With a rich tradition in basketball and horse racing and a long history of Hall of Fame athletes in other sports, creating Kentucky’s Mount Rushmore of Sports is a nearly impossible task.
So, dear Courier Journal readers, we’re leaving it up to you.
After much discussion, our staff has put together a list of 25 sports figures to consider for the four spots on Kentucky’s Mount Rushmore.
Voting begins May 17 and closes at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 22. The top four Kentucky sports figures receiving votes will be placed on our — your — Mount Rushmore. The winners will be revealed May 24, here on courierjournal.com and in that day’s Courier Journal Sports section.
So, how did we decide on these 25?
We started with top athletes born and raised in Kentucky. We also considered any athlete who attended a Kentucky college. And we took into account those who influenced the commonwealth’s signature event — the Kentucky Derby.
Now it’s up to you to decide.
Muhammad Ali? Seems like a lock.
Secretariat? Some staffers believe the 1973 Triple Crown winner doesn’t belong on the list. After all, Secretariat was born in Virginia and raced just one time in Kentucky. But he just happened to run the fastest Kentucky Derby ever.
Anthony Davis and Lamar Jackson? Maybe not this year, but if The Courier Journal runs this poll again in 2050, both could be no-brainers.
It’s up to you.
And before you call or email, yes, there are plenty of other athletes and sports figures we considered who just didn’t make the cut. Among them were Bob Baffert, Ralph Beard, Happy Chandler, Earle Combs, Pat Day, E.A. Diddle, John A. “Bud” Hillerich, Matt Winn and Valerie Still.
Here’s the list of nominees, listed alphabetically.
Louisville native and Central High School product was a three-time heavyweight boxing champion, a 1960 Olympic gold medalist and one of the world’s most celebrated sports figures. In 1999, Time Magazine named Ali one of the “100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.”
Born in Cincinnati and raised in the Kentucky towns of Covington and Newport, Arcaro is the only jockey to ride two Triple Crown winners – Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in 1948. In total, he posted 17 victories in Triple Crown races (six Belmont, six Preakness, five Kentucky Derby) and in 1958 was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
He played quarterback and kicker for the University of Kentucky football team from 1945-48, the final three seasons under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Blanda played a record 26 seasons in professional football, retiring in 1976 at the age of 48. He was the Associated Press’ Athlete of the Year in 1970 and the NFL’s Man of the Year in 1974. His 2,002 career points were an NFL record when he retired, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
Born in Southgate, Kentucky, Bunning played high school baseball at Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High School and at Xavier University. He made his major league debut in 1955 and played 17 seasons in the major leagues, compiling a 224-184 record and earning nine All-Star Game appearances. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. He served in the U.S. Congress from 1987-2011.
Calipari has a 330-77 record in 11 seasons as the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball coach and has led the Wildcats to four Final Fours and the 2012 national championship. Calipari previously coached at Massachusetts, Memphis and with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.
He coached the University of Louisville men’s basketball team for 30 seasons (1971-2001), compiling a 675-295 record, reaching six Final Fours and winning national championships in 1980 and 1986. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994.
The Chicago native played one season of basketball at the University of Kentucky, averaging 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks and leading the Wildcats to the 2012 national championship. He was the first pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and now is in his eighth season in the league, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s been selected to the All-Star Game seven times and is a three-time All-NBA first-team selection.
A Lexington native and Bryan Station High School product, Dawson went on to play football at the University of Kentucky and was a second-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1988. The center played 13 seasons (1988-2000) with the Steelers and was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Dr. Dunkenstein” led Male High School to the 1975 state basketball championship and was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1976. He went on to lead the University of Louisville to the 1980 NCAA championship and played 11 seasons with the Utah Jazz, earning NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 1981. His No. 35 was retired by the club in 1993.
The Owensboro native was a two-time first-team All-American (1952 and 1954) at the University of Kentucky and went on to play 13 seasons in the ABA and NBA. He was a five-time All-Star and finished his professional career with 14,780 points. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.
“The Golden Boy” is a Louisville native and 1953 graduate of Flaget High School, where he was a star in football, basketball and baseball. After winning the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame in 1956, Hornung was the No. 1 pick in the 1957 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers and was named the NFL’s MVP in 1961. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
A two-time All-American at the University of Kentucky, where he played basketball from 1967-70, Issel was a seven-time All-Star (six ABA, one NBA) while playing with the Kentucky Colonels and Denver Nuggets. Issel had two stints as the Nuggets’ head coach and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
The Florida native joined the University of Louisville football program in 2015 and prospered during his three seasons at quarterback, winning the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2016 and finishing third in the Heisman voting as a junior in 2017. A first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens, Jackson enjoyed an outstanding 2019 season and was a unanimous selection as the NFL’s MVP after setting a league record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,206).
Man o’ War
The Kentucky-bred colt won 20 of his 21 career races from 1919-1920 and is considered one of the greatest horses of all-time. He did not compete in the 1920 Kentucky Derby because owner Samuel Riddle believed 1 ¼ miles was too far for such a young horse to race. Man o’ War went on to win the Preakness and Belmont in 1920 and was considered on par with Babe Ruth as the most recognizable sports figure of his time.
The Baltimore native was a star for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team from 2005-09, scoring a school-record 2,779 points and leading the Cardinals to an NCAA Tournament runner-up finish in 2009. She was the first pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft and has played nine seasons in the league with the Atlanta Dream, earning All-Star honors five times. She also won Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016.
Mary T. Meagher
A five-time state champion at Sacred Heart (1981-82), Meagher went on to become one of the world’s most recognizable swimmers, winning three gold medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics. Her world-record times in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly events – set in 1981 – both stood for nearly two decades. She was a member of the first class to be inducted into the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1998.
Now the head coach at Iona College, Pitino led the University of Kentucky (1996) and University of Louisville (2013) basketball teams to NCAA championships. In eight seasons (1989-97) at UK, Pitino compiled a 219-50 record and reached the Final Four three times. In 16 seasons (2001-17) at U of L, Pitino reached three Final Fours. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Pee Wee Reese
His career at Manual High School wasn’t noteworthy, as the Courier Journal reported he weighed just 110 pounds as a senior in 1935 and played just five games because of a hand injury. But Reese was discovered playing in a church league and eventually made his major league debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940. He finished his career with 2,170 hits and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.
In 41 seasons (1930-72) as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, Rupp compiled an 876-190 record and won four NCAA championships and one NIT title. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969.
He was bred in Virginia but became synonymous with Kentucky, winning the Kentucky Derby in 1973 with a record time (1:59.40) that still stands. Secretariat went on to win the Preakness and Belmont to become the ninth Triple Crown winner in racing history. Secretariat retired after his 3-year-old season and finished with a record of 16-3-1 in 21 career starts. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1974.
A 1974 graduate of Louisville’s Southern High School, Simms went on to play at Morehead State University before becoming a first-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 1979. He played 15 seasons with the Giants (1979-1993), quarterbacking them to victories in Super Bowl XXI and Super Bowl XXV. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Simms’ No. 11 jersey number was retired by the Giants in 1995. He currently is an NFL analyst for CBS Sports.
He won the Kentucky state golf title as a St. Xavier High School sophomore in 2009 and helped lead the University of Alabama to the national championship in 2013. He turned pro later that year and was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2017. He also won his first major tournament (PGA) in 2017. He currently has 12 PGA Tour victories in his career and is ranked No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings.
“The Golden Arm” played football at the University of Louisville from 1951-54 before an outstanding pro career, primarily with the Baltimore Colts. The three-time NFL MVP was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
The Louisville native and Seneca High School product was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball winner in 1964. He was a two-time All-American at the University of Louisville and was a five-time NBA All-Star with the Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.
An Owensboro native and 1965 graduate of Daviess County High School, Waltrip was one of NASCAR’s top drivers during a 29-year career from 1972-2000. He was a three-time Winston Cup series champion and won the Daytona 500 in 1989. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012.
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Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; email@example.com; Twitter: @kyhighs. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/jasonf.