The Hall Of Fame running back was a nine time pro-bowler and was a first team all pro once. He ranks 10th in career rushing yards and 19th in career touchdowns scored. Along with being a four time super bowl winner during the famous “Steel Curtain” days, Harris was also named the 1974 super bowl MVP and 1972 AP offensive rookie of the year.


Along with being a popular face of Monday Night Football and current NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, Theismann was a solid quarterback as well. After playing in the Canadian Football League for the Toronto Argonauts, Theismann spent 11 seasons playing for the Washington Redskins with one culminating in a Super Bowl Ring. Theisman was a two time pro-bowler and a two time all pro as well. In 1983 he was named NFL MVP as well as NFL offensive player of the year.


The former Holy Cross star forward and center was a staple during the famous Bill Russell years that saw the Boston Celtics capture 11 NBA titles. After leaving Holy Cross as the school's all time leading scorer  he found more success at the professional level being named rookie of the year in 1956. Heinsohn would make six all star games, and be a part of eight of the 11 Celtic title teams. Heinsohn was also a world class coach winning almost 62% of his games and coaching the Celtics to two more NBA championships during his nine year coaching career.


After a very promising career which saw him become one of the most popular players in the MLS, he was signed by Premier League and international power Manchester United. Although he hit a rough patch, Howard has found his game again and become one of the more consistent goalkeepers in the world. Howard now plays for the Everton soccer club in the Premier League in England and helped both Everton and US Men’s Soccer teams to national prominence.


Although born in North Carolina, Tatum was a star defensive back at Passaic High School. After garnering All American recognition he was a standout at Ohio State University where he was later picked by the Oakland Raiders in the 1971 NFL draft 19th overall. Otherwise known as “The Assassin” Tatum was a three time pro bowler and two team second team all pro nominee. Tatum also won one super bowl ring with the Raiders in 1977 and was also featured in the “Immaculate Reception” with fellow Jersey native Franco Harris. Tatum caused the deflection that Harris ultimately caught and ran for the winning score.


The Hoboken native is widely regarded as one of the best tennis players of all time. Chang is the youngest male player to win a Grand Slam singles title, winning the French Open at age 17. Chang would reach three more grand slam finals but lose all three of them. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2008 and ranks 12th all time in career earnings.

Honorable mentionS

  • Jamal Anderson- (NFL Running Back) -Newark
  • Miles Austin (NFL Wide Receiver) -Summit
  • Joe Flacco (NFL Quarterback) -Audubon
  • Drew Pearson (NFL Wide Receiver) -South River
  • Neil O'Donnell (NFL Quarterback) -Morristown

Agree? Disagree? Have someone else in mind when it comes to the Garden States Greats? Tell us by leaving a comment below.