Legendary African-American Athletes: Decade by Decade PT.3

We’ve reached the end of our look through the centuries of great African-American athletes. From heavyweights to welterweight, these athletes spent a decade standing head and shoulders above the rest of their competition in their respected game. Now that we enter the 1990’s and at the turn of the century, you might be able to remember watching these athletes on television. Here’s part three of Legendary AfricanAmerican Athletes Decade by Decade.

1. The 1990’s: Michael Jordan

Yeah, this was easy. When you think of sports in the 90’s, who do you think of? Michael Jeffery Jordan in a red and white #23 Chicago Bulls uniform flying in the air like a Black Superman.

To be fair, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders have to get some attention for being Hall of Fame talents in football and star level talents in Major League Baseball. Ken Griffey Jr bought a style in baseball not seen since the Say Hey Kid. And by the decade’s end, the stars of the 2000’s began to show their stripes in names like Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Serena and Venus Williams and Floyd Mayweather Jr. But come on. It’s Michael Jordan. He is the Big Joker in any game of spades. Nothing can push him off his position at the top of the list.

A four-time MVP in the decade, Jordan led the Bulls to the NBA’s first three-peat since the Bill Russell led Boston Celtics in the 1960’s when he won from 1991-93. When he retired, he came back and won another two MVP awards and lead the Bulls to another three-peat from 1996-98. During all that time he became MJ: the cultural deity we know today. If Ali changed how athletes act with the media and deal with social issues, Jordan showed the modern athlete how to be a businessman and build themselves up.

2. The 2000’s: Tiger Woods

Again, not a debate. As much as the Williams sisters took tennis by storm in the decade, Tiger was a category five hurricane all by himself in the land of golf. Tiger Woods presence on the course drove television viewership to an all-time record.

Fans in the galleries at the tournament would follow him like Christ entering a Bethlehem. And when the red polo was out on Sunday, you could hear the collective hearts of his opponents drop. It was said that Tyson was so intimidating, he would win his fights as he entered the ring. Tiger had a similar on his competition.

In the 2000’s, Tiger won twelve of his fourteen majors, putting him behind only Jack Nicklaus in the sport. In seven out of the ten years in the decade, Tiger ended the season with the highest tournament earnings in the field. Tiger made it a habit at tournaments, majors or not, in lapping the field, winning by minus double digits while his opponents barely break par. Injures and scandal may have marred Eldrick Woods in the 2010’s, but no one could take away what we saw from Tiger at the beginning of the century. At his best, Tiger was the greatest golfer the sport had ever seen.

3. The 2010’s: Serena Williams

Usain Bolt and LeBron James were the only other two athletes that were considered for this selection. James as the most gifted NBA player seen in the league and the owner of three championships, while Usain Bolt followed up his breakout 2008 Beijing performance with two more gold medal-winning showings in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016.

But, come on. It’s Serena. There’s been a trend for the past decades with the best athletes being easily selected. Jordan for the 1990’s, Tiger for the 2000’s and Serena for the 2010’s. That shows how much separation the best athletes in the world have made from the rest of the pack. But Serena is different. Not because she’s the only women that was great in her decade, but because she’s winning in what’s supposed to be the end of her career.

Serena won US Open in 1999; then she won ten more significant tournaments in the 2000’s. For any tennis player, that would be a career. Success was unparalleled in a single decade. That’s not enough for this woman. She then wins another dozen majors in the 2010’s, more than twenty years from the beginning of her career on the professional level. Her 23 major victories put her at the top of the list among the Open Era and sits one step away from matching the women’s tennis mark of 24 by Margaret Court.

And she’s not slowing down. Okay, maybe a little seeing she gave birth this year and got married. But Serena has the quality today that all the athletes on this list have.

“Are you picking her or the field?”

When you have reached a level of dominance that you’re measured by the league. The answer to said question: I’m picking Serena!

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Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson is a Senior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro majoring in English.

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson is a Senior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro majoring in English.

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