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10 one-team sports legends

  • A list of a rare commodity called 'one-team legend' across various sports.
  • Few of these players are still active with their respective teams/franchises.
ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 24 Apr 2020, 11:09 IST
Lionel Messi-The most famous one-team footballer in the world right now.
Lionel Messi-The most famous one-team footballer in the world right now.

Clubs, franchises, organisations, call them what you want to, but their modes of functioning across sports are almost identical. These behemoths run the global business industry for almost all big-money sports. Tennis, and to an extent cricket, remain exceptions.

However, the mushrooming of T20 cricket leagues around the world has led to a considerable shift in the spectrum in the formerly bucolic bat-and-ball sport as well. An integral part of this business model is the trading of its most vital commodity, players. Yes, as disturbing as the use of this term may sound, players are just that in the no-nonsense business machinations that run sports now.

Yes, they get money, fame and glamour as part of this Faustian pact in which they tie up with teams. But, loyalty and emotional connect, previously innate qualities associated with sports, become coveted minorities in the trade-off.

Journeymen footballers, a coinage of our times, travel the world from rural England to suburban China to make money. This is merely stating the norm and not a denouncement of the system. It is the way things are in our intractably capitalist systems of functioning.

That is why, one-team legends, that unicorn of modern sport, are such ethereal entities. Right from Bobby Charlton strutting his stuff for the champion Manchester United sides of yore, to Tim Duncan, the flag bearer of San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, these players have stood the test of loyalty with flying colours, and etched their names into history as a result.

It was a tough task choosing 10 from a legendary field, but we tried our best.


#10 Virat Kohli (Cricket)

Virat Kohli.
Virat Kohli.
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One generally doesn't find Virat Kohli at the last position in any sort of ranked list. But the Indian captain, who has had a fabulous career with the bat in the Indian Premier League for his franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore, finds himself at the bottom of the heap because of his failure to lead them to any silverware.

With 5412 runs at an average of 37.84, and a strike rate in excess of 130, Kohli has aggregated the most runs in the decade-old cash-rich league. One of the contemporary greats, Kohli has done it all for one team.

In fact, the Delhi lad is synonymous with the Red Army from the South. They have reached the final on three occasions, but, it is indeed a failure of a team full of stars such as AB de Villiers and Kohli, to not bag the title even once.

Kohli, as the captain of the side, is not yet done trying though.


#9 Mario Lemieux (Ice Hockey)

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Mario Lemieux.
Mario Lemieux.

Mario Lemieux is simply one of the greatest-ever ice hockey players of all time. What's more, his amazing career, spanning 17 seasons, was spent in the same team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. He won two Stanley Cups with the team as a player and then, remarkably, became the owner of the side, leading them to a further three titles.

Lemieux is the only person in NHL history to win the championship as both a player and as an owner. Remarkably, he beat lymphoma along the way to return from retirement to the same team in 2000. His legendary status could not be marred by a series of health issues. Lemieux is a one-team legend in the truest sense of the term.


#8. Bobby Charlton (Football)

Bobby Charlton at Wimbledon.
Bobby Charlton at Wimbledon.

As stated before, club loyalty was a more prevalent concept in football in the bygone days. However, even in this crowd of greats, some stand head and shoulders above the rest. Bobby Charlton is one such legend who is spoken of in the same breath as the club he represented, which is the true mark of a one-club legend.

Manchester United have a tradition of breeding loyal superstars (more on that later), and Matt Busby's era of dominance was the first golden age of the club. Bobby Charlton, a survivor of the Munich air disaster, was symbolic of the era. His crowning glory was definitely the European Cup win in 1968, but he also won three leagues and held the goal-scoring record of the club, with 249 strikes, until Wayne Rooney managed to surpass him.


#7 Lasith Malinga (Cricket)

Lasith Malinga.
Lasith Malinga.

It is rare for club loyalty to exist to such an extent in a nascent league such as the IPL, as exhibited by the man with an unconventional action, Lasith Malinga.

The Sri Lankan has been the wrecker-in-chief for Mumbai Indians in the league since its inception, and returned to action in extraordinary fashion after becoming the bowling coach of the team.

With 170 wickets in 122 games, the most by any bowlerin the league, and three championship wins, Malinga is simply the best bowler the IPL has witnessed.


#6 Joe DiMaggio (Baseball)

Dan Topping, George Weiss and Joe DiMaggio
Dan Topping, George Weiss and Joe DiMaggio

Even people not aware of baseball might have heard of the cult hero, Joe DiMaggio. Not only was he one of the best ever in the sport, with his 56-game hitting streak still a record, he was also known for his marriage to the enigmatic and ethereally beautiful Marilyn Monroe, the Hollywood queen of the era.

DiMaggio is also baseball's most remarkable one-team man, making his debut for the New York Yankees in 1936, and playing for them till 1951, a stint that was interrupted only by the second World War. He won nine World Series, was an All Star for all thirteen seasons he played the game, and a three-time MVP. His dedication to the Yankees earned DiMaggio the nickname, the Yankee Clipper.

#5 Francesco Totti (Football)

Francesco Totti.
Francesco Totti.

Football fans probably think of one player when the term one-team legend is bandied about. Yes, Francesco Totti is synonymous with Roma, the club he served for the entirety of his 25-year long career. A creative and versatile genius, Totti could have moved on to greener pastures offering him more success and money, but in his own words, he could never cheat on the Rome club.

Such was the dedication of the play-maker fondly nicknamed L'Ottavo Re di Roma (The Eighth King of Rome) by fans, that he persevered at Roma and helped them topple the big boys of Italian football for one season (2000-01) to win the coveted Scudetto in a transcendental season.


#4 Paolo Maldini (Football)

Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini

The man who put the phrase 'one-team man' in vogue in the 90s, Paolo Maldini is inarguably one of the best left-backs the game has ever produced, and a natural leader of men.

Maldini played an astonishing 25 seasons for AC Milan, winning five Champions League and seven Serie A titles, before hanging up his boots at the age of 41.

More astonishingly, he was voted the best defender in Europe at the age of 39, a testament to not only his longevity but his everlasting quality. In the quarter of a century Maldini spent at San Siro's red side, he won exactly 25 trophies, establishing his legacy as one of the greatest one-team players in any sport.


#3 Ryan Giggs (Football)

Ryan Giggs.
Ryan Giggs.

With 34 trophies during an outstanding career spent entirely at Old Trafford, the genius left-winger is the joint-most decorated footballer on this list. Ryan Giggs was born in Cardiff, and was a dedicated Welsh footballer at the international level, but at the club level, his heart beat for Manchester United.

A man with dazzling skills and amazing speed, Giggs also scored famous goals, most notably in 1999 in the FA Cup against Arsenal. He was an intrinsic part of Sir Alex Ferguson's golden era, and with other stars like Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, David Beckham Gary Neville and Andy Cole, formed a stable core than won the treble during the 1998-1999 season.

Giggs won thirteen Premier League and two Champions League titles with the Red Devils, and holds the record for playing in all of the first 22 seasons of the League.


#2 Kobe Bryant (Basketball)

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant's tragic death in a helipcopter crash earlier this year shook the world. Eight others, including his daughter Gianna, passed away in the horrific incident. But, in his 41 years of life, Bryant had achieved things many might not in a few lifetimes.

Bryant spent 20 glorious years with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning five NBA titles, and being declared an 18-time All Star, the second highest ever honour in the league. Bryant, at 34 years, became the youngest NBA player to hit 30,000 points in his career. Forming a deadly duo with Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant led the Lakers to three successive NBA titles.

The Black Mamba left a lasting legacy behind him as not only one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but also due to his philanthropic and business interests. His positive image has survived despite a damning sexual assault charge (later dropped), relatively early in his career.


#1 Lionel Messi (Football)

Lionel Messi.
Lionel Messi.

The only active footballer on this list, Lionel Messi, is special for many reasons other than this one. La Pulga is touted by many to be the best footballer to have walked this planet, and not without reason.

The diminutive magician has won a record six Ballon D'Or awards and six Golden Shoes. He has also won a record 34 titles with Barcelona, a club to whom he arguably owes his rise to greatness. That's because, the Catalonian club not only scouted him early, but also cured him off a growth hormone deficiency.

Messi's ever-lasting rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, his love for Barcelona, his silken and out-of-the world skills, his prolific goals and assists record, and his all-round brilliance as a footballer have all made him one of the most storied footballers ever in the history of the game. However, his influence goes beyond the 10 Liga and four Champions League titles he has won with the club. The love many around the world share for him is borne out of an intangible quality inherent in his game that few are blessed with.

This is how it all began:


Special mentions

We warned you that some deserving names will be left out because we only had 10 to choose from such a wide field. However, some of them need to be mentioned in detail.

Martin Johnson (Rugby Union)

Martin Johnaon
Martin Johnaon

One of rugby union's greatest ever locks, Martin Johnson, led England to a World Cup victory in 2003. Johnson is also a prominent one-team man, who played for the Leicester Tigers in all 16 of his professional seasons.

A natural captain, Johnson led Leicester to four consecutive Premiership titles and also two consecutive European Cups. Johnson played 362 games for Leicester in a glittering career. Johnson became a manager post retirement, and led England to a Six-Nation Championship.


Tim Duncan (Basketball)

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan

Widely regarded as the best power forward basketball has ever produced, Tim Duncan is Mr Spurs through and through. He is a five-time NBA winner and a two-time MVP. Duncan proved his loyalty to the San Antonio Spurs by becoming their assistant coach in 2019.

As a mark of respect, the club retired his No. 21 jersey in 2016. Duncan has also worked in the field of health awareness away from basketball.

MS Dhoni (Cricket)

MS Dhoni
MS Dhoni

MS Dhoni would have automatically found himself in the top 10 had Chennai Super Kings not been suspended from the IPL, and Dhoni subsequently shifting to Rising Pune Supergiant as a result. Dhoni is immensely popular in Chennai as the captain of the leading franchise, and has led the team to three IPL and two CLT20 titles.

Honorable mentions- Larry Bird (basketball), Carles Puyol (football), Rogerio Ceni (football).

Published 24 Apr 2020, 00:02 IST
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