Known for the Jersey Shore and Bruce Springsteen as well as its complex transit system and abundance of diners, New Jersey is also a hotbed for sports. While the New Jersey Devils (NHL) is the only professional team to bear the state’s name, three others — New York Giants (NFL), New York Jets (NFL), and New York Red Bulls (MLS) — play their home games in the Garden State. Hoboken, New Jersey, is also considered the birthplace of baseball, despite popular belief that the game was first played in Cooperstown, New York.
Beyond housing multiple professional sports franchises, New Jersey has produced an abundance of talented professional athletes including Olympians and NBA Hall of Famers. Below are five of the most prominent athletes who honed their skills in New Jersey.
1. Carl Lewis (Track and Field)
Although he was born in Birmingham, Alabama, track and field Olympian Carl Lewis was raised in Willingboro, New Jersey, and in 2016 was named the best athlete to come out of Burlington County by NJ.com. Lewis participated in four Olympic Games from 1984 to 1996, during which time he won nine gold medals.
He won a record-tying four gold medals in 1984 in the 100-meter, 200-meter, 4x100 meter relay, and long jump events. His specialty was the long jump, for which he earned the gold medal in four consecutive Olympics.
In addition to his success at the Olympics, Lewis won eight gold medals at the World Championships and won multiple medals at the Pan American Games. He is considered among the greatest track and field athletes of all-time.
2. Mike Trout (Baseball)
A native of Vineland, New Jersey, Mike Trout has yet to turn 30 but has already established himself as one of New Jersey’s greatest athletes. Selected 25th overall by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft, Trout made his MLB debut in 2011.
He has since been an All-Star in eight consecutive seasons (there was no All-Star Game in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season). He led the league in runs scored in four different seasons and has had the highest on-base percentage in four of the past five seasons.
Trout won American League (AL) Rookie of the Year in 2012 after recording a league-best 129 runs and 49 stolen bases in addition to 30 home runs and 83 RBI. He has since finished among the top five in AL MVP voting in every successive season and won the award in 2014, 2016, and 2019. A story on the MLB website in 2019 pondered whether Trout could be the greatest baseball player of all-time by the end of his career.
3. Shaquille O’Neal (Basketball)
Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, Shaquille O’Neal is a 15-time NBA All-Star. He earned numerous other awards and accolades throughout his 19-year career.
“The Big Aristotle” won Rookie of the Year in 1992–93 with the Orlando Magic and played four seasons with the team before being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. He won three championships with the Lakers and won another in 2005–06 with the Miami Heat. He is also a three-time NBA Finals MVP.
O’Neal is three-time All-Defensive team member and three-time All-Star Game MVP. Moreover, he was named league MVP in 1999–00 after averaging a league-best 29.7 points in addition to 13.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. In addition to the Magic, Lakers, and Heat, he played for the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics.
4. Dennis Rodman
Also a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Dennis Rodman was born in Trenton. He attended Southeastern Oklahoma State University before being selected 27th overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1986 NBA Draft.
Primarily known for his defensive capabilities, Rodman is an eight-time All-Defensive team member and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. He also led the league in rebounds in seven seasons including in 1991–92 when he averaged a career-best 18.7 rebounds per game.
A five-time NBA champion, he won back-to-back titles with the Pistons in 1988–89 and 1989–90 and three consecutive championships with the Chicago Bulls from 1996–98. He also played for the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks.
5. Derek Jeter
A native of Pequannock, Derek Jeter is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and considered one of the most iconic New York Yankees players of all-time. The shortstop was selected by the team sixth overall in the 1992 MLB June Amateur Draft and spent his entire 20-year career with the Bronx Bombers. He helped lead the team to five World Series victories and was named World Series MVP in 2000.
In regard to his individual accolades, Jeter won AL Rookie of the Year in 1996, won five Silver Slugger and five Gold Glove awards, and was a 14-time All-Star. He concluded his career in 2014 with 260 home runs, 1,311 RBI, and a .310 batting average.