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Williams sisters No. 1 among sports siblings

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Monte Poole
July 8, 2009

Never have we seen anything like them, such extraordinary athletes sharing the same blood. Is there any rational case against the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, being crowned the greatest sports siblings ever?


Well, no. Not when they are generally regarded as the best players in women’s tennis. Not when they have between them 18 Grand Slam singles championships.


The juiciest debate is that over which sister is superior. We say Serena, but we reserve the right to change our mind.


No siblings have ever been able claim spots 1A and 1B atop a sport. And with these two, it’s interchangeable.


That’s not to say sports haven’t presented some fabulous brothers and sisters. Venus and Serena with their Wimbledon final solidified their hold on the No. 1 spot, but in the wake of that match we were compelled to assemble a Top 10 list of sports siblings.


The only rule is that both siblings have to have done enough to be taken seriously, which means imbalance rules out the brothers Aaron, Canseco, Ripken and Selmon.


n No. 10: The McEnroe brothers, John and Patrick. John is a Hall of Fame tennis player. He won seven Grand Slam tournaments and 99 titles overall. His 82-3 record in 1984 has yet to be equaled—not even by Roger Federer. Though Patrick wasn’t nearly as good in singles, he was excellent at doubles, winning 16 titles.


n No. 9: The Lewis siblings, Carl and Carol. For more than a decade, Carl was the king of track and field, winning nine Olympic gold medals and dominating the sprints and long jump. Carol, however, was good enough on her own to have a two-year grip on the women’s long jump record.


n No. 8: The Alou brothers, Felipe and Matty and Jesus. Jesus, the youngest and least accomplished, played 16 seasons and retired with a .280 lifetime batting average. Middle brother Matty, a two-time All-Star, compiled seven .300 seasons, including 1966, when his .342 average led the NL. No. 2 that season was Felipe, a three-time All-Star who batted .327 in ’66. The Alous combined for more than 5,000 hits.


No. 7: The Matthews brothers, Bruce and Clay. Bruce played 18 years for the Oilers/Titans, made 14 Pro Bowls and is a member of the Hall of Fame. Clay was a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker who played 19 years and anchored Cleveland’s defense for more than a decade.


No. 6: The Perry brothers, Gaylord and Jim. Gaylord won 314 major league games and spat his way into the Hall of Fame. Jim won 215 games, giving the Perrys a combined 529 wins and making them No. 2 on the all-time list of wins by brothers.


No. 5: The Niekro brothers, Phil and Joe. No. 1 on the all-time brothers list, with a combined 539 wins. Phil won 318 games and is in the Hall of Fame. Joe won 221 and posted back-to-back 20-win seasons in Houston.


No. 4: The Spinks brothers, Michael and Leon. Leon not only won the heavyweight title in his seventh pro fight but did so by defeating Muhammad Ali. While Leon faded, Michael became the first reigning light heavyweight champ to move up and win the heavyweight belt. Named by Ring Magazine the No. 3 light heavyweight of all-time, Michael won his first 31 fights before being knocked into retirement by Mike Tyson.


No. 3: The DiMaggio brothers, Joe and Dominic and Vince. The DiMaggios, all center fielders, combined for 21 All-Star appearances—13 by Joe, seven by Dom and one by Vince. Oldest brother Vince was overshadowed by youngest brother Dom, who was overshadowed by Joe, who is a Hall of Famer’s Hall of Famer.


No. 2: The Esposito brothers, Phil and Tony. Phil, a center, is a 10-time All-Star who played 18 years for three teams. His single-season goals record was shattered by Wayne Gretzky. Tony is a three-time winner of the Vezina Trophy, symbolic of the NHL’s best goalie. Both brothers are members of the Hall of Fame.


Which brings us back to the top, to the Williams sisters and their well-documented rise from the rugged streets of Compton, Calif., to become marquee players in a sport associated with country-club privilege.


Enjoy this American success story while we can, for who knows when—or if—we’ll see another quite like it.


Monte Poole writes for The Oakland Tribune.

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