Nearly every state has at least one popular athlete to its name. It’s just that most people don’t know which states they actually come from. We promise, even those Midwest states have some famous people that have made a name for themselves. Here, we’ll enlighten you regarding who those athletes are and where they come from: even the ones from South Dakota.
Serena Williams, Michigan
How much of an introduction does Serena Williams really need? Frankly, she is one of the most famous female athletes of all time. Few people actually know that she’s from the state of Michigan, however. You’d be surprised at how few major athletes come from that state.
One way or another, Serena Williams is a legendary tennis player known by just about everyone in the world, being near the top echelon of all of its players. What more is there to even say?
Hope Solo, Washington
How good is Hope Solo? Does she really represent Washington state pride? Well, she was the goalkeeper for the United States women’s national soccer team between the years 2000 to 2016, and on top of that, she’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a World Cup champion. So yeah, probably.
She’s also considered to be one of the best American goalkeepers of all time, likely due to the U.S. record she has for the most career clean sheets.
LeBron James, Ohio
While we’re here, discussing top-tier basketball players, we have LeBron James from the state of Ohio. Widely considered to be one of the best NBA players of all time, he’s played for several teams, including the Lakers, Heat, and Cavaliers.
Speaking of those teams, LeBron James is the only NBA player to win an NBA championship with three different franchises. And of course, that’s to say nothing about his multitude of other awards in the NBA.
Gina Carano, Texas
Gina Carano may be more well-known for her brief role in The Mandalorian at this point, but before that, she was a major force on the MMA scene, with some people even going so far as to say she was the face of women’s MMA, a title Carano humbly rejected.
Most notably, she, along with Cris Cyborg, was the first woman to headline a major MMA event, though she retired from the profession after her first professional defeat in that match.
Mia Hamm, Alabama
Mia Hamm is an extremely famous athlete that soccer for the country’s national team between 1987 and 2004. Among her achievements are two Olympic gold medals and two FIFA Women’s World Cups. She may be retired now, but she’s kind of a legend.
By the end of her career, Hamm had competed in seven different international tournaments and participated in 42 matches, scoring 14 goals across them. Until 2013, she held the record for most international goals scored.
Michael Jordan, New York
Who needs to introduce Michael Jordan? He was in the first Space Jam movie! Oh, and he’s arguably one of the best basketball players to ever live. We suppose that’s important too. In fact, you could give him a lot of credit for popularizing the NBA worldwide in the ’80s and ’90s.
He played a whopping 15 seasons in the NBA and won 6 championships with the Chicago Bulls while he was at it. And he got a whole line of shoes named after him, so there’s really no debating his phenomenal image in the eyes of fans worldwide.
Mary Lou Retton, West Virginia
One of the old breed of gymnast, Mary Lou Retton is definitely still one of the most famous. In the 1984 Summer Olympics, she won not only a gold medal, but also two silver medals and two bronze ones. The gold medal was notable because Retton was the first American woman to win the all-around gold medal in Olympic gymnastics.
Needless to say, her performance at the time made Mary Lou Retton one of the most popular athletes in the nation at the time, and her legacy lives on even today.
Mariel Zagunis, Oregon
If there’s one woman you don’t want to mess with no matter what state they are from, it’s one who has won medals in swordsmanship. Zagunis is the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in fencing, and she’s a two-time champion in individual saber fencing.
She was also the Team USA flag bearer in the 2012 Summer Olympics Parade of Nations, and she’s a four-time Olympian overall. Do not mess with this Oregon girl!
Dennis Rodman, New Jersey
We’re not sure if it was praise or scorn when people nicknamed Dennis Rodman “The Worm” on the basketball courts of the NBA. Considering his legendary status as one of the best defensive players of all time, we’re going to assume it was intended to be praise.
For example, Rodman earned NBA All-Defensive First Team honors a grand total of seven times, and on top of that, he won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award two times. Rodman also outdid everyone in the NBA in rebounds per game seven years in a row and won five NBA championships besides.
Lolo Jones, Iowa
Lolo Jones, born in the state of Iowa, is a bobsledder and hurdler, two athletic professions that don’t get as much attention as they should. She’s won a ton of rewards in both, with the most recent being the 2021 IBSF World Championships, though this was as Kaillie Humphries’ brakewoman.
Outside of her athletic career, Lolo Jones has appeared on a surprising number of reality TV shows, such as Dancing With The Stars and The Challenge.
Erin Toughill, Illinois
If you have a name like Toughill, we suppose it makes sense to go into mixed martial arts and boxing. Erin Toughill stepped into the world of fighting as early as age 18, and she debuted in mixed martial arts competitions in 1999.
Boxing is a different field than MMA, and in boxing, Toughill has 7 wins, 5 losses, 1 draw and 1 no contest. As far as records go, that’s not too shabby at all.
Muhammad Ali, Kentucky
No matter what, Kentucky fans will always have Muhammad Ali to represent their state. It’s hard to even imagine someone who doesn’t know about him, considering that he is often acknowledged to be one of the best boxers of all time.
Heck, Muhammad Ali is sometimes said to be the most influential athlete of the 20th century, in any sport. He began training as a boxer as early as age 12, which probably had a lot to do with how far he went in the field.
Holly Holm, New Mexico
Here comes another mixed martial artist, hailing from the state of New Mexico. Holly Holm is notable for being the former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, and a multiple-time world champion. She defended her title a whopping eighteen times across three weight classes.
You may also recognize Holly Holm as being the woman that handed Ronda Rousey her first loss in a professional fight. That too sets her apart from all the rest.
Sara McMann, Maryland
McMann from the state of Maryland may not have the UFC accolades of some of her competitors, but she does have some other unique things to her name: she was an Olympic wrestler, and more importantly, she’s the first American woman in history to receive a silver medal at the Olympics.
Being the first to do anything in the whole wide world is always an important distinction to make. Nobody can take that from Sara McMann!
Jim Thorpe, Oklahoma
Jim Thorpe is arguably the most famous athlete to ever come out of the state of Oklahoma. Part of that is the fact that he was the first Native American athlete to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States.
The other part of that is just how many sports he excelled in: he participated in football, baseball, basketball and the decatholon and penthalon in the Olympics. A man of many talents, as it were.
Roxanne Modafferi, Delaware
Roxanne Modafferi is a mixed martial artist working her way through the ranks of the UFC. Right now, she fights in the flyweight division, but she’s actually fought in multiple weight classes throughout her fighting career.
As of January 25th of this year, Modafferi was ranked #9 in the UFC flyweight rankings, making her a pretty good fighter compared to all of the competition out there.
Elaina Maxwell, Utah
Are you noticing a weird trend with female mixed martial artists on this list? Frankly, we’re not sure what the deal with this trend is either. Maybe it’s just an easy sport to get into regardless of what state you’re from.
Either way, Maxwell is a three time San Shou champion and a BJJ purple belt. She also won the first American gold medal at the World Wushu Games in 2003.
Big E Langston, Florida
Ettore Ewen has one of the most interesting names we’ve ever seen, but as a professional wrestler he called himself Big E, for obvious reasons. He did a lot more than just wrestle though: he may be signed to the WWE right now, but he was once a football player and a powerlifter.
He played college football at the University of Iowa, but more notably, he became the USA Powerlifting Champion later. He’s a big guy, with big representation and abilities.
Shalane Flanagan, Colorado
Shalane Flanagan, from the state of Colorado, is a New York City Marathon champion and Olympic medalist. Most notably, she is the first woman to win the New York City Marathon since 1977. She also holds the NACAC area record in the indoor 5000 meter race, as well as the 10k road race.
She won a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics and a bronze medal in the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Needless to say, she does a lot of running, and she’s pretty darn good at it.
Alex Morgan, California
A lot of good athletes have come from the state of California, but Alex Morgan is one of the best. She plays in the highest division of American Women’s Professional Soccer and is a member of the United States’ National soccer team. For a time, she even co-captained that team.
We’ll be the first to admit that soccer isn’t as popular in America as it is in other places around the world, but that in no way diminishes how amazing of an athlete she is.
Kobe Bryant, Pennsylvania
Speaking of people that need no introduction, we have Kobe Bryant, only one of the most famous basketball players in recent history. Ask anyone who they believe the best five basketball players of all time to be, and you’ll probably hear his name.
He was born in the state of Pennsylvania, but a rarely known fact about him is that he was partly raised in Italy, spending a fair deal of his childhood overseas there.
Pat Summitt, Tennessee
Summitt is probably best known as an American Women’s basketball coach: or rather, the coach, seeing as how she accrued a whopping 1,098 career wins, which was the most in history at the time of her retirement.
But she was an athlete as well. She was awarded a silver medal at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics as a member of the United States women’s national basketball team. It wasn’t long after that though, that she began her illustrious career as a head coach.
Brittney Reese, Mississippi
Brittney Reese is here to represent the state of Mississippi, and she does a great job of it thanks to her fantastic athletics and fairly illustrious career. As an American long jumper, not only is she an Olympic gold medalist, she’s also a seven time world champion.
Reese is also the American record holder for the long jump with a pretty respectable jumping distance of 7.23 meters. That’s one heck of a long jumping ability!
Dennis Weaver, Missouri
Dennis Weaver is interesting because he’s probably better known as an actor and the president of the Screen Actors Guild. Most everyone recognizes him from Gunsmoke. But he was actually a track star before any of that happened.
Following World War Two, he tried out for the 1948 U.S. Olympic team, but didn’t quite make the cut, since only the top three competitors were selected. Still, while most of his career was focused on acting, he’s technically still a famous athlete from the state of Missouri.
Lindsey Vonn, Minnesota
This former World Cup alpine ski racer has won four World Cup overall championships, proving that she’s no slouch. She’s also one of only two female skiers to have accomplished that, further cementing the skill of the Minnesota native.
On top of all of that, Vonn is also one of only six women to have another accomplishment under her belt: to have won World Cup races in all the disciplines of alpine skiing. Make no mistake, she’s good!
Rebecca Lobo, Connecticut
Lobo was once a basketball player, but now she’s a basketball analyst. She played college basketball for the University of Connecticut and was a member of the team that won the 1995 national championship.
If you want to know whether or not she counts as a famous athlete, consider the fact that she was inducted into the Women’s National Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. You can’t really get any more famous than that, right?
Christian Coleman, Georgia
Christian Coleman is the current world champion for the 100 meter run, and he was a double medallist at the World Championships in Athletics in 2017, earning two silver medals in both the 4 x 100-meter relay and the 100 m.
He holds a number of records and has competed in several competitions of great renown, including the 2016 Summer Olympics, though he only ran heats in that instance.
Becky Hammon, South Dakota
Finally, we have a representative from the state of South Dakota! They are more rare than you think! Most notably, she was a three-time All-American basketball player for the Colorado State Rams, but she has played for several teams, including the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars.
She doesn’t play anymore, but she is a basketball coach now, which seems to be a pretty natural progression between careers if you think about it.
Ethan Zohn, Massachusetts
Ethan Zohn has a complex and illustrious professional life that includes being a professional soccer player. He played for the Hawaii Tsunami and Cape Cod Crusaders of the United Soccer Leagues.
He’s also done a remarkable amount of participation in reality TV shows, namely the Survivor series. He actually ended up winning Survivor: Africa, and used some of the money to co-found Grassroots Soccer, which raises money to fight HIV/Aids.
Danica Patrick, Wisconsin
Danica Patrick doesn’t have to be introduced for most people. After all, she’s one of the only women in her sport, American open-wheel racing. Most notably, she won the 2008 Indy Japan 300, which is the only win by a female driver in an IndyCar Series race.
Born in Beloit, Wisconsin, Danica Patrick had a passion for racing as early as age ten, which probably explains why she got so good at it in the long run.