On this day in 1999, the world was introduced to a new family. Well, two families actually; the family and then the Family.
The Sopranos is probably the greatest TV show ever created and certainly the most important of the last 30 years. The ballad of Tony Soprano ushered in a golden age of television, paving the way for the likes of The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and pretty much everything that followed.
The combination of David Chase’s stellar writing, which broke all boundaries for the small screen, James Gandolfini’s unmatched performance as the show’s lead and the smorgasbord of incredible supporting characters created a genuine work of art.
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The best character isn’t Tony though. It isn’t Silvio Dante, Christopher Moltisanti, the beleaguered Adriana La Cerva or Dr. Jennifer Melfi either. It’s New Jersey, the setting of this rich tapestry of mobster mayhem.
This is The Sportsman of course, and while we can wax lyrical about this show until the cows come home, it’s hard to talk about the woes of a modern day gangster in a sporting context - there’s only so much you can write about Furio Giunte’s fabulous S.S.C Napoli clobber unfortunately.
So, to celebrate this most exceptional piece of television drama, we’ve decided to look at the best sports men and women to hail from the Garden State.
Some of the NBA’s greatest ever players hailed from New Jersey. Trenton’s Dennis Rodman is perhaps the best on-ball defender that basketball has ever seen. ‘The Worm’, a five-time NBA champion, is one of the most fascinating characters to step on the court.
You also have the great Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq, like Rodman, is widely considered one of the greatest players of all time. The 7’1’’ center played for six teams across a 19 year career that saw him win four NBA championships and pick up the MVP gong in the 1999/2000 season.
The state’s hoop legends continue today, with 2016 NBA champion Kyrie Irving, born in Australia but raised in New Jersey, leading the charge for the Brooklyn Nets in their bid for a first NBA championship.
The sweet science and New Jersey go hand-in-hand like a funeral and a plate of gabagool (for non-Sopranos fans: very well). Marvin Hagler is arguably the greatest middleweight of all time and one quarter of boxing’s Four Kings alongside Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.
Further back you have one of the sport’s best underdogs in James Braddock. ‘The Cinderella Man’, considered little more than a journeyman, famously beat Max Baer for the world heavyweight title in 1934. These days Newark native and two-weight world champion Shakur Stevenson is one of the hottest properties in boxing.
One of the most distinguished catchers across baseball’s long and storied history, Yogi Berra was inducted into the New Jersey Hall Of Fame in 2008. Berra won 10 World Series, more than any other player, and was an 18-time All-Star.
Another New York Yankees legend, Derek Jeter, is also a member of New Jersey sporting royalty with five World Series titles while Vineland’s Mike Trout is one of the best baseball players currently plying their trade today.
Two-time Olympic gold medallist and two-time World Cup winner Carli Lloyd hails from Delran Township, New Jersey. Once the highest paid female footballer in the world, Lloyd made 316 appearances for the US national team and, before retiring in 2021, had the fourth most goals and fifth most assists in her nation’s history.
In the mens’ game, former Manchester United and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard was born and raised in North Brunswick. The USA’s most capped goalkeeper of all-time, Howard won an FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield during his time at Old Trafford.
These guys definitely had the makings of a varsity athlete. The late Franco Harris had an incredible career that saw him win four Super Bowls and become a nine-time Pro Bowl selection. Joe Theismann meanwhile won a Super Bowl with the Washington Commanders and went on to become a hugely successful broadcaster.
Today Joe Flacco is waving the New Jersey flag in the NFL. The current New York Giants star won the Super Bowl in 2012 with the Baltimore Ravens, where he was named MVP.