The Most San Francisco Athletes
As another summer ripens by the Bay, all you have to do is look around to see the evidence in stark orange and black. In fact, the only thing San Francisco loves more than winning is when athletes who reflect the unique city that adorns their uniforms are the ones doing it. It’s that special sense of pride you get when Brian Wilson shows up at the ESPYs in a spandex tuxedo or Tim "The Freak" Lincecum brags about downing three double-doubles per visit to In-N-Out. Several of their Giants teammates – including yoga-loving surfer Barry "Captain Quirk" Zito – proved themselves worthy of their World Champion status by releasing an It Gets Better video early this year. Here are seven more titans of sport who not only won, but did it with signature SF style.
Before Big Bill led the Boston Celtics to 11 championships, he captured two NCAA titles for the USF Dons. But even more impressively, Russell and his teammates – black and white – confronted the racism of the era. When hotels at the All-College in Oklahoma City refused to admit the Dons’ black players, the entire team moved into an empty college dorm. Then they went out and won three straight games to capture the whole damn tournament.
San Francisco born in 1884, boxer Abe “The Little Hebrew” Attell had himself one crazy life. Not only did he set records by defending his title in 18 fights over six years, but no less an authority than lawman-turned-sportswriter Bat Masterson called Abe the best fighter he’d ever seen, other than Wyatt Earp. Oh, and then Attell was charged with helping notorious gangster Arnold Rothstein fix the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series. Flashing the sort of legal chops modern athletes can only dream of, Attell managed to convince the jury that they’d fingered the wrong Abe Attell and was completely cleared.
Everyone in SF loves Brian Wilson and his avant-garde bull pen antics. But before The Beard, there was Rod “Shooter” Beck, an old-school, extravagantly mustachioed fireballer who helped the Giants claim the National League West in 1997. Beloved for his blue-collar mentality, Beck even lived in a Winnebago behind the Iowa stadium of a minor league team he played on in 2003. After games he pitched, fans were invited over for beers.
Brandi Chastain was born in San Jose, schooled at Cal, and spent her professional soccer career playing for teams around the Bay. And yet beyond her success on field, she will be forever remembered for her riotous celebration upon scoring the penalty kick that won the Women’s World Cup in 1999. Flush with joy, Chastain whipped off her jersey and fell to her knees in an instantly iconic moment that was both beautiful and badass.
Not interested in adhering to the gender norms of the day, young Alice Marble boxed, played basketball, and baseball – even becoming “Little Queen of Swat” for the San Francisco Seals. She turned to tennis at age 15, learning the game in Golden Gate Park. Looking to expand her reputation as the coolest person ever, Marble also took an extremely dangerous espionage assignment during World War II. She went undercover to spy on an ex-lover in Switzerland and was shot in the back during a meeting gone wrong, although she fully recovered. The city of San Francisco memorialized Marble with the breathtaking Alice Marble Tennis Courts in Russian Hill.
The son of a ballplayer from rural Puerto Rico, Orlando Cepeda followed his father into the game, eventually becoming a Hall of Famer. Apart from his stellar play, Cepeda endeared himself to his adopted city in other ways. Felled by a knee injury in 1965, Cepeda augmented his more traditional treatment with cannabis, a regimen he continued until he was busted for smuggling after his playing days had ended. The man known as “The Baby Bull” has mellowed with age and having foresworn drugs, Cepeda converted to Buddhism in 1983.
As a part of the 49ers’ famed “Million Dollar Backfield,” Joe “The Jet” Perry racked up the sort of gaudy stats and honors that made him a lock for the Football Hall of Fame. But Perry was also the first black player on the team, a situation that he dealt with by being both incredibly nice and absolutely dominating on the field. (He’s still the 49ers leading career rusher.) The Jet was just as talented off the field as he was on it, hosting a music and sports talk radio show called Both Sides of the Record and bowling so well that he joined that sport’s pro tour after he retired from football.
Admittedly, there are so many loveable eccentrics in our city's sports history that this list is incomplete. So speak up San Francisco, who did I miss?