Most beloved Arizona sports icons
Arizona is home to some of the most legendary athletes in their respective sports.
From hockey to football, Arizona has had a lot of storied icons whom the community grew to love -- and sometimes hate -- through their careers.
Narrowing down a list of some of Arizona’s most beloved sports athletes is no simple task and some memorable players just didn’t make the cut.
Here are 12 athletes whom just about any Arizona sports fan -- or resident, for that matter -- will recognize and love.
What is there to say about “Larry Legend” that Arizona doesn’t already know? Larry Fitzgerald was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals third overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times and was part of the 2008 Cardinals team that went all the way to the Super Bowl, where the team fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With virtually every receiving record with the Cardinals, Fitzgerald will undoubtedly be a Hall of Famer but it’s his work off the field that has made him beloved by the community.
He has won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his outstanding work and forged a bond with the late Sen. John McCain, performing a eulogy at his memorial service.
Steve Nash was originally drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 15th pick in the 1996 NBA draft. However, it wasn’t until his second stint with the team after being traded that he became an icon.
Nash returned to the Suns in 2004 and played with the team until 2012. Between that period Nash won back-to-back MVP awards and made several trips to the playoffs. However, he failed to bring a ring to the Valley.
One of his most iconic moments with the team was the 2007 series with the San Antonio Spurs where he was hip-checked by Robert Horry. This came after the Game 1 injury to his nose that required six stitches.
Nash was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday.
Kurt Warner struggled to maintain a career in football going undrafted out of college and playing in the Arena Football League. It wasn’t until he became a starter in the 1999 NFL season with the NFL Rams that he became a household name, winning the MVP and Super Bowl XXXIV. He would later win one more MVP with the Rams before he made his way to the New York Giants and then, eventually, the Arizona Cardinals.
While with the Cardinals, Warner bounced around between starter and backup quarterback. It was during his 2008 season that Arizona fell in love with him, however.
Warner led the team to an NFC West Division title and their first playoff berth since 1998. He won the Cardinals’ first home post-season game since the 1947 NFL Championship game and took the team to Super Bowl XLIII.
The team fell just shy of a win thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Santonio Holmes toe-touching touchdown.
Warner took the team to the playoffs the following year before retiring and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
As Arizona’s all-time leader in games, goals, assists, points, power-play goals and game-winning goals, it is fair to say Shane Doan was the face of the franchise since the team moved to Arizona from Winnipeg in 1996.
Doan spent his entire 21-year career with the Coyotes before retiring prior to the 2017-18 season. He was drafted seventh overall in the 1995 draft by the Jets.
Doan was captain of the Coyotes for 13 seasons.
He was extremely well-liked among the community and was honored with a corn maze at Schnepf Farms in 2017.
Among the most recognizable names on this list to the nation is Pat Tillman who died in combat in Afghanistan by friendly fire on April 22, 2004.
Tillman played linebacker for ASU and was voted Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1997. He was eventually drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 NFL Draft.
Tillman moved to safety for the Cardinals and started 10 out of 16 NFL games his rookie season.
In May 2002, Tillman turned down a new contract to enlist in the U.S. Army, inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks. His bravery and sacrifice made him not only a beloved icon in Arizona but in the entire nation.
Tillman has a statue in his honor at ASU and the yearly Pat’s Run was named in his honor.
After playing a decade in baseball, Randy Johnson agreed to a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, a second-year franchise.
In his fourth season with the team, Johnson took the Arizona Diamondbacks to their first World Series appearance and win in 2001.
Johnson and Curt Schilling shared the World Series MVP award in their series win over the New York Yankees.
Despite his impressive performance that year, some know him better for hitting a dove with a pitch during a spring training game in March. Johnson is frequently asked about the freak accident but he never discusses it.
Outfielder Luis Gonzalez was a part of the 2001 World Series winning Arizona Diamondbacks with previously mentioned Randy Johnson.
Just like Johnson and Schilling, Gonzalez was an integral part of the team with the game-winning hit in Game 7 of the series against the New York Yankees.
Gonzalez was only from 1999 to 2006 but he left a lasting impression with the organization and is still involved with the team with a position in the front office.
Gonzalez had his number retired by the team in 2010.
The former Diamondback has even helped save lives in the Valley after pulling a woman from danger after a car crash in 2017.
After being traded to the Phoenix Suns, Barkley won an MVP award for his efforts in one of the Suns’ best seasons in team history.
Barkley averaged over 25 points per game, leading the Suns to a 62-20 record. To go along with his MVP trophy, Barkley was selected to his seventh straight All-Star Game.
After making it to the NBA Finals, the Suns’ first since 1976, Barkley and the Suns fell to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.
Barkley would go on to play four seasons with the Suns before finishing his career with the Houston Rockets.
While Jake Plummer played quarterback for both the ASU Sun Devils and Arizona Cardinals, it was his collegiate career that was far more successful.
Plummer did not redshirt his freshman year and eventually took over the starting position. While producing impressive numbers his first three seasons, it wasn’t until Plummer’s senior season that made him such a memorable sports icon.
Plummer and the Sun Devils not only beat top-ranked Nebraska, they shut them out, earning the team national attention and snapping the Huskers’ 26-game winning streak. Plummer also set a new school record for career passing yards.
The team would have an undefeated season, winning the Pac-10 Championship. The team ended up losing the Rose Bowl, however, to the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Plummer was then drafted in the second round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He went on to play six seasons with the Cardinals and four with the Denver Broncos.
Some consider Diana Taurasi the greatest of all time when it comes to women’s basketball and it’s hard to argue against it.
While playing with the Phoenix Mercury, Diana Taurasi has won three WNBA championships, one MVP, two WNBA Finals MVPs, five scoring titles, a WNBA ROY award and four Olympic gold medals.
Not only that but she is also the WNBA all-time leading scorer.
Taurasi was selected first overall by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2004 WNBA Draft.
This past season saw the Mercury make it to the semi-finals and after a tough Game 5 loss to the Seattle Storm, Taurasi hugged every employee.
Phil Mickelson, also known as “Lefty,” attended Arizona State University where he began won three NCAA individual championships and became a star among amateur golfers.
Mickelson led the Sun Devils to an NCAA team title in 1990 and earned first-team All-American honors all four years of his collegiate career.
He would ultimately win 16 tournaments during college.
After graduating, Mickelson would go on to become one of the biggest faces of professional golf, winning five majors so far.
Mickelson remains one of the most popular players during the Waste Management Open at TPC Scottsdale.
Dan Majerle remains one of the most recognizable sports icons in the Valley as current head coach of the rising GCU Lopes. (He was fired in March 2020 after seven seasons.)
“Thunder Dan” was drafted 14th overall by the Phoenix Suns and played alongside Charles Barkley during their 1992-93 NBA Finals run. Majerle would end up with three NBA All-Star appearances, all with the Suns before retiring with the team in 2002.
Majerle was inducted into the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor and his No. 9 jersey was retired by the team.
After retiring, Majerle became associate head coach of the Suns from 2008 to 2013 before taking the head coaching job at GCU University.
At GCU he has helped turn the team into a Division I team and led the Lopes to their first tournament victory as a Division I school.