Recency bias will play a heavy impact on any casual sports fan who is looking to find out who are the most famous athletes from Ohio. Few athletes over the last 20 years have been as associated with their hometown as LeBron James. The Los Angeles Lakers star was born in Akron, Ohio, and became one of the state’s greatest ambassadors in sports while playing for the local Cleveland Cavaliers.
But there are other athletes from Ohio who found their way onto the big stage. The Buckeye State has a lot of history producing enduring sports figures. Anyone who enjoys sports betting will know one of the more colorful characters from that industry also came from Ohio.
Famous Athletes From Ohio
There have been many famous athletes from Ohio that have left their mark on the sports they competed in. From field athletes to basketball stars, this state has been blessed with some legendary sports figures.
Players who competed years ago such as Jack Nicklaus, Jesse Owens, and John Havlicek, or legends in the making that are still competing like LeBron James, there are many names that could deserve to be mentioned. For this list, we picked out eight legendary Ohio sports figures that will forever be remembered for their achievements.
1. LeBron James
James is remarkable when it comes to sports figures closely tied to their hometown. LeBron not only tops the list of the most famous athletes from Ohio but he is one of the greatest players ever in his sport. Since James never played college basketball, he was one of those rare athletes who could go from preps to the professional ranks. Many teams were hoping to win the NBA Lottery in 2003 to draft the highly-touted prospect.
When the Cavaliers won the lottery and grabbed the hometown hero, it set off a long, bizarre saga. James played from 2003 to 2010, propelling Cleveland to relevance. However, when James reached free agency, many people were betting he would leave Ohio.
James, who is a four-time NBA 13-time All-NBA first-team selection, shook up the sports world by forming a super team in Miami. The Heat would win two titles with James before he returned to Cleveland in 2014. James would then help Cleveland claim its first championship in 2016.
2. Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus, a Columbus, Ohio native and Ohio State graduate, was a ferocious golfer on the course. Nicklaus had a long career that included a stretch from 1962 to 1986 where he won 18 major championships, which is still a PGA Tour record. But his career didn’t end in his prime.
Notably, Nicklaus would outlast many younger athletes and place sixth in the 1998 Masters Tournament at age 58. Nicklaus would also form a rivalry with fellow golfer Arnold Palmer. While Palmer was much better with the PR side of golf, Nicklaus turned out to be the better player on the course.
Nicklaus is still third all-time with 73 wins on the PGA Tour.
3. Jesse Owens
James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens moved from Alabama to Cleveland at the age of nine. Owens got the nickname Jesse from a teacher who misheard “JC” as Jesse. While there may have been confusion as a youth, there aren’t many athletes from Ohio who have greater recognition for their accomplishments.
Owens, who attended Ohio State University, put up one of the greatest Olympic showings in 1936. He became of the most enduring figures for his domination, winning four gold medals in the 100-meter dash, 200 dash, 4x100 relay, and long jump, and for representing his culture well at the 1936 Berlin Games.
In an Olympics hampered by tension from an impending World War, Owens was able to dazzle everyone with his all-around excellence.
4. Cy Young
When it comes to betting, there will never be a line offered on which MLB pitcher will hold the all-time wins record. For the rest of eternity, that mark will be held by Gilmore, Ohio, native Cy Young. The former pitcher won 511 games in a career that spanned from 1890 to 1911; only one other pitcher in baseball history (Walter Johnson) has won more than 400 games.
Young, who now has the MLB’s award for the most outstanding pitcher in the National and American Leagues named after him, also played a part in the first-ever World Series in 1903. Young pitched for the Boston Americans, now Red Sox, and helped them beat Pittsburgh 5-3.
Young grew up in Gilmore, Ohio, and stopped attending school after sixth grade to work on the farm. He played for a number of amateur teams as a young man, but his fastball would impress scouts for a Canton, Ohio professional team in 1889. He would play for Canton for several years before catching on with the Cleveland Spiders in 1890.
5. Paul Brown
Six years before Paul Brown took over as the Cleveland Browns coach/general manager/part-owner when they joined the All-America Football League, he was coach at Massillon High School in Ohio. When it comes to athletes born in Ohio few carry as much weight as Brown does.
Brown, who was 159-80-5 during his NFL coaching tenure, was a sure thing for anyone betting on professional football during the 1950s and 1960s. But that only tells part of Brown’s story. His career would impact many athletes at every level of the sport.
Before coming to the professional ranks, Brown would guide Ohio State to the 1942 national championship. After Brown had a falling out with Cleveland owner Art Modell, Brown would go on to form the Cincinnati Bengals.
6. Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder
Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder came along at the right time in sports history. Snyder, who is from Steubenville, Ohio, was a long-time gambler before The NFL Today brought him in to be a part of their morning pregame show. While gambling wasn’t a part of the broadcast, he would say things in a manner that people in the know would know what he is talking about.
Snyder is best known for two notable betting items, one involving athletes and one involving politics. During the 1984 presidential election, Snyder bet $10,000 on Harry Truman to win at 17-to-1 odds.
For Super Bowl III, Snyder made the AFL’s New York Jets 17-point underdogs to the NFL’s Baltimore Colts. The Jets would go on to win the game 16-7 in a contest that legitimized the merger between the two leagues in the eyes of many.
7. John Havlicek
John Havlicek was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, the son of parents who ran a general store. He later went on to play collegiate basketball at Ohio State before being drafted in the first round of the 1962 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. Landing in Boston put Havlicek at the center of a burgeoning dynasty that would dominate basketball for the next decade.
He would play from 1962 to 1978 and was a part of eight championship teams. Havlicek won an NBA Finals MVP award in 1974. He was also a four-time first-team all-NBA team selection. In college, Havlicek helped lead Ohio State to the 1960 NCAA championship.
For his career, Havlicek averaged 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. Havlicek would end up having his No. 17 jersey retired by the Celtics, cementing him among the most famous athletes from Ohio. After his basketball career ended, Havlicek invested in Wendy’s franchises and never had to work another job after his basketball career ended.
8. Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger, a native of Findlay, Ohio, would end up being one of the athletes with a tenuous relationship with his home state. Some of the drama came from Roethlisberger being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and constantly battling against Ohio teams. Nonetheless, he remains one of the best athletes born in Ohio.
The bigger issue for Roethlisberger was the lack of support from his hometown following off-the-field allegations of sexual misconduct. But no matter what anyone in Ohio, or in America, thinks about the type of person he is, Roethlisberger is without a doubt one of the most famous athletes from Ohio.
Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion and was named rookie of the year. He holds the NFL record for the most career 500-yard passing games with four. Roethlisberger finished with 64,088 passing yards and threw 418 touchdown passes in his career.
Best Sportsbooks and Offers for Betting Online in Ohio
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- BetRivers – deposit $10 using code SPORTS, wager, and get 2nd chance bet up to $500
Want to learn more?
Ohio Super Bowl Betting Guide (2023)
Ohio Pro Sports Teams With Richest History