Sports Class of 1996, Best Ever?

People often look at a certain draft class for a sport and they want to label it as a success or a failure. But not often to people look at an entire sports year’s class as a whole. It has been brought to attention recently because of the recent announced retirement of Ray Lewis, who is arguably the greatest linebacker of all-time. Many other athletes that made their debutes in ’96 are nearing the end of their careers as well. The ’96 class is loaded with Hall of Famers in every sport so it begs the question, is it the best sports class of all-time?

Lets start with the NFL. As previously stated, Ray Lewis leads this draft class as he was selected 26th overall in the first round of the draft. Lewis has put up staggering numbers as well as taking home countless honors such as NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003, and being selected to 13 Pro Bowls. Lewis also led his Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2000.

But this draft could very well be known for the wide receivers that were selected. The notable wide receivers that were picked were Keyshawn Johnson, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Muhsin Muhammed, Amani Toomer, and Joe Horn. All of these wide receivers were Pro Bowl selections and the majority of them will be headed to the Hall of Fame. Also, lets throw the best kicker of all-time in the mix with the undrafted Adam Vinatieri.

Moving forward to the NBA where the ’96 draft room was buzzing with all the talent available. The headliner here is the “Black Mamba” or as most know him, Kobe Bryant. Bryant was selected 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant is a 14-time All-Star, as well as being a 14-time member of the All-NBA team. He is the youngest player to reach 30,000 points, and he is the all-time leading scorer of the Los Angeles Lakers. He has led the Lakers to 5 NBA Championships, and will likely go down as a top-5 player all-time.

The ’96 draft class will be forever known as the draft of the guard. Other notable guards to be selected along with Bryant were Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, and Stephon Marbury. These players were all multiple-time All-Stars and were consistantly the most recognizable players in the league for a number of years.

There is no doubt who headlines the list of MLB rookies in 1996, and that is Derek Jeter. Jeter started off with a bang as he won the Rookie of the Year in ’96. Throughout the years Jeter has 13 All-Star selections, 5 Gold Gloves, and 5 Silver Slugger Awards. He is the Yankees’ all-time career leader in hits,  games played, stolen bases, and at-bats. Jeter is known as one of the main reasons for the Yankees’ success in the late 1990′s and 2000′s in which the team has 5 World Series victories.

There were many other notable rookies in the ’96 season. Andruw Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Edgar Renteria, Bobby Abreu, and Scott Rolen all appeared for the National League. Along with Jeter on the American League side were Nomar Garciaparra, Tony Batista, Scott Spiezio, and Raul Ibanez. While all of these players might not be Hall of Famers, they were very productive and consistant for many years in the MLB, which is hard to do.

But the most famous athlete to start off theier stellar career in 1996 has to be Tiger Woods. Woods turned pro in ’96 and shook up the golf world forever. Woods has been named PGA Golfer of the Year a record 10 times, as well as setting the record for the most consecutive weeks ranked as the World’s number one golfer. Woods is also 2nd all-time on the majors list with 14 career major victories. When it is all said and done, Woods could go down as the greatest golfer of all-time.

Lets take a moment and just take in all of the great athletes that started their stellar careers in 1996. In my opinion, it is the greatest sports class of all-time with the headliners such as Ray Lewis, Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter, and Tiger Woods. But also the depth of each class and the amount of players that made key impacts in their respective leagues. With most of these players nearing the end of their careers, just sit back and take a moment to comprehend what this class has done for the world of sports.

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