People will remember 2020 as one of the worst years in modern history. The biggest story will be COVID-19, which has caused deaths around the world. But adding to the misery is the deaths of many beloved figures from sports and entertainment. Here are six athletes who were among the passings that affected fans the most this year.
1. David Stern
One of the year’s biggest sports deaths happened on the very first day of the year, reports Newsday. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern had transformed the NBA from somewhat of an afterthought into the second-most-popular league in America. The 77-year-old died just weeks after a brain hemorrhage.
2. Kobe Bryant
The NBA was rocked by tragedy again on January 26 when five-time NBA champ Kobe Bryant was killed — along with 13-year-old daughter Gianna, several other passengers, and the pilot. The group’s helicopter crashed in Calabasas, Calif., en route to Gianna’s basketball game.
The tragedy shocked the world as Bryant was killed at just 41 years old. The NBA paid tribute to Bryant in several ways. The league renamed the All-Star Game MVP Award to the NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player. Other leagues and athletes also paid tribute to Bryant.
3. Don Shula
Legendary NFL coach Don Shula led the Dolphins to the only perfect season in league history in 1972. The league’s winningest coach of all-time died on May 4 at the age of 90. No cause of death was announced. As ESPN reports, the Dolphins released a statement saying the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach died “peacefully at his home.”
4. John Thompson
John Thompson was one of the most well-known and successful coaches in college basketball history. He spent close to 30 years as Georgetown’s head coach, leading the Hoyas to the 1984 national championship. That title made Thompson the first Black coach to win the NCAA tournament.
After retiring from coaching, he enjoyed a long career as a radio and TV analyst. The 78-year-old died at his home on August 30. CNN reported that the coach’s cause of death was unknown. According to a family source Thompson dealt with “multiple health challenges” in recent years.
5. Gale Sayers
Gale Sayers didn’t have a long NFL career; he played just 68 games over seven seasons with the Bears. But it was a memorable one that got him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His NFL career was even made into the 1971 movie Brian’s Song, detailing Sayers’ close bond with teammate Brian Piccolo.
Sayers’ playing career was cut short by a left knee injury. His life ended on September 23 when the 77-year-old former running back succumbed to his long battle with dementia.
6. Paul Hornung
Legendary Notre Dame and Packers running back Paul Hornung, who earned the nickname “The Golden Boy” passed away on November 13 at age 84. Hornung split time between serving his country in the Army and playing for the Packers in 1961. He died after what NFL.com described as “a long battle with dementia.”