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Famous Athletes

From basketball greats to the Muhammad Ali birthplace, Kentucky is steeped in sports history

Sports are huge in Kentucky, so it makes sense that the Bluegrass State has turned out some of the greatest athletes and coaches of all time. Sports greats such as Muhammad Ali – birthplace: Louisville – call Kentucky home, while others such as football legend Johnny Unitas and coaching mastermind Pat Riley got their starts in Kentucky colleges. There’s no question that Kentucky breeds an unbridled spirit for sport. View some of the most famous athletes from Kentucky below and learn about more famous Kentuckians here.

Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942) – Boxing gold medalist in 1960. Retired three-time World Heavyweight Champion. First person to win the lineal heavyweight championship three times. Born in Louisville.

Don Brumfield (May 24, 1938-) – Retired American jockey. Inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1996. Born in Nicholasville.

Jim Bunning (October 23, 1931) – Baseball Hall of Fame, 1996. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a U.S. senator. Born in Southgate.

Steve Cauthen (May 1, 1960-) – American jockey. Youngest jockey to win the U.S Triple Crown. United States Racing Hall of Fame, 1994. Born in Covington.

A.B. "Happy" Chandler (July 14, 1898-1991) – The second Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Twice elected governor of Kentucky and a U.S. Senator. Born in Corydon, and died in Versailles.

Darrell Griffith (June 16, 1958-) -  Led the University of Louisville Cardinals to the 1980 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. 1981 NBA Rookie of the Year. Born in Louisville.

Paul Hornung (December 23, 1935-) - Professional football player. Heisman Trophy winner in 1956 as the year’s outstanding college football player in the United States. Born in Louisville.

Daniel (Dan) Paul Issel (October 25, 1948 -) - Member of Kentucky's all-time leading scorer with 2,138 points from 1967-1970. A member of the professional basketball Hall of Fame was one of the top scorers in professional basketball with 27,482 points during 15-year career. A consensus All-American as a collegian, Issel played a major role in Kentucky Colonels' 1975 ABA Championship and later became an NBA All-Star with the Denver Nuggets.

Tamara McKinney (October 16, 1962 -) - Alpine ski racer. World Cup champion in 1983. Born in Lexington.

Mary Meagher (October 27, 1964-) - Olympic swimming champion and former World Record holder. Born in Louisville.

Isaac Burns Murphy (April 16, 1861-1896) - United States Horse Racing Hall of Fame,1955. One of the greatest race riders in American history. Born in Frankfort and died in Lexington.

Pee Wee Reese (July 23, 1918-1999 -) - Professional baseball player. National Baseball Hall of Fame, 1984. Born in Ekron, died in Louisville.

Patrick James "Pat" Riley (March 20, 1945 -) - is an American professional basketball executive, and a retired coach and player in the NBA. Currently, he is team president of the Miami Heat. Widely regarded as one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time, Riley has served as the head coach of five championship teams and an assistant coach to another. He most recently won the 2006 NBA Championship with the Miami Heat. Prior to his tenure in Miami, he served as head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. He was named NBA Coach of the Year three times (1989–90, 1992–93 and 1996–97, as head coach of the Lakers, Knicks and Heat, respectively). He was head coach of the NBA All-Star Game teams nine times: eight of the Western team (1982, 1983, 1985–1990, all as head coach of the Lakers) and once of the Eastern team (1993, as head coach of the Knicks). In 1996 he was named one of 10 Greatest Coaches in the NBA history. As a player he played for the Los Angeles Lakers' championship team in 1972, bringing his personal total to seven NBA titles.

Adolph Rupp* (September 2, 1901-1977) – American college basketball coach. Enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of fame, 1969. Born outside Halstead, Kansas and died in Lexington.

Woody Stephens (September 1, 1913-1998) – American Thoroughbred horse racing Hall of Fame trainer. Born in Stanton, Kentucky, died in Miami Lakes, Florida.

Danny Sullivan (March 9, 1950-) – Professional race car driver. Winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1985. Born in Louisville.

John Constantine Unitas - (May 7, 1933–2002) known as Johnny Unitas or "Johnny U", and nicknamed "The Golden Arm", A product of the University of Louisville, Unitas became known as "Mr. Quarterback" during his legendary NFL career with the Baltimore Colts from 1956 through '72. During his career, the Colts won three NFL titles. At U of L, Unitas
passed for 2,912 yards and 27 touchdowns before graduating in 1955. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall ofFame in 1979. He was a record-setting quarterback, and the National Football League's most valuable player in 1959, 1964 and 1967. His record of throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games (between 1956–1960) remains unsurpassed as of 2011. He has been consistently listed as one of the greatest NFL players of all time

Wes Unseld (March 14, 1946-) – American former basketball player who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988. Born in Louisville.

Darrell Waltrip (February 5, 1947-) – Three-time former NASCAR Winston Cup champion. 1989 Daytona 500 winner. 3-time runner-up (1979, 1983, 1986), winner of the 1989 Daytona 500 and 5-time winner of The Coca-Cola 600 (formerly the World 600), (1978, 1979, 1985, 1988, 1989, a record for any driver). He posted a modern series record of 22 top five finishes in 1983, and 21 top five finishes in both 1981, and 1986. Waltrip is the winner of 84 Cup Series races, tied with Jeff Gordon for the most in the modern era of NASCAR, and tied with Gordon and Bobby Allison for third on the all-time list. He is winner of 59 Cup Series pole positions (second all-time), including 35 on short tracks and 8 on road courses (both all-time highs in the series). He has 271 top-five finishes, 390 top-ten finishes, and competed in 809 Cup Series races spanning 29 years (1972–2000). Born in Owensboro.

Michael Waltrip (April 30, 1963-) - is a semi-former professional race car driver, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, and a published author. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and racing commentator Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500; having won the race in 2001 and 2003. He is also a commentator for SPEED TV's coverage of the Camping World Truck Series and is an analyst on the Showtime series Inside NASCAR. Born in Owensboro.

* Denotes not born in Kentucky