Pennsylvania is among the most sports-obsessed states in America. Home to famous teams like the Steelers, Pirates, 76ers, and Phillies, the Keystone State has produced a slew of local stars that have gone on to win many awards and etch their names in gold in their respective sports. From Kobe Bryant to Wilt Chamberlain and Mike Piazza, these athletes have inspired (and continue to inspire) thousands of aspiring players and fans all around the world. Read on to discover some of the best sports figures to have ever come out of Pennsylvania.
Few players in the NBA history have dominated the game like Wilt Chamberlain. Nicknamed the “Big Dipper,” Wilt is one of the strongest, most offensive centers the world has ever seen. The Philly native began his professional career with the Philadelphia Warriors in 1959, winning the league’s Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards in his first season. One of his biggest achievements was scoring 100 points in a single game in 1962. Wilt was also the only player to ever hit 4,000 points in one season. Plus, no player has scored more rebounds and consecutive field goals than the 7.1-foot-tall man. He totaled 31,419 points before retiring in 1973, averaging 30.1 points per game. With as many as 72 NBA records to his name, Wilt belongs in the same categories as Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and other basketball legends.
Teams: Warriors, 76ers, and Lakers
Joe Montana is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Four Super Bowl wins, eight Pro Bowl appearances, and two NFL MVP awards – the records speak for themselves. Joe Cool, as he’s fondly called, was born in 1956 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. He started his professional football career with the San Francisco 49ers in 1979. Although he was not a regular starter in his first year, Joe quickly cemented a place for himself in the team with its incredible performance. He was known for his calm disposition under pressure and ability to lead his team to comeback wins. Joe joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993 after spending 14 seasons with the Fighting Irish. At the time of his retirement in 1995, he had a total of 40,551 passing yards and 273 touchdowns. Joe was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
Hometown: New Eagle
Teams: 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs
Arnold Palmer is one of the players that made Pro Golf the popular sport that it is today. Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, he grew up near Latrobe Country Club, a small golf course where his father worked as a greenskeeper. Arnold won two state golf championships for his high school, Greater Latrobe, before attending Wake Forest University on a scholarship. He was the first golfer to win four Masters Tournaments and the first to win $1 million in prize money. During his stellar career, Arnold won 92 tournaments, 62 of which were on PGA Tours. Arnold’s charisma during play earned him a massive following, making him one of the most loved celebrity athletes in history.
Mike Piazza is a name that’s often mentioned when talking about the greatest hitting catcher ever. A native of Norristown, Pennsylvania, he is one of the most inspiring success stories in baseball history. Mike was a 62-round pick in an amateur draft organized by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. After some challenging years in the minors, he went on to become an exciting prospect, hitting a combined 52 home runs in the 1991 and 1992 seasons. Mike was voted the National League Rookie of the Year in 1993. In 1999, he signed with the New York Mets in a whopping $91 million deal after a short stint at Florida Marlins, leading the Mets to a World Series playoff berth the following year. Over the course of his 16-year career, Mike had 2,127 hits in 6,911 at-bats, with a batting average of 308. He joined other greats in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016.
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and Oakland Athletics
Rounding off our list of the greatest sports stars from PA is Kobe Bryant. He was born in 1978 in Philadelphia, one of the leading Pennsylvania casino destinations. Kobe’s immense talents took him straight from high school to the NBA, signing for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996. He played as a shooting guard and was part of the team that won three consecutive NBA championships for the Lakers between 2002 and 2022. He later won the league on two other occasions and was the all-time leading scorer at the club. In 2006, he delivered the second-best individual NBA performance ever, netting 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors. Kobe, also known as the Black Mamba, won four NBA all-stars MVP awards and two gold medals with the US Olympic team in 2008 and 2012. He also received an Academy Award in 2018 for his animated short film titled “Dear Basketball.” Often compared with the legendary superstar Michael Jordan, Kobe was one of the best and most celebrated basketball players in the game’s history.
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers
Pennsylvania has been the cradle of many top athletes, and though it’s impossible to include all of them on this short list, the above are some of the local stars that stood out in their sports. Other notable players born and raised in the Keystone State include Floyd Landis, Bam Margera, Aaron Donald, and Jerry Sandusky, among others.