Sports celebrities with local ties

Story by Dean Rowland

Hilton Head attracts successful men and women. They come from the Midwest, Northeast and regionally for the lifestyle, climate, amenities, landscape and seascape.

Notable sports personalities are among those whom also enjoy life in the Lowcountry; part-time at first when they are still active professionally; then often full time when their playing days are over.

Here’s a handful of athletes who have spent time in the Lowcountry through the years.


Basketball

Bobby Cremins Georgia Tech
Bobby Cremins served as head coach at Appalachian State, Georgia Tech and College of Charleston.

Michael Jordan. One of only a few NBA players to win an NCAA championship, an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal, the former Chicago Bull bought a getaway home for $550,000 on Yorkshire Drive in Wexford Plantation in 1988. He sold it in 1999. Often described as the best pro basketball player ever, the Tar Heel won six NBA championships with his teammates, won the scoring title 10 times, was a 14-time all-star, has authored four books and is the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets.

Isiah Thomas. The former 12-time All Star and NBA champion Detroit Piston owned a home on Mooring Buoy in Palmetto Dunes and vacationed here for 25 years. The 57-year-old Hall of Famer was named one of the “50 Greatest Players in NBA History” and led Indiana University to an NCAA championship. He also has been an NBA coach, executive and broadcaster.

Bobby Cremins. The three-time ACC Coach of the Year, who took his Georgia Tech team to nine NCAA tournament appearances, has lived on Hilton Head since 2000. The 71-year-old is a member of Sea Pines Resort and often plays the Harbour Town Golf Links, Long Cove and Heron Point. He likes dining at Red Fish and the Sea Shack on the island.

Jim Calhoun. The 76-year-old former Connecticut coach and Hall of Famer has owned a home at Colleton River Plantation for many years. The avid golfer coached for 40 years and led the Huskies to three national titles in 26 seasons.


Hockey

Mark Messier
Mark Messier

Mark Messier.
The great NHL Oiler, Ranger and Canuck owns a home in Palmetto Dunes where his parents live. The 58-year-old Canadian earned six Stanley Cups in his illustrious Hall of Fame career, playing alongside Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton for five of those trophies. When Remy’s Bar & Grill on the island closed in 2013 after 29 years in the business, it’s been reported that Messier was there and offered a champagne toast to the owners.


Boxing

Sugar Ray Leonard
Sugar Ray Leonard

Joe Frazier. The Beaufort-born-and-raised heavyweight champion of the world for three years won a decision over Muhammad Ali in 1971 but lost a rematch in the Thrilla in Manila. “Smokin’ Joe” was a gold medal Olympian in 1964 and had a knockout left hook that leveled 32 opponents. He was one of 12 children raised on a farm in the Laurel Bay area of Beaufort. Joe Frazier Blvd. in the town honors his legacy.

Sugar Ray Leonard. The former Olympian gold medal winner, welterweight champion and Hall of Famer trained on Hilton Head in 1987 for his comeback fight against “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler. He won the slugfest and the crown in what is considered to be one of the greatest fights in boxing history.

Lennox Lewis. The former Super Heavyweight Olympic gold winner and undisputed heavyweight champion of the world trained at a gym in Park Plaza near Sea Pines in 1993. Training sessions were open to the public. His opponent was supposed to be Riddick Bowe, who later refused to fight the Brit. Lewis retired with a 42-2-1 record. 


Golf

Bernhard Langer
Bernhard Langer

Bernhard Langer. The two-time Masters champion has won tournaments on all six continents and continues winning today on the Seniors Tour. The 61-year-old won the Heritage at Sea Pines in 1985 with a winning score of 273. This writer’s niece babysat for some of his four children during that week on the island.

Jim Nantz. The legendary broadcaster for CBS Sports is a member at Haig Point golf club on Daufuskie Island.

Jack Nicholas, Arnold Palmer, Davis Love III, Fuzzy Zoeller, Gary Player. These PGA Tour winners have all designed public golf courses on Hilton Head and in Bluffton.


Tennis

Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King. The former Hilton Head resident and close associate of Dennis Van Der Meer on the island played in an invitational tournament in Sea Pines in 1973. The roster also included Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong, Virginia Wade, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Stan Smith and Ilie Năstase. Her presence has touched every aspect of professional tennis through her long career, as a player, coach, executive, owner, captain, overall game ambassador and rights advocate. She won 39 grand slam titles, is a Hall of Famer and beat Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes in the ‘70s.

Dennis Van Der Meer. The legendary coach and teacher founded the Van Der Meer Tennis University in Shipyard Plantation in 1979 and a few years later the International Professional Tennis Registry. He coached Billie Jean King and hundreds of other professionally ranked players.

Ivan Lendl. The 59-year-old Czech native owned and operated the Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on the island and later at Rose Hill. It opened in 2011 and closed in 2015. The tennis icon was ranked the No. 1 player in the world for 270 weeks in the 1980s, won nine major titles, was runner-up a record 11 times and notched 94 singles events overall.

Stan Smith. These days, the long-time islander and tennis legend might be more well known for his line of sneakers with partner Adidas than he was on the court years ago. When he was active professionally, the 72-year-old was a former No. 1 player in the world, a 38-time singles champion and two-time Major’s victor. The father of four owns the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy at Sea Pines Resort that focuses on junior player development and is actively engaged in several local organizations.


Baseball

Dan Driessen
Dan Driessen

Dan Driessen. The native islander and Hardeeville High School graduate was a member of the world champion “Big Red Machine” in Cincinnati in the 1970s. He played 15 seasons in the big leagues. The 67-year-old owns Driessen Excavating Services on the island and helps coach the Hilton Head High School baseball team.


Football

Kenny Anderson
Kenny Anderson

Kenny Anderson. The former Cincinnati Bengal quarterback, league MVP in 1981 and four-time pro-bowler bought a home on the island at Palmetto Hall Plantation in 2001. He and his wife live full time there. The 69-year-old first visited Hilton Head in 1976. The native Midwesterner played 16 seasons, including a Super Bowl loss against the 49ers, and retired from coaching in 2010.

Poona Ford. The 23-year-old former Hilton Head High School star made his first NFL start for the Seattle Seahawks as a defensive tackle last December. He was signed as a free agent after attending the University of Texas.

Chris Gardocki. The long-time island resident and Georgia native played collegiate ball at Clemson, where he earned second-team All-America honors. The 49-year-old was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1991 after his junior year in college, and he punted for four NFL teams in his 15-year career, including Super Bowl winner Pittsburgh in 2006.

Steve Fuller. The 61-year-old has lived in Bluffton for many years and is actively engaged in the
community. The first-team All-America Clemson quarterback was drafted in the first round by Kansas City in 1979 and played seven years in the NFL, including for the Chicago Bears when they won the Super Bowl in 1986. These days, he’s a real estate agent, golf course developer, president of the South Carolina Golf Association and former head coach at Hilton Head Prep and offensive coordinator at Hilton Head High School.

Chris Gardocki
Chris Gardocki

Arthur Blank. The 76-year-old owner of the Atlanta Falcons and pro soccer champions Atlanta United and co-founder of Home Depot built a waterfront mansion on Beach Lagoon Drive at the 16th tee of the Ocean Course in Sea Pines in 1997.

Chris Canty. The 36-year-old Virginia graduate was a defensive end on the Super Bowl winning N.Y. Giants in 2011. He played 11 NFL seasons, also with Dallas and Baltimore. He built a 13,000-square-foot waterfront mansion at Spanish Wells on the island five years ago.

Chuck Crist. The former safety for seven years with the Giants, Saints and 49ers lives part time on the island with his wife, Patti. They have owned a condo on Hilton Head for 15 years.

Keith Brooking. The 15-year NFL linebacker was drafted in the first round by Atlanta in 1998. The five-time Pro Bowler, 43, also played for Dallas and Denver after leaving Georgia Tech after his junior year as its all-time leading tackler. Brooking, his wife, and four children live in Palmetto Bluff, where he has coached recreational football. He was named head football coach this year at Cross Schools middle school in Bluffton, where his children attend.