Ah, race car driving. The gasoline-powered sweet science. America’s favorite pastime to experience at 200 miles per hour. All the best left turns you could ask for. If competitive sports are an amusement park, then racing is the treacherous-looking Tilt-A-Whirl in the back corner that keeps throwing bolts and washers every time you turn it on. As such, it can attract some really odd ducks. “But how?” you may ask. “How could a world dominated by ludicrously high speeds and repetitive actions attract the quirky, the half-a-bubble-off-plumb, as race car drivers?” Yes, it’s a complete mystery.
Be that as it may, over the years, the field of ultra-fast vroom-vrooms and crash-bangs has brought in its fair share of irregular produce, psychologically speaking. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily. Some of the world’s most interesting people are bananas. Let’s take a look at a few of the nutrageous bars who decided they wanted to go fast.
‘Tiger’ Tom Pistone: King of Atlantis
Retired NASCAR driver Tom Pistone would know a few things about cautionary measures. Pistone says when he started out, he raced on a seedy track run by a man named Andy Granatelli who hired race car drivers specifically to crash the other cars on the course, hoping to give the audience a thrill. Coming from a place of extreme showmanship would be enough to make anyone nervous, but even by those standards, Pistone may have taken things a bit far.
See, in 1960, during a qualifying run at the Daytona Speedway, fellow driver Tommy Irwin lost control of his car and crashed it into Lake Lloyd, the man-made lake at the center of the track. Did he drown? No, he did not. “And neither,” one assumes Tom Pistone shouted with his finger pointed heavenward, “shall I.”
So during Pistone’s race, he drove wearing a life preserver and an oxygen tube. You know, in case the worst happened to him. Even odd ducks gotta float.
Ryan Blaney desperately wants to be a Jedi
As the Star Wars universe continues to expand and slowly envelop everything in existence like heat death scored by John Williams, questions remain that keep many of us awake at night. Questions like “How many parsecs would it take for a stock car to make the Kessel Run?”
For the answer to that, consult Ryan Blaney. He’s, well, he’s not just a Star Wars fan. He may be the Star Wars fan.
The driver of the Number 12 Penske car has a deep and abiding love of a galaxy far, far away, and it’s a light he won’t hide under a bushel. The banner art for his podcast, ” The Glass Case of Emotion,” features an artist’s depiction of Blaney as Luke from the poster for A New Hope . He celebrated the release of Rogue One by
tweeting a picture of himself posing with a lightsaber and staring into the camera, unashamed. He even
attended the red carpet premiere of The Last Jedi, which is basically the Wonka Factory tour of nerdiness.
And in case you were wondering, he disliked that scene where Luke drinks milk out of a space aardvark just as much as you did. Ryan Blaney just loves Star Wars so much, you guys.
Jules Goux is not your role model
There are rules that are easy to take for granted, that we just assume have always been in place. They are the unspoken laws of the social contract: Don’t punch the petting zoo animals. No hoverboards on the escalator. Don’t down four bottles of champagne while you’re driving in the Indy 500. But it’s a tragic and — at least in the case of the hoverboard thing — hilarious truth that rules only exist because they have, at some point, been broken.
In 1913, during the third Indy 500 in history, Jules Goux was having a mighty fine day. He was in the lead after only five laps. During a pit stop on Lap 15, he ordered some chilled wine. Records vary somewhat, but historians broadly agree that over the next three pit stops he consumed between four and six bottles of champagne, or roughly four to six more bottles of champagne than a person is supposed to drink when driving a car with no safety features as fast as they can.
The end result? Race car drivers could no longer drink alcohol during races. Oh, and Goux won. By a ridiculous 13 minutes.
Jim Rathmann lied royally
Who hasn’t lied on a job application? Who hasn’t exaggerated a little bit about their skill set or claimed that they had more experience than they actually had or stolen their older brother’s identity and kept it for over 60 years?
Well, maybe that last one is more of a niche category.
The racer you might know as Jim Rathmann fits that niche. When he was young, Rathmann was still going by his given name, Royal Richard Rathmann. Royal wanted to go fast, but age restrictions prohibited him from doing so. So Royal did what any of us would do: According to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s website, he swapped IDs with his older brother Jim and entered a stock car race. The change stuck, and the newly christened Jim Rathmann debuted in the Indy 500 at 20 years old, and later became an Indy 500 champion and one of the most influential racers of his generation, albeit one with the wrong date of birth listed on his records.
Tom ‘The Gasman’ Sneva advocates for disappearing
Good luck finding Tom Sneva. The man is a human disappearing act.
You could say the trick goes all the way back to his infamous 1975 crash at Indianapolis, where he opened his magic routine by touching wheels with another driver, turning his own car into an automobile-based variation on the “cut a lady in half” illusion.
It was in that crash that he first started his vanishing act, losing, as Sneva himself told the Indianapolis Star, “a set of lips and a nose … but they grew back, bigger than ever.” Facial features weren’t all Sneva wanted to lose that day, though. He wanted his consciousness gone, too. He was later quoted as saying “In a situation like that it’s important to talk to yourself: ‘Faint, you coward, faint!'”
Today, Tom continues his journey into invisibility. He doesn’t own a cell phone or an email address. His reasoning? Then “people can’t find you.” Five bucks says he never needed an ice pack for those burns. He’s plenty chilling as is.
Bobby Unser really wants his $75 back
How far would you go for $75? Probably not as far as Bobby Unser.
In 1996, Unser underwent a harrowing ordeal. He and a friend were out snowmobiling in New Mexico when their vehicles broke down. They battled the elements for two days, essentially embodying the Liam Neeson spirit animal that lives in all humans faced with death by Mother Nature . Then they found a barn and hung out until they were rescued.
When they were rescued, it was discovered they had been snowmobiling in a designated wilderness area, which is a no-no at a federal level. They were charged a $75 fine. No big deal, right? If you go out on a quiet night in the canyons of New Mexico, you might still hear Unser replying with a bellowed, echoing “NO.”
Unser fought the fine, which again, was cheaper than some parking tickets, taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. You’ll bounce back, Bobby. Uber is always hiring.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. shoots dead cars
At some point or another, we’ve all had a special collection of things near and dear to our hearts. Millenials had Pokemon cards. Their parents had boxes of bottle caps and notebooks full of stamps. And with greater financial stability comes the ability to amass more colorful trophies.
Enter Dale Earnhardt Jr. While your standard gearhead might have a project car or two and maybe a shelf covered in Hot Wheels, Earnhardt prefers a more life-sized and objectively weird hobby: He owns a car wreck graveyard, according to USA Today.
Yes, Dale Junior’s equivalent to a stack of comic book is a stretch of land called Dirty Mo’ Acres, containing dozens of dead race cars. In it, you can find the remains of such vehicles as a Jimmie Johnson #48, Will Power’s #12 Indy car, which now resides in a tree , and one of Earnhardt’s own #8 cars, which he told NASCAR.com he uses for target practice . No respect for the dead.
Junior Johnson’s family gig
A lot of families enjoy the occasional holiday get-together over a couple drinks. If you’re like Junior Johnson’s family, you enjoyed running an illegal moonshine operation and based your livelihood on cosplaying a shirts-and-skins reenactment of the Volstead Act.
Yep, Junior Johnson’s father ran a whiskey still back in the ’50s. Junior was a runner, transporting that smooth North Carolina jet fuel from place to place. While he was never caught making deliveries, the future Indy 500 winner was arrested in 1956 at his pa’s still when federal revenue agents ambushed him, according to the
Associated Press. He was charged with the production of “non-tax-paid whiskey” and spent 11 months behind bars. When he was released, Junior pursued a successful career in stock car racing. They even made a movie out of his story in the ’70s called The Last American Hero.
Thirty years later, he was granted a retroactive presidential pardon by Ronald Reagan. Oh, and in 2007, he became the co-owner of a moonshine distillery . But all legal-like this time.
Dale Jarrett basically lived an Aesop’s fable about laziness
Dale Jarrett started his career in racing from the proverbial mail room. His father managed a race track in North Carolina and gave a teenage Dale a job running errands and performing menial tasks around the property. One of his chores: cutting the lawn on the makeshift grass parking lot.
Dale, disinclined to spend his days pushing a mower up and down a field, made what we can all agree was his only logical decision: He traded a golf club for a couple of goats and set them loose on the grass. The problem was, the goats weren’t into grass. They had more exotic palates. What these goats wanted, you see, was to eat big chunks of cars. You know. Goat stuff.
The animals apparently went wild for the upholstery inside a series of decorative wrecked jalopies left in the lot. According to Dale , they wouldn’t eat grass “if you put it in their mouths.” We all learned an important lesson here today.
Tim Flock beats Friends to the punch by 40 years
Who hasn’t wanted a pet monkey at some point? Tim Flock certainly has. But what separates the greats like Flock from the rest of us? Flock does something about it.
According to Fox Sports , for eight glorious races in 1953, Tim Flock drove with a rhesus monkey named Jocko Flocko as his copilot. What does a monkey do in a race car, you might wonder? You know, monkey stuff. Hop around, probably. Maybe look for ticks. Oh, and find the trap door installed in the floor of the car to more easily spot tire damage, open the door mid-race, and go full Tasmanian Devil inside the speeding vehicle,
screaming and tearing at Flock’s face.
Flock was less than enthused about this pragmatic style of high-speed monkey shenanigans and retired Jocko at his next pit stop. No solid evidence on where the mad primate wound up, but all signs points to him being in the back seat of your car right this minute, waiting for his moment to strike.
Ah, race car driving. The gasoline-powered sweet science. America’s favorite pastime to experience at 200 miles per hour. All the best left turns you could ask for. If competitive sports are an amusement park, then racing is the treacherous-looking Tilt-A-Whirl in the back corner that keeps throwing bolts and washers every time you turn it on. As such, it can attract some really odd ducks. “But how?” you may ask. “How could a world dominated by ludicrously high speeds and repetitive actions attract the quirky, the half-a-bubble-off-plumb, as race car drivers?” Yes, it’s a complete mystery.
NBA action, it’s fantastic!
That’s one of the league’s old catchphrases from the 1980s, and it still rings true. In addition to being fantastic, things in the NBA can also get pretty dang strange, especially once the players leave the court, the crowds go home, and the lights in the arenas are switched off. Many eccentric guys have filled various starting lineups over the years, and have gone on to become downright legendary for their weirdness. They’ve drawn lots of attention for their bizarre spending habits, odd personal behavior, and, well, there’s Dennis Rodman’s whole persona, which probably belongs in a category all its own. He’s still making headlines even though he retired from the NBA after the 1999-2000 season.
Here’s a rundown of several of the oddest players that have appeared in the league in recent years, along with a few others that helped set the bar when it comes to NBA eccentricity. Whether they’re still playing or have since retired, these basketball stars are really weird people off the court.
Don’t ask Russell Westbrook about his left hand
Russell Westbrook has spent his career playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s also demonstrated some truly peculiar habits. That’s one of the reasons the New York Times described him as a “misunderstood genius” in a 2017 profile written by journalist Sam Anderson.
As Anderson revealed, Westbrook writes with his left hand, but shoots hoops with his right. Ambidexterity isn’t all that odd, but Westbrook became angry when Anderson noticed this while he was signing a stack of documents. “Don’t put that in your article,” Westbrook told him. When Anderson jokingly tried to make a bargain with him so he could publish what seemed like a pretty insignificant detail, the point guard cursed at him. “[It was] with so much venom it made me laugh out loud,” Anderson wrote.
In addition to being sensitive about his writing hand and getting into weird feuds with the Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant, Anderson is very particular about when the Thunder start their practice layups before each game. They must start when the pregame clock strikes exactly 6:17, but he has yet to explain why. Westbrook, who made $26 million during the 2016-’17 season, also insists on paying all of his bills himself, and has been known to bring them into the Thunder lunchroom — and quibble over any amounts he thinks are incorrect.
The sugary sweet weirdness of James Harden
Along with owning a closet stuffed full of some pretty wild and stylish clothes, the Houston Rockets’ James Harden has a face that’s currently home to one of the most famous and downright craziest beards in NBA history. He’s grown it long, and his career has grown along with it. The beard has helped him land lots of endorsement deals — one of which is pretty sweet, literally as well as figuratively.
According to a 2016 article in Forbes, Harden signed a deal with Ferrara Candy’s Trolli brand that kicked off with an odd advertisement revealing the contents of Harden’s brain. Spoiler: the primary thing on his mind at the time was, apparently, the company’s Sour Brite Crawlers. He also stores candy in his basketball and digs into it while driving towards the hoop, if this follow-up is to be believed. Later, his beard landed its own
digital video and got to participate in a mock press conference, sans Harden. It even has its own line of gummi candy called Trolli Sour Brite Weird Beards, James Harden Edition.
This all makes sense since Trolli’s catchphrase is “Weirdly Awesome.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Harden’s promotionals are dubbed “Beardly Awesome.” His weirdness doesn’t begin and end with candy commercials, though. He speaks a “secret language” with his close friends that includes words like “fa’lo.” It means “excessively flashy,” apparently. They’ve been
speaking it with one another since high school.
Obsession, by J.J. Redick
J.J. Redick likes to stay organized. Really, really organized. The Philadelphia 76ers’ oddest shooting guard has turned this intense habit into something of an obsession.
Redick metiously plans his naps, which socks he’s going to wear, and his meals. His intense pre-game routine includes eating roasted chicken, a baked potato, asparagus or broccoli, and washing them down with a cup of coffee. While being profiled for the New York Times in 2018, he discussed one disastrous meal on March 22, 2013, when his dinner arrived 20 minutes late and “completely threw me off.” The team lost that night by 24 points, and he missed ten of his 11 shots.
As gametime approaches, his warm-up routine begins exactly 90 minutes before opening tip-off. It involves a series of stretches, practice shots, and eating exactly the right type of granola bar. At home, his closet must stay organized with “military-grade precision,” and he seems to derive little joy from all that extra effort. As he told the Times, “You know what it is? It’s exhausting.”
But not everything in his life is planned down to the second. While vacationing with his family in North Carolina, he somewhat spontaneously decided to join his grandmother on a journey to a tattoo parlor. She got a butterfly put on her shoulder. Redick, meanwhile, picked out a design that featured a reference to a Bible verse and the Japanese word for courage.
Jason Terry and his shorts
There are short attention spans and there are short s attention spans. One of Jason Terry’s routines might be best described as the latter. The night before each game, the shooting and point guard, who often goes by the nickname “JET,” wears the shorts of the opposing team. The tradition began during his college days, when he and teammate Mike Bibby wore their uniforms to bed in order to calm down and get some shut-eye before an important game. As Terry explained, he got bored with wearing his own gear, and this keeps him entertained. His wife, however, isn’t a huge fan of this routine.
The Times also noted that he used to obsessively eat fried chicken fingers before every game — another routine, this one supposedly inspired by Wade Boggs. As he’s gotten older, though, Terry has switched over to a healthier rotisserie or grilled chicken. “I can’t deviate from chicken,” Terry said. “It has to be chicken.”
During games, his rituals include imitating an airplane if he lands a series of three-pointers and changing his sneakers if things aren’t going well during the first quarter. Nevertheless, Terry knows his behavior is at least a bit strange. As he told the Times, “my daughters say I’m a weirdo.”
Sometimes Stephon Marbury gets carried away
Stephon Marbury had a career in the NBA that ran from 1996 until 2009. He made the All-Star team twice and
co-wrote a children’s book. Sadly, it all began to unravel after his final season.
In July of 2009, Marbury went online and began what would become a 24-hour long tirade that he
livestreamed for his StarburyTV web show. During the stream, he took questions from viewers; when asked if he believed in aliens, Marbury said that he didn’t know and added, “But I believe in Jesus because I saw him in the shower the other day.” He also said that he was looking forward to meeting the spirit of Michael Jackson and ate Vaseline on camera.
That last bit was particularly strange, but Marbury explained that it was his grandmother’s old remedy for curing a sore throat, according to a rundown on the incident that later appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Marbury clearly wasn’t in a good place at the time of the unusual broadcast, but he went on to a successful post-NBA career in China.
He helped the Beijing Ducks, a Chinese Basketball Association team, win three championships between 2012-2015. He also popped up in a Chinese musical about himself, titled I Am Marbury. As of September of 2017, he was reportedly mulling over returning to the United States for an NBA comeback or a spot in rapper/actor Ice Cube’s Big 3 league.
DeShawn Stevenson may or may not be able to feel his face
DeShawn Stevenson had a 13-year career in the NBA; along the way, he earned a reputation in the league for some pretty peculiar behavior. One of his quirks included doing a strange gesture every time he made a three-pointer, waving his right hand in front of his chin while he headed back across the court to play defense. He even gave the gesture the nickname “I Can’t Feel My Face.”
One collection of potential interpretations from the Washington Post suggests that it all had something to do with a neurological disorder, a reference to the 2000 Johnny Depp film Blow , a tribute to the dance moves of rapper Tony Yayo, or possibly all three. Whatever the reason, the “I Can’t Feel My Face” gesture spawned t-shirts.
There’s also the tattoo on his neck of Abraham Lincoln — and the ATM Stevenson keeps in his kitchen. According to TMZ , he was inspired to install one next to his fridge after he found out former professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek had one added to his own house during the production of an MTV reality show. Stevenson apparently paid $3,500 to have it put in, and charges a pretty steep $4.50 transaction fee. Oh, and a few times a year he restocks it with $20,000 in cold, hard cash.
The explosive life and times of Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas played for multiple NBA franchises before he went to China to join the Shanghai Sharks in 2013. Prior to leaving the States, he shared his tips for avoiding traffic tickets on his Instagram account — his favorite was leaving the dealer plates on his vehicle. As
The Bleacher Report explained, it once helped Arenas run 60 red lights in four months and not get caught. Needless to say, he shouldn’t offer driving lessons anytime soon. Along with blasting through red lights, he also once got caught speeding in a truck filled with fireworks — and without his driver’s license.
Along with getting a Barack Obama-themed tattoo on his left hand, Arenas’ other eccentric behavior during his NBA days included a 2009 incident with his former Washington Wizards teammate Javaris Crittenton. After the two got into a disagreement over a card game, Arenas showed up in the team’s locker room at the Verizon Center with four guns and threatened Crittenton, who then turned around pointed his own gun at Arenas.
Fortunately, no one was injured in a standoff that, as their teammate Caron Butler later quipped , could have led to a much different “shoot-around” than usual at the arena. The two were booted off the team, and Crittenton was later sentenced to 23 years in prison for a shooting gone wrong.
Give Metta World Peace a chance
This peculiarly named former NBA star was anything but peaceful during much of his NBA career. After a 2003 loss to the Knicks, the player formerly known as Ron Artest destroyed a $100,000 TV camera and a monitor in Madison Square Garden. The camera’s lens alone reportedly cost $60,000, according to the Washington Post.
Years prior, the small forward also decided to get a job at Circuit City during his rookie year in the league. He wasn’t hard up for cash after a season that netted him a $1 million salary. He was merely bored and worried that he’d been partying too much. World Peace only worked a single shift, though.
Maybe it’s for the best. Customers can get awfully cranky at times and World Peace didn’t always get along with NBA spectators and his fellow players. His clashes included a fight — infamously dubbed “The Malice in the Palace” — that spilled out into the stands during a game in Detroit and led to him being suspended for much of the 2004-2005 season. To take the edge off, he also used to drink French cognac during halftimes while he played for the Chicago Bulls. He’s much more laid back these days, after legally changing his name to his current peaceful moniker in 2011, and currently works as a player development coach for the South Bay Lakers.
The world according to Dennis Rodman
No list of weird NBA players would be complete without the man who could one day prevent (or cause) a nuclear war with North Korea. Before he started hanging around with Kim Jong-Un during his “basketball diplomacy” treks to the closed-off kingdom, Rodman was widely considered one of the most eccentric guys to ever play professional basketball.
The former power forward announced he was getting married to an unnamed person during the 1996 offseason. This sparked countless rumors , among them that he was getting hitched to Princess Diana, Julia Roberts, Cindy Crawford, or Oprah Winfrey. When his wedding day finally arrived, Rodman instead rode around New York City dressed in a bridal gown and announced that he had decided to marry himself before attending a book signing for his first autobiography,
Bad as I Wanna Be .
As The Fiscal Times recounted in 2014, Rodman’s other antics included dating the equally eccentric Madonna, dying his hair tons of different colors, kicking a cameraman in the crotch, co-starring in a Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick along with a follow-up, and wrestling alongside Hulk Hogan in the WWE. He’s spent at least one portion of his retirement years working as the commissioner for something called the Lingerie Football League. Rodman made his first trip to North Korea in 2013, after which he called Kim Jong-un “a friend for life.”
The sound of Chocolate Thunder
Once upon a time, Darryl Dawkins made smashing backboards during his super awesome dunks a fairly regular habit. It was one of the things that helped him earn the nickname “Chocolate Thunder.” Strangely enough, it was coined by Stevie Wonder — who, for obvious reasons, never actually saw him play.
Okay, Dawkins only smashed a few backboards. However, it did lead to the league replacing their fairly fragile hoops with ones that had breakaway rims and shatter-resistant backboards. Dawkins’ exuberant personality and weird behavior made him hugely popular in the 1970s. He gave his dunks names like “The Look Out Below” and “The Yo-Mama.” Shaquille O’Neal once described him “as the father of power of dunking,” adding “I’m just one of his sons.”
Dawkins also still holds the top spot in the record books for most personal fouls in a season. While that isn’t too weird, he also routinely claimed he was actually a space alien from “The Planet Lovetron.” The strange persona and interstellar lifestyle he created along with it included frequent “frolicking” with his girlfriend, nicknamed “Juicy Luicy,” and spreading the gospel of what he called “interplanetary funkmanship.”
Dawkins, who passed away in 2015, is sadly no longer with us. But before he left the realm of earthly mortals, one of his weird post-basketball forays included guest judging a boxing match between Mr. T and Rowdy Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 2 along with jazz legend Cab Calloway.
Athletes: Perhaps they are our greatest natural resource. Perfect specimens of humanity, physicality, and athletic prowess, we are entertained, amazed, and bewildered by sports stars’ superhuman feats of strength, speed, and agility regardless of the sports-ball field, track, court, diamond, rink, or gridiron upon which they choose to impress.
While they seem immortal when flying through the air to slam dunk a basketball held aloft with a single hand, or hurling a ball 300 feet while giants try to tackle them, or somehow hitting a ball traveling 100 mph with a small wooden stick to make it soar hundreds of feet away, the sad truth is that athletes actually are, at their core, regular human beings subject to the same laws and principles of the universe as the rest of us. That means they die. Athletes are people, often wonderful, remarkable people, but people nonetheless. Here are the sports stars both young and old that left us in 2018.
There are several sports that involve racing cars very fast, but they’re all actually very different and there isn’t a lot of overlap between these different types, even if they look basically the same to the non-fan. To start with, there’s the NASCAR circuit, IndyCar, and Formula One. Drivers by and large train for just one of them, and stay loyal to the brand. And yet there are historical curiosities like Dan Gurney. Not only is he one of the few drivers who was good enough to race at the top circles (or ovals) of NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula One, but he’s the first person to ever win a race in all three, creating a previously nonexistent Triple Crown for himself. And for good measure, he won the insane Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race in 1967 with team member A.J. Foyt — which is where he started the now common trend of celebrating a big win with a spray of champagne. Gurney died from complications of pneumonia at age 86 in January 2018.
The 1970s were one of the wildest eras ever in Major League Baseball, perhaps a little because of the hair. Sure, you had Rollie Fingers’ silly mustache that made him look like he was going to tie a woman to train tracks in a silent movie, and Pete Rose’s assortment of little-boy Supercuts classics, but Yankees power hitter Oscar Gamble had the best hair of all, hands down. Cam Martin of ESPN said the outfielder/designated hitter “looked like he’d been dropped off by the mothership of Parliament-Funkadelic,” which is to say that the man rocked one of the best afros this side of Billy Preston. That huge dome of hair spilling out of a cap, along with his actual hitting statistics, made Gamble one of the most iconic baseball players of the ’70s. Gamble’s career stretched from 1969 to 1985, and he racked up a devilish 666 RBIs, nearly 1,200 hits, a respectable .265 batting average, and exactly 200 home runs while playing for a number of teams, including the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians, and the New York Yankees. Complications from a rare jaw tumor ended the 68-year-old Gamble’s life in January 2018.
In the 2017 college football regular season, Washington State finished with an 8-4 record, good enough for third place in the highly competitive Pac-12 North and a spot in a Holiday Bowl (where the team lost to Michigan State). Star quarterback Luke Falk lead the way, with some impressive play from backup Tyler Hilinski. He threw more than 200 passes as a freshman and sophomore and started in the Holiday Bowl, as Falk was injured. He was a virtual lock to become the Cougars’ first-string QB after Falk’s impending graduation. That’s a future that will never come. Just a few weeks after the Holiday Bowl, on January 16, 2018, Hilinski missed a team practice , prompting police to stop by his Pullman, Washington, apartment to see if anything was amiss. That’s when the body of Hilinksi, only 21, was discovered. He’d apparently administered a self-inflected gunshot wound to the head. A note was found nearby, leading the coroner’s office to rule the death a suicide, but the reason for the suicide is unclear.
Scott did what no one else did before 2005: won a women’s basketball national title with Baylor University. Scott, a native of the Houston area, played at the school from 2002 to 2006, and averaged about 8 points and 4 rebounds during her junior year (2005) for the Lady Bears, when the team won the championship. (The next year, she got even better, with 9 points and 6 rebounds or so per game.) She parlayed that success into a pro career, both in the WNBA and internationally. Unfortunately, she had to retire from sports early, as the rigorous work of a professional athlete just couldn’t be sustained after she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Scott then became a performance coach, which is a great job for a retired athlete. Then sickness reared its ugly, nasty head again for Scott — in 2015, doctors discovered a cancerous blockage in her colon. Everything malignant was removed, but the cancer came back, as it often does. The disease took Scott’s life in January 2018.
Jo Jo White
Jo Jo White accomplished just about everything a world-class basketball player can accomplish. He was a standout at perennial college ball powerhouse Kansas, where he was a two-time All-American and three-time team MVP. He was selected for the 1968 men’s Olympic team and won a gold medal. Then the Boston Celtics drafted him with a high first-round pick in 1969, and White delivered on that promise, leading the dynastic team to NBA championships in 1974 and 1976; in the latter, White was named NBA Finals MVP. The Celtics traded him in 1979 after 10 seasons, and he wrapped up his career with stints with the Golden State Warriors and Kansas City Kings … but returned to Boston to have his jersey number (10) retired in 1982. White’s career stats — 17.2 points, 4.9 assists, and 4 rebounds per game — were good enough to get him into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. White died at age 71 in January 2018. According to White’s daughter, Meka White Morris, the death was due to pneumonia and dementia, complications from the removal of a benign brain tumor in 2010.
Sports star Rasual Butler was a journeyman player in the NBA, posting a lengthy 13-season career that included stops with the Miami Heat, New Orleans Hornets, Chicago Bulls, and San Antonio Spurs. His best season came in 2009-2010, when the small forward/shooting guard averaged 11.9 points per game for the Los Angeles Clippers. Butler retired at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season and resided in Los Angeles with his wife, R&B singer Leah LaBelle, best known as a finalist during American Idol ‘s third season back in 2004. Shockingly, both Butler, 38, and LaBelle, 31, died in a single-vehicle crash. At about 2:30 a.m. on January 31, 2018, Butler lost control of his Range Rover, and it plowed into parking meters and a wall at a very
high speed before finally rolling to a stop in a parking lot. Butler’s former boss, Heat president Pat Riley, released a statement in which he called Butler “one of the greatest people we have ever had play for us; a great player, teammate, and better person.”
Edwin Jackson was only just getting started in the NFL.
A two-sport star as a young ‘un — he lettered in football three times and was a state wrestling champion finalist for Westlake High School in Atlanta — Jackson played linebacker at Georgia Southern. But he went undrafted, eventually singing with the Indianapolis Colts and playing in eight games in 2016 , where he recorded 42 tackles. The Colts placed Jackson on their injured reserve list for 2017, which set him up to make a big splash in 2018 … which sadly won’t happen because he was killed in a horrific roadside accident. Police believe that around 4 a.m. on February 4, 2018, Jackson’s Uber driver, 54-year-old Jeffrey Monroe, pulled over on Interstate 70 in Indianapolis because Jackson was feeling sick. While standing on the side of the road, both men were struck and killed by a pickup truck. Previously convicted drunk driver Manuel Orrego-Savala faces 20 years in prison on charges of causing death while driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident. His blood alcohol level: 0.19, twice Indiana’s legal limit. Edwin Jackson was just 26.
It’s obviously sad when an older, beloved, and groundbreaking athlete dies, triggering a time for sentimental reflection on their accomplishments. But when a young athlete dies basically before their life can even get started, it’s downright tragic, just because it’s awful when anyone dies before their time, and because it leaves us wondering what could have been. Zeke Upshaw played college basketball for Illinois State and Hofstra before turning pro for leagues in Slovenia and Luxembourg. In 2016, he got very close to the NBA, signing with the Grand Rapids Drive of the NBA Development League (later known as the NBA G League). In his second season with the team, Upshaw contributed 8.5 points per game, helping the team score a 29-21 record and a playoff spot. Tragically, during the team’s final game of the regular season, against the Long Island Nets in March 2018, Upshaw collapsed on the court. The 26-year-old was hospitalized locally and died two days later. (A specific cause of death was not released.)
The Montreal Expos don’t have as storied a history as most other Major League Baseball teams. They never went to a World Series, their best season was shortened by a strike, and they struggled to exist until a move and name change made the team the Washington Nationals.
Rusty Staub, however, was the team’s very first star and still one of its most beloved people. He landed with the Expos in 1969 , the team’s first season in the majors, and thus the birth of the MLB in Canada. Staub hit .302 with 29 home runs that year while also serving as a de facto ambassador for Canadian baseball — the man even learned French to endear himself to Quebecois francophone fans, who affectionately nicknamed the redhead “Le Grand Orange.” Staub was a six-time All-Star (including all three years he played for Montreal), and he later played for a few more teams, notably the New York Mets. He died of a heart attack at age 73 on April 1, 2018. That just so happened to be baseball’s Opening Day, and the Mets paid tribute to him with a moment of silence.
Hal Greer was a sports star in the NBA just when it was starting to get popular — in part because of Greer’s on-court heroics. He played his entire, 15-year career (1958–1973) with the same team, the Philadelphia 76ers (including when they were the Syracuse Nationals). Despite some major stars on the team through the years, such as Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, and Manute Bol , after all this time Greer is still the all-time franchise leader in points scored, games played, and field goals. The league recognized Greer, too, naming him to 10 All-Star teams and including him on its 1996 list of the 50 greatest players of all time. The first Sixer to have his number (17) retired, he led the team to the 1967 NBA championship and was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Greer passed away in April 2018 at the age of 81.
Pep Guardiola is ready to sanction the sale of John Stones this summer, with Liverpool and Arsenal among the clubs thought to be keen on signing him, according to reports.
The English centre-back has found himself further falling down the pecking order since the arrival of Aymeric Laporte in January, having already been behind Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi.
City splurged £47.5million on the centre-half two years ago and would expect to recoup all of that fee with a sale but Guardiola is reluctantly willing to let him leave.
While he has talked up the 24-year-old regularly, Guardiola does not believe Stones has progressed enough to warrant a first-team place and he does not want to hinder the former Everton defender’s development, according to the Sun.
One stumbling block in any potential sale would be the cost of the deal for other clubs.
While Stones is keen to leave in search of first-team football, most teams would struggle to finance a move.
Arsenal are thought to be keen to land him, but are expected to only have a transfer budget of £50m.
Zverev up to third in ATP chart
Germany’s Alexander Zverev moved up a place to third behind Rafael Nadal in the latest ATP rankings published yesterday.
The 21-year-old displaced Marin Cilic after his progress to the Monte Carlo Masters semi-finals won on Sunday for the 11th time by Nadal.
In the final Nadal beat Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who jumped 14 spots to 22nd.
Swiss player Roger Federer is now second ranked player, Alexander Zverev is third, Marin Cilic is fourth, while Grigor Dimitrov completes the top five.
Arsenal chief want Manchester City coach as replacement for Arsene Wenger
Arsenal’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis – the man who will ultimately recommend a new head coach to owner Stan Kroenke – believes Mikel Arteta could be the man to replace Arsene Wenger, according to Sky Sports News.
Gazidis said the club needed to be “bold” in its search for a new manager and he believes that despite Arteta’s lack of managerial experience, the former Arsenal midfielder has the credentials to succeed in the role.
Arteta, a former Arsenal club captain, has a growing reputation as an innovative coach after working alongside Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Arsenal are yet to comment but Gazidis on Monday briefed 200 members of the club’s staff at the Emirates, explaining how the painstaking global search to find Wenger’s replacement will be carried out.
Arsenal, as a show of respect, avoided approaching potential candidates to succeed Wenger before his own announcement he would step down at the end of the season last Friday.
However, Gazidis, along with head of football operations, Raul Sanllehi and head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, will this week begin discussions with potential candidates.
Sky Sports News understands Sanllehi, the former director of football at Barcelona, favours his former colleague Luis Enrique as the man to take over from Wenger.
Enrique won two La Liga titles as well as the Champions League as head coach at the Nou Camp and is known to want to return to management at a top club as quickly as possible, ideally in England.
Arsenal’s third kingmaker, Sven Mislintat – who joined Arsenal from Borussia Dortmund in November – is reportedly keen on Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann and Schalke’s Domenico Tedesco.
Thomas Tuchel, who last month was the bookies’ favourite to replace Wenger, now looks set to join Paris Saint-Germain as Unai Emery’s replacement.
At this early stage, both Brendan Rodgers and Rafa Benitez are not thought to be strong candidates.
The management of Plateau United Football Club of Jos has condemned in strong terms an alleged physical assault meted out to its players and officials by the supporters of Heartland of Owerri after their Week 18 fixture which ended in a 1-1 draw at the Dan Anyiam Stadium on Monday.
Champions League Preview: Liverpool take on Roma at Anfield
Tonight, Liverpool will take on Italian side, AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League last four encounter at Anfield. At the start of the season, it was almost inconceivable they will reach the Champions League semi-finals. They actually did without suffering a single defeat so far in the competition.
The Romans benefited from away goal advantage to get past Barcelona in the quarter-finals and Liverpool should be weary of allowing them get that dangerous away goal.
Edin Džeko, with whom Salah will be very familiar, since seven out of Salah’s 15 assists last season were made to the big man, already scored a brace against Chelsea and grabbed a goal in both games against Barcelona.
Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren will need to be on high alert for set pieces and crosses from the wing, which is how Eusebio Di Francesco’s men get their joy exploiting teams.
Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah both started in Liverpool’s weekend match against West Brom. Mané was substituted out at 66’ while Salah played pretty much the whole game. Roberto Firmino, on the other hand, along with likely midfield starter Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, only played the last 30 minutes against the Baggies. Three out of the four likely Liverpool starting defenders also got a break, with only Dejan Lovren making a short cameo at the end of the match.
While Salah has ran away with the goals record in the Premier League, Champions League statistics have been much more balanced for the team. Salah and Firmino both have eight goals to their names, with Mané right behind them with seven. Big James Milner leads the whole competition in assists, having set up his teammates seven times. Firmino is tied for second place with four, which, when added to his eight goals scored, means he’s been involved in twelve goals so far in Europe.
Liverpool likely Lineup (4-3-3) Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, van Dijk, Robertson; Milner, Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Salah, Firmino, Mané
Maybe there’s an argument to be made for Gini Wijnaldum to start in the midfield, but otherwise, Klopp’s side pretty much picks itself. With Joël Matip, Adam Lallana, and Emre Can all out for the rest of the season, Klopp’s choices are somewhat limited. Captain Jordan Henderson is thankfully available again after missing the away leg of the quarterfinals due to yellow card accumulation.
It will be another huge game for the fullbacks who have really proved their worth over the course of the season. Alexander-Arnold and Robertson seem set to start this one again, with Clyne still not quite ready. Alexander-Arnold, after taking care of Leroy Sané in the quarterfinals, will now be charged with nullifying the threat of Aleksandar Kolarov and cutting off his service to Džeko, likely with the help of the disciplined and enterprising Milner on the right.
Rick Karsdorp and Gregoire Defrel are injured for Roma, but Kolarov, Džeko, Alessandro Florenzi, and Daniele De Rossi were all rested at the weekend in preparation for their England trip.
What the Managers had to Say
Jürgen Klopp: “If anybody thinks this is the easiest draw, then I cannot help this person. They obviously didn’t see both games against Barcelona. In the first result, 4-1 was not how the game was – it was Lionel Messi genius against a good side of Roma.
“The second leg was outstanding, it was outstanding what they did. They should have probably won 4-0 or 5-0 – I was really impressed. It is just the draw and I know it is very exciting, but it is good because the most important news is we are still in the competition.”
Eusebio Di Francesco: “[Salah’s] qualities are very clear. Don’t forget that I prepared games against him in Italy, too. But the fact lots of our players know him well, that can be an advantage.”
The Olympic games are a triumph of peace, harmony, and sportsmanship. All the problems individual countries might have with each other are left behind, and the only competition is between the athletes. In theory, it’s a beautiful way of looking at the world, but the problem is not everyone is squeaky clean when it comes to the Olympics. Everyone from the athletes to the bureaucrats can make mistakes, and sometimes the games turn into a hotbed of bad or even tragic decisions. Still, they’re a beautiful idea, and maybe the next games will be the one where everybody behaves themselves and the Olympics lives up to its ideals. Or not.
The terrorist attack at Munich
Overall the Olympics are a celebration of sport and peace. But every now and then something truly tragic mars the games, and nothing has been worse than the terrorist incident at Munich in 1972.
According to History , on September 5, a group of Palestinian terrorists did a pre-dawn raid on the Olympic village. They targeted the Israeli athletes and managed to take nine of them hostage. The group was called Black September, which would make a cool band name if it wasn’t attached to something so horrible. (It also explains why they waited until halfway through the games because Black August doesn’t have the same scary ring to it.)
They held nine Israelis hostage and demanded that in exchange for their lives, over 230 Palestinians be released from Israeli jails. Unfortunately, negotiations between the two sides broke down, and the ski mask-wearing Black September members took off for the airport, hostages in tow. Once they got there a fight broke out, and all the hostages were killed. Some of the terrorists managed to escape but were eventually tracked down by Mossad.
Despite the tragedy, it only disrupted a couple days of the games. A memorial service was held and the IOC president Avery Brundage called for the Olympics to continue, just to prove the terrorists hadn’t won. And some of the feats recorded that year, like swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals, proved that even out of terror, good can triumph.
Ryan Lochte lied about being robbed
It must be great winning an Olympic medal. And afterward you probably want to go out and get pretty drunk. That’s what swimmer Ryan Lochte and some friends decided to do in Rio in 2016. The problem was they got a bit too excited and ended up on the wrong end of a police investigation.
According to USA Today, it started when Lochte gave an interview to NBC saying he and three other members of the U.S. swim team had been robbed at gunpoint on their night out. He even said a gun had been held to his forehead. Of course, the local authorities looked into this, since such a high-profile crime was going to look bad after all their Olympic safety preparations. What they found was … nothing. Lochte had made the whole thing up.
They may have concocted the story to distract from the fact that they had been involved in some criminal damage, vandalizing a gas station restroom. The cops were not happy and called them all in. Some were ordered to pay a fine before they could leave Brazil, but Lochte saw the writing on the wall and had already gotten the heck out of the country.
The charges were eventually dismissed against Lochte, but not before he had been outed as a liar and lost some of his sponsors. He admitted he had been a little tipsy on the night in question. Hey, you try staying sober next time you win an Olympic medal.
Member of the IOC scalps 1,000 tickets
Unlike other some other sporting bodies (like FIFA), the International Olympic Committee isn’t known for being very scandalous. The 15-member body does its thing bringing the games to places around the world and is mostly disgrace-free. But there’ll always be one bad guy, and in this case it was Irishman Patrick Joseph Hickey who saw his career come crashing down around him just because he wanted to use his powerful position to skim a little off the top.
According to the BBC, Hickey was an Olympic judo competitor in the 1970s who rose up the ranks of various Olympic committees until he finally reached the top, joining the IOC in 2012. But during the 2016 Rio games he was involved with a scheme to sell 1,000 tickets at a steep markup, making some money from his position, which is a big no-no.
Hickey was hardly a criminal mastermind. When the Brazilian police showed up at his hotel room, his wife told them he had flown back to Ireland. Amazingly, they didn’t take her at her word and after a short search found Hickey in a room booked under his son’s name.
NPR says he’d been so busy hiding from the police he hadn’t even had time to put clothes on, since he was buck-naked when first confronted. The cops were nice enough to let him put a robe on before hauling him off for an interrogation.
A bomb in Atlanta kills two and injures hundreds
The second worst act of terror at an Olympic game after Munich was the explosion at the Atlanta games in 1996.
According to the BBC, it happened at 1:25 p.m. in the Centennial Olympic Park. Up to 100,000 people a day came there to chill and listen to some music, but that day their buzz was definitely harshed. Even the dulcet tones of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack couldn’t overcome the power of a 40-pound pipe bomb.
The bomb was placed near a sound tower and the carnage definitely could have been worse. CNN reported the culprit had placed it and then called the police saying they had half an hour before it went off. The area was able to be partially cleared before the bomb exploded 22 minutes later. One woman was killed by the actual explosion while a cameraman died of a heart attack while running to film the scene of the crime. Over 200 people were injured by the flying nails and screws.
Despite fears of a second bomb going off, visitors didn’t let it keep them away from the events. And President Bill Clinton didn’t want to let the terrorists win either, saying the games should go on.
A security guard was first suspected of planting the bomb but was cleared a few months later. It would be two years before the right person was found, and he wouldn’t be convicted until 2005. He is now serving four life sentences for Atlanta and other bombings.
Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee
Perhaps no drama surrounding the Olympics has been more of a soap opera than when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a baton-wielding thug. Once the dust settled, everyone learned the world of ice skating was a lot more cutthroat than they ever imagined.
According to History , it all started with the ex-husband of Kerrigan’s great rival, Tonya Harding. Jeff Gillooly met up with some guys who were willing to injure Kerrigan in exchange for some dough. The actual attack was carried out on January 6, just two days before the Olympic trials.
No one involved in the plot was even close to being a Mensa member, so they didn’t cover their tracks very well. Soon the FBI was arresting everyone. This didn’t help Kerrigan, who was injured too badly to skate. Still, she and Harding were both given spots on the Olympic team. Harding was almost kicked off as evidence poured out, but she successfully sued to keep her place.
Once the Olympics started, the drama grew. Ratings were high because everyone wanted to see the rivals skate against each other. The Washington Post reported there were 700 journalists packed into the ice rink. One estimate said Kerrigan and Harding passed within 31 inches of each other during their practice sessions. The world was obsessed with every detail. In the end Harding would only come eighth and was charged with hindering prosecution. Kerrigan was well enough to skate home with the silver.
Dance teacher cons 75 students
For a performer, there are few platforms as huge as the opening or closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games. Only the best are selected to perform, and they’re watched by possibly billions of people worldwide. So how crushed must 75 British children have been when they were told they would get to dance in the 2012 London closing ceremony only to have it cruelly snatched away?
According to the BBC, it all started when a man named Stephen Moonesamy approached three dance schools and told them he needed 25 children each for the big project. The children had to go through auditions to get a spot, as well as pay £60 to participate. They ranged between 9 and 19 years old but they took it very seriously despite their youth. One kid gave up the chance to be on a vaulting team to participate, while another actually put off spinal surgery.
The weird part was Moonesamy seemed deluded enough to think it was actually going to go on somehow. He held rehearsals and even went on the radio to tell everyone about this great thing that was totally going to happen and not just a figment of his imagination.
In the end, someone thought to contact the official Olympic people and discovered it was all a big con. The kids were crushed and the judge who sentenced Moonesamy to two years in jail for fraud said he had “dashed more hopes than Simon Cowell.” Ouch.
Everyone wants to grab the Olympic torch
Even before the Olympic games start, the world is greeted with a sign of their importance and unity with the torch relay. The torch travels thousands of miles once it’s lit in Athens to whatever city is hosting, always burning and showing that even when we compete against each other, we are one. Or at least it would say that if people didn’t keep trying to steal the darn thing.
Sometimes it’s just an innocent diversion by some kids. Like in England in 2012, when Fox Sports reported a 17-year-old ran through the security cordon and tried to grab the torch before being quickly hustled away and arrested. Or that same year when two actual children decided they wanted to be part of the fun and managed to touch the torch, according to Deadspin .
Other times it’s more serious. In 2008, Tibetan protesters disrupted the original lighting of the torch in Athens on its journey to Beijing. The Guardian says that they were upset that China was allowed to hold the Olympics since they have a horrible human rights record. No one in China actually got to see the protest, though, since the broadcast cut away. Sometimes people go for the torch to draw attention to something that has nothing to do with the Olympics. Another
Guardian article says that happened in 2016, when a group of striking teachers managed to make the torch go out. They were protesting that they hadn’t been paid for two months.
Ugandan athletes keep getting in trouble
Ugandan athletes have a bit of a history with getting in trouble at the Olympic games. In Atlanta in 1996, a Ugandan boxer was charged with circulation of illegal currency. He had managed to get his hands on some forged $100 bills and went on a bit of a spending spree with them. Did he shell out on fast cars, or diamonds, or designer clothes? Not quite. According to the
Washington Post, he spent his fake cash filling his cart with $500 worth of women’s underwear at Walmart. He also dropped $200 in bogus currency at a women’s shoe shop.
No, he didn’t have a thing for ladies’ clothes. He just wanted to sell the garments at a profit when he got back home to Uganda. Instead he found himself trapped in the athlete’s village long after the other entrants had gone home, though he did get released eventually.
But one of his countrymen did not learn from his mistakes. The BBC says he went further when it came to doing really bad stuff. The Olympic village is famous for its banging, with dozens of condoms being allocated to each athlete. But you still have to follow basic consent laws. In 2000, a Ugandan swimmer was arrested after forcing sex on a 17-year-old. Despite being horrible in and of itself, it was a scandal in his home country following on the drama from four years before.
The Russian doping scandal
It’s not uncommon for an individual athlete to use some performance-enhancing drugs to get an edge on the competition. What was unheard of until the 2014 Sochi Olympics, however, was a wide-scale state-sponsored doping program. But that’s just what the Russians got involved in, and they’ve been paying for it ever since.
According to CNN , some analysts and observers believe the majority of Russian athletes may have used illegal enhancers. The World Anti-Doping Agency called it “a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games” and you can’t get much worse than that. Instead of having amateur individuals working their butts off to succeed in their sports, you have a whole country accused of doping in order to cheat its way to the top.
Eventually the mastermind of the whole operation came forward and admitted what was going on, and NPR says he is now in the witness protection program in the U.S. because Russian agents actually want to kill him for opening his mouth about what they were doing.
The people in charge were not going to stand for this cheating. Russian athletes were already banned from participating in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and recently they’ve been banned from the 2018 Pyeongchang games. The BBC says any athletes that can prove they are clean can participate under a neutral flag, but no one will be taking part under the Russian flag.
Brazilian Olympic Committee member used bribes to get the 2016 games
It was a big deal when Rio was awarded the 2016 Olympic summer games. For one, it was the first time a South American country had ever done the hosting. But sadly, it would emerge that the way Rio had gotten the games wasn’t completely on the level.
The Guardian says just two days before Rio was awarded the games in 2009, $2 million went from the account of a wealthy Brazilian businessman to that of one of the voting body, Papa Massata Diack, who in turn voted for Brazil to get the games. It would later come out that other Brazilians were hiding assets they may have gotten from iffy connections, including actual gold bars in a bank in Switzerland. It’s like shady accounting bingo.
According to Reuters , a man named Carlos Arthur Nuzman was arrested and found to have funneled another $500,000 to people in power in order to get Rio the games. He was lining the pockets of those people who were voting for where the Olympic games were held. When the scam was uncovered as part of Operation Unfair Play, which is a great name for a police raid, the whole ethics of who got to hold the games and when was thrown into disrepute.
Hello, friends. Even if you don’t give a hoot about golf, you probably know of the Masters. The beauty, grace, and pageantry — they’re difficult to pull off without coming off as over-the-top corny, yet the good folks at Augusta National manage to do just that. Every year in April is appointment viewing (or appointment sneaking a look at the live coverage on the official website when your boss isn’t looking) for golf fans.
How did we get where we are today? How did the third-largest city in the eighth-largest state end up having the premiere golf tournament in the world? If you think you know the story of Augusta National, you probably don’t. It hasn’t been a layup hole to get where they are today, but somehow Augusta National has made it out of some very tough (and very public) lies. Let’s take a look at the Masters, from Tea Olive to Holly.
Out of the rough
Azaleas used to be big business in the South. They still are the default go-to plant when you think “Southern living,” and it stands to reason that nurseries were abundant at one time. One such nursery, known for those beautiful pink buds, stood on a nice patch of land in Augusta, Georgia. According to Active, Fruitland Nursery claimed to be the largest nursery in the South. That’s a real nice piece of property … the kind that could fit a golf course.
Golf in America in the early days of the game meant only one name: Bobby Jones. Despite the fact that he never turned pro — keeping his amateur status his entire career — no one could come close to matching his game. Jones was thinking of designing a golf course, more specifically a country club of exclusivity and grandeur. All he needed was someone with deep pockets who shared his passion for the game. Investment banker Clifford Roberts fit the bill, and the two purchased Fruitland in 1931. When Jones saw the land, he said, “Perfect! And to think this land has been lying here all these years, waiting for someone to come along and lay a golf course on it .” The club formally opened in January 1933, and a year later what we now call the Masters began, with co-founder Bobby Jones
playing and the main draw .
Looks good in green
Busting your clubs for four days against the most difficult competition imaginable and getting a jacket that makes you look like a colorblind garcon may be the lamest award in pro sports. Each winner of the Masters is presented with a green jacket, presented by the previous year’s winner. However, the prize is more symbolic of the ultimate exclusivity Masters winners share. According to Golf Monthly , co-founder Bobby Jones attended the Royal Liverpool in England and noticed club captains all wore matching jackets at a dinner to signify their position at the club. Jones brought that idea to Augusta National, so that during the Masters, club members would wear green jackets to stand out in the crowd. The exclusive green jacket extended to winners in 1949, with Sam Snead taking home the first green jacket as a non-member.
There is a catch, however. The winner only keeps the jacket for a year. They can wear it anywhere in that time but must return it to the club by the next Masters. The only jacket not returned was Gary Player’s. Player, the first international winner, took his 1961 jacket home to South Africa and accidentally kept it. The club struck a deal with Player, telling him he could keep it there as long as he didn’t ever wear it in public.
Despite all the hype and beauty there is to Augusta National, it’s kinda hard to watch on TV, especially the early rounds. Usually, a sport is at the behest of its network . Augusta National is the complete opposite of that and controls every single aspect of its coverage. Not every shot at this year’s (or any years) Masters will be televised. The Masters TV coverage is limited, by design. Golf Digest says Augusta National and CBS have signed a one-year deal every year since 1956! The first two rounds of the Masters were not televised until 1995, and are now limited to a mere 2.5 hours a day. ESPN picked up coverage of the first two rounds in 2008, but conspicuously left its best known face, Chris Berman, off the coverage. All the rumors point to Augusta National telling the Worldwide Leader to keep Berman back back back in Bristol.
Golf Digest estimated the Masters turned a $29 million profit in 2015. That number could be a lot higher if the club gave up some power, but that probably won’t happen. Tournaments are run with limited commercial interruption, leaving millions of dollars on the table. But you won’t find any golf fans complaining about that.
The price is not bad
Compared to other major sporting events, tickets to the Masters aren’t very expensive. They’re only $75 a day for the practice rounds — and a few years back the entire weekend set you back only $325 ; that’s less than half the price of the cheapest Super Bowl LII ticket. But in addition to a little cash, you also have to be the luckiest person on Earth to pick up a Masters ticket. Just about everyone registers online to enter a lottery to buy a ticket. The number of tickets available is limited to a relatively small number. If you don’t get the chance to buy a ticket legitimately, there’s always the scalper route, where prices can run from $1,500 to $12,000, but in 2018 Augusta National sent notices to some ticket holders who’d resold their tickets that their passes were invalidated and they were blacklisted from buying tickets for life. Risky business!
It’s the most difficult ticket to get in all of sports , but if you do ever get the opportunity to buy a ticket, it’s yours for life — you can purchase it every year after that. If you skip a year, you’re out — your tickets go into that super-limited lottery for another lucky bum to have the opportunity to buy them.
Par for the course?
Let’s do this the easy way: You know how in school you had that cool teacher that would curve your grade on a test? Golf has that too, but it’s called a handicap. Sometimes you just get a straight-up curve, but other times the test is so tough the teacher curves the grade based on the highest score in the class. Think of that really tough test like a really tough golf course. Course rating (for the pros) and slope rating (for the joes) tell you what your real handicap is for that course. Almost every course out there has a course rating and a slope rating, but the Masters doesn’t.
Augusta National has politely declined an official rating, stating, “Our members already know each other’s games.” That wasn’t good enough for the inventor of the slope rating, Dean Knuth. In 2010, Knuth rated the course on the sly, walking along with the regular patrons at a Masters, counting steps golfers took from the rough to the course to attempt an accurate measurement. So, how hard is Augusta National? Somewhere in the rocket science-taught-backward range. The average score for a pro would be around 76 — that’s 4 over par. As for the weekend hackers? Forget it — you’d be lucky to break 100.
Everything in the world of golf changed after Tiger Woods decimated the competition at the 1997 Masters and made Augusta National look like a putt-putt course. After that win, Jack Nicklaus — a six-time winner, told the New York Times that Tiger would win more than his six and Arnold Palmer’s four green jackets combined. The good ole boys down in Augusta weren’t going to sit back and let Tiger and his new brand of long drives and soft touch tear up the most famous fairways out there. They did the only logical thing; they Tiger-proofed the course.
Tiger-proofing generally means lengthening a course. And it’s true that Augusta National is now 500 yards longer than Tiger’s 1997 run, but it’s also loaded with a lot of trees, which makes it difficult for the long hitters to take shortcuts to the green. Lots of other courses have Tiger-proofed as well. The true effect hasn’t been to make it tougher for the long hitters, but rather to take out the shorter hitters. As Bleacher Report points out, the fellas who lack distance can’t even compete on courses where guys like Rory McIlroy are knocking it almost 350 yards off the tee. And that Tiger-proofing at Augusta? Woods still won twice afterward.
The true groundbreaker
Lee Elder had a great 1974 tour season — with a victory and three top 10 finishes. That all qualified him to earn an invite to compete in the 1975 Masters. That’s how it works, right? You play well, and you get to go. Thing is, Lee Elder is black.
That might not seem like a big deal today, but when you look at the history of Augusta National, it sure was. They didn’t invite their first black member to join until 1990, there was a time when all caddies were black by rule, and Augusta Chairman Clifford Roberts once claimed, “As long as I’m alive, the golfers will be white, and
caddies will be black .”
Well, Charlie Sifford was the first black golfer to earn a PGA tour card in 1961, Lee Elder was the first to earn an invite to the Masters, in 1975, and Roberts did live to see both of those events. The BBC reported that Elder received death threats before the tournament, but that didn’t deter him. Once inside, Elder said he got nothing but support from the Augusta faithful: “Every green I walked up on, the applause was tremendous.” Elder could tell stories from the tour that’d curl your hair, but Augusta National welcomed him with open arms in 1975. He missed the cut but returned five more times, with a best finish of 17th place in 1979 .
Clifford the big ole racist
You might know the name Bobby Jones, but unless you’re a pretty big golf fan “Clifford Roberts” probably won’t ring a bell. You can make the case that Roberts is responsible for everything the Masters is today by molding the tournament and the club to fit his wants. He designed the first tournament using Bobby Jones to draw both golfers and fans. The best way to describe Roberts is “complicated.” A Machiavellian perfectionist with his own demons, he had a number of odd quirks. No bark was allowed on the firewood, and he liked his office stupid hot to the point of uncomfortable. His lasting legacy is his most infamous quote about black golfers.
Ill health (cancer and a stroke) followed Roberts’ final years. In September 1977, Roberts walked out to the par 3 course, near the former cabin of President Eisenhower, put a .38 revolver to his head, and pulled the trigger . Sadly, his parents had both committed suicide as well. Even in death his perfectionist nature ruled — he did the deed around 3 a.m., which assured that the morning crew would find his body and quickly remove it without interrupting the day’s rounds. He even had a new haircut and new pajamas on under his trenchcoat.
A creek runs through it
In 1734, an Irishman named John Rae settled in Augusta and picked up a nice piece of property with some water, and promptly slapped his name on the cute little creek it had. All these years later, Rae’s Creek has been the downfall of many young and old golfers — and almost a president. The mud sucked Dwight Eisenhower in knee-deep, and Ike had to be pulled out by Secret Service, according to the Daytona Beach News Journal .
The creek obviously predates the course, and is more than just a golf ball depository for frustrated pros. Even without Augusta National, Rae’s Creek has an incredible feature — a pre-Civil War era aqueduct not too far from the course. So the beauty and majesty of Augusta National extends beyond the course, and the creek knows no prejudices. About 5 miles from the beauty that inspires hushed voices and flowery prose sits a trailer park with beer bottles and cigarette butts. It’s a nice reminder that outside the facade and the green jackets, life still flows in all its reality.
Who was the best athlete in the year you were born? Hard to say, since there are so many different sports, athletes, and ways to determine what makes someone the “best.” Is it the most championships won? The most money made? The craziest stats? Intangible “it” factors that make you proclaim, with no solid evidence, that so-and-so was the athlete of the year?
There isn’t yet a mathematical formula to deduce who the best athlete is each year, but we’re going to try anyway. Our criteria is as follows: We looked primarily at the Big Four sports (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey), and picked which MVP of each year’s championship-winning teams impressed the most. Sometimes, however, someone outside the Big Four impressed so much that there was no way we could ignore their accomplishments. With all that in mind, here are the best athletes for each year between 1970 and 1990.
1970: Bobby Orr (Boston Bruins)
Even people who don’t know hockey recognize Bobby Orr as the ” flying goal” guy. That goal helped the Boston Bruins sweep the St. Louis Blues for their first Stanley Cup since 1941, 40 seconds into overtime in Game 4. Of course, Orr didn’t actually fly — he was tripped by a Blues player after scoring the goal. Still, it’s an iconic image of an iconic player who deservedly won the Conn Smythe Trophy (the NHL’s honor for the Cup-winning team’s playoff MVP).
More than a mere one-goal wonder, Orr scored nine goals throughout the playoffs, along with 11 assists. His MVP award capped off a historic year in which he also won the Hart Trophy (regular-season MVP), the Norris Trophy (best defensive player), and the Art Ross Trophy (top scoring player). Nobody had won all four trophies in a single year before, proof that while Orr may not have literally flown, he was absolutely a hockey superhero.
1971: Evonne Goolagong Cawley (Tennis)
More than simply having a name that’s super fun to say, Evonne Goolagong Cawley is one of the best tennis players ever, male or female. She proved as much in 1971, when she won just shy of everything and outshone any MVP of any silly team sport.
In 1971, just her third full year as a professional, Cawley
won 13 titles . Of those, two — the French Open and Wimbledon — were Grand Slam championships. On top of all that solo success, she also won the Doubles Australian Open, and helped her team win that year’s Fed Cup. Basically, if there was something to win, chances are Cawley won it.
After 1971, she kept on dominating, ultimately retiring in 1983 with 21 Grand Slam championships, along with 84 total singles titles, 50 doubles titles, and three Fed Cups. That’s pretty much the definition of “nothing left to prove.”
1972: Jack Nicklaus (Golf)
Even people who regularly confuse golf legend Jack Nicklaus with acting legend Jack Nicholson know Nicklaus is almost certainly the greatest golfer ever. (Better than Tiger even.) Extraordinary years like the one he had in 1972 are proof of that.
In 1972, almost a decade into his playing career, Nicklaus won seven championships. Two of them were major championships: the Masters and the U.S. Open. In addition, he won other tourneys in varying stages of dominating fashion. At his most untouchable, he won the Walt Disney World Golf Classic by nine strokes, finishing a ridiculous 21 strokes under par. Nicklaus, unsurprisingly, won the PGA Player of the Year award that year, and he was also acknowledged as the PGA’s top money-maker of the year. He kept on winning until hanging up his clubs in 2005. He hit a hole-in-one a decade into retirement, just in case we hadn’t gotten the point yet.
1973: Willis Reed (New York Knicks)
Willis Reed had been playing for almost 10 years by 1973, when he won his second NBA Championship with the Knicks. Despite being racked by injuries to the point where he had to retire the very next year, he still played well enough to win Finals MVP and stand out among all other athletes that year. Perhaps as proof to how valuable he was, in 1970 the Knicks won the Finals with him leading the way. He missed almost the entire next season due to injury, and his Knicks lost the Finals. He returned the season after, and they won it all.
The 1973 Finals, where he helped guide the Knicks to four straight wins after losing Game 1, was an effective capper for Reed’s short but incredible career. He was a two-time NBA champion (Finals MVP both years) and a seven-time All-Star. In 1996, a panel of basketball professionals and executives named him among the 50 greatest NBA players ever.
1974: Muhammad Ali (Boxing)
1974 wasn’t Muhammad Ali’s personal best year, but he still made it his year. That’s in large part because two of his fights that year are among the most famous in boxing history.
On January 28, Ali faced Joe Frazier for the second time, in “Super Fight II.” Three years earlier Frazier had become the first man to beat Ali, and The Greatest wanted revenge. After 12 rounds of back-and-forth action, Ali got what he wanted, winning by unanimous decision. (He would beat Frazier again in a rubber match the following year.) On October 29 came the famed “Rumble In the Jungle” against World Heavyweight Champion George “The Grill Guy” Foreman. Foreman was younger than Ali, but Ali was still Ali. Using his newly-minted ” rope-a-dope ” technique, Ali let Foreman punch himself exhausted, then went in for the padded kill. One knock-out later and Ali was again champ.
1975: Pete Rose (Cincinnati Reds)
Regardless of how you feel about Pete Rose’s gambling issues, there’s no denying he’s one of the greatest baseball players ever. The all-time hits leader was in top form in 1975, as he not only led the Cincinnati Reds to a World Series championship over the Boston Red Sox, he was their well-deserved Series MVP.
Over the seven-game series, which many consider one of the best World Series matches ever, Rose hit an incredible .370, with 10 hits and two RBIs. It was the best hitting performance of anyone on the team who played full-time throughout the Series. In addition to being the hitting machine he always was, that year Rose (normally an outfielder) contributed defensively by becoming a third baseman. That change helped the team and made Rose a champion for the first time. Years later he got beaten up by pro wrestlers, one of whom one of whom stuck his butt in his face , which is almost as high an honor.
1976: Johnny Bench (Cincinnati Reds)
Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine wasn’t happy with just one World Series — the Reds went out and won in 1976, too, on the back of Series MVP Johnny Bench, one of the best catchers ever and our pick for 1976’s top sportster.
Unlike many catchers, who can certainly play their position but mostly bomb when it’s time to hit, Bench produced both behind and at the plate. During the ’76 Series, Bench hit two home runs (both in the deciding Game 4) and had eight hits for an almost-comical .533 batting average. He was a huge reason the Reds not only beat the New York Yankees in the World Series, but destroyed them. Over a four-game sweep, the Reds outscored the Yanks 22-8, in no small part because they had a guy at the plate who could make absolutely sure nobody in pinstripes made it past him.
1977: Reggie Jackson (New York Yankees)
No matter the sport, when your performance is so great, so memorable, and so instrumental to your team’s success that you earn a nickname because of it, you know you’ve won the year. Just ask Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson, whose Yankees beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1977 World Series due in large to part to Jackson becoming “Mr. October.”
With a .450 average and five homers throughout the series, Jackson’s bat was nonstop. But what truly made him iconic that Series was when he hit those home runs. Three of them came in the deciding Game 6. Each one came off a different Dodger pitcher, and he only needed one pitch each time. Oh, and in Game 5 he had already hit a homer off a single pitch from a fourth Dodger pitcher, so Game 6 was simply Mr. October in Super Saiyan form.
1978: Affirmed (Horse racing)
Affirmed is a horse, of course. Of course. A Triple Crown champ of a horse, of course. And apologies to all humans who sported in 1978, but nobody had a better year than Affirmed.
Affirmed wasn’t the favorite going into the Kentucky Derby, but once he won by one-and-a-half lengths, he quickly became the Preakness favorite. He didn’t disappoint, and so he went into the Belmont Stakes as the favorite to win it all. He almost didn’t — he actually started the race incredibly slowly. Eventually, he realized lazy horses get no glory, and so he kicked it up as many notches as he could.
After running the fastest final half-mile in Belmont history, Affirmed dramatically came from behind to win the race, and the Triple Crown, by a literal nose. This earned him American Horse of the Year because there’s no way it couldn’t, as well as a well-deserved post-retirement studding career, also because there’s no way it couldn’t.
1979: Terry Bradshaw (Pittsburgh Steelers)
In 1979, the Pittsburgh Steelers became the first team to ever win three Super Bowls, and legendary quarterback Terry Bradshaw was a big reason why. In fact, given his MVP-winning performance that year, he was most probably the reason why.
With 318 passing yards and four touchdowns in a single game, Bradshaw was on fire during Super Bowl XIII. But what’s more impressive was how he did it . Three of his touchdowns and 253 of his yards came in the first half, which had to have completely demoralized the Dallas Cowboys. This early hammering probably killed any motivation they might’ve come into the game with, since they could barely put anything together until two touchdowns in that last-minute panic that often happens near the end of a game for a losing team. But it was too late, as Bradshaw had long taken care of business for Pittsburgh.
1980: Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers)
Magic Johnson, as virtually everyone knows, was incredible at basketball. But he didn’t slowly grow into the NBA over a matter of years — he stormed right out the gates in 1980, winning both an NBA Championship and being named the Finals MVP in his rookie year. No veteran was topping a year like that.
Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers beat the Philadelphia ’76ers in the Finals and, like during the regular season,
Magic was the main reason. Averaging over 21 points a game with 52 assists will do that for a guy. But more importantly, as with Terry Bradshaw the year before, he saved his best performance for the best possible time. Johnson scored an incredible 42 points in the deciding Game 6, ensuring the Sixers couldn’t possibly come back. Even the Sixers’ Julius Erving said of Johnson’s performance, “It was amazing, just amazing.” When even the guy you beat sings your praises, you know you’ve done something special.
1981: Cedric Maxwell (Boston Celtics)
One year after the Lakers win, their archrival Boston Celtics captured another NBA championship, this one on the back of Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell. While he may not be remembered as much today, since just a couple years later Larry Bird and company officially took over the team, that doesn’t change how 1981 was a max year for Max.
Despite the Celtics’ opponent, the Houston Rockets, finishing the regular season a below-mediocre 40-42, they still clawed their way to the Finals and took the Celtics to six games. They were determined and legitimately tough, and might actually have won if not for Maxwell, who was the team’s top scorer and who effectively drove a stake in the Sixers’ hearts in Game 5 . With the series tied 2-2, Maxwell scored 28 points and had 15 rebounds, as the Celts blew their opponents out and made Game 6 theirs to lose, which they didn’t.
1982: Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers)
Joe Montana was the top athlete of 1982, and the MVP of Super Bowl XVI, though it didn’t prove to be his best year ever. That’s the true sign of a legendary athlete: When you’re the best athlete of the year, and you only get better as time goes on.
Montana’s 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl, led by Montana’s 157 passing yards and two touchdowns (one of which he ran in himself, like a boss). Those might not seem like dominating numbers (the Niners scored almost as many points through field goals), but some players become champions for more than just stats. In Montana’s case, his poise under pressure and his leadership — traits that earned him the nickname “Joe Cool” — helped his team keep it together when the Bengals threatened late in the game. One victory later, and everyone knew Montana was cool as ice and here to stay.
1983: Martina Navratilova (Tennis)
One of the greatest tennis players ever, Martina Navratilova had a banner year in 1983, one nobody in the Big 4 could touch. 1983 saw Navratilova win three of the four Grand Slam championships; the only one that eluded her was the French Open. She made up for that one blip by winning the PTA Finals and the Fed Cup, however, so she didn’t exactly slum it. And it really was just that one blip. The French Open was literally her only loss that year, as she went 86-1 for the entire year, one of the best single-season records of all time.
Making things even more amazing is how Navratilova went one better the following year, winning all four Doubles Grand Slam events in 1984, along with another PTA Finals victory. All in all, if you played tennis in the early to mid-’80s, your best possible hope was to place second.
1984: Mark Messier (Edmonton Oilers)
In the mid-’80s, hockey belonged to the Edmonton Oilers, and 1984 in particular belonged to Conn Smythe Trophy winner Mark Messier, due equally to his scoring and to his sense of clutch urgency.
Messier scored three goals and had one assist in the Finals, which wasn’t as good as teammate Wayne Gretzky’s scoring total, but when Messier scored he made it matter. (And you can’t give every award to Wayne Gretzky, right?) Take Game 3, when the Oilers were down by a goal to the New York Islanders. Sure, being down just one goal isn’t awful, but the Islanders had won the last four Stanley Cups. That’s some serious intimidation factor. Messier scored the tying goal to begin the comeback that culminated in the Oilers’ first Stanley Cup. Messier won the playoffs MVP for being an amazing teammate, and last we checked that’s the whole point of team sports.
1985: Wayne Gretzky (Edmonton Oilers)
Remember how in 1984, Wayne Gretzky scored tons but didn’t win the playoffs MVP? He rectified that in 1985 because you can’t be the greatest hockey player in history and not have a year that’s all about you. And Gretzky is definitely the greatest hockey player in history, so he did.
For the Oilers’ second straight Stanley Cup, Gretzky turned in a stellar performance, just as he had done all year. (He won regular-season MVP virtually unanimously, with only one voter insisting he was the league’s second-best player.) As for the playoffs, he helped the Oilers win simply by being ridiculously dominant. Over the course of the playoffs he scored a record 47 points over 18 games, including 11 in the Finals. His finest performance was Game 3, when he scored three of the Oilers’ four goals, including two in the first 90 seconds. There’s beating your opponent on the ice, and then there’s metaphorically trapping them under it.
1986: Larry Bird (Boston Celtics)
When you’re the MVP of one of the greatest single-season teams of all time, there’s no way you can’t own that year. The Boston Celtics went 67-15 (40-1 at home) and then cruised to a championship win over the Houston Rockets, and Larry Bird was their MVP from Day 1.
In two of the Finals games, Bird led his team in points, assists, and rebounds. One of these was Game 6, the one that put the Rockets away. Bird clearly wasn’t thrilled the Rockets had won Game 5, and he made them pay with their playoff lives. With 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists in the final game alone, Bird made it clear he wanted the title, he wanted it now, and he didn’t care if he had to do all the work to get it. And while it certainly wasn’t 100 percent on him, it’s safe to say the victory was largely his.
1987: Mike Tyson (Boxing)
He’s mostly an afterthought now, between the oddball statements, ear-biting, face tattoo, and rape conviction , but Mike Tyson was once truly “the Baddest Man on the Planet.” This became evident in 1987, the year Tyson became a champion.
Up until that time, Tyson had fought over two dozen times, but never for a championship. Finally, in November 1986 he won his first heavyweight title. He then jumped into 1987 and claimed virtually all the hardware. Over the course of four fights that year (all of which he won, two by knockout) he added two more championships while retaining his original belt. This made him champion of all three major boxing bodies at the time, as well as the youngest unified champion in history.
He wouldn’t lose any of the belts until 1990, and aside from the two decisions in 1987, every one of his victories was a knock-out, and often a stupendously brutal one. Unfortunately, he’s a bad person. But good sporting that year.
1988: Steffi Graf (Tennis)
It’s one thing (and a rare thing) to win the tennis Grand Slam: all four major championships in one calendar year. In 1988, tennis legend Steffi Graf pulled that off and then went ahead and did even better.
In between winning the year’s Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open, Graf participated in the Olympics and won herself a tennis gold medal. This feat, called, the Golden Slam , is exceptionally rare, and Graf is the only person to pull it off in a calendar year … ever. Other athletes, like Serena Williams, have managed career Golden Slams, but haven’t been able to get it all together in the same year.
While 1988 was indisputably her year, 1989 wasn’t half-bad either. She almost pulled off a Grand Slam the following year, too, winning three out of four majors, and only missing the Olympics because they didn’t happen that year.
1989: Jerry Rice (San Francisco 49ers)
Under quarterback Joe Montana, the San Francisco 49ers won another Super Bowl in 1989, but this time somebody else was the star. Wide receiver Jerry Rice put in what might be the performance of his career, and certainly the performance of 1989.
Rice’s stats during the game were phenomenal: He caught the ball a Super Bowl record 11 times for an incredible (and also Super Bowl record ) 215 yards and one of the Niners’ two touchdowns). It’s hard to set multiple records in one game and not be MVP of the whole thing.
Rice had been great all year, too, so this wasn’t a case of a guy lying low until it truly counted. He was his team’s best player (and among the best in the league) from start to finish. He just somehow managed to get even better when the time came, like so many other superstars do.
1990: Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons)
’80s basketball was dominated by the Lakers and Celtics, who combined to win all but two of that decade’s championships. The Detroit Pistons won one of the remaining two, in 1989, and followed that up starting the ’90s with another win, this time on the back of Isiah Thomas.
Over the five-game Finals, Thomas never scored fewer than 21 points. Twice, he broke 30 points, and another time came teasingly close with 29. What’s more, he led his team in assists in every game except one, proving he wasn’t winning simply by hogging the ball and doing everything himself. Thomas’ dominance, and the Pistons’ mini-dynasty, didn’t last long, as ’90s basketball soon became the sole territory of some Michael Jordan guy you may have heard about in passing, but Thomas and the Pistons eliminated Jordan’s Bulls from the playoffs in 1990 and both seasons before that. For best athlete of 1990, you’d have to go with Thomas.
There’s a lot of effort that a city goes through to even be selected to host the Olympic Games, and when they get it, it’s a pretty big deal. Even losers spend an insane amount of money — The Atlantic reported Chicago spent around $100 million bidding to host in 2016 — and that’s just the start. Take Beijing. It poured an almost unthinkable $40 billion into building infrastructure for its games, and spoiler alert, some of those massive Olympic venues are on this round-up of places now abandoned. Cities don’t usually get a huge amount of return on their investment, only an estimated intake of $5 to $6 billion. (Don’t forget to subtract the half that goes right into the pockets of the International Olympic Committee.)
Hosting the games is a lose-lose situation, and cities all over the world pour millions and billions into construction that looks pretty on television but is hugely impractical for everyday life. What the heck are you supposed to do with an Olympic-sized ski jump, or a luge track? It’s not entirely surprising some are just left to be reclaimed by nature, graffiti artists, or war.
Sarajevo’s war-torn bobsleigh track
The 1984 Winter Olympics were a pretty big deal. They were a huge success, too, and according to Atlas Obscura, the venues were of the sort that made their countrymen proud. The bobsleigh track was more than 4,200 feet long, had 13 turns, and was definitely an expensive thing to build. Germany took home the gold, the games went smoothly, and for a while, it even looked like some of the venues were going to have a post-Olympic life. The bobsleigh track was reused for other competitions, but when war broke out, it was used for something else.
The Smithsonian says you can still see holes drilled into the track by the Bosnian-Serb troops who used it as an artillery stronghold during the Siege of Sarajevo. The war — which included the longest siege of a modern capital city — pushed soldiers on both sides out into the areas around Sarajevo, and the curves of the track were perfect for taking cover and shooting from. By the time the war was over, the entire thing was pockmarked with bullet holes.
The track was never repaired, and although there was talk of renovating and reopening it, Reuters reported it was too expensive, too dilapidated, and not worth the continued maintenance it would take to keep up.
Linnahall’s Communist grandeur
Moscow hosted the Summer Olympics in 1980, and it was just as controversial as you’d think. There was a massive boycott of the games, as they came on the heels of a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Around 60 countries refused to attend (via the Wilson Center ), but that didn’t stop the USSR from building some insane venues that looked like something right out of the pages of 1984 .
The Estonian city of Tallinn hosted the sailing events, and they’ve actually done a pretty good job of re-purposing some of the Olympic buildings. The hotel is still in use, the Olympic Sailing Centre is a hotel, spa, and casino, but the Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport hasn’t been so lucky.
According to Estonian World, the sprawling concrete complex now called the Linnahall was used as a concert hall in the years after the Olympics. It even had a state-of-the-art recording studio, and it was a pretty big deal in the Estonian music world. But times changed, and by the 1990s, it wasn’t so cutting-edge. After struggling on for years, it was finally abandoned in 2009 in spite of protests from a certain part of the population. While some say it’s a Communist cultural ziggurat, others say it’s a great place for graffiti.
Beijing’s left for the birds
Beijing spent an insane amount of money on its 2008 Olympic venues, and it showed. One of the most beautiful buildings was the latticework construction that earned itself the name the Bird’s Nest, which is quite a bit catchier than the official moniker of Beijing’s National Stadium. According to The Atlantic , the stadium cost a whopping $480 million just to build, plus another $11 million in annual maintenance. The stadium has also completely failed to attract any sort of regular tenant, but NPR says Beijing hasn’t given up on the hulking monstrosity of a money pit. Yet.
There have been a few short-term events held there, and it was even turned into a snow-filled winter park in 2010. One tightrope walker spent a few months suspended above the stadium in an attempt to score a world record, and tourists can pop in, rent a Segway, and tear around the cavernous stadium one German man described as “a little bit shabby.” With tourism on the decline, a dwindling number of one-time events filling just some of the seats, and Beijing’s soccer team’s refusal to make the stadium their permanent home, the Bird’s Nest’s only regular occupants are the birds.
Deodoro’s epic failures
When Rio hosted the Olympics and Paralympics in 2016, the headlines were filled with as many stories about crime, scandal, and corruption as actual sport. ESPN says those bad vibes have persisted, and as of 2017, 15 of Rio’s 27 venues were completely abandoned. That’s incredibly evident in Deodoro, one of Rio’s neighborhoods that had high hopes for the aftermath of the Olympics.
Deodoro isn’t just a suburb of Rio, it’s one of the poorest neighborhoods. While politicians promised building Olympic venues in Deodoro was going to give the neighborhood a much-needed boost, that absolutely didn’t happen. The Deodoro Olympic Park — a venue the Washington Post says was more country fair than global phenomenon, even in its heyday — is abandoned, along with the Deodoro Aquatics Center. Whatever plans the Olympic Committee had for the venues of Deodoro fell by the wayside immediately after the games were over, and promises weren’t kept. Even the canoe slalom course is abandoned, in spite of plans to turn it into a community pool.
From Olympics to film set to ruins in Atlanta
Not all Olympic venues were purpose-built. When Atlanta hosted the 1996 games, field hockey was played in a football stadium on the campus of the Morris Brown College. Morris Brown itself has an impressive history, founded in 1881 but has struggled in the 21st century, according to The Root . The college’s Herndon Stadium could once host 15,000 people and was the home of the Morris Brown Wolverines, but given that the college filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and only had around 20 students, it’s not surprising they don’t have an athletics program.
Lonely Planet says the stadium was built in 1948, and when photographer Jeff Hagerman found it in 2018, he said it was a bit of an anomaly. The stadium (which was also used in the 2006 Matthew McConaughey movie We Are Marshall) was one of the few abandoned stadiums in the city. Curbed Atlanta adds that it was only abandoned in 2002 when the school gave its football program the ax. It’s already in a pretty advanced state of ruin, proving it’s a short road from football to film set to decay.
From medals to death sentences in Sarajevo
The mountains around Sarajevo have long been a major destination for the sort of people who like to spend their holidays cross-country skiing, and when construction started on new Olympic venues, it must have seemed like a completely logical move that would boost tourism even more. Building started in 1979 for the 1984 Olympics, and Igman Mountain got a new ski jumping facility, lifts, concrete jump chutes, and a tower for judging. Atlas Obscura says for a while, the facility did exactly what everyone thought it would. People came, they saw, and they skied, and more than a few of them probably posed on the podium where Olympic athletes stood to receive their medals. Who wouldn’t?
Things took a dark turn by the early 1990s, and when Sarajevo fell under siege, the area around Igman Mountain and the Igman Ski Jumps was turned into a very literal war zone. While there’s still skiing in other areas of the mountains, the Olympic venue and the podium have been abandoned for an eerie reason. When the Bosnians started executing prisoners, Vice says they chose the Olympic podium as the place to do it. That’s a hard history to bounce back from, and that’s before you consider that thousands of unexploded mines still litter the area. Skiing is dangerous enough without the mines, so it’s no surprise people tend to give this one a wide berth.
Athens and its history-making aquatic center
Though Greece has done relatively well to survive since the first Olympics , the country hasn’t had an easy time of it lately, and abandoned venues like the Olympic Aquatic Center just have to add insult to injury. In the run-up to the 2004 Olympics, Athens sank a total of $12.2 billion into building the venues everyone in the world would see. By 2008, they were $460 billion in debt, and while that makes $12 billion seem like a relatively small number, it’s still a lot of cash that could have been spent elsewhere. Even Olympic athletes agreed, and weightlifter-turned-Parliamentarian Pyrros Dimas told the AP (via Australian Broadcasting Corporation) it was “the biggest mistake in our history.”
When the BBC reported on the center, it noted a few important things. The venue was big and bold enough for an Olympic first, allowing all the aquatic events to be held in a single location. It was also already controversial, behind schedule, and ultimately lacking a roof that would have protected athletes from the hot Mediterranean sun.
Ten years later, the complex was drained and dry, completely abandoned to bake beneath that same Mediterranean sun while sports officials pretended to hold onto the hope that some private entrepreneur would step up and save it.
Hitler’s Olympic Village
There are some events throughout history that are so surreal and so strange it’s hard to imagine they actually happened, and a Hitler-hosted Olympics is one of those things. It was 1936, the entire world didn’t hate him just yet, and Berlin hosted the Olympics while trying to turn it into an advertisement for the Aryan race … without making it look too obvious.
The 5,000 athletes who showed up to compete under the shadow of the Third Reich stayed in Hitler’s Olympic Village (probably not as fun as modern Olympic villages), which was built just outside the military outposts of Elstal and Elsgrund, on Wehrmacht land. According to Abandoned Berlin, the community had it all: luxury, a constant military presence, and Nazi propaganda.
After the Olympic athletes left, the village was host to another sort of community: a military one. Business Insider says it spent the war years as first a military academy then a hospital before being taken over by Soviet troops and turned into an interrogation center. Those troops only abandoned the village in 1992, and in spite of the fact there’s been talk about restoring it, funding and location have consistently stood in the way.
Rio’s ‘game-changing’ aquatic center
You’ve heard the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in this case, the intentions came from Rio’s 2016 Olympic committee and hell has a nasty orange swimming pool. According to Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Olympic Aquatic Center was built with a pretty brilliant plan. This Olympic venue was actually designed to be a temporary structure that could be disassembled after the games, then reassembled into several smaller community centers that would be constructed in various Rio suburbs. Genius, right? It’s the ultimate plan to reuse massive venues that have historically had a pretty poor record of being reused, and it would give those communities a major boost. Unfortunately, none of that actually happened, due mainly to a combination of financial and political woes.
Within a year of the end of the Rio games, the aquatic center wasn’t just falling apart, it was turning funky colors. Entire panels were falling off the exterior of the building, tiles were crumbling, and the water still left in the warm-up pool turned orange, which is not an acceptable color for any sort of water. Business Insider says it’s because bugs have moved in where humans have moved out, attracted by the stagnant water. Yum.
Rio’s record-setting stadium
The Maracana Stadium wasn’t built for Rio’s 2016 festivities, but it was the centerpiece of both the Olympics and Paralympics. CNN says it was actually constructed for hosting the 1950 FIFA World Cup, and there have been a ton of sporting milestones there. It was where Pele scored his 1,000th goal, and it set records for the number of people it could hold: 200,000 of them. It got a major $500 million makeover in 2014 for the World Cup and devoured more money pre-Olympics. But six months after the Rio games ended, it wasn’t in great shape.
By the time CNN visited only months after the games, about 10 percent of the stadium’s seats had been stolen, the field was dead and infested with worms, the doors and windows had been broken, and even tours had stopped amid fears the roof might not be all that safe. The Maracana’s fast decay happened for a weird set of reasons starting with a legal debate between Rio, the 2016 Organizing Committee, and Maracana SA. While each organization was busy pointing fingers at everyone else and claiming they weren’t responsible, the power to the stadium got shut off over an unpaid bill of nearly $1 million.
However, the former Olympic venue was reopened in March 2017, according to ESPN, and seems to have been spiffed up a bit. Who knows what the future holds for the iconic stadium?
Tune in to the Olympics, and you expect to see humans in peak physical condition, athletes who have spent an insane amount of time training and honing their physical skills. You expect to see incredible performances from athletes at the very top of their game. For the most part, you will see that. But sometimes, things don’t go according to plan.
It’s probably the fitness of the athletes that makes it extra shocking when tragedy does strike. The Olympic Games have seen their fair share of tragedy, with death looming unexpectedly. For some at the Games, these deaths added a sober dimension to the proceedings, changing the atmosphere and clouding celebrations. Others lost teammates, close friends, or even loved ones who were in the primes of their lives. Here’s to those who went out fighting. Let’s remember the athletes who were at the very top of their sport when they passed away.
In 1912, a single Portuguese athlete entered the Stockholm marathon. His name was Francisco Lazaro, and according to The Olympic Marathon, he made it to somewhere around the 30-kilometer mark when he collapsed. (That’s around 18 miles, give or take.) He was rushed to the Seraphim Hospital, where he died, and now no one is entirely sure what actually happened to him. The hospital is gone now, and so are any records. Theories to the cause of death include meningitis, an undiagnosed heart condition, or heat exhaustion, and his tragic death has been the subject of a few books.
Ursula Le Guin reviewed The Piano Cemetery for The Guardian, and called it a pretty confusing book based loosely on Lazaro’s life and narrated by his father. Portuguese author Andre Oliveira wrote I Run To Eternity (via The National) based on his research into Portugal’s oft-overlooked athlete, and thought he uncovered a possible cause of death. Worried about sunburn, Lazaro had covered himself in a layer of wax that interfered with his body’s natural sweating process, likely making him overheat. Oliveira described the man who died chasing his dream, saying, “He smiled and laughed loudly, but also cried quietly standing alone.”
A competitor in the 2016 Paralympics, Bahman Golbarnezhad has the tragic status of being the first athlete to die in the Paralympics.
The 48-year-old Iranian cyclist was racing at the time and heading downhill when he lost control and crashed. The Iranian flag was lowered to half-staff in recognition of the only cyclist representing Iran at the Rio games, and the Independent says it was his second trip to the Paralympics. (He didn’t take a medal home from London.) CNN reported that a later investigation found he had been undergoing treatment for injuries sustained in the crash and was being taken to the hospital when he went into cardiac arrest, and he died at the Unimed Rio Hospital.
It’s also worth mentioning that the same sport saw some major injuries in both the men’s and women’s Olympic competition, held just before the Paralympics. A Dutch cyclist was left with a concussion and had her spine broken in three places, and that same stretch of road also saw an Italian cyclist taken away with two broken collarbones.
It’s not really clear what happened to Romanian boxer Nicolae Berechet, but we do know he died after losing his first-round fight in the featherweight boxing tournament of Berlin’s 1936 games. According to the
Historical Dictionary of the Olympic Movement , he lost the match by decision and was sent home. He was dead three days later, and there are conflicting reports about what caused his death.
The official version is that he died from blood poisoning, and Sports Reference suggests the problem ultimately stemmed from an infected carbuncle. (A carbuncle is a cluster of boils that begin in the hair follicles, and can lead to bacterial and staph infections.) But it’s also possible he died from complications stemming from injuries he sustained in the fight, and by now, there’s really no way to know what happened.
Knud Enemark Jensen
The death of Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen is a little complicated. He died while competing in the 100-kilometer time trial of the 1960 Olympics, and the photo of him falling off his bike is pretty well-known. Unfortunately, his legacy has been a bit tarnished, and it might not be deserved at all.
Sports Integrity Initiative says he was one of the country’s most promising young athletes, at only 23 years old. On the day he died, the temperature soared to around 104 degrees and 31 other competitors were diagnosed with heatstroke. When Jensen collapsed, he didn’t get the medical treatment he needed. He’d suffered a concussion, and was moved to a tent where he was left for around 2 hours. It’s not entirely surprising that he died there.
Rumors started circulating that his death was drug-related, and when the World Anti-Doping Agency started pushing for mandatory drug testing, he became the poster child for the movement. That associated him with doping, in spite of the fact that his official autopsy found no drugs; the cause of death was heatstroke. Unfortunately for Jensen, the drug myth turns up over and over again.
Luge is terrifying. It doesn’t matter how brave you are (or how brave you think you are), the idea of hurtling down that track is something most of us would never do because we’d all pee our pants in fear, and no one wants a splash of that at 70+ mph. But serious accidents do happen, like they did during Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili’s final training run before his competition in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The 21-year-old was approaching the end of the 4,500-foot track, according to CNN , when he was launched off his sled and into a steel pole. As hard as that is to imagine, it’s harder to imagine that he was going 88 mph when he crashed. Paramedics were at his side immediately, but he died in the hospital not long after.
The track in Whistler was known as one of the fastest in luge. Committees were looking for an explanation to what happened after his death, but The Telegraph says the tragic incident brought up another issue. His death was broadcast in full, which really makes you wonder where the boundary is for respect.
When the New York Times reported on the death of Swiss speed skier Nicholas Bochatay in 1992, it called him one of his country’s best skiers. He’d previously been clocked at reaching downhill speeds of 130 mph, which is terrifying in anything but a jet, to say nothing of skis.
He and teammate Pierre-Yves Jorand were warming up when they both jumped over a hill. Jorand cleared it, but Bochatay hit a Sno-Cat parked on the other side of the hill and hidden from view. He died almost immediately, leaving behind a wife and two children.
There were conflicting reports about what happened, and it was originally stated the Sno-Cat was moving uphill, toward the skiers, with safety lights flashing. The Washington Post reported his teammates later challenged the story, saying it was parked and hidden. One American who was lined up to go down the hill after Bochatay said as soon as people at the bottom of the hill saw what was happening they signaled for everyone to stop — but it was too late.
There aren’t just sporting events in the Olympics; there are demonstration sports, too. These sports have high hopes of getting into the official Olympics someday, and some are weird. (The 1900 games had pigeon racing as one.) According to The Guardian , gliding was one of the demonstration sports featured at the 1936 Berlin Games, but pretty much everything about those games feels eerie in retrospect.
Seven countries sent glider pilots to demo the sport, which turned out to be just as dangerous as it looks. The demo went on, but under the shadow of tragedy. The day before competition, Austrian pilot Ignaz Stiefsohn crashed and was killed during practice. Gliding was supposed to debut at the following games, but they were canceled due to the war and the sport never came back.
Ross Milne wasn’t just a downhill skier. He was also his country’s poster child for a can-do attitude. When you think of winter sports, you don’t really think of Australia as a competitor. It’s really warm there, after all, and there’s a distinct lack of snow. So, when Milne hit the slopes at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Austria, he wasn’t just there to compete: The Guardian says he was there to prove his nation could compete, too.
With a touch of irony that ended up being deadly, there wasn’t much snow that year. It was trucked in from other parts of the country, and the track that resulted was flat, fast, and dangerous. It was studded with rocks and lined with trees, and even the newspapers were calling it “A trapeze act without a net.”
Milne was headed down the steepest part of the course when he suddenly found a group of people crowding in the middle of the track. He was going around 45 mph when he swerved and smashed into a tree. Emergency services responded quickly, but he died as he was being transferred to a hospital operating table. His brother and father had just flown in to watch him compete, were told the news, and went home alone.
Pankration isn’t an Olympic sport anymore, and it’s no wonder. It was sort of an early version of MMA with fewer rules, and it first became an Olympic sport in 648 B.C. It was hugely popular, says Health and Fitness History, and at least one athlete died fighting.
His name was Arrhichion of Phigalia , and his story sounds like the stuff of legend. (There are a few varying details, but the basis of the story is well-recorded and mostly the same.) Arrhichion was fighting in the 54th Olympics, in 564 B.C. He was put into a choke hold by an opponent, and when Arrhichion reached down and did something horrible to the man’s foot, it caused his opponent to tap out. He dropped Arrhichion and when he did, the judges realized their champion was dead. He’d suffocated, but since his opponent surrendered he became the first person who had the dubious honor of having his recently deceased body crowned an Olympic victor.
The 1948 Olympics were held in post-war London, and it showed. Athletes stayed in RAF camps, food was still scarce, and according to The Guardian , Churchill hit up allies for loans to put the whole thing together. It was a different time, and it was also a time when polio was a very real threat.
Elishka Misakova was a member of the Czechoslovakian women’s gymnastics team, and it wasn’t long after they arrived in London that she grew incredibly sick. The 22-year-old was given a polio diagnosis, hospitalized, and confined to an iron lung where she died only days later.
She died, in fact, on the same day her team debuted at the games (via the Independent). Competing in her place was Vera Ruzickova, and when they won she stood beside Misakova’s heartbroken sister, Slavka, who was also on the team. Ruzickova said (via The Olympics Sports ) that after her teammate’s diagnosis, they weren’t allowed to see her again. She was considered too contagious, so she was cremated before being returned to the team. When they took her back to Prague, they took her urn and her posthumous medal.
The Munich 11
All eyes were on the 1972 Munich Olympics for a reason other than sports, and it was terrifying. September 5 and 6 are now known as the Munich Massacre, and by the time the hostage situation came to an end, people were dead.
There’s a memorial there now, according to Destination Munich, and it lists the names of the athletes and coaches who went there thinking they would be representing Israel on a world sports stage, and instead ended up on a political one. One man killed was a wrestling judge, another was a referee, and four were team coaches. (One, Moshe Weinberg, was played by his real-life son, Guri, in Spielberg’s 2005 Munich .)
The others were athletes there to compete, and the first killed was weightlifter Yossef Romano (pictured). An interior decorator and war veteran, he disarmed one of the attackers before being killed himself. Ze’ev Friedman was a gymnast turned weightlifter and military veteran, and fellow weightlifter David Berger was an American-born Israeli citizen with degrees in law, business, and psychology. Wrestler Eliezer Halfin had only been a citizen for seven months before he died, and the youngest victim was 18-year-old Mark Slavin. He’d grown up in the Soviet Union, and took up wrestling because he was sick of getting beat up for being Jewish