Ten greatest athletes in Miami sports history

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Dwyane Wade, Dan Marino, LeBron James. Yahoo! Sports photo illustration.

Editor's note: YCN contributor Bradley Ryder has compiled his list of the 10 greatest athletes for Miami. Readers will determine by poll (upper right side of the page) who's No. 1. Results will be revealed Saturday, Aug. 3.

The Miami Heat's LeBron James may be the most talked about professional athlete, thanks in part to the 2013 NBA Finals. But does the four-time NBA MVP top the list among the 10 most beloved athletes of all-time in Miami?

My pro athlete choices that made the list didn't come by way of scientific formulas or statistics alone. Instead, the top 10 athletes in Miami history are judged by impact on the city and sport, team leadership, mannerism on and off the court/field, likability and accolades (to a smaller degree).

And the nominees, in alphabetical order, are:

Larry Csonka (Miami Dolphins, 1968-74, 79)

The Hall of Fame fullback last played in the NFL in 1979, but he left an indelible mark on the franchise with his superior play at the position.

Csonka was part of the 1972 Dolphins team that went 17-0, including the postseason, and won Super Bowl VII. Led by legendary coach Don Shula, Csonka was taught to run and use his size to his advantage.

The five-time Pro Bowler, who became a motivational speaker after his NFL career, played the sport with grit and integrity.

Bob Griese (Miami Dolphins, 1967-80)

Like Csonka, this former Miami Dolphins quarterback played on the 1972 team that went undefeated, was flawless in the postseason and won the Super Bowl that year.

Griese is among the most decorated quarterbacks to ever play on the gridiron. He didn't have a rocket arm and didn't count on the pass much.

In Super Bowl VII, the 1967 fourth overall NFL draft pick out of Purdue University only passed the ball 11 times out of 50 total scrimmage plays. But when needed, he hit his mark time after time.

He is the only quarterback for the Dolphins that started and won a Super Bowl title. In fact, under his leadership, Miami went to the big game three consecutive years (1971, 1972 and 1973) and won two of them.

Plaguing injuries forced him into retirement after 14 years in the league, all with the Dolphins. He then began life as a sports commentator.

Tim Hardaway (Miami Heat, 1995-2001)

The former University of Texas at El Paso standout began his 14-year NBA career with the Golden State Warriors. However, he is best known for his contributions to the game during his run with the Heat.

He soon became the face of the Heat, long before Dwyane Wade inherited the South Beach torch. His skills on the court were dazzling and he is often viewed as the father of the "crossover" aka the "UTEP Two-step."

LeBron James (Miami Heat, 2010-present)

Based on the way King James played in the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, it's hard to believe that he won't be first on the list. It's hard to argue that James is not currently the best basketball player on the planet. I would argue that his career numbers rival those of any top player, past or present. But again, that alone does not describe a "beloved" player.

In three seasons since breaking the heart of Cleveland Cavaliers fans, he's appeared in three straight finals, winning two.

Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins, 1983-99)

Unlike Griese, this former Dolphins quarterback doesn't have a Super Bowl ring on his résumé. But here is where his stats make up for lost room.

Over the years, he earned a treasure trove of awards and continued to set new records in professional football. And unlike Griese, he had a powerful arm that was used as his weapon of choice on the field. He didn't have fancy footwork in the pocket, but he possessed an uncanny ability to see the pass-rush.

Like Scott Mellanby, Marino and his wife established a foundation in support of autism. Their child Michael was diagnosed with the condition in the early '90s. The Dan Marino Center in Miami was opened in 1995 and currently helps to diagnose and treat children with autism.

Marino is a savvy entrepreneur who has several restaurants. And despite the recent revelation of a love child, the former NFL quarterback is still admired for what he did on and off the field.

Imagine that?

Scott Mellanby (Florida Panthers, 1993-2001)

Mellanby, primarily a right wing player, served on five different teams. However, he is best known for his years with the Panthers. In fact, two of his most productive years in terms of points scored were during his years with Florida. Scott scored the franchise's first goal. And who can forget his role in sparking the "rat trick" craze?

In 1999, Scott and his wife Susan founded The Mellanby Autism Foundation after their son, Carter, was diagnosed with the condition in 1998. Since then, the Mellanbys have worked tirelessly to raise funds for organizations that support families affected by a loved one's autism.

Alonzo Mourning (Miami Heat, 1995-2002, 2005-08)

The center played in the NBA for 15 seasons, mostly with the Heat. When 'Zo, as Mourning is affectionately known, joined the team, he had one thing on his mind: an NBA title. Whether it was topping the stat charts with blocked shots, rebounds or points per game, 'Zo brought it night after night.

Sadly, a rare kidney diagnosis in 2000 forced him into a fight of a different kind: one for his life. Three years later, Mourning received a long-awaited kidney transplant.

After missing the entire 2002-2003 NBA season, Mourning left the Heat and signed with the New Jersey Nets. Continued health problems forced a retirement. He soon returned with the Nets and was later traded to the Toronto Raptors in 2004. However, he never reported to camp.

He then returned to the Miami Heat in 2005. And in 2006, his presence and energy helped the team win their first NBA Finals title.

Mourning is not only respected for how he played the game; his life off the court is a testament to how fans marvel at his presence years after leaving the game.

On his Hall of Fame chances, Mourning recently said:

"Basketball is temporary. When it's all said and done, we're not going to be judged by what we've done on the basketball court or playing field, how nice our car is, how much money we have, how big our house is. We're going to be judged by what we do for other people. That's just what I believe and that's how I live. If it doesn't happen, that I don't make to the Hall of Fame, trust me, I'm going to do the work that I do. It won't change my perspective on life.''

Well said, 'Zo, well said.

Gary Sheffield (Florida Marlins, 1993-98)

You might say Sheffield was damaged goods by the time he began his career with the Marlins, then an expansion team. But one year later, Sheffield helped the Marlins beat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

Despite admitting to having unknowingly used steroids with his offseason partner, Barry Bonds, Marlins fans still marvel at his role in helping the team to a world title. In fact, due to his fan popularity and key role in the '97 World Series, the nine-time All-Star was spared a trade the next season, unlike his fellow teammates.

Jason Taylor (Miami Dolphins, 1997-2007, 2009, 2011)

Throughout his career in Miami, Taylor was a sack machine. In 2002, the beloved defensive end led the NFL with 18 1/2 sacks, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl, an All-Pro selection, and the AFC Defensive Player of the Year Award.

In his 13 seasons with the Dolphins (three different stints), Taylor averaged roughly 10 sacks per season, often displaying speed and tenacity off the edge. With his 139 1/2 career sacks, he currently sits sixth on the all-time list.

But Taylor's greatness was more than just QB sacks. A knack for finding the end zone, Taylor's six returned fumbles for TDs is the most in NFL history. He ended his career with nine touchdowns.

Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat, 2003-present)

Long before LeBron joined the team, D-Wade was the face of the Heat franchise. Long before injuries began to slow him down, Wade was the energy that made fans pack into the arena when the Heat came home. It was that same energy that gave South Beach its initial title in 2006 and Wade the MVP award.

His numbers are not as pretty as his James', but long before the Big 3 came along, there was a Big 1.

How does your list compare? What player or player should or should not be on the list?

Note: Unless stated otherwise, all player statistics are sourced from Baseball Reference, Basketball Reference, Pro Football Reference and Hockey Reference.

Bradley is a professional writer, journalist, sportswriter, and avid fan of the NBA, NFL, NCAA, PGA and all things tennis. He keeps a watchful eye on Miami Heat developments.

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