10 Best NY Athletes Of 21st Century (2000-Present)

My Criteria

To determine the best NY athlete I took into account four main criteria that would make you “the best”. I graded each athlete in the given criteria and averaged their score. The score is reflected in the rankings you see below. Each category is weighted equally, so there is no particular order.


Long term, how are you perceived after your career? Were you a bonafide winner who will do anything for a victory? Or were you a great player who is known for some selfish tendencies and didn’t win the big games? Helping your team win games, making others better around you, and occasional awards from the league certainly do not hurt towards this trait. Are you like Alex Rodriguez or Tiki Barber – who were hated after their departure from New York – You will be docked for that as well! 

Peak Level During NY Career

Answering this is important: How great were you in New York? Not just in the city but across your given sports league. Were you the best at your position? This is where we separate the good from the great New York athletes. 

Iconic/Must-Watch Factor

Unconventional criteria but I think it is important. The city can be obsessive about its athletes. People love David Tyree for his iconic Super Bowl 42 catch. That does not mean that you were a must-watch player. The important question to ask here is: “How relevant were you in the city when you were playing? Do you have any iconic moments in your career? Did the city stop for you when you were at your best?” Three important questions to keep in mind here to determine the best New York athlete. 

Fan Favorite And Belovedness

New York loves their athletes; ask Jeremy Lin – who unfortunately does not make the cut (more on that later). Athletes that fit this criterion are beloved for their contributions, personality, and willingness to give anything and everything they have to their team. 

#1:  Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

Not a whole lot of debate here. Career highlights include Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS Athletics vs. Yankees. Jeter makes an insanely athletic cut-off play to get Giambi out at home plate. July 1st, 2004 against the Red Sox he dives into the stands to make a play (below) in extra innings and keep the game tied. Hits every bit of criteria with ease. This list can’t start any other way he is the Kobe Bryant of New York Sports. 

#2: Eli Manning, New York Giants

Two-time Super Bowl MVP. Defeated Tom Brady twice as an underdog. A quarterback is asked to do much more than other positions in sports. The Giants probably shouldn’t have won either Super Bowl, especially the first one. Career highlights include his escape and throw to David Tyree and his perfect throw to Mario Manningham which isn’t respected enough.

  •  “Once a Giant, Always A Giant. And for me, it’s only a Giant.”

Eli Manning is the owner of the best Super Bowl play in NFL history according to the NFL Network. Doesn’t get more iconic than that. 

#3: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees

Very nearly the second-best NY athlete, An iconic walkout song, with equally iconic dominance over his nearly 20-year career. The only blemish on his career is blowing multiple saves during the 2004 ALCS and subsequently blowing a 3-0 lead. He doesn’t get all of the blame for that of course, but that was an unprecedented moment. Mariano is the best closer in baseball history and spent his entire career with the Yankees. He has an argument for the best NY athlete on this list. 

#4: Mike Piazza, New York Mets

Perhaps the most iconic play in NY sports is the 9/11 home run by Mike Piazza. That is not the only part of his career that is worth mentioning either. He ended his career with 399 home runs (couldn’t hit one more, Mike?) the most by any catcher in baseball history. This record isn’t particularly close to being beaten either. Top at his position all-time as a power-hitting catcher gets him the 4th spot on our list. 

#5: Michael Strahan, New York Giants

Michael Strahan owns the NFL sack record that is somehow still standing. The league is passing more than ever and Strahan’s sack record still holds from 2001. It’ll be beaten at some point but Strahan holding this record for 20 years is a huge accomplishment. The 2008 Super Bowl solidified his legacy as well as his successful on-air career on Good Morning America

#6: David Wright, New York Mets

The captain of the Mets bled blue for his entire career. He put a bad team on his back from 2010-2015. Unfortunately carrying the load led to a back injury that cut it slightly short. He played for the Mets for 14 years. His home run in the 2015 World Series is bone-chilling when you know that doctors were saying he would struggle to walk if he continued playing baseball any longer.  

#7: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

King Henrik won the Vezina Trophy in 2012 as the NHL’s best goalie. The whole city got behind a Rangers team led by Henrik Lundqvist. They had the best record in the Atlantic Division that year but could not get over the hump to land a Stanley Cup appearance. This just barely holds him down from leapfrogging David Wright. 

#8: Jacob DeGrom New York Mets

His career is not over and he’s already number 8. He is the most dominant pitcher in New York baseball in at least 20 years – probably more. He has won back-to-back Cy Young awards and is the -125 favorite to win the award this year (odds provided by FanDuel Sportsbook). DeGrom has an opportunity to climb into the top 5 at least with a few dominating playoff performances and a World Series win. In order to contend for the best NY athlete, DeGrom will need to resign when he opts out of his contract next year.

#9: Darrell Revis New York Jets

The best corner in New York sports history is Revis Island. He was the best in the league for multiple years – maybe the best since Deion Sanders. Revis was so feared that no one would even throw in his direction. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make for many iconic plays. If he had gotten to a Super Bowl, he would be higher on this list. He has Mark Sanchez to thank for that not coming to fruition. 

#10: Odell Beckham, Jr., New York Giants

Controversial for him to be on this list.

The case for Odell: he was arguably the best receiver in football for three years. He has plenty of unbelievable highlights – notably the catch over Josh Norman where he stepped over him as Allen Iverson did to Tyron Lue. Odell Beckham Jr. is the fastest in NFL history to 4,000 career receiving yards and 200 career receptions.

Beckham had 91 catches, 1395 yards, and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games in his rookie year. Paced over 16 games Beckham would have had 122 catches, 1,860 yards, and 16 touchdowns as a rookie. This would have been the third-best season by a wide receiver all-time. He did this as a rookie and he did it without an overly pass-happy offense. Seriously impressive to do as a rookie in a bad offense with no other notable weapons at the time. 

Don’t forget the most ridiculous catch in NFL history either. The city stopped for Odell Beckham Jr. at his peak. The 2016 Giants went 11-5 and struggled in the playoffs – Beckham gets plenty of blame for that. However, that team goes 7-9 or worse without Beckham. Had things ended better and health been on his side, he had the makings of the best NY athlete this century. 

Honorable Mentions

Deserved Better Award: Carmelo Anthony New York Knicks

Syracuse national title winner – wanted to be a Knick when no one else did – Carmelo should be on this list. Unfortunately, Carmelo forcing his way to the Knicks did not actually help the Knicks. He could’ve signed 6 months later in free agency. They lost most of their assets to get Carmelo which held them back from really competing. He didn’t make other players better and didn’t really make any noise in the playoffs either. He was never a top 5 player in basketball. Carmelo should be looked more favorably in his career than he currently is, but all factors considered he barely misses the cut. 

Must Watch/Exciting But Not Much Else: Matt Harvey

Harvey’s peak level was as good as anyone’s. He was charismatic, tough, and gave fans memories to last a lifetime.  Had Harvey completed that World Series game against the Royals, he would be a different level of New York sports legend. Unfortunately, he gave his arm and shoulder for that game. He never recovered and his career has been messy since that game. Harvey is a beloved Met – despite his difficulty with the Mets front office.

He shouldn’t have been out there in the ninth of game 5 of the World Series but everyone wants to finish what they start. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball over his first four years with the Mets. He misses the cut for best NY athlete because of his lack of longevity and not winning that game against the Royals. 

Most Beloved: Jeremy Lin

Lin is far from the best NY athlete, however, the city came to a screeching halt for Lin. If he had stayed in New York his career could’ve been different. Unfortunately, his career turned for the worse on that bad decision to go to Houston. During his 26 game run, he captivated a city like never before seen. 

He dropped 38 points, and 7 assists on Kobe Bryant who said before the game, “I don’t know who that is”. Lin would then call game against the Raptors when he pulled up for 3. New York is a basketball city, too bad that the Knicks have been a dumpster fire since the 90s.


About the Author

Erich Richter

A New York based freelance writer and gambling expert specializing in the sports industry. Written on numerous platforms with SEO certifications and a diehard Mets, Giants and Knicks fan (it’s been tough). Interests include keeping up to date on the newest features and technologies from sportsbooks since beta testing several of the legal gaming companies upon their inception.

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