Best of the rest: 100 in 100 series’ objective made for some tough choices

For every easy pick like Michael Jordan or Richard Petty, there were harder decisions for other counties

While off-the-field issues impacted his career, Raleigh’s Josh Hamilton still could stake a claim to being Wake County’s best-ever athlete as the American League’s 2010 MVP. (Tony Gutierrez / AP Photo)

Determining the “greatest” of anything is a highly subjective pursuit, especially when it comes to sports.

Everyone has their own opinions on the subject, usually jaded by their allegiances to a team or school. But even if it is possible to take emotion out of the equation, good luck making an objective comparison of players from different eras.

But that’s exactly what we tried to do at North State Journal with our 100 in 100 series.

Over the past 20 weeks, we’ve selected the greatest athlete produced by all 100 counties in the Old North State.

Some of the picks were easy: No one is going to argue with Dale Earnhardt Sr. in Cabarrus, David Thompson in Cleveland or Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice in Buncombe.

Others, especially in the smaller, less-populated areas of the state, were much tougher to determine.

This project could never have been completed without the help and cooperation of people such as Brandon Roberts of the Mitchell News-Journal, Jon Galloway of the Montgomery Herald, Travis Dockery of the Clay County Progress and Owen Hassell of the Wilmington Star-News.

The most difficult selections, however, came in the counties that featured more than one worthy candidate. That includes a county in which the pick was actually a guy named Worthy.

They were the decisions that sparked some serious debate among members of the sports staff — myself, sports editor Cory Lavalette and Shawn Krest — along with publisher Neal Robbins. We hope they got you, the readers, thinking and talking about them, too.

Two of the most spirited discussions, predictably, took place over the two biggest population centers of the state, where the choices were most plentiful.

The list of candidates for Mecklenburg County included baseball Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, basketball Hall of Famer Bobby Jones, future Hall of Famer Antawn Jamison, track star Jim Beatty — the first man to run a four-minute mile indoors — professional wrestler Ric Flair and our eventual choice, Stephen Curry.

We eliminated Flair because he was more of an entertainer than athlete compared to the others. Wilhelm and Jones were the next to go because they were more aggregators than dominators. Although Curry has only played 10 seasons in the NBA and presumably still has more left to accomplish, his numbers were already close to those Jamison posted in 16 seasons. The championships and MVPs were the clinchers.

The choice in Wake County was even more interesting because our eventual choice, Pete Maravich, wasn’t born here. He moved to the area as a teenager when his father was hired as a coach at NC State.

We specifically left the rules for selection vague for just such a case. Because the numbers Pistol Pete put up at Raleigh’s Broughton High School were so prolific — a precursor to the even more impressive, record-setting scoring totals he piled up in college at LSU — we decided to go with him over the likes of No. 1 overall baseball draft pick Josh Hamilton, golfer Webb Simpson and basketball stars John Wall and Nate McMillan.

One of the trickiest calls came in Guilford County, where the choice came down to Torry Holt and Ted Brown, both college football Hall of Famers from NC State. We went with Holt because he had a better NFL career.

Pro performance was also the determining factor in Lenoir County. Kinston in the county is a small town that has sent more players to the NBA per capita than anywhere in the country, and the choice came down to Jerry Stackhouse and Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell. We went with Stackhouse.

Unlike those other counties, the choice in New Hanover was obvious. It’s a good thing, too, because had Michael Jordan not been in the picture, we might never have been able to come to a consensus among a group that includes quarterbacks Roman Gabriel and Sonny Jurgensen, Harlem Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon, Boston Celtics mainstay Sam Jones and baseball slugger Trot Nixon.

By far the most controversial pick of the series came in Wilson County. The choice was two-sport UNC star and future NFL Hall of Famer Julius Peppers.

But wait, you say, Peppers grew up in Bailey and starred at Southern Nash High School.

Yes, that’s true. But he was born in Wilson. And because we left ourselves some wiggle room with the rules, we found a way to not have to choose between two athletes who belong on any list naming the best sports stars from North Carolina: Peppers and another Nash County great, UNC basketball icon Phil Ford.

That left Carlester Crumpler Sr., the likely pick in Wilson had we not gone with Peppers, out in the cold. But as mentioned earlier, tough choices had to be made.