As a lifelong resident of Long Island and an avid sports fan, I’m always looking around to see who from Long Island has made it big in professional sports. Of course, when I played soccer, my dream was to be one of those people. But for one reason or another those dreams never materialized. I find it incredibly cool (for lack of a better word) that I can actually say I have 2 personal friends of mine that are among the most promising athletes in their sports and obviously a large chunk of this post will be about them (more on them later). After doing some research I found that some of the most famous athletes in the NFL, MLB and NBA came from Long Island. Long Island is very well represented in both the past and the present.
Vinny Testaverde (Elmont, NY and Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park)
Vinny Testaverde is one of my all-time favorite NFL players. He might not have been the best quarterback to ever play for the Jets, but he was one of the most professional. Testaverde showed up everyday and worked and did whatever he could to make the Jets as good as he could while he was with the team. Vinny Testaverde was the 1st overall in 1987 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played with the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and New York Jets throughout his career. Testaverde was named to 2 Pro Bowls during his career.
Boomer Esiason (East Islip)
Boomer Esiason is widely considered one of the best quarterbacks to play in the NFL and I was actually surprised to find out that he was a native Long Islander, you would think that as big a New York sports fan as I am I would’ve figured that out a long time ago. Esiason was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1984 NFL Draft and moved to play with the Jets in 1993 and also played with the Arizona Cardinals during his career. Esiason won the 1988 NFL MVP and currently holds the record for most TD passes by a left-handed QB with 247. Since his retirement, Esiason has become a leader in the fight against cystic fibrosis by creating his own foundation that has raised millions of dollars over the years. Esiason is currently a commentator for CBS football and co-hosts a sports radio show on WFAN alongside Craig Carton.
Craig Biggio (Smithtown)
One of the greatest players in the history of the Houston Astros Biggio spent his entire 19-year career with Houston and had his #7 retired by the team shortly after his retirement. Throughout his career Biggio was named to 7 All-Star teams, won 4 Gold Glove awards and 5 Silver Sluggers. Biggio currently ranks 21st on the all-time hits list with 3,060 career hits and is the 9th player in history in the 3000 hit club to get all his hits with one team. A little known fact about Biggio is that he was a star football player in high school, he won the Hansen Award which recognized him as the best football player in Suffolk County (take that as you may, we all know Suffolk County isn’t exactly the mecca of football talent).
Julius Erving (Nassau County)
Julius Erving is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. His illustrious 16-year career stretched from the ABA to the NBA and he was equally successful in both. Erving was a 2-time ABA Champion, 3-time ABA All-Star and was named to the ABA All-Time team. Erving was also an NBA Champion in 1983, NBA MVP in 1981, an 11-time NBA All-Star, named to the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary teams and has had his #6 retired by the 76ers and his #32 retired by the Brooklyn Nets and UMASS. Julius Erving was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
Vincent Nobile (Dix Hills, Half Hollow Hills East)
Vincent Nobile is one of the most impressive athletes from Long Island in the pros. In my opinion, his sport (NHRA Drag Racing) is the hardest and takes the most skill to master. That, combined with the fact that at only 21 years old Vincent already has 8 career wins is extremely impressive especially considering the fact that the majority of his opponents are much more experienced than he is. Vincent made his NHRA debut in the 2010 season and became a full-time driver during the 2011 season. He won his first race in Houston which made him the youngest NHRA racer to ever win a race. Vincent went on to win 2 more races in his 1st full season in Norwalk and Phoenix and was nominated for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award. In the 2012 season, Vincent scored two wins at Houston and Norwalk and appeared in five total final-rounds. He became the youngest driver to win the $50,000 K&N Horsepower Challenge. This season, Vincent recorded back-to-back wins in Sonoma and California and is currently in the #4 position in points trailing only Mike Edwards, Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. I’ve followed Vincent’s NHRA career very closely since the start because Vincent and I have been fairly good friends for a very long time. I am so proud to call Vincent Nobile a close personal friend and he amazes me each time he races with how incredibly talented he is. And like I always say “I took my road test the same day Vincent Nobile took his, and I waited in his dads truck with his dad while he got his license that allowed him to became a pro NHRA racer.” If anyone is interested in seeing Vincent strut his stuff you can go to NHRA.com or catch him on ESPN next weekend as the 2013 Mello Yello Series takes to Indianapolis and the 2013 U.S Nationals. I recently asked Vincent about living his dream in the NHRA and what representing Long Island means to him:
“it means alot to me considering im kind of following in my fathers footsteps but in a higher fashion. He always wanted to win races in the NHRA but never had the funding to do so, but now that we have sponsors and such were living his dream together (its obviously also my dream to win these races as well lol). Honestly being from long island did everything but help me prepare for racing considering there’s no race track on long island, but there really should be! There are so many drag racers on long island that would use the race track every week. If anything helped it would be my local fans from the island. I believe i have a lot of local fans who follow and watch me and that really means a lot because i’m trying to make long island proud!”
Tobias Harris (Islip, Half Hollow Hills West, Tennessee)
From the day Tobias was called up to the varsity basketball team at Hills West when he was in 8th grade, everyone in our district knew he was going to go on and do great things in basketball. I was lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to go to a rival high school of Tobias (same district, different school Hills East) and the first two years I was in high school our schools would play a basketball exhibition against each other. My freshman year was when I first saw exactly what Tobias could become. Hills West was beating up on Hills East and at one point, fairly late in the game, East turned the ball over to Tobias and Tobias had an open lane to the basket. We all knew he could dunk but we never saw him do it in a game, he sprints down the court and slams home a two-handed jam and the gym went nuts (East and West fans alike), that was the time I thought to myself “This kid is going to the NBA.” Sure enough, after a year playing at the University of Tennesee, Tobias was drafted 19th overall by the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2011 NBA Draft before being immediately traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. Tobias played sparingly with the Bucks in his first season but did show glimpses of his enormous talent when he got his chances. Tobias’ career really took off when he was traded to the Orlando Magic in February of 2013. In 27 games with the Magic last season Tobias averaged 17.3 PPG along with 36.1 MPG, 8.5 RPG and 1.4 BPG as a member of a very promising and talent young Magic roster. Tobias set career highs with 30 points on March 29 vs. Washington and April vs. Milwaukee. Basketball runs through Tobias’s genes with his cousin Channing Frye currently with the Phoenix Suns, his sister Tesia (a graudate of St. John’s University) is playing pro ball overseas and his younger brother Tyler is ready to play at Providence after transferring from NC State. Tobias returns to NY with the Magic with games at the Barclays Center against the Nets on January 21, 2014 and April 13, 2014 and at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks on December 6th. I know I’ll be there and I highly recommend you come out and see this kid live, you will not be disappointed!
Mike Petke (Bohemia)
My all-time favorite athlete from Long Island, Mike Petke. Petke was drafted by the Metrostars in the first round of the 1998 draft and spend his first five seasons with in New York. After an outstanding 2000 season, Petke went on a two-week trial with Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern Munich, after his trial Petke was offered a contract by FC Kaiserslautern but elected to remain with the Metrostats. After years of adering himself to the Metrostars fans, Petke was surprisingly traded to hated DC United where he went on to win his only MLS Cup in 2004. Petke returned to New York in 2008 after the Red Bulls signed him off waivers and spent the remaining 3 years of his career in New York. On March 20, 2010 (in his final season) Petke scored the second goal for the Red Bulls in a 3-1 victory over Santos FC, which was the first match played at the new Red Bull Arena. In his last season, Petke appeared in 16 games and helped the Red Bulls capture it’s 2nd Eastern Divison regular season title. After his playing career ended, Petke took over as Manager of Business Operations with the Red Bulls and eventually became an assistant coach with the team. In January of 2013, after months of speculation following the dismissal of Hans Backe, Petke was named head coach of his hometown team the New York Red Bulls. Mike Petke is one of the most beloved players in Metrostars/Red Bulls history and is named in the Red Bulls All-Time XI alongside the likes of Time Howard, Youri Djorkaeff and Jozy Altidore.
Danny Green (North Babylon, North Babylon High School)
Danny Green was the 46th overall pick in the 2009 Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and was ultimately signed by his current team, the San Antonio Spurs, on November 17, 2010 and re-signed with them in 2013 for $12 million over three years. Green recorded career highs of 28 points and 9 three-pointers on February 6, 2013 vs. Minnesota and was one three-pointer away from Chuck Person’s record for most 3’s in a single game as a Spur. In the 2013 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, Green set the record for most three-pointers made in a single series with 27. Danny Green was one of the most promising young players in the NBA and he will be returning to New York on February 6th, 2014 against the Nets and November 10 against the Knicks.
Chris Wingert (Babylon, St. John’s University)
As a current student at St. John’s and employee of the Athletics Department I felt obligated to include Chris Wingert in this post. Wingert is one of the best soccer players in St. John’s history and won the Hermann Trophy as the best collegiate soccer in the nation in 2003. Wingert was the 12th overall pick by the Columbus crew in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft and currently plays with Real Salt Lake where he won the 2009 MLS Cup.
Carlos Mendes (Mineola)
One of my all-time favorite Long Island athletes, Mendes was signed by the Metrostars of MLS before the 2005 MLS season. In March 2011 Mendes became the 6th player in Metrostars/Red Bulls history to hit 10,000 MLS minutes played for the club and by the end of that season he had moved into 2nd place on the all-time franchise list in games played, started and minutes played. Mendes ultimately made 146 appearances with New York before moving to the Columbus Crew in 2012. Carlos Mendes was the first signing of the New York Cosmos reboot and is currently captaining the Cosmos. You can see Carlos Mendes all season long at Hofstra University as the Cosmos continue their reboot season.