In advance of our upcoming 40th anniversary, here’s a look at 40 athletes who made a significant impact in Memphis since 1976. Consider it a starter kit for a few debates. Most memorable? Most polarizing? Greatest achievement? Whatever their specialty, these men (and women) drew their share of applause in the Bluff City.
TONY ALLEN — Now and forever, the Grindfather. Originator of the Grizzlies’ “Grit & Grind” M.O., Allen has been a defensive force for five playoff teams in Memphis, as popular for his eccentric behavior — on the court and off — as for his efforts in guarding the NBA’s top offensive threats.
JOE ALLISON — One of three first-team AP All-America honorees in the history of University of Memphis football. The kicker drilled 23 of 25 field-goal attempts in 1992 to capture the very first Lou Groza Award.
ANTONIO ANDERSON — The only Memphis Tiger to accumulate 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds, and 500 assists. Played for teams that won 137 games from 2005-06 to 2008-09. Played in more games (150) than any other player in program history.
RICK ANKIEL — First starred as a flame-throwing pitcher for the 1999 Memphis Redbirds, striking out 119 batters in 88 innings. After famously losing the ability to throw strikes, Ankiel returned to Memphis as a centerfielder in 2007 and hit 32 home runs in 102 games. A Ruthian tale.
SHANE BATTIER — Ambassador. Mayor. Swingman. It’s easy to forget Battier occupied only one of these positions (officially) during his time with the Grizzlies (2001-06 and again in 2011). Hit game-winning shot in the franchise’s first-ever playoff win at San Antonio in ’11.
BETTY BOOKER — The career scoring record among Memphis Tiger male basketball players is 2,408 points (the record-holder is on this list). Consider Booker’s mark, then, among Tiger women: 2,835. She averaged 20.2 points as a freshman in 1976-77 (with a new magazine in town) and scored more than 700 points in three of her four seasons in blue and gray.
ISAAC BRUCE — One of six University of Memphis football players to have his jersey retired, Bruce set single-season records of 74 receptions and 1,054 receiving yards in 1993 that stand to this day. He enjoyed a 16-year NFL career and helped the St. Louis Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV. Bruce’s 15,208 career yards are fourth in NFL history.
STUBBY CLAPP — The back-flipping second baseman helped the Memphis Redbirds win the 2000 Pacific Coast League championship in the franchise’s inaugural season at AutoZone Park. First captured attention during the final season of professional baseball at Tim McCarver Stadium (1999).
MIKE CONLEY — The point guard has played more games in a Memphis Grizzlies uniform than any other human being. Winner of the NBA’s 2014 Sportsmanship Award, Conley showed toughness beyond the norm in the 2015 playoffs when he returned after a facial fracture to help the Griz beat Golden State (the eventual champions) twice.
JIMMY CONNORS — The tennis legend won a pair of Wimbledon titles and five U.S. Opens. He also made regular appearances at the Racquet Club of Memphis and won four championships here, a record that has stood for 32 years.
CHRIS DOUGLAS-ROBERTS — One of only three Memphis Tigers to earn first-team All-America honors from the AP (2008). Averaged 18.1 points as a junior for team that reached the 2008 Final Four. One of only four Tigers to score 700 points in a single season.
DAVID FREESE — The third-baseman drilled 26 homers for the 2008 Redbirds, then hit a pair of game-winning home runs in the playoffs to help Memphis win the 2009 PCL championship. Two years later, he hit the most famous triple and homer in St. Louis Cardinals World Series history (in the same game).
MARC GASOL — Our 2015 Memphian of the Year became the first Grizzly to earn first-team All-NBA honors. The two-time All-Star also won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013. The contract extension he signed last summer secures Gasol as the franchise’s center (literally and otherwise) for years to come.
PAU GASOL — Marc’s older brother earned Rookie of the Year honors with the Grizzlies in 2002 and remains the franchise’s career scoring leader (8,966 points). He was the team’s first All-Star (in 2006) and the 2008 trade chip that brought Marc to Memphis.
AL GEIBERGER — Playing on the PGA Tour’s longest course (Colonial Country Club), the 39-year-old became the first professional golfer to shoot a 59. His second-round lightning strike was enough to win him the 1977 Danny Thomas Classic despite shooting 70 or higher in the other three rounds.
STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI — From 2002 to 2005, scored most points (369) and converted most field goals (70) in Memphis Tiger history. Now kicking for the New England Patriots, he and Hall of Famer Don Hutson are the only men to win five NFL scoring titles.
PENNY HARDAWAY — The greatest basketball player to come out of Memphis, Hardaway earned first-team All-America honors as a Tiger in 1993 before being chosen third in that year’s NBA draft. The graduate of Treadwell High School was named first-team All-NBA as a member of the Orlando Magic in 1995 and ’96.
TOM HORNSEY — Punters may be easily forgotten, but not this one. Hornsey played in an era (2010-13) when the Memphis Tigers punted . . . a lot. His career yardage (12,815) is almost 3,000 more than any other punter in U of M history. He did it so well he won the Ray Guy Award and first-team All-America honors in 2013.
BO JACKSON — The 1985 Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn spent part of the summer of ’86 mashing baseballs at Tim McCarver Stadium. The future Royal (and Raider) hit .277 with seven home runs in 53 games with the Double-A Chicks.
JOE JACKSON — After setting scoring records at White Station High School, played in four NCAA tournaments with the Memphis Tigers and scored 1,687 points, seventh-most in U of M history. Also ranks fourth in Tiger history with 567 assists.
KEITH LEE — The centerpiece of Memphis State’s 1985 Final Four team, Lee remains the top scorer (2,408 points) and rebounder (1,336) in Tiger history. An AP All-America all four of his college seasons, first-team as a senior in 1984-85.
CHARLIE LEA — Having starred at Memphis State, Lea returned home upon being drafted by the Montreal Expos. He went 9-0 with a 0.84 ERA for the 1980 Chicks before making his big-league debut. He pitched a no-hitter for the Expos in 1981.
PAXTON LYNCH — Quarterback for the most successful two-year run (19 wins) in University of Memphis history. Led Tigers to victory in the 2014 Miami Beach Bowl, seventh in what would be a program-record 15-game winning streak that included a win over Ole Miss in October 2015.
NIKKI McCRAY — After scoring more than 3,500 points for Collierville High School, McCray was a two-time All-America at Tennessee, then played eight seasons in the WNBA. She won gold medals with the U.S. Olympic team in 1996 and 2000.
CINDY PARLOW — The graduate of Germantown High School won three college soccer championships playing for North Carolina’s powerhouse, then was a key member of the historic 1999 World Cup champions, a team honored as Sportswomen of the Year by Sports Illustrated.
ELLIOT PERRY — Another Treadwell High legend, Perry is one of only two players to score 2,000 points as a Memphis [State] Tiger. He played in 549 games over a 10-year career in the NBA with seven franchises.
DON PARSONS — Played six seasons (2000-06) for the Memphis RiverKings, helping the franchise to a pair of Central Hockey League championships (2002 and ’03). A two-time CHL MVP, Parsons holds the RiverKings’ career record for goals (290) and hat tricks (19).
ALBERT PUJOLS — One swing of a baseball bat got Pujols on this list. He played a total of 14 games with Memphis, but hit a 13th-inning walk-off homer at AutoZone Park to win the 2000 Pacific Coast League championship for the Triple-A Redbirds in the ballpark’s inaugural season. Since then, he won a pair of World Series with the Cardinals and three MVP trophies.
TIM RAINES — Hit .290 and stole 59 bases for the 1979 Memphis Chicks on his way to a lengthy career with the Montreal Expos. Played in seven All-Star Games for Montreal. His 808 stolen bases rank fifth in baseball history. Appears likely to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017.
ZACH RANDOLPH — A two-time All-Star since his 2009 arrival in Memphis, Z-Bo has taken to the Bluff City like dry rub to ribs. He’s finished among the NBA’s top five in double-doubles four times with the Grizzlies. Reasonable to think he’ll be the first player to have his number retired by the franchise.
ANDY RODDICK — The top seed for an astonishing nine straight years at the local ATP tournament, Roddick won three titles at the Racquet Club and delivered the most famous shot in the event’s history, a diving championship-clincher in 2011.
DERRICK ROSE — Occupies space in University of Memphis Hall of Fame and Hall of Infamy. In lone college season, spurred Tigers to national-championship game and earned third-team All-America recognition. Final Four appearance was vacated, though, after an investigation concluded Rose had a proxy take an entrance exam in his place. First pick in the 2008 NBA draft and the 2011 NBA MVP.
ROCHELLE STEVENS — This graduate of Melrose High School won the NCAA 400-meter championship in 1988 (competing for Morgan State). Four years later she helped the U.S. 4 x 400 relay team win a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Her career culminated at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when she and her U.S. teammates took gold in the 4 x 400.
LEE TREVINO — A favorite wherever he played on the PGA Tour, Trevino was a regular at the Colonial Country Club where, in 1980, he became only the second man to win three Memphis championships. His final appearance in Memphis came in 1983, the year before he won his sixth and final major.
ANDRE TURNER — The Little General would be in the running for most-popular Tiger basketball player of all time. The point guard for four NCAA tournament teams (including the ’85 Final Four team), Turner’s total of 763 assists is 124 more than any other player in program history.
ADAM WAINWRIGHT — Won 14 games over two seasons with the Memphis Redbirds before helping the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series and climbing to seventh on the St. Louis Cardinals’ career-wins chart.
REGGIE WHITE — Played two seasons (1984 and ’85) with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL before going on to an NFL career that landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
DeANGELO WILLIAMS — Greatest Tiger football player of them all, and by some distance. Over his four seasons in Memphis, Williams became the fifth player to rush for 6,000 yards in a college career. His 34 100-yard games set an NCAA record.
DANNY WIMPRINE — Lynch has many of the Memphis Tiger single-season passing marks now, but the career numbers still belong to this less-heralded quarterback who took the Tigers to bowl games as a junior and senior (2003 and ’04). It will be a while before any U of M passer tops Wimprine’s career numbers for yardage (10,215) and touchdowns (81).
LORENZEN WRIGHT — A star for two seasons (1994-96) with the Memphis Tigers and a starter for five with the Memphis Grizzlies (2001-06), Wright played in more NBA games (778) than any other former Tiger. His 2010 murder in Memphis remains unsolved.