California is so big it’s almost a world within itself. Not only is it the most populous state in the United States, California is also the largest sub-national economy on earth. So, it should come as no surprise that some of the biggest sports stars in history also hail from The Golden State. Let’s meet the 10 biggest sports stars from California. (And these are the most popular teams in pro sports.)
To compile this list, 24/7 Tempo consulted various sports databases such as The Sports Illustrated Vault. From there we consolidated the list to reflect a wide range of sports and time periods. After that, we referenced career information from sites such as Biography.com and Britannica.
- Hometown: Martinez
Joseph Paul DiMaggio was an American professional baseball player and one of the biggest sports stars from California. A center fielder, DiMaggio played for the New York Yankees his entire 13-year career. During this time, he was an All-Star 13 times and a World Series Champion nine times over. (Discover the best baseball players from every state.)
Upon retirement, DiMaggio ranked fifth in career home runs with a batting average of .325. Considered one of the best to ever play the game of baseball, DiMaggio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. Besides sports, DiMaggio is best known for his brief marriage to, but life-long obsession with, famed starlet Marilyn Monroe.
- Hometown: Modesto
Mark Andrew Spitz is a former competitive swimmer. A recognizable talent from an early age, Spitz would go on to be one of the most awarded Olympic athletes in history. A swimmer with a specialization in the butterfly and freestyle techniques, Spitz became the most awarded athlete at the 1972 Summer Olympics. There, he won seven gold medals, setting world-record times for each.
He held this record for nearly 40 years, until Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in 2008. Nevertheless, Spitz would win a dozen Olympic medals between 1968 and 1972. Also during those years, he set 35 world records for swimming. Considered one of the greatest athletes of all time and one of the biggest sports stars from California, Spitz is now an entrepreneur and motivational speaker.
- Hometown: Lake Sherwood
Born Petros Sampras, Pete Sampras is a former World Number One tennis player. Something of a child prodigy when it came to tennis, Sampras turned pro when he was 16 years old. From there, he went on to have an incredible career. Between the years of 1988 and 2002, Sampras won 14 major singles titles, which was the all-time record at the time of his retirement.
Known as “Pistol Pete” due to his sharp and powerful serve, Sampras is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time. For his achievements, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2007. Since his retirement, Sampras has stayed out of the public eye and dedicated himself to focusing on raising his children.
- Hometown: Cypress
Speaking of child prodigies, look no further than famed golfer Tiger Woods. Born Eldrick Tont Woods, Tiger Woods was an incredibly successful golfer even before turning pro at age 20. From there, Woods would go on to tie for first in PGA Tour wins and holds second place in men’s major championships. Considered one of the greatest golfers of all time, Woods holds records in basically every professional golf category that exists.
Though in recent years Woods has functionally retired from golf, he has made a foray into other ventures. These include his company Tiger Woods Design, which designs golf courses, as well as the TGR Foundation, which seeks to promote golf to less fortunate children.
- Hometown: Riverside
Barry Lamar Bonds is former professional baseball left fielder. He got his professional start as part of the Pittsburgh Pirates. From there, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants where he earned his reputation as one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
During his career, Bonds was a 14-time All Star, seven-time National League Most Valuable Player, and winner of eight Golden Glove Awards. Perhaps his best known achievements, however, are the all-time home run record, as well as the most home runs in a single season. (Explore the longest standing unbroken records in sports history.)
- Hometown: Pomona
Another of the great baseball sluggers and one of the biggest sports stars from California is Mark McGwire. Born Mark David McGwire, Mark McGwire is former professional baseball first baseman. During his 16-season career, McGwire was a 12-time All Star, a World Series Champion twice, and winner of three Silver Slugger Awards.
Much like Barry Bonds, McGwire was an incredible, record-breaking home run hitter. Also like Bonds, McGwire’s legacy was questioned after becoming embroiled in a steroid use controversy. In retirement, he and his wife started the Mark McGwire Foundation for Children, which supports agencies that work with sexually-abused children. (These are the most talked-about corruption scandals in sports history.)
- Hometown: San Jose
Born Peggy Gale Fleming, Peggy Fleming is a former professional figure skater and one of the biggest sports stars from California. During her career, Fleming won a gold medal at the 1968 Winter Olympics. She is also three-time World Champion in figure skating.
Since retiring from professional figure skating, Fleming became a television commentator and media personality. Besides starring in five NBC television specials, she has been a figure skating commentator for ABC Sports for over 40 years. In 2003, Fleming won the “Lombardi Award of Excellence” for her career achievements.
- Hometown: San Diego
Another one of the biggest sports stars to come from California is former professional baseball player and manager, Ted Williams. Born Theodore Samuel Williams, Ted Williams played his entire 19-year career as a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox. A 19-time All Star and four-time American League home run leader, Williams is considered one of the best hitters in baseball history.
He was such a good hitter, in fact, that Williams is the last player to hit with over a .400 batting average in a single season. He also holds the record for the highest on-base percentage at .482. Though he retired from playing in 1960, Williams would go on to manage the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers for a number of years. For his career achievements, Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.
Billie Jean King
- Hometown: Long Beach
One of the greatest female tennis players of all time and one of the biggest sports stars from California is, no doubt, Billie Jean King. A former World Number One tennis player, King won 39 grand slam titles during her illustrious career – 12 singles titles, 16 women’s doubles titles, and 11 mixed doubles titles. For her achievements, King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.
A famous advocate for gender equality, King helped bring awareness to women in tennis. She founded the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation. For these achievements, King was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as the French Legion of Honor.
- Hometown: San Francisco
One of the biggest sports stars from California, if not the most controversial, is former professional football player and actor, O.J. Simpson. Born Orenthal James Simpson, O.J. Simpson won the Heisman Trophy in college before becoming one of the greatest NFL running backs of all time. Selected for the Pro Bowl five consecutive times, Simpson was also the first NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.
After football, Simpson became an in-demand actor, with roles in films like The Naked Gun series. Simpson’s athletic career was overshadowed, however, after he was accused of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. The subsequent car chase and high-profile murder trial saw Simpson be found not guilty, but ultimately tarnished the scope of his athletic achievements. (Learn about famous athletes who’ve had gun trouble.)