Black athletes have guided the US sports for many years internationally but this country is still fighting racism and discrimination amid George Floyd’s murder in May.
Several world-famous athletes such as ex-basketball superstar Michael Jordan, boxer Muhammad Ali, tennis veteran Serena Williams, the former track and field athlete Carl Lewis, and artistic gymnast Simone Biles left their marks each with their influence and success, carrying the US sports to further levels.
Michael Jordan: Basketball icon
NBA legend Michael Jordan is the most iconic figure in basketball as he led Chicago Bulls to dominate the league in the 90s.
The Bulls earned their six NBA titles in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998 as Jordan was the Eastern Conference team’s integral part.
The Bulls’ alpha dog was also a six-time NBA Finals MVP (Most Valuable Player) and 14-time NBA All-Star.
In 1994, the Bulls retired his famous no. 23 jersey and erected a 12-foot Michael Jordan Statue outside the team’s home court, the United Center.
Jordan had positive impacts on the US basketball as deceased Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and Lakers’ current small forward LeBron James followed the Bulls legend’s footsteps to become basketball greats in the 2000s and 2010s.
Recently, Jordan and the “Jordan Brand” announced to make a donation of $100 million to nation-wide organizations in the US as part of efforts against racism.
His firm, Jordan Brand, is a subsidiary of Oregon-based sportswear giant Nike, selling sports apparel, shoes, and accessories globally.
Muhammad Ali: More than an athlete
“Greatest of All-Time” boxing legend Muhammad Ali is known for his talent in the ring and his legacy in fighting racism and discrimination in the US.
Born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Kentucky’s Louisville, Ali won his first heavyweight title at the age of 22 after knocking his opponent Sonny Liston down in 1964 World Heavyweight Championship.
Ali was a record holder by winning 161 out of 167 amateur matches during his career.
Defeated only five times in 61 professional bouts, he became world champion with 56 victories — 37 by knockouts.
He converted to Islam in 1964 when he was 22 years old, changing his name to Muhammed Ali.
Ali had close relations with fellow African-American Muslim and human rights activist Malcolm X to promote Islam and defend black rights in the country.
He refused to serve for the US army during the Vietnam War.
“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” he said to reject the army draft but was sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000, and suspended from boxing for over three years.
It was only in 1971 that he won an appeal at the US Supreme Court.
He retired in 1981.
During his lifetime, Ali made the pilgrimage to Mecca twice, in 1972 and 1988.
He died at the age of 74 on June 3, 2016, at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona after a long battle against Parkinson’s disease.
Serena Williams: Modern times’ best tennis player
Serena Williams is one of the biggest tennis players for the US, winning 23 Grand Slam titles in her career.
With these international trophies, Williams, 38, became the world’s most successful tennis player in modern times.
World no. 9 in women’s singles, Williams won the Australian Open and Wimbledon seven times each, US Open for six times and French Open (Roland Garros) for three times.
She last won the 2017 Australian Open.
The 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist, Williams slammed the killing of Floyd on social media last month.
Her sister Venus, also a tennis player, won Grand Slam titles seven times.
“Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America,” Serena said on her Twitter account.
“Don’t turn your back on racism… Don’t think this doesn’t affect you. Don’t sit back and be silent,” she said in a video.
Carl Lewis: Olympic medal hunter
Carl Lewis, 58, one of the rare athletes, joined four Olympics in a row — Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, and Atlanta 1996.
One of the impressive US athletes, Lewis claimed 10 Olympic medals — including 9 gold — during his career.
Lewis bagged 4 golds in a single Olympics, Los Angeles 1984 as the categories were 100 meters and 200-meter sprints, 4×100 meter relay, and long jump.
He managed to win at least one gold medal in every Olympics that Lewis attended.
Lewis also criticized racism in the US, calling people for protests against Floyd’s death.
“Stay strong and continue protest,” Lewis tweeted on June 2.
Simone Biles sweeps Olympic medals in Rio
Simone Biles is one of the significant athletes for the US, bagging five medals — including four golds — in the same Olympic Games, Rio 2016.
The 23-year-old from Texas was decorated with gold medals in vault, individual all-round, team competition, and floor exercises in Brazil.
Biles had a bronze in balance beam event in Rio de Janeiro.
“My first Olympics and I’ve walked away with five medals: that’s not disappointing at all. It shows dreams can come true. I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps: I’m the first Simone Biles,” she said over her Olympic success.
She was one of the athletes protesting Floyd’s murder.
“We have to do better America,” Biles tweeted last month.
Death of Floyd
Video footage of Floyd’s fatal arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota prompted mass demonstrations in US cities against racial injustice and police brutality. In the video, Floyd is seen pinned to the ground, his neck compressed by a white police officer’s knee.
The video shows the officer ignoring Floyd’s pleas that he cannot breathe, maintaining the position even after he appears to lose consciousness. An independent autopsy found Floyd was killed by “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.”
Floyd’s killing on May 25 sparked protests across the US and then worldwide.
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