Chicago has always been one of the premier sports cities in America. In all four major North American sports they have fielded some of the best teams of all time in their respective sports. The Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, Cubs, and White Sox have all had periods of supremacy in 4 competitive leagues. Players and coaches have come and gone, but the truly great ones live in the hearts of fans forever. From the gridiron to the hardwood, these are Chicago's greatest sports icons.
1. Walter Payton, Bears
Walter Payton was more than just a great running back, he was, and still is, one the most celebrated players in the NFL history. Sweetness is the epitome of great Bears' running backs. His never die easy attitude made him one of the most legendary players ever. He broke Jim Brown's rushing record in 1984, won an MVP award, and won a Super Bowl in 1985. Payton's status as an all time great will never be challenged. Attend a Bears game in 2018 and you will still see number 34 jerseys in the stands.
2. Michael Jordan, Bulls
Michael Jordan put the Chicago Bulls on the map as soon as he entered the league in 1984. It was apparent early on that he would cause headaches for the rest of the league for many years to come. Jordan didn't just win 6 NBA championships and 5 MVPs. He made the game of basketball a global sport. That was never more apparent than during the 1992 Olympic games when Jordan was a part of the legendary Dream Team. Everywhere the team went, everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the best player in the world.
3. Stan Mikita, Blackhawks
The late Stan Mikita spent his entire 22-year career in the windy city. He still leads the Blackhawks in games played, points, and assists. He was a gentleman off the ice and his impact was felt by everyone. He helped Chicago hoist the Stanley Cup in 1961.
4. Frank Thomas, White Sox
Frank Thomas was a force to be reckoned with. "The Big Hurt" was the face of the White Sox as their first baseman and designated hitter for 16 years. Thomas was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. He chose to have his White Sox hat in his hall of fame plaque.
5. Ernie Banks, Cubs
Ernie Banks defined what it meant to be a Chicago Cub. The man they called "Mr. Cub" was one of the best shortstop's baseball has ever seen. He was the first player to win back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1958-59. Despite never appearing in the postseason, Banks is one of the most legendary Chicago athletes ever.
6. Dick Butkus, Bears
Dick Butkus was the original Monster of the Midway. His demeanor on the field struck fear in the hearts of his opponents. Butkus played in a time before roughing the passer was a serious concern for quarterbacks, and he took full advantage of that. He spent his entire 9-year career with the Bears. During his playing days, he set the bar high for any and all middle linebackers who come to Chicago, Illinois.
7. Scottie Pippen, Bulls
Scottie Pippen was Jordan's right-hand man during their dynasty in the 90s. He was one of the defining players of his generation and was an iconic Bulls player. For all of Michael Jordan's greatness there would be no dynasty without number 33 by his side.
8. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews came to the right town at the right time when he was drafted 3rd overall by Chicago in 2006. In his second season Toews was named team captain, the second youngest in NHL history at the time. In 2010, Toews and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961. Toews also won the Con Smythe Trophy in 2010 as playoff MVP. He would go on to lead the Blackhawks to two more Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015. Toews' leadership has kept the Hawks moving forward as he's left his mark in NHL history.
9. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, White Sox
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson was a superstar outfielder in the early 1900s. He will be forever linked to the "Black Sox Scandal", when players of the 1919 White Sox fixed the World Series. Jackson was banned from professional baseball in his prime.
10. George Halas, Bears
There probably wouldn't be a National Football League if it weren't for George Halas. Halas started his career as an end with the Decatur Staleys. He would move them to Chicago and the Staleys would become the Bears. Halas was a player, coach, and owner for the Bears from 1920 to 1983. He won 6 NFL championships and was the winningest head coach in history when he retired. "Papa Bear" was a co-founder of the NFL way back in 1920. In 1963 Halas and 16 other inductees was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Bears wouldn't be where they are today if it wasn't for Halas. No coach or owner had more respect from his players than George Halas.
11. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks
Patrick Kane was and is one of the cornerstones of the Chicago Blackhawks modern NHL dynasty. He helped lead the Hawks to 3 Stanley Cups from 2010-2015. In 2013 He won the Con Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Kane was the first American player in the NHL to win both the Hart Memorial Trophy as MVP, and the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion. His fast and electric play on the ice has made him one of the most entertaining players of his generation. Kane helped bring the Hawks to glory in the 2010s.
12. Gale Sayers, Bears
Gale Sayers was a once in a lifetime athlete. The "Kansas Comet" burst onto the NFL scene like no other rookie had before or since. His God-given talent made him one of the greatest running backs the game has ever seen. He only played pro football for 7 seasons, as knee injuries cut his career short. Bears fans are left to wonder what could have been. But during his time in cleats, Gale Sayers was the perfect Chicago running back.
13. Joel Quenneville, Blackhawks
Joel Quenneville was the head man in Chicago from 2008 to 2018. In that span he won 3 Stanley Cups and became the second winningest coach in NHL history. He led the Blackhawks to 9 straight playoff appearances. His personality and leadership were critical in Chicago's success in the rink. He may have been fired recently, but the memories he helped create in Chicago won't be forgotten by true Blackhawks fans.
14. Ryne Sandberg, Cubs
Ryne Sandberg spent nearly his entire career in a Cubs uniform. Sandberg was one of the best second baseman of all time. His stats speak for themselves. When he retired, he had hit more home runs than any second basemen in history.
15. Mike Ditka, Bears
Mike Ditka was a typical Chicago Bear. He was a tough player and he revolutionized the tight end position. He became the head coach of the Bears in 1982 and three years later he led the Bears to their first Super Bowl title. His toughness defined him both in the field and on the sidelines. He is one of the most iconic figures in Chicago sports as a player and coach.
Chicago is the 3rd largest city in America. Their professional sports franchises have brought championships and many great memories to the residents of the great city. Some teams will have their ups and downs in the future. But Chicago's past proves that good times are ahead. Each major sports league has historic franchises in Chicago and the memories these icons created will last a lifetime.