There’s nothing more American than a buzzer beater score that elates thousands in their stadium seats, and millions more around the globe. And there’s nothing more American than the bright sports hopefuls-turned-icons ranging from every nationality, and every creed.
As part of our celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, CASSIUS’ sports team has deliberated over and assembled a list of Latinx athletes who have dominated their fields, their lanes, and their courts from every single decade.
From the massive appeal of Pelé in the ’70s, to Carmelo Anthony’s mission to spread a message beyond the NBA when we need it most today, check out our list of the greatest men and women to ever do it.
The soccer gawd himself. The Brazilian-born soccer player often considered the best to ever play the sport owned the ’60s and ’70s. He won three World Cups— something no other player has been able to do since and also holds the record for all-time goalscorer for Brazil with 77 goals in 92 games. The Beautiful Game wouldn’t be where it is today without Pele’s influence or talent.
Chi-Chi Rodríguez wandered into a golf course when he was seven and saw that the caddies were making more money than him— so he became a caddie. After making a golf club out of a guava tree, Rodriguez would turn professional and win the Denver open in ’63 and win seven more titles on the PGA Tour up until ’79. A native of Puerto Rico, he represented the island on 12 World Cup teams.
The Cuban American was just following behind her brothers when she took to the water at just seven years old at the local Y.M.C.A. Then at just 14 she beat a college junior in a national open championship. Of course she’d then go on to medal in 1984, 1988 and 1992… then came back in 2000 and 2008 just a year after giving birth. Her storied Olympic career spanned 24 years and eight olympic games as she set and repeatedly broke her own records.
Though Cuba has been participating in the Olympic Games since 1900, it would be another 80 years before a woman would medal. Maria Colon became the first to grace the top of the podium after winning gold for the 1980 Olympics javelin throwing competition with a record-breaking distance of a 66.8m throw. Sadly, she’d never be able to defend her record because of the Cuban government’s Olympic boycott during the ’84 and ’88 Games.
Do you know how good you have to be to have a near $10 million contract during the early ’80s? Apparently as good as soccer player Diego Maradona. Maradona would set records for transfer fees when being dealt to Barcelona and then again when going to Napoli. With a big check like that and a precocious attitude, Maradona was able to back it up with plays like the goal of the century. He wasn’t called “El Pibe de Oro” (“The Golden Boy”) for nothing.
Talk about Latinx pride for real. Young Hispanic hockey fans of the ’90s were in for a prideful treat, when Scott Gomez suited up for the New Jersey Devils. After a career that led him to the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators just to name a few, the hockey great became a coach for the New York Islanders, a position he currently holds.
Amongst the drug-riddled chaos that ran rampant in Colombia during the early ‘90s was Andres Escobar. The clean-cut and extremely talented soccer player was set to join A.C. Milan, but the infamous own goal in the 1994 FIFA World Cup, led to him being killed outside of a night club.
The kid that grew up playing baseball in his native island of Puerto Rico snuck onto the Yankees roster and worked his way up the ranks from AAA to the big time in a matter of five years. The acclaim —and subsequent four-year, $52 million contract—came in 2007. After a few injury-plagued seasons, he’d retire in 2012. The Yanks would give him the ultimate honor by retiring his number 20 jersey.
Orlando Hernandez, best known as “El Duque,” is one of the greatest Yanks in the history of the organization. The elite right-handed pitcher was banned from baseball in his native Cuba, and defected from the country in 1997. He then negotiated a four year, $6.6 million dollar contract with the Yankees, after the team negotiated his visa. The starter went on to clinch three World Series wins, in 1998, 1999, and 2000.
Before he rocked a suit on Fox NFL’s pregame show, Tony Gonzalez was a UC Berkeley tight end who spent 11 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Cali native may have never made a Super Bowl appearance, but he was a 14 time pro-bowler and since he’s only had one fumble since the 2000 season, he’s also one of the most sure-handed players of all time.
Oscar De La Hoya
He’s nicknamed the golden boy for a reason. The 39-6 welterweight has generated $700 million in pay-per-view income and the only person to make more is Money Making Floyd Mayweather. When his mother was terminally ill, her wish was for De La Hoya to one day win an Olympic gold medalist. He buckled down on training and made that dream a reality in ‘92, winning the Lightweight Olympic Gold Medal at the ‘92 games in Barcelona.
Legend has it that Ronaldo once said, “God sent me to earth to show people how to play football” and Messi responded, “I never sent anybody.” Whether that’s true or not, the Argentinian footballer’s rise has been steady and he beats out rival Ronaldo in almost every stat.
Enter Sandman. Mariano Rivera continues to be one of the most revered Yankees players to touch the pitcher’s mound. A proud wearer of Jackie Robinson’s iconic #42, Rivera became the final athlete to don the honor, as the number was officially retired. Not only a juggernaut on the field, Rivera’s humility made him a favorite in the Bronx, as well as the stadium employees, from beer vendors to the front office.
From his Washington Heights beginnings to becoming one of the best Yankees of all time, A-Rod has become a household name. Who else can score at least 100 runs in nine consecutive seasons? The only other person to ever touch that state is Hank Aaron. Though his career is marred with steroid controversy, his impact on the game is hard to deny.
David “Big Papi” Ortiz
David “Big Papi” Ortiz retired from the Red Sox in 2016 but his 19-year run was stuff baseball dreams are made of. Always a solid player, Papi stepped it up in 2004. The same year he was named an All-Star for the first time and he got even better in 2005 and 2006 when he signed a four-year, $52 million contract extension with the team. In 2007, he helped the Red Sox win their seventh World Series. He talent continued for the next decade and he even hit 38 homers in his final season.
Hailing from Barcelona, Spain, the seven footer played for his hometown for three years before coming to the states. After playing for the Memphis Grizzlies he joined the Los Angeles Lakers alongside Kobe Bean Bryant. With the help of Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Derek Fisher, Gasol won two consecutive rings.
Santos Saúl Álvarez. He’s nicknamed “Canelo,” which means cinnamon in Spanish— a common nickname for people with red hair— dominates pay per view whenever he steps into the ring. The Mexican born welterweight, is oft considered the best pound for pound boxer, and is consistently ranked as the world’s best light middleweight. It’s safe to say that his choice to join the sport at 13 years old was a great choice.
When Hoodie Melo isn’t balling out he’s giving back to his people— whether that means marching in Baltimore during the Freddie Gray riots or raising $1 million for the Puerto Rico relief efforts. The half Puerto Rican 10 time NBA All-Star just joined the Oklahoma City Thunder and is about to prosper— without the triangle of course.
Some will say Hugh Hefner is survived by Cristiano Ronaldo, and some will say Ronaldo is one of the greatest modern-day soccer players and deserves that $50 million a year salary. Either way, the Portuguese footballer has represented for Real Madrid since ‘09. It’s also pretty hard to argue with someone who’s scored 579 goals in their career.
Puerto Rican Monica Puig tennis player has been making a name for herself since hopping on the scene in ‘09 when she reached the Grade 1 final in Casablanca. Her success continued and at the 2016 Summer Olympics, where she became the first athlete to win an Olympic gold medal while representing Puerto Rico.