Here’s a rundown over the significance of these sporting moments in history:
Bill Russell, 1969
The Boston Celtics were in their 11th NBA Finals in 13 years, led by defensive titan — and player-coach for the last two — Bill Russell. This last year, they went into the playoffs as the lowest seed, wounded, an old dog on its last legs. The Lakers1 had lost in the Finals to Boston six times, but were sure this would be the year as they finally had home court advantage. Yet Boston somehow managed to triumph in Game 7 of the finals IN Los Angeles.23 He retired that summer, walking off into the sunset with 11 rings.4
Coach John Wooden, 1975
The iconic coach of the great UCLA Bruins mens’ basketball team. 10 NCAA titles — seven of them in a row. A record 88-game winning streak.5 Announced his impending retirement in a 1975 Final Four post-game press conference, and walked off into the sunset after the Bruins bested Kentucky for the title.
Michael Jordan, 1993
People forget: Charles Barkley won the MVP this season, and some even considered him better than MJ this year. Jordan went on to beat him in the Finals6 to complete the Chicago Bulls’ first 3-peat. His father was murdered that summer, and Jordan announced his surprise retirement in October of that year.7 This would be one of those sunsets that sports fans everywhere were sad to see him walk off into…
John Elway, 1998
The Denver Broncos were for years the butt of Super Bowl jokes8 until Elway and the team finally pulled through in the 1997-98 Super Bowl. The picture above needs no explanation for anyone who remembers that game. His team won it all again the following year — 1998-99 — after which he decided to walk off into the sunset.
Michael Jordan [again], 1998
Post-baseball. Another 3-peat. The “Last Season” with Phil, Scottie, and Dennis Rodman. THE LAST SHOT.9 What would have been the storybook of all storybook sports endings.10 And another walk-off into the sunset.
Jerome Bettis, 2005
The Bus. The Pittsburgh Steelers. … … … To be truthful, I don’t have much back-story on this one. At this point, I was just Googling for athletes that retired after winning a championship, and he was a Pittsburgh icon that fit that bill. -_-
Kobe Bryant, 2010
Any real Laker fan knew that this was the end of the run for this group of Lakers. There was talk all season long that Coach Phil Jackson wouldn’t come back, and after exacting revenge11 on Boston in game 7 of the Finals, I really wish Kobe, Phil, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, and the rest of the bunch would have just walked off into the sunset. It would have been the perfect ending.
Did you ever wonder, as a kid, what happened in all of those fairy tales after the storybook endings?14 Well, there’s a reason the authors of those things choose to end their stories on a high note.15
The history of sports is littered with out-of-this-galaxy superstars who tried holding on to their glory years a little longer than the sports deities would allow. Sadly, Father Time — like gravity — is undefeated.
As the saying goes: It takes a village. 18
- yes, MY Lakers, sigh [↩]
- Jump to the 5:25 mark in this video… Russell could barely compose himself in the post-game locker room interview [↩]
- Jerry West of the Lakers — whose silhouette is the current NBA logo — had a triple-double that game, and won the Finals MVP — even though his team lost. That hasn’t happened since. [↩]
- This included the 1959-66 OCTO-peat, which… let’s just say it: is NEVER gonna happen again. [↩]
- Again: NEVER gonna happen again [↩]
- My heart still breaks for that year’s New York Knicks, ‘ney Charles Smith in game 5 of the ECF [↩]
- He went on to play baseball. Yeah… [↩]
- Although they had some competition from the Buffalo Bills [↩]
- Jump to about the 3:00 mark in that video [↩]
- …until his subsequent stint with the Washington Wizards. I’d prefer to relegate that memory to a footnote. [↩]
- Barely, at that [↩]
- If you’re curious, I heard it on SportsCenter, as the crew were discussing Ray Lewis’ incredible career [↩]
- I recalled this quote earlier in the year, with respect to Coach Mack Brown. Really disheartening to see the way things ended for him at Texas. [↩]
- I think — or at least I wonder if — that’s what this coming Fall is going to feel like. [↩]
- On that note, I’m reminded of the final 5 minutes of the movie, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”… -_- [↩]
- which, in spite of my previous post, were actually enjoyable — kudos to the staff [↩]
- Or — since I’ll probably see them around in years to come — “see you later” [↩]
- It’s tough to properly elaborate the significance of being surrounded by a good team of teachers, but I will simply say that it cannot possibly be overstated. [↩]