Don’t let modern society trick you into believing that our community’s achievements should not be celebrated year-round. With February aka Black History Month upon us, we look to keep a bright spotlight on some of our kings and queens from what some would call the golden era of pro sports (and some “amateurs,” too).
When we think back to the 1980’s it is a time that is often associated with one of the most influential periods in our culture. And rightly so; they were much more simpler times and the vibes were pure. Sadly those years also found Black and Brown neighborhoods across the country ravaged by the crack epidemic. Families lost countless loved ones and we were yet again set back in the economic race. Thankfully, our culture had heroes we could look to that not only inspired us but also reminded us anything is possible.
During this time people of color showed the world what Black excellence truly was throughout a myriad sports. Literally, there wasn’t one major athletic platform that we did not dominate in that 10 year span; and boy did they look good while doing so.
In honor of Black History Month HipHopWired.com is saluting the 11 greatest Black athletes of the 1980’s. While there were several other superstars that could have easily made the shortlist we are confident the following competitors are the elite of the elite. Ride with us.
Black Excellence: The 11 Greatest Black Athletes Of The 1980’s was originally published on hiphopwired.com
1. Mike TysonSource:Getty
Although there were many greats prior to him boxing had never seen anyone like “Iron” Mike Tyson. At the age of 20 the Brooklyn native became the youngest heavyweight champion in the world and created a legacy for his superhuman punching power. Trust us they all talked a good game back then but no one wanted that smoke in the ring.
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – OCTOBER 16: Tyrell Biggs and Mike Tyson fight for the WBA, WBC and IBF heavyweight titles on October 16, 1987 at the Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Tyson won the fight in seven rounds on a TKO. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
2. Bo JacksonSource:Getty
As the first professional baller to named an all-star in two different sports there is no way you can deny Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson as one of the greatest to ever do it. Additionally, he captivated America with the ingenious “Bo Knows” advertising campaign that remains one of his signatures til this day.
Chicago White Sox batter Bo Jackson (R) hits a home run in his first at-bat of the season 09 April 1993 against the New York Yankees in the 6th inning. Jackson is attempting a comeback after hip replacement surgery last season. (Photo by BRIAN BAHR / AFP)
3. Michael “Air” JordanSource:Getty
As soon as Michael Jordan made it to the league you could tell he would be a rare breed. In his rookie season alone he made the then struggling Chicago Bulls playoff contenders. After coming back from a broken foot in the 1986 season he scored over 3,000 points with an average of 37 points per game. This is all before he won his first championship.
MIAMI, FL – CIRCA 1988: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls goes in for a layup against the Miami Heat during an NBA basketball game circa 1988 at the Miami Arena in Miami, Florida. Jordan played for the Bulls from 1984-93 and 1995 – 98. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
4. Florence Griffith JoynerSource:Getty
Known to the world as Flo-Jo, the Los Angeles native would become the fastest woman in the world in 1988 for her dominance in the 100 meter and 200 meter runs. Her sense of style on the track would also give her apoint of difference eventually making her a cultural icon that popularized track and field.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – SEPTEMBER 29: Florence Griffith Joyner #569 of the USA runs in a semi final of the Women’s 200 meter race of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games on September 29, 1988 in Jamsil Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
5. Kareem Abdul-JabbarSource:Getty
To put it frankly the Los Angeles Laker’s dynasty was built on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s shoulders. Standing at 7 feet 2 inches the center would dominate the west way before Magic Johnson and James Worthy made it click.
–BOSTON, MA – CIRCA 1984: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #33 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Robert Parish #00 of the Boston Celtics during an NBA basketball game circa 1984 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Parish played for the Celtics from 1980-94. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
6. Lawrence TaylorSource:Getty
It is one thing to be a force in your field but Lawrence Taylor took things to another level when he change how the linebacker position is played. As member of the New York Giants defensive team L.T. took the NFL by storm in 1986 with 20 sacks and was a Most Valuable Player award recipient.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – CIRCA 1991: Lawrence Taylor #56 of the New York Giants looks on during an NFL football game circa 1991 at The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Taylor played for the Giants from 1981-93. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
7. Sugar Ray LeonardSource:Getty
Sugar Ray Leonard
“Sugar” Ray Charles Leonard had one of the most prolific runs during 1980’s with bouts against some of the best fighters ever including Roberto Durán, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler. During that period he only lost one time and would go on to be recognized as one of the best to ever do it in any weight class.
LAS VEGAS, NV – APRIL 6: Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler fight for the WBC and Ring Middleweight titles on April 6, 1987 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. Leonard won the fight in 12 rounds on a split decision. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
8. Carl LewisSource:Getty
Some athletes are just grateful to compete in the Olympics. Given his stellar performances at the games it is no surprise why Carl Lewis is the king of track and field. He has a combined 20 medals and has won a gold medal in the same individual event in four consecutive Olympics.
LOS ANGELES – AUGUST 4: Carl Lewis #915 of the USA celebrates his victory in the Men’s 100 meter race of the Track and Field competition of the 1984 Olympic Games held on August 4, 1984 in the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
9. Julius “Dr. J” IrvingSource:Getty
Before the National Basketball Association became what it is there was the American Basketball Association. Not only did Dr. J popularize the ABA as a legit league but he also revolutionized how the game was played with his jumping ability and above the rim approach. Erving also has one of the greatest dunks of all time; this can’t be disputed.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – CIRCA 1979: Julius Erving #6 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives towards the basket against the Portland Trail Blazers during an NBA basketball game circa 1979 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Erving played for the 76ers from 1976 – 87. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
10. Deion SandersSource:Getty
While Bo Jackson was the first to really play two sports in one season Deion Sanders took the dual balling to greater heights with the work he put in the NFL and MLB. During the 80’s Prime Time brought some real flash to both roles. He is currently the only man to make an appearance at both the Super Bowl and World Series.
Dallas Cowboys’ Deion Sanders (C) returns a punt for a 59-yard touchdown early in the second quarter against the New York Giants 21 September at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants’ Jeremy Lincoln (39) and Percy Ellsworth (43) give chase, while Cowboys’ Omar Stoutmire (24) helps defend. AFP PHOTO Henny Ray ABRAMS (Photo by HENNY RAY ABRAMS / AFP) (Photo by HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP via Getty Images)
11. Jackie Joyner-KerseeSource:Getty
If you claim to be great then you better have some hardware to back it up. Jackie Joyner-Kersee is arguably the greatest female track and field athlete ever to live with three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – SEPTEMBER 23: Jackie Joyner-Kersee #3 of the USA runs the 200 meter event of the Heptathlon competition of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games on September 23, 1988 in Jamsil Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. Joyner-Kersee was the gold medalist in the heptathlon event. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)