’90s Sports Stars, from Jordan to Johnson

By Miyishia Slay

America owned arenas in the ‘90s. From the Dream Team to the Olympic gymnastics team, we were going for world domination. The athleticism these competitors displayed made for some once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Basketball. There were the good guys – Scottie Pippin, Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill – and the bad boys – Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman, Allen Iverson. But there was one man who rose above them all and turned the sport (and his personal brand) into a billion-dollar business – Michael Jordan. Just last month (yes, in 2010), people were lining up a day early for the release of the new, gray Air Jordan 11Earvin “Magic” Johnson is another notable figure, as he admitted to being HIV-positive. It was a gutsy move for the early ‘90s, one that forced him into early retirement and turned him into an entrepreneur investing in LA-area properties and franchises. These giants’ exits paved the way for younger athletes, like Kobe Bryant, who entered the league in 1996 at the ripe old age of 18.

Football. The NFL had people glued to their television sets on Sundays for many an epic battle on the gridiron. The ‘90s was the decade when the Dallas Cowboys were “America’s Team.” From 1990 to 1999, Dallas qualified for the playoffs eight times, won six division titles, made four trips to the conference championship game and won three Super Bowls. Their biggest rival team, the San Francisco 49ers, trailed right behind, winning two Super Bowls (1990 and 1994). Men like Troy Aikman, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin made the magic happen, while legends such as Steve Young, Barry Sanders and Joe Montana (and his exit from the league) made headlines.

Baseball. Before the steroid scandals and congressional hearings, the men of the ’90s were compared to greats like Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.  Nicknamed the Summer of Long Balls and Love, in 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa began a friendly competition for home run record dominance. McGwire won the title, amassing a record-shattering 70 home runs during that season. Sosa valiantly earned 66 runs, which also landed him a National League MVP award. But only three seasons later, Barry Bonds beat McGwire’s record. New kids on the block Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have since risen to baseball greatness.

Hockey. Who didn’t love the Disney’s Mighty Ducks trilogy? The NHL had its own King of the Ice — Wayne Gretzky, who was named the Greatest Hockey Player of All Time by The Hockey News in 1998.  Known for winning four Stanley Cups with his former hockey team, the Edmonton Oilers, in the ’80s, Gretzky took the Los Angeles Kings to their first playoff games in the early ’90s. Over the course of his career, Gretzky won nine Hart Trophies as the NHL’s MVP, four Art Ross awards and accumulated over 3,000 game points and 894 goals. The “Great One” still holds 61 NHL records.

Track & Field. Before Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson was the man with the golden feet. Johnson set new world records for the men’s 200-meter race (19.32 seconds) and the men’s 400-meter race (43.49 seconds) at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The games, however, were almost overshadowed by calamity when a terrorist bomb exploded at Centennial Olympic Park, injuring hundreds of spectators during the festivities. But the show went on, and the world turned tragedy into triumph.

Figure Skating. Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in Black Swan have nothing on Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Though poised on the ice, these two ice swans took their battle for the U.S. Figure Skating gold medal off the rink when Harding and her husband plotted an attack on Kerrigan. But the ever-resilient Kerrigan had the last laugh when she went on to win the silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics (Harding placed eighth). Guess sports crime in the ‘90s didn’t pay after all.

Who were some of your favorite ‘90s sports stars?

Photo by WBUR

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