Meet the 10 Biggest Sports Stars From Illinois

Meet the 10 Biggest Sports Stars From Illinois

The state of Illinois is known for many things, from the bright lights of Chicago and the incredible Willis Tower to being the birthplace of Ronald Regan. However, many other famous people, including several top-notch sports stars, were born in Illinois. Today, we’ll tell you about Illinois’s 10 biggest sports stars. We’ll tell you where they grew up, facts about their upbringing and family, and what makes them the greatest stars of the region.

To determine the biggest sports stars born in Illinois, 24/7 Tempo consulted many online sources, including Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report. We also reviewed local publications and websites, including Chicago Magazine and CHGO Sports. Though various sports stars are born in Illinois, these are the most notable.

Dick Butkus


Nebraska v Illinois
Source: Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Source: Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images


The great Dick Butkus is considered to be one of the greatest linebackers to play the game of football, and he was born in Chicago, Illinois. He was the youngest of eight children and the first of them to be born in a hospital. His father was a Lithuanian immigrant. He lived on the South Side of Chicago in the Roseland neighborhood. He found his love for football after going to games for the local Chicago Cardinals that played at what was then called Comiskey Park.

Butkas loved football and started playing during high school in the positions of linebacker, fullback, placekicker, and punter. He averaged five yards per carry as a fullback, which is pretty good as a beginner. However, he loved being a linebacker and having the ability to tackle. Once he went professional, Butkus had quite a career for the Chicago Bears. Some of his accomplishments include:

  • Recognized twice as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year
  • Eight Pro Bowl invitations
  • Six-time All-Pro team selection
  • 25 fumble recoveries
  • 22 interceptions
  • Inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979

Lou Boudreau


Source: Al Gretz / Stringer / Archive Photos

Boston Brave manager Billy Southworth, Baseball Commissioner 'Happy' Chandler, US Attorney General Tom Clark and Cleveland Indian manager Lou Boudreau pictured during the All Star game played at Ebbets Field, New York, on July 12, 1949. (Photo by Al Gretz/FPG/Getty Images)

Source: Al Gretz / Stringer / Archive Photos

Another of the biggest sports stars from Illinois is baseball player Lou Boudreau, who had the nicknames “Handsome Lou” and “The Good Kid,” among others. He was born in Harvey, Illinois, and attended Thornton Township High School. He then attended the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and played on the basketball and baseball teams.

Boudreau’s professional baseball career started in 1938 when he played for the Cleveland Indians and, later, the Boston Red Sox. During his career, he was an eight-time All-Star and helped his team win a World Series. Boudreau is perhaps more well-known as a baseball manager. He managed the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Athletics, and the Chicago Cubs. He’s in the Hall of Fame for the Cubs and the Indians (currently named the Guardians).

Isiah Thomas


Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images


The incredible Isiah Thomas is next on the list of the biggest sports stars from Illinois and is considered one of the best to ever play in the NBA. Thomas was born and raised in Chicago on the city’s West Side. His love of basketball started at the age of three, and in no time, he was shooting baskets at halftime at local games. Sadly, his father left the home when he was young, which put the family into poverty, and so his options were limited. However, he was able to attend a high school that was 90 minutes away, and he played basketball there. He led the team to the state finals in his Junior year.

After playing basketball for the Indiana Hoosiers in college, he went on to the NBA to play professionally. He played his entire career for the Detroit Pistons, and he had many accolades, including:

  • 12× NBA All-Star selections
  • Two-time NBA champion
  • 3× All-NBA First Team
  • Winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award

Thomas has also worked as an NBA announcer and coach. He coached the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks in the NBA and the FIU college team. He became an NBA All-Star Game head coach in 2003.

Bill Brown


BillBrownVikings by Unknown Author
Source: Wikimedia Commons


When you talk about the greatest running backs in NFL history, one person you’ll bring up is Bill Brown and his ability to bring his team to the Super Bowl. He was one of the biggest sports stars from Illinois; he was born in 1938 and attended Mendota High School in Mendota, Illinois. He played football in college when he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While there, he played as a fullback.

His professional career began when the Chicago Bears drafted him. Still, he only played there for one season before being traded to the Minnesota Vikings, where he spent the rest of his career. He did amazing things as part of the Vikings’ squad, including helping them reach three Super Bowls. He was also selected for the Pro Bowl four times. As a bonus, he holds records for the most games played by a running back and the most consecutive games played by a running back.

Dwyane Wade


Source: Mike Lawrie / Staff / Getty Images North America

SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 12: 2023 inductee Dwyane Wade reacts during the 2023 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Induction at Symphony Hall on August 12, 2023 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Source: Mike Lawrie / Staff / Getty Images North America


Another of the best basketball players to ever do it was also born in Illinois, and it’s all-star Dwyane Wade. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, as the second of two children. He was raised on the South Side of Chicago, where he lived with different extended family members as he went through some tough times. Finally, his father moved the family to Robbins, Illinois. He found an interest in basketball and football as a way of staying away from the temptations of gangs and drugs. He attended high school in Oak Lawn, Illinois, at Harold L. Richards High School. By his senior year, he excelled in basketball and parlayed that success into a college career when he played at Marquette University in Wisconsin.

Wade played for the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and Cleveland Cavaliers during his NBA career. It was a career full of many professional accolades, including:

  • NBA Finals MVP (2006)
  • 13× NBA All-Star selection
  • Scoring champion in 2009
  • Over 23,000 points scored

He was celebrated during his career and became a household name. His success was so great that the Miami Heat retired his jersey number (#3) and cannot be worn there again. Wade also played in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. He won bronze the first time and gold the second.

Ray Nitschke


Nitschke packers by Unknown Author
Source: Wikimedia Commons


In addition to being one of the most famous Illinois-born NFL players, Ray Nitschke was also one of the pioneers of the National Football League as we know it today. He was born in Elmwood Park, Illinois, as one of three siblings. He had a traumatic childhood as both of his parents died by the time he was 13 years old, so his brothers raised him. Nitschke attended Proviso Township High School in Maywood, Illinois. Playing football as a linebacker, he let out a lot of his frustration.

Early in the NFL, he had been a fan of the Chicago Bears and hoped to be chosen by them in the 1958 draft. However, he was instead chosen by the Green Bay Packers during the third round. Ironically, the Packers are major rivals of the Bears. Still, Nitschke stayed with the Packers for his entire career. During his lustrous career, he became a five-time NFL champion; he helped the Packers win two Super Bowls. Plus, he was eventually inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame, and his number (66) was officially retired.

Kirby Puckett


Source: MLB Photos / Getty Images

Source: MLB Photos / Getty Images


Next is one of the famous Illinois MLB players. Kirby Puckett was a Hall of Fame baseball player born in Chicago, Illinois, back in 1960. He was the youngest of nine children. His father was a postal worker, and his mom stayed at home to watch the kids. He had humble beginnings, being born in a three-bedroom apartment in the Robert Taylor Homes Chicago housing project. Pucket first loved baseball at a young age and taught himself to play by hitting and throwing a baseball against the wall. He also attended Calumet High School in Chicago.

Puckett first introduced himself to pro baseball by attending an open tryout hosted by the Kansas City Royals while working as a carpet installer. He received a scholarship to play baseball in college, and then his major league debut came on May 8, 1984, as a member of the Minnesota Twins. He stayed with that team until his retirement and helped his team win two World Series appearances. Other accolades of his include:

  • 10 All-Star Game appearances
  • Six Silver Slugger Awards
  • Six Golden Glove Awards
  • Recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award for community involvement

Donovan McNabb


Source: Al Bello / Getty Images

Source: Al Bello / Getty Images


Then we have Donovan McNabb, an NFL star and one of the biggest sports stars from Illinois. He played the quarterback position and is considered one of the best ever to do it. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, and attended Mount Carmel High School in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. McNabb saw his first taste of glory when he helped his team win the state championship in 1991. He also excelled in basketball and track and field. He attended Syracuse University and played college football there while pursuing journalism.

Donovan McNabb played for three teams during his professional career: the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and the Minnesota Vikings. During his career, he had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 234-117 and over 37,000 passing yards. He also had six Pro Bowl appearances. Plus, he’s in the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame, and his jersey number 5 has been retired in Philadelphia.

Chris Chelios


Source: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Source: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images


The world of the biggest sports stars from Illinois also extends to the world of hockey, and long-time pro player Chris Chelios is a real winner. In fact, he played in the NHL longer than almost any other player in history. It all started in 1962 when Chelios was born in Chicago, Illinois, and was raised in Evergreen Park, Illinois. During high school, his parents moved to Poway, California.

Once he went professional, Chris Chelios played for several teams, including the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings, and he did come back home during his career to play for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1990 – 1999. During his long tenure, he also played for several international tournaments, including the 1984 Winter Olympics, and he was a captain for the 1998, 2002, and 2006 Winter Olympics.

Jimmy Connors


Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images


Finally, we have Jimmy Connors, considered one of the best tennis players during his heyday. Connors grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois, which earned its name due to being on the other side of the Mississippi River across from St Louis, Missouri. He started playing tennis at a young age and was trained by his mother and grandmother. He played in his first U.S. Championship when he was nine years old.

He continued to win matches and championships as he got older. In his peak years, he won eight Grand Slam singles championships, including:

  • Two Wimbledon wins
  • Five U.S. Open wins
  • One Australian Open victory

In 1974, Connors had a winning record of 99-4, which is quite impressive. He was a winning machine, and he was entertaining to watch. He was a character that never gave up, and he also had some vulvar on-court behavior. He’s still involved in coaching and has coached the likes of Maria Sharapova, among others. (Click here if you would like to learn about The Most Popular Teams in Pro Sports.)

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