Best Sports Legend 2017 | Muhammad Ali | Fun & Games | Phoenix

There is a remarkable photo taken on June 4, 1967, in Cleveland, where longtime Valley resident Muhammad Ali is surrounded by 11 of the leading African-American athletes of the time, including superstars Bill Russell and Jim Brown and a 20-year-old college basketball player named Lew Alcindor, who would rename himself Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They came to hear why the heavyweight champion was surrendering his title to oppose the Vietnam War. They left persuaded to join their voices with his to speak out on social justice and change. "This recalls a time when Ali, not silenced by disease, was so vocal in his expression of outrage against injustice, not only against people of color in this society, but against people of color the world over," Georgetown sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson says about the photo. Ultimately, Ali's stance was credited with helping turn public opinion against the war. He returned to boxing and recaptured his crown. His voice was later silenced by Parkinson's disease, but he continued to be an ambassador for social justice and, before his death last year in Scottsdale, he helped raise millions to research the disease that robbed him of so many years of good health.

You know Diana Taurasi is something special when NBA legend Kobe Bryant brought his daughters to watch her and the Phoenix Mercury play on Father's Day. Bryant, the "Black Mamba," has nicknamed her the "White Mamba." The day that Kobe showed up also happened to be the day Taurasi became the Women's National Basketball Association's all-time leading scorer. Add that to a list of laurels that includes four Olympic gold medals, three WNBA titles, three times Euroleague player of the year, and three NCAA championships at the University of Connecticut. Phoenix also has been fruitful for Taurasi off the court: She married her former Mercury teammate Penny Taylor before the start of the 2017 season. So what did Bryant want his daughters to take away from seeing Taurasi play on Father's Day? "She takes no crap," he said.

Best Sports Legend Who Swims With the Sharks

Michael Phelps

We're hoping Phoenix's adopted son Michael Phelps didn't "jump the shark" when he raced a shark during Shark Week on The Discovery Channel, even though he lost. Not even publicity stunts should diminish the swimmer's status as another animal, the GOAT (that's Greatest of All Time) in Olympic history. Phelps made his first U.S. Olympic swim team in 2000 at age 15, and over the next 16 years, he set record after record, accumulating 28 medals: 23 gold, three silver, and two bronze, the most ever by an athlete in any Olympic sport. In the 2008 Olympics, he won eight gold medals, breaking swimmer Mark Spitz's record for the most by an individual athlete in a single Olympics. More impressive, perhaps, was his performance in the 2016 Games in Rio, when he came out of retirement at age 31 to become the oldest swimmer to win a gold medal. But one wasn't enough: He won five golds and a silver in the competition, including his fourth consecutive gold in the 200-meter individual medley. Phelps officially became a Valley resident last year when he purchased a $2.5 million home in Paradise Valley, where he lives with his wife, Nicole Johnson, and son, Boomer. He also was hired as an assistant coach for the Arizona State University swim team. But unless ASU is recruiting sharks, it's not likely to have any swimmers who can outrace their coach.

Early in the Amazon documentary All or Nothing, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim is about to select University of Nebraska star running back Ameer Abdullah in the second round of the NFL draft, when the Detroit Lions jump in and get him ahead of our Birds. So Keim, desperate for depth at the running back position, is forced to settle for little-known David Johnson from Northern Iowa University in the third round. By the end of the documentary about the Cards' 2015 season, assistant coach Stump Mitchell is telling Johnson that's he's going to be a Hall of Famer. Never has bad luck turned out so good for an Arizona sports team. Johnson starred as a rookie in 2015 after starters Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson went down with injuries. Then he became one of the most potent weapons in the league in 2016, when he led the NFL with 20 touchdowns and more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage — 1,239 rushing and 879 receiving. So after beginning his career as the 86th person taken in his draft class, he is now ranked by the NFL Network as the 12th best player in all of pro football. And even though Johnson suffered a wrist injury in the season opener against the Detroit Lions that will keep him on the sidelines for a while, we're hopeful that he'll be healthy and back in the game soon.

Maggie Ewen learned the hammer throw as a child in a barn on her family's farm in Minnesota. But this hammer has nothing to do with building a barn. The women's hammer is a nine-pound steel ball attached to a four-foot chain, which the ASU junior spun around and around until she hurled it farther than any other female athlete in NCAA history. Ewen won the 2017 NCAA hammer throw with a collegiate record of 70.32 meters (240 feet, seven inches for those of you who haven't converted to metric yet). She also finished second in the discus and sixth in the nation in shot put. And she won all three events in the Pac-12 championships. Ewen was named the 2017 Outdoor Women's National Field Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Obviously, she's long since outgrown throwing the hammer and the shot and the discus in the barn — or else that barn has a lot of holes in it.

Best Teenage Athlete Destined to Become a Millionaire

DeAndre Ayton

Actually, as you read this, DeAndre Ayton would already be a millionaire except for an arcane National Basketball Association rule that demands high school athletes must pretend to attend college, wink, wink, for at least a semester before they can sign an eight-figure contract. Ayton is from the Bahamas, but for two years, he attended something called Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix. The 7-footer led the so-called high school team, which is sponsored by Nike (seriously) to a 33-6 record this past season. He averaged 27.9 points, 18.2 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, and 3.3 assists. Local fans won't be happy that he'll fulfill his required college experience at the University of Arizona, but by June he'll be gone from Tucson, as he's already projected as a potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Which means if the Suns are bad enough again, he could return to Phoenix to play professionally, this time for real. Another Phoenix teen, Marvin Bagley III, will also go high in the draft, but he's headed for Duke University first, and we're not such big Duke fans.

Why stay in school when you can go work for the NBA's Phoenix Suns and become a millionaire? Heading into the season, the Suns had five designated drivers on the team — and that had nothing to do with their ability to take the ball to the hoop. Shooting guard sensation Devin Booker, power forwards Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, and small forwards Josh Jackson and Derrick Jones Jr. are all 20 years old or younger — not even old enough to drink legally. And all but Jackson, a rookie, are already NBA veterans. They each left college after their freshman year, as did 20-somethings Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. At the end of last season, with several veterans sidelined by injury, the Suns' roster was younger than all the college teams that reached the NCAA Final Four in Glendale. Four Suns — Booker and point guards Knight, Bledsoe, and Tyler Ulis — are products of the one-and-done college basketball factory otherwise known as the University of Kentucky, a school that regularly hires, er, enrolls, top players for a year as required by NBA rules, then sends them off to professional riches. But if the Suns kids want to know what the college experience was really like — well, it won't do any good to chat with the team's old man, 34-year-old Tyson Chandler. Back in the day, when it was allowed, he went to the NBA directly from his high school graduation.

Arizona-themed apparel by the local clothing company State Forty Eight has been one of our favorite ways to show off our desert-dweller pride since 2013. So we were thrilled earlier this year when the Arizona Diamondbacks announced that the clothier was partnering with the team for the 2017 season. As a part of the collaboration, the Rally-backs (those nice girls who throw free T-shirts at people) have been outfitted in State Forty Eight gear this season, and several cool shirt designs have been available at the D-backs Team Shop at Chase Field and on the State Forty Eight website. (We're partial to the vintage-style baseball tee emblazoned with the word Arizona in the D-backs font and a simple line drawing of the state.) Also, the team gave away 20,000 State Forty Eight-designed shirts at a home game in July, ensuring there are a lot of stylish sports fans walking around town these days.

Let's face it — there's no bad place to watch spring training in Arizona. If you're at a game, you're likely either retired, on vacation, or skipping work. Many fans favor the grander stadiums like Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, where our Diamondbacks play, and the new digs in Mesa for the World Champion (doesn't that sound strange?) Chicago Cubs. But we agree with Texas baseball fan and author Dan Hammond (Delbert Judd, The Solomon Twist). He prefers the stadium in Peoria, spring training home of the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners. It has more of a "minor-league feel," says Hammond, who was an average high school player. "Nothing beats sitting on a low row behind the manager and coaches when they sit outside the dugout." You don't just learn strategy, he says, you also learn who is watching the game and who is watching some of the women in the stands.

A solid, panoramic view of the mountains that make Phoenix "the Valley" usually comes at a premium price point. If a plane ticket, a cushy bank job on the top floor, or a high-end resort cocktail all sound out of your league, try the Biltmore parking garage, why don't you? Sure, the once-charming shopping mall has gone the way of the rest of the malls in Phoenix, and now feels more bougie than bohemian, but we are here to tell you that a good, old-fashioned, cheap thrill can still be had. When you arrive at the mall, head straight for the four-level parking garage on the north side. That sunlit stairwell you always pass without noticing? That's your ticket to paradise. Climb past the floors of employee parking until you get to the top, where virtually no one is parked, and then take a deep breath. The cross-breeze will reward your climb (and clear away the exhaust fumes), and you'll be left with the best, free, 360-degree view of our fair city. Shhh, don't tell anyone — we don't want them to start charging us for it.

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