Year in Review, 2000: Top Sports Personalities
Golf star Tiger Woods, Olympic star Cathy Freeman, and ten other personalities who changed sports
by Gerry Brown, John Gettings, & Mike Morrison
At the age of 25, Woods orchestrated one of the most spectacular seasons in sports' history. He won nine of the 20 PGA Tour events he played in this year and finished out of the top-three just six times. More amazingly, he became the second golfer in history to win three of pro golf's four major tournaments in one year. He followed a 12-under-par performance at the U.S. Open with another decisive victory at the British Open, and then finally defended his PGA Championship in a tense playoff with Bob May. He now owns the scoring record for all four majors and has won more money than any other player in golf history.
This former washed-up Arena Football/NFL Europe quarterback culminated a Cinderella season by leading the St. Louis Rams to the franchise's first Super Bowl title in January. He completed 24 of 45 passes for a record 414 yards and won Super Bowl MVP honors. Not bad considering five years earlier he had been bagging groceries for $5.50 an hour at the Hy-Vee Supermarket in Waterloo, Iowa. He was named league MVP after the season after leading all quarterbacks in touchdown passes (41) and completion percentage (65.1) while compiling the league's fifth-best quarterback rating (109.2) of all time. He returned to the field in September to lead the Rams to a 6-0 record to begin the season before injuring his hand in Week 7.
"Shaq" silenced his critics and carried the L.A. Lakers to their first NBA championship since 1988. The Lakers center won regular-season MVP honors by a wider margin than Michael Jordan ever did; he added the All-Star Game MVP (which he shared with Tim Duncan); and brought home the NBA Finals MVP award to a trophy case that had been collecting dust. He was unstoppable in the Finals against Indiana, scoring 38 points per game and averaging almost 17 rebounds. On March 6, he netted a career-high 61 points against the L.A. Clippers. After eight-years of taking heat for all the rapping, acting, and endorsing he has done since joining the NBA, O'Neal finally slammed home the final word.
Call it what you will: an experiment; a joke; a failure; a success—"Whatever, babe." The addition of this former comedian to the Monday Night Football broadcast lineup has been a memorable one. Few athletes this year have generated the media coverage or dominated the Tuesday-morning water-cooler discussions than Miller. It will be a while before we know how Miller has changed the way networks broadcast sporting events. For all we know by this time next year FOX and CBS will be placing phone calls to Eddie Murphy and David Spade.
Aw, poor Marion. Maybe this track and field thing just isn't for her. She "failed" in her attempt to win five golds at the Sydney Games. All she could do was become the first woman in history to win five track and field medals in a single Olympic games. She took the gold in the 100, 200 and 4 x 400 and the bronze in the long jump and the 4 x 100. And this she accomplished while the media buzzed around her after her husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, tested positive for illegal drug use. She handled the whole situation with class and dignity.
Some called it a fluke when he won the 1999 Tour de France, becoming the first American champion since Greg LeMond in 1990. They said the quality of the field starting the race was lower than normal and then a crash wiped out most of the remaining top competitors. Well now it's pretty clear that 1999 was no fluke. And neither was 2000. Armstrong greeted German Jan Ullrich, France's Richard Virenque, and the rest of the top riders in the world and promptly left them in his dust. He made his major move in the grueling mountain stages and went on to record a six-minute win.
While the entire golf world was "oohing" and "aahing" over Tiger (and rightfully so), most didn't even notice that Webb was doing pretty much the same things over on the LPGA tour. She won the first four tournaments of 2000, five of the first six and seven overall. She won two major championships, the Nabisco Championship and the U.S. Open. She won the Nabisco by ten strokes, the tournament's largest ever margin of victory and the fourth-largest margin of any major in tour history. Pay attention to her.
While Pete Sampras was winning his record 13th Grand Slam event Venus Williams was starting a run what will probably end up netting her a dozen or so major titles of her own by the time she ready to retire.
Williams beat her little sister Serena in the semis at Wimbledon (and whispers that their father had told Serena to lose intentionally to her big sister) and didn't look back winning every match she played for the rest of the summer. Her streak culminated with a victory over rival Lindsay Davenport, another powerful hitter on the women's tour, in the finals of the U.S. Open. It was just the second of what will likely be a long, long list of Grand Slam titles for Williams and third for what could be huge total for the family.
The General was finally relived of his command in 2000. After warnings and a "zero tolerance" policy instituted by Indiana University administrators, Knight was summarily discharged on Sept. 10 by University President Myles Brand. The longtime controversial figure had over 700 wins and three NCAA titles to go with his list of questionable behavior in his 29 years in Bloomington. Despite the outcry from a vocal group of supporters, Knight was canned and assistant Mike Davis was named as his replacement. After all the allegations over the years, including the alleged choking of player Neil Reed it was his reprimand of a freshman student for an apparent lack of respect that did Knight in at IU.
Nomar wins the batting titles, Alex Rodriguez signs the monster contract but the debate-killer is that Derek Jeter has the rings. Just 26, the New York Yankees shortstop already has four World Series titles in the bank and he looks like he's far from finished. This year the Series was Jeter's showcase as he hit .409 and won the Series MVP award as the Yankees took the Subway Series against the Mets in five games.
He might not have been an Italian stallion from the streets of Philadelphia but he regardless he was the real life Rocky Balboa. The farm boy from Montana shocked the world when he took down the invincible Russian bear, Alexandre Kareline, in the super heavyweight gold medal match of the Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling competition in Sydney. Kareline, who had won three straight Olympic gold medals, was primed for his fourth. Why not? He hadn't lost a single match in more than 13 years. IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch showed up before the match to personally award Kareline's fourth gold but instead handed him the silver as Gardner, smiling ear to ear, got the gold medal treatment.
In what has to be the single most enduring image of the Sydney Games, Australian track star and Aborigine Cathy Freeman stood in front of a crowd 120,000 at Olympic Stadium in Sydney and a television audience of countless millions. It was a memorable moment not only because it was getting the 2000 Summer Games started but because Freeman, a representative of the continent's indigenous people, helped heal wounds of racial injustices that were inflicted long ago. She seemed up to the enormous task and delivered on the country's great hopes for her when she won the women's 400 meter gold medal.