The debate may be largely settled that NFL quarterback Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T., but few agree on the greatest sports franchise. Statisticians lean on winning percentage or number of championships. But when it comes to determining the most iconic sports franchise a more subjective standard is apropos. Based on the optics of an organization’s players and moments that are ingrained in sports enthusiasts’ memories, these are — arguably — the 5 most iconic sports franchises on the American landscape ranked.
1: The Raiders
It would be unsuitable to call the Silver and Black the Las Vegas Raiders because they rank among the most transient professional sports teams. Founded as the Oakland Raider, iconic owner Al Davis thumbed his nose at the league by moving the franchise to Los Angeles, then back to Oakland. Now his son, Mark Davis, has set up shop in Sin City.
The pirate with an eye patch and crossed sabers reflects a collective history of rogue, misfit, and players others gave up on. Daryl “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica, Ken “The Snake” Stabler, Bo Jackson, Jack “The Assassin” Tatum, Howie Long, and Marcus Allen, are just a few of the historic figures who wore the uniform. The Raiders were involved in moments that are frozen in time such as the Immaculate Reception, Holy Roller, and Sea of Hands. Taking the franchise to another level, the Raiders were the first NFL team in the modern era to hire a Black head coach, female CEO, Latino head coach, and recently hired the first Black female president. Whether you follow sports or not, everyone knows the Raiders. Just win, baby!
2: New York Yankees
Few teams have enjoyed the success of Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees. Competing on one of the biggest stages in the world, “pinstripes” have become synonymous with the franchise. Select lineups have earned nicknames such as the Bronx Bombers and Murderers Row, among others, as the organization amassed 40 Pennants and 27 World Series titles.
The success of players such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter, among others, helped build an outfit known for winning. But the big moments such as Babe Ruth calling his shot in the 1932 World Series live forever.
3: Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have both won 17 NBA championships. The East-West rivalry saw its heyday when the likes of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird drove the lane. Although both franchises rank among the most iconic, the Celtics get the nod over the Lakers. That’s largely because five of the Lakers titles came when they called Minnesota home and because Boston holds a winning record over L.A.
The Celtics also possess a history of household name players that rivals any organization. Besides Bird, Paul Pierce, John Havlicek, Bill Walton, Tiny Archibald, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Bill Russell dominated pro-hoops. Russell, for example, averaged an insane 22.5 rebounds per game and earned 11 championships. And it was an injured Bob Cousy who returned to the floor to lead the Celtics to a Game 6 victory over the Lakers for all the marbles in 1963.
4: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers could arguably be considered the most storied franchise in NFL history. Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants fans might not necessarily agree. But Super Bowl champions receive the Lombardy Trophy, named after the former Packers coach who won the first two following the NFL-AFL merger. Vince Lombardi remains the most iconic and revered coach in league history.
The players that made the small market franchise thrive include Bart Starr, Brett Favre, Reggie White, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Jim Taylor, Sterling Sharpe, and quarterback Aaron Rogers earned MVP honors four times. Perhaps the biggest moment came in 1967 when Bart Starr orchestrated a quarterback keeper to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the Ice Bowl. The wind chill on the field was -48 degrees.
5: Los Angeles Lakers
Although the Celtics may have bested the California pros over time, the Lakers have demonstrated a dedication to competing at the highest level few can rival. The historic cast of players includes Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Bob McAdoo, and beloved center Shaquille O’Neal.
The franchise has a history of dramatic comebacks and high-scoring players. Perhaps the most iconic came when legends Kobe Bryant lobbed a pass to Shaquille O’Neal in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to overcome a 16-point deficit and advance to the finals.