Last month, LaDainian Tomlinson signed a one-day contract to retire as a San Diego Charger. A few days later, Roger Clemens was acquitted on all accounts of obstruction and lying to Congress about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Meanwhile, the New Jersey State Senate will vote Thursday on a resolution aiming to request that Major League Baseball retire the No. 21 in honor of Roberto Clemente, as they did in 1997 with Jackie Robinson's No. 42.

Besides the involvement of superstar athletes, these stories seem to have little in common -- but by simply scanning the back of their jerseys, you'll find that they all wore the No. 21. And they're not the only sports legends to sport the number:

Best 21 Athletes To Wear No. 21 Slideshow


21. Sammy Sosa

Even with 609 career home runs, a National League MVP, six Silver Slugger Awards and seven All-Star appearances, Sammy Sosa will always have doubt on his legacy because of performance-enhancing accusations. Still, it is impossible to deny the grip he and Mark McGuire had on the country as they chased Roger Maris in 1998.


20. Michel Briere

Briere's story is tragic. He played just one season in the NHL before an automobile accident led to his death in 1970. In that one season, however, he showed flashes of future superstardom. He led the Penguins in team scoring in the playoffs with eight points, including a series-clinching, overtime goal to beat the Oakland Seals and send the Penguins to the second round. He finished that year's playoffs with three game-winning goals.


19. Tiki Barber

Barber, a three-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, is the Giants' all-time leading rusher (10,449 yards) and sits 23rd on the NFL's all-time rushing list. He rushed for more than 200 yards in a single game five times and holds multiple franchise records for the Giants. He retired while still in his prime, burning some unfortunate bridges within the organization. He attempted a comeback in 2011 but found no suitors.


18. Mike Eruzione

Eruzione was the captain of the gold medal-winning 1980 Olympic hockey team, and scored the winning goal against the Soviet Union in the "Miracle on Ice." He retired after the Olympics, knowing his legend was already secured.


17. David Pearson

Second place in NASCAR history with 105 wins, Pearson, who drove car No. 21 for much of his career, was the Grand National Champion three times and has been inducted to three separate Hall of Fames: The International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.


16. Cammi Granato

Granato was the captain of the Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. hockey team in 1998. In May 2008, she was one of the first women to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame. Later that year, she was the first women ever inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, and in 2010, she and Angela James were the first ever women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.


15. Paul O'Neill

On Sept. 3, 1985, Paul O'Neill made his debut for the Reds, cracking a single in his first bat. He went on to collect 2,107 hits, 281 home runs and 1,269 RBI, along with a career .288 batting average. While his numbers aren't quite as gaudy as some of the other major leaguers on this list, O'Neill played with a passion unmatched by most. He could often be seen taking out his frustration on water coolers in the dugout and was labeled as a "warrior" by George Steinbrenner. And don't forget, he's also a five-time All-Star and World Series champion (four with the Yankees, one with the Reds).


14. Borje Salming

A defenseman for the Maple Leafs and Red Wings starting in the early 1970's, Salming was "The King" well before LeBron was even born. One of the first Europeans to head west for the NHL, Salming holds the NHL record for most career points by an undrafted defenseman (787) and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.


13. Dominique Wilkins

Wilkins, otherwise known as "The Human Highlight Film," is responsible for some of the most egregious acts of posterization of all time. While he is probably most well-known for his dunk contest showdowns against Michael Jordan -- Wilkins is a two-time champ -- don't try to undermine his place in NBA history: He was a nine-time All-Star, is 11th on the all-time scoring list (26,668 points) and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.


12. Bill Sharman

Sharman teamed with Bob Cousy in the 1950's to form one of the greatest backcourt duos in NBA history. A four-time NBA champion and eight-time All-Star with four All-NBA first team selections, Sharman ranks 11th all-time in free throw accuracy (88 percent). The Hall-of-Famer averaged 18 points per game for his career.


11. Charles Woodson

An eight-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro, Super Bowl champion and former Defensive Player of the Year, Woodson is one of the top cornerbacks in NFL history. The proof is in the numbers: He's 20th in all-time interceptions (54), 17th in interception yards (896) and second in interceptions returned for a touchdown (11).


10. Bob Lemon

Lemon is a seven-time 20-game winner, a seven-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion with a 1948 no-hitter under his belt to boot. But his mark on the game goes beyond his 207 wins and career 3.23 ERA, Lemon was also an outstanding hitter. He's second all-time for pitchers (if you don't count Babe Ruth) with 37 career home runs.


9. Kevin Garnett

An NBA champion and gold medalist, Garnett has been dominating the league for 17 years now. The 2003-04 NBA MVP is a 14-time All-Star with nine All-NBA and 12 All-Defensive selections. He's 18th on the all-time scoring list (24,270 points) and 12th in rebounds (13,313). And, as many players around the league will attest, he's one of the premiere trash-talkers of his era.


8. Peter Forsberg

Forsberg was a force in his 19-year career (13 in the NHL), winning two Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche and four gold medals with Sweden, along with a multitude of individual honors, including the 2002-03 Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP. He's fourth all-time in assists per game (.889) and eighth in points per game (1.25).


7. LaDainian Tomlinson

Tomlinson was the definition of a workhorse: Third all-time in career touchdowns (162), fifth all-time in career rush yards (13,684) and holds the record for most overall touchdowns in a single season (31). He was the 2006 NFL MVP and a five-time Pro Bowler. And the man wasn't just one-dimensional as he threw seven touchdowns during his 11-year career.


6. Warren Spahn

With 363 wins (good for sixth all-time) and a career ERA of 3.09, Spahn is widely considered the best southpaw to ever pitch. The Warren Spahn Award is given each year to MLB's best left-handed pitcher. Spahn won at least 20 games 13 times, including a stretch of five consecutive seasons. A 14-time All-Star who threw two no-hitters, Spahn became a World Series champion and Cy Young Award winner in 1957 as a member of the Milwaukee Braves.


5. Stan Mikita

A Stanley Cup champion and two-time NHL MVP, Mikita helped create and sustain the offensive juggernaut that was the Blackhawks of the 1960's. He led the NHL in scoring four times, was a nine-time All-Star and ranks 29th in career goals (541) and 31st in career playoff goals (59). His true claim to fame? A fictional donut shop named "Stan Mikita's Donuts" in the 1992 comedy "Wayne's World."


4. Roger Clemens

The Rocket wore No. 21 from his rookie season with the Red Sox through his tenure with the Blue Jays. He didn't win his first World Series until he was traded to the Yankees in 1999 and had to switch his number. But while wearing No. 21, Clemens won 233 games, five Cy Young awards, became the only pitcher to ever strike out 20 batters in a single game twice and won the AL MVP in 1986.


3. Deion Sanders

"Prime Time" was one of the most feared corners in NFL history (who also found some time to be an MLB outfielder). A perennial Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion, the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year ranks fourth in both career interception yards (1,331) and interceptions returned for a touchdown (9). Not convinced? He's also one of only two players in NFL history to score a touchdown in six different ways: Interception return, punt return, kickoff return, receiving, rushing and fumble recovery.


2. Tim Duncan

Nicknamed "The Big Fundamental," Duncan has quietly catapulted himself into the forefront of the "best power forward ever" discussion. With the help of a perfect low-post bank shot, Duncan is a four-time NBA champion with three Finals MVP's, a two-time NBA MVP, and a 13-time All-Star. And to think that he originally dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer.


1. Roberto Clemente

The Pirates right fielder assembled quite the resume during his 18-year career. Along with a .317 batting average and exactly 3,000 hits, he compiled 15 All-Star appearances and 12 Gold Gloves. He was a two-time World Series champion (series MVP in 1971) and the 1966 National League MVP. Even more impressive was his charity work off the field. Clemente died in an airplane crash while en route to deliver relief supplies for earthquake victims in Nicaragua in 1972.

previous next