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California's Most Famous Black Athletes
Health & Fitness

California's Most Famous Black Athletes

Learn about California's most influential Black athletes who’ve changed the world of sports for the better.


7 min read

February 03, 2021

“It doesn't matter what your background is and where you come from, if you have dreams and goals, that's all that matters.” —Serena Williams

California is known for many things—sun, surf, and entertainment—and among the state’s accomplishments is producing some of the best Black athletes in sports history. It’s almost impossible to imagine tennis without Serena Williams or basketball without “The Black Mamba.” The Golden State’s most famous Black athletes didn’t just rise above the racial, social, and economic challenges; they also achieved “firsts” in their fields and became trailblazers in their respective sports. 

Through their achievements, famous Black athletes in California transform the sports industry, promote inclusion, stand up for their communities,  and inspire people to dream big. Here are the most influential Black athletes who’ve changed the world of sports for the better. 

Famous Black Baseball Players You Need To Know About

With 762 career home runs and 25-plus awards, Barry Bonds is undoubtedly one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Barry Bonds

Born in Riverside, Barry Bonds is a former professional baseball left fielder and one of the most famous Black baseball players of all time. Bonds played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants—he has 12 Silver Slugger awards and seven National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards. As one of the most famous Black baseball players in history, Bonds stole 514 bases and became the first and only MLB player with a minimum of 500 home runs and 5,000 stolen bases.

Eddie Murray

Although Eddie Murray never won an MVP award, the famous Black male athlete is still regarded as one of the best in baseball history. Born in Los Angeles, Murray spent most of his career with the Baltimore Orioles, but he has also played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and the Cleveland Indians. The first baseman and designated hitter was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. 

Famous Black NBA Players in the Golden State

California native James Harden is recognized as the best shooting guard in the NBA and as one of the top overall players in the league.

James Harden

James Harden is one of the NBA’s most prolific scorers and shooting guards. Born in Los Angeles, Harden was named MVP in 2018 when he played for the Houston Rockets. The famous Black NBA player was also named NBA Sixth Man of the Year with the Oklahoma City Thunder and won gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics and the 2014 FIBA World Cup. On top of that, Harden is an eight-time NBA All-Star. 

Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard is known for his impeccable ball-hawking skills, which earned him the nickname “Claw” or “Klaw.” The L.A. native started his career by playing with the San Antonio Spurs and then the Toronto Raptors. In 2019, the famous Black NBA player signed with the Los Angeles Clippers and moved back to his hometown. Throughout his career, Leonard has earned two All-NBA First Team selections, garnered six All-Defensive Team selections, and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016. 

Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry is famous for his ability to hit 3-point shots. So far, he's made more than 2,560 3-pointers over his career.

Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry is one of the most famous Black athletes in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Hailed as the greatest shooter in the NBA, Curry revolutionized basketball by encouraging players to regularly make use of the 3-point shot—he currently boasts the second-most made 3s in NBA history. Curry plays for the Golden States Warriors and has won three NBA championships with the team. He and teammate Klay Thompson have earned the nickname “Splash Brothers,” as they’ve set multiple NBA records for 3-point field goals accomplished by a pair of teammates. 

California’s Most Famous Black Football Players

NFL legend Jerry Rice spent the vast majority of his career playing for the San Francisco 49ers, helping the team win three Super Bowls.

Jerry Rice

The first person who often comes to mind when talking about the San Francisco 49ers is the one and only Jerry Rice. Not only did the famous Black football player spend 16 seasons with the team, but he also set a bunch of records and received numerous accolades. Undoubtedly the greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL, Rice has scored more points than any other non-kicker in NFL history. 

Kenny Washington 

The first Black athlete to sign a contract with a National Football League (NFL) team in the post-World War II era was the legendary Kenny Washington. Not only did Washington play college football for the UC Los Angeles Bruins, but he also played on the university’s baseball team—he was even rated better than his teammate Jackie Robinson. 

The famous Black football player became the highest-paid athlete during his time with the Hollywood Bears of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League (PCPFL). He later played for the Los Angeles Rams for two years. Washington was such an iconic football player that nearly 200,000 people attended his final game when he announced his retirement. Everyone in the stadium was on their feet as Washington played his final football game. 

Woody Strode

Like Kenny Washington, football star Woody Strode was also one of the first Black athletes to play in the NFL in the modern era. The L.A. native played for the Hollywood Bears, Los Angeles Rams, and Calgary Stampeders. Besides being a famous Black football player, Strode was also a decathlete, wrestler, and actor. Another fun fact: Woody from Toy Story is named after him.


Famous Black Female Athletes We Love

Serena Williams is not only one of the most famous female athletes, but also one of the best tennis players in the history of the sport.

Serena Williams

Does Serena Williams even need an introduction? California’s most famous female athlete has single-handedly revolutionized tennis. With 23 Grand Slam titles in singles, 14 in women’s doubles, and two in mixed doubles, Williams has the most impressive list of accomplishments. Besides having the most singles titles in the Open Era, the famous Black female athlete is also the most recent player to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously.

Indeed, Williams is one of the most influential Black Californians who helped shape the state—after all, it’s not every day that you win the Australian Open when you’re eight weeks pregnant. 

Marion Jones

Is there anything Marion Jones can’t do? The L.A. native and former world-champion track and field athlete can outrun anyone on the track. Nicknamed the “Fastest Woman on Earth,” Jones won five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics—three gold and two bronze. The famous Black athlete is also a former professional basketball player for Tulsa Shock in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). 

L.A. native Allyson Felix made history when she ran the fastest split ever recorded by an American woman.

Allyson Felix

Track and field sprinter Allyson Felix is a three-time World Champion, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, and the 2012 Olympic champion in the women’s 200-meter race. The famous Black female athlete is the most decorated—among both men and women—in the history of the World Athletics Championships. She has 18 career medals and the most gold medals at 13. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Felix ran the fastest split ever recorded by an American woman in the 4x400-meter relay at the 2015 World Championships. 

Lisa Leslie

Lisa Leslie is one of the most famous Black sports players. The former professional basketball player is a three-time WNBA MVP and a four-time Olympic gold medal winner. Leslie made history when she became the first player to ever dunk in a WNBA game in 2003. She also became the first WNBA player to dunk in an All-Star game in 2005. After playing 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks, Leslie retired in 2009 and is now the head coach for Triplets in the BIG3 professional basketball league.

Famous Black Athletes In California’s History

Known as "The Black Mamba," Kobe Bryant spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, setting numerous NBA records as a guard.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant—the man, the myth, the legend—was one of the greatest and most famous Black NBA players of all time. As the all-time leading scorer in Los Angeles Lakers franchise history, he helped the team win five NIBA championships and managed to score a career-high 81 points, one of the most points scored in a single game in the entire league’s history. The 18-time All-Star was nicknamed the “Black Mamba.” Bryant’s life was sadly cut short at the age of 41 when he passed away in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year old daughter Gianna on January 26, 2020.

Florence Griffith Joyner

There’s no doubt about it—Florence Griffith Joyner is among the most famous Black athletes in the history of California. The track and field athlete is literally the fastest woman of all time. Joyner set world records in 1988 for both the 100-meter and 200-meter still stand. Her record-setting performances along with her vibrant personal style made her a prominent figure in international track and field. The famous female Black athlete from L.A. won three gold medals at the 1988 Summer Olympics and retired in February of 1989. Unfortunately, she passed away at the age of 38 after suffering an epileptic seizure in her sleep. 

Tony Gwynn

Also known as “Mr. Padre,” Tony Gwynn was a professional baseball right fielder who played for the San Diego Padres. The Los Angeles native is widely regarded as one of the most consistent hitters in the history of baseball. Another reason why this Black baseball player is so iconic? He’s one of the few athletes of his time who remained with a single team his entire career. The 15-time National League All-Star passed away on June 16, 2014.

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