Black History Month: A look at five of the best black athletes

By Doug Halberstadt
Sports Columnist

In recognition of Black History Month, I’ve decided to compile a list of my personal favorite black athletes. I’m keeping it limited to those athletes whom I’ve seen perform in my lifetime. That implies no disrespect to those who made their mark in the world of sports prior to my being able to watch them and, more importantly, remember them.

I know Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens and Jim Brown were all remarkable, groundbreaking and historic black athletes. My only exposure to them was through rebroadcasts of their feats. I never had the opportunity to see them perform live; therefore, they are not on my list. But I do feel they need to be mentioned in this column for not only their talent, but also for the impact they’ve had on black history.

The five black athletes I’ve chosen as my personal favorites are as follow:

1. Walter Payton — As a huge Chicago Bears fan, I believe he was the best athlete to ever wear that uniform. I not only watched him run and catch, he could also throw the ball. He exemplified effort. I never saw him not give it his all. He was an integral part of the ’85 Bears Super Bowl championship team, and he was responsible for many of the most thrilling plays I’ve ever seen.

2. Michael Jordan — For many of the same reasons I chose Payton as No. 1, I’ve placed MJ at No. 2. He helped bring seven NBA championships to Chicago and may arguably be the greatest all-around basketball player of all-time. The only reason he is second on my list is I prefer football to basketball.

3. Muhammad Ali — His nickname says it all: “The Greatest.” I loved watching each and every one of his championship fights. The hype surrounding those fights was unforgettable. He energized the world of boxing like no one before or after him.

4. Ernie Banks — Another Chicago sports legend. I still remember Jack Brickhouse calling Banks’ 500th homer. For me, it’s one of those moments I can tell you exactly where I was at the time. He not only was a great baseball player, he’s been a role model and an ambassador for the game. His “Let’s Play Two” attitude is something I wish more players nowadays possessed.

5. Gayle Sayers — He was the Chicago Bears player I most admired as a kid. He and Dick Butkus were about all the Bears had in those years. One of my earliest sports memories is seeing him score six touchdowns in one game. I wasn’t even 5 years old when he set that record. To this day, I still wonder what kind of career he would have had had he not suffered two separate knee injuries.

Those five guys are all superior athletes, and they’ve all had an immeasurable impact in the world of sports and in my life. Thanks to all of them for the many, many thrills and memories they’ve provided over the past 45 years.

Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at

From the Feb. 15-21, 2012, issue

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