Dynamic duos in sports can be a corny phrase, but when they are two players from the same team it can create all sorts of possibilities.
At the high school level, I was reminded of the greatest duo from any one high school team that I’ve ever covered in June when the WNBA announced its top 20 players from its first 20 seasons.
Believe it not, but both Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson, two of the WNBA’s all-time best, were indeed once on the same team at Morningside High in Inglewood. It was Morningside’s 1990 team that went 32-3 and won the CIF Division I state title over Berkeley in a game played at the Oakland Coliseum Arena (now Oracle Arena).
Thompson, in fact, once broke Leslie’s record as the all-time career scoring leader in the WNBA and they also were teammates on two U.S. Olympic teams that won gold medals.
What I remember most about those two being on the same team, however, was that Leslie was the dominant player while Thompson, just a freshman at the time, was simply learning the ropes. After that state final and the press conference, Leslie also collapsed in a hallway at the arena, which concerned everybody because it wasn’t too many weeks after Hank Gathers had collapsed and died while playing at Loyola Marymount. Thank goodness, Lisa was just dehydrated.
Even those two, however, can’t be considered the greatest pair of athletes to ever be teammates at the same time on the same high school team. That label would have to go to the McClymonds-Oakland boys basketball team of 1952, which had one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, Frank Robinson, and one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, Bill Russell. At the time, Robinson actually was better than Russell in basketball because it wasn’t until Russell got to USF that he began to dominate.
With those dynamic duos in mind, here would be my top five from Northern California history:
1. Bill Russell & Frank Robinson (McClymonds-Oakland basketball)
Robinson went on to a baseball career, of course, and is the only player ever to win MVP awards in both the American and National League. He’s also still in the top 10 all-time for career homers and was the first African American to be a manager. Russell is one of the most iconic figures in U.S. sports history due to winning 11 NBA titles in 13 years. We could have listed Robinson with two other McClymonds baseball teammates on this list “” Vada Pinson and Curt Flood “” but only went with the one listing from the one school.
2. Mark & Dave Schultz (Palo Alto wresting)
Both Schultz brothers were Olympic gold medal winners and are legendary figures in the sport of wrestling. Dave Schultz was murdered in January of 1996 near his home in Pennsylvania.
3. Debbie Meyer & Sue Pederson (Rio Americano-Sacramento swimming)
Technically, they weren’t on the same high school team because in 1968 there wasn’t girls sports. But at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, the Rio Americano classmates both won gold medals “” Meyer actually won three and Pederson won two “” and they’re both in the International Swimming & Diving Hall of Fame.
4. Helen Wills & Helen Jacobs (Anna Head School-Berkeley tennis)
We’re really reaching back into the 1920s and 1930s for these two, but why not? The two Helens were two years apart, grew up in the same neighborhood and had the same coach. Wills went on to win at Wimbledon eight times. One of the years she didn’t win at Wimbledon, in 1936, Jacobs won. Jacobs also won the U.S. Open title four times. Wills won the U.S. Open seven times. They weren’t sisters like Venus and Serena Williams, but they might as well have been. In 1979, the Anna Head School for girls was merged with Royce School and became Head-Royce of Oakland.
5. Joe Morgan & Rudy May (Castlemont-Oakland baseball)
We tried to get a football combo in the top five, but it was too hard to beat these two. Morgan, a member of the MLB Hall of Fame for his years with the Cincinnati Reds and regarded as one of the greatest second baseman of all-time, played on the same prep team at Castlemont as May, who had an 18-year MLB pitching career and led the American League in ERA in 1980.