Whatever Happened To…? '90s Sports Icons Edition

Sid QuashieFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2016

Whatever Happened To…? '90s Sports Icons Edition

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    JEFF HAYNES/Getty Images

    The great Negro League baseball pitcher Satchel Paige once advised, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." But that doesn't mean fans can't look back at some former superstars and wonder, "Hey, what happened to...?" and fill in the blank with a name from the past, such as these 1990s sports icons who were once household names.

    But the harsh truth about fame is that it's often fleeting, and some of the former icons on this list might look back at their glory days as the best moments of their lives. So this list is meant to celebrate what was. The criteria for inclusion are athletes who were once superstars then dropped out of sight, choosing to live quieter, less public lives.

Ronaldo: Soccer

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    Who He Was

    Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, 40, was the original Ronaldo before the Cristiano version 2.0 stole the moniker and surpassed him in fame and fortune.

    Still, Brazil's Ronaldo was a phenom, a spectacular blend of power, strength and skill with a first touch that was the stuff of legend.

    He lifted up the Ballon d'Or twice in his 18-year career and was voted FIFA World Player of the Year three times.

    During the mid-1990s, Ronaldo dominated club soccer at PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona and Inter Milan, winning the Dutch Cup in 1996, the La Liga scoring title in 1997 and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1997.

    He scored 62 goals for the Brazil National Team, won two World Cup titles and was listed in the FIFA 100 as one of the 125 best soccer players of all time.


    Who He Is Now

    Since retiring in 2011, Ronaldo has settled down with his four children and remained out of the spotlight.

    He has a minority stake in the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and is a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador.

Anfernee Hardaway: NBA

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    Who He Was

    Hardaway, 45, was a 6'7" guard and the No. 3 pick in the 1993 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors who traded his rights to the Orlando Magic, where he joined Shaquille O'Neal to form what everyone thought would be the next great power duo in the NBA.

    He was a four-time NBA All-Star from 1995 to 1998, twice earned All-NBA First Team honors and won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

    His easy smile and infectious charisma made Hardaway a popular player and an advertiser's dream, but it was his chemistry with O'Neal that powered the Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Houston Rockets swept the team.

    In 1996, the duo split when O'Neal bolted for the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving Hardaway as the lone star on a Magic team that never recaptured their swagger.


    Who He Is Now

    Hardaway lives in his birthplace of Memphis, Tennessee, and spends most of his time coaching the East High Mustangs, who recently won the 2016 AAA boys' basketball tournament, and running his youth sports program, Penny's FastBreak Courts.

    It's a long way from his glory days, but as Hardaway explained in a CNN interview, "I wanted to make sure [his players] understood that education is more than sports."

Lennox Lewis: Boxing

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    Who He Was

    Lewis, 51, first won the WBC heavyweight boxing title in December 1992 and reigned until September 1994, when Oliver McCall defeated him.

    He regained his WBC title in February 1997 and held it until November 1999, becoming the undisputed champion on November 13, 1999.

    Per Box Rec, Lewis won 41 bouts with 32 by knockout; lost two fights, each by knockout, and had one draw.

    He retired in 2003 after defeating No. 1 contender Vitali Klitschko to retain his WBC title and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.


    Who He Is Now

    Although Lewis has appeared on American TV in shows such as Celebrity Apprentice in 2008, he has largely stayed out of the public eye.

    He is married to a former beauty contestant, with whom he has four children, and the family lives in Miami, though Lewis also has homes in Canada and Jamaica.

    Lewis is active in charity work and spends most of days being a father, and in an interview with Thomas Hauser of Box Nation, he expressed no regrets about his career.

    "It was important for me to retire on my own terms, for my legacy and my health," Lewis said. "I love it that I ended my boxing career as a champion."

Eric Lindros: NHL

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    Who He Was

    Lindros, 43, was a big, bruising forward and center, who was selected first by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft but forced a move to the Philadelphia Flyers.

    At 6'4" and weighing 240 pounds, Lindros used his power and strength to dominate smaller players but also had the skill to score goals.

    His alliance with teammates Mikael Renberg and John LeClair led to the fabled Legion of Doom line that intimidated opponents from 1995 to 1997.

    After leading the Flyers to the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals where the Detroit Red Wings routed them 4-0, Lindros suffered a series of concussions that limited his playing time and had his own general manager questioning his toughness.

    He was traded to the New York Rangers after the 1999-00 season, but never regained the form that made him such a feared and legendary player.

    Per Hockey-Reference.com, Lindros scored 372 goals in 760 NHL games and had 493 assists for a total of 865 points.

    He was a six-time All-Star and won the Hart Trophy in the 1994-95 season as the most valuable player.

    Lindros retired after the 2006-07 season with the Dallas Stars, having only played in five games.


    Who He Is Now

    Lindros is married and the father of three children and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in June, an honor he admitted he wanted in an interview with Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com.

    "I think there were some times when you get thinking back, wondering 'what if?'" Lindros said about his possible induction. "But I think when it's all said and done, certainly it's an honor. It feels full circle."

    Lindros has spoken about the dangers of concussions and is also active in The Celebrity Hockey Classic Tournament that benefits Easter Seals.

Albert Belle: MLB

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    Who He Was

    Belle, 50, was one of the most devastating hitters of the mid 1990s, plying his trade mostly with the Cleveland Indians.

    With his sculpted physique and bat-shattering power, Belle terrorized AL pitchers throughout the mid 1990s.

    Per Baseball-Reference.com, Belle had a career batting average of .295 with 381 home runs, 1,239 RBI and 1,726 hits.

    He also had a .564 slugging percentage and a .933 OPS.

    He was especially devastating from 1992 to 1996, in which he had a scorching 504 RBI and 206 home runs in those five seasons.

    In the 1996-97 season, Belle had 148 RBI and 48 home runs with a .311 average, a slugging percentage of .623 and an OPS of 1.033.

    He was a five-time All-Star from 1993 to 1997, won the Silver Slugger Award five times, led the AL in home runs in 1995 and led the AL in RBIs in 1993, 1995 and 1996.


    Who He Is Now

    Never one to enjoy speaking to the media or appearing in public, Belle has maintained a low profile since his retirement in 2000.

    These days, he is a dedicated family man to his four daughters, so much so that when he was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame this year, he declined to show up for the ceremony on July 30 because of a family vacation.

    But he was grateful for the recognition, and in an interview this past July with Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com, Belle said, "It's kind of fun to enjoy the individual accomplishments, but it's truly a team sport. I'm just happy I had a chance to play with some great guys." 

Mia Hamm: Soccer

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    Who She Was

    Hamm, 44, was the face of women's soccer in the U.S. for nearly a decade, showcasing her blazing speed and world-class skill as a superstar athlete with a humble demeanor.

    Before turning pro, Hamm was already a star, having won ACC Female Athlete of the Year in 1993 and 1994 while playing soccer for the legendary University of North Carolina Tar Heels women's soccer team that won four NCAA titles during the mid-1990s.

    So it wasn't a surprise when Hamm, at the tender age of 19, entered the world soccer stage at the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup, helping the U.S. win its first championship after a 2-1 victory over Norway.

    Hamm once again starred for the U.S. in the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup in Sweden, but the squad lost in the semis to Norway 1-0.

    She helped the women's team win gold at 1996 Atlanta Olympics and was a key member of the team that won the historic 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup in a thrilling penalty-kick victory against China with 90,000 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

    According to U.S. Soccer, Hamm, who retired in 2004, scored a world-record 158 goals in her career with 28 two-goal games, eight hat tricks and two four-goal games.


    Who She Is Now

    Hamm is married to former Boston Red Sox player Nomar Garciaparra, and the couple has three children.

    She has written an autobiography as well as a children's book about never giving up on goals and in 2015 was named to the board of Italian soccer club AS Roma.

    She is also a minority owner of LAFC, an expansion soccer team that will join MLS in 2017, but as she made clear in an interview with Tom McGowan of CNN.com, she didn't take the AS Roma post for symbolic reasons.

    "I personally didn't say yes just to tick a box," Hamm said. "I think they will soon learn that I have opinions, I have ideas."

Terrell Davis: NFL

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    Who He Was

    Davis, 44, is the man who created the Mile High Salute to celebrate every touchdown he scored as a member of the Denver Broncos.

    He played for the team from 1995 to 2001, but he cemented his legacy from 1996 to 1998, in which he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time first-team All-Pro, two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL MVP and NFL rushing yards leader in 1998.

    Davis basically shrunk an entire career into three staggering seasons, and only a knee injury in 1999 prevented him from becoming a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.


    Who He Is

    In addition to being the subject of intense Hall of Fame debate since his retirement in 2002, Davis has written an autobiography and worked as a studio host for NFL Total Access on the NFL Network.

    He is currently a motivational speaker for Corporate Kickoff and is the father to three young children.

Barry Sanders: NFL

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    Who He Was

    Sanders, 48, is one of the greatest players in NFL history, a running back with dazzling cut-back skills, a powerful center of gravity and a humble demeanor that fans loved.

    He was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection from 1989 to 1998, a six-time All-Pro, two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, four-time NFL rushing yards leader, a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team and a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in 2004.

    Per NFL.com, Sanders rushed for 15,269 yards, averaging five yards per carry as he juked his way to 99 touchdowns in 10 seasons.

    Sanders retired in 1999 when he was still in his prime, citing a lack of passion for the game.


    Who He Is Now

    Always a private man, Sanders is rarely seen in public, though he did attend some of the games played by his son Barry J. Sanders, a running back for the Stanford Cardinal from 2012 to 2015, who transferred to Oklahoma State in February 2016.

    Sanders spends time with his four children and lives a quiet life that involves charity work and alliances with NFL.

    He was voted to appear on the cover of Madden NFL 25 in 2013 despite the fact that he hadn't played a game in 14 years, a testament to his legendary status among fans.

Monica Seles: Tennis

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    Who She Was

    Were it not for the devastating knife attack that derailed her tennis career, we would likely be calling Seles one of the two or three greatest tennis players in history, because she was that dominant in her prime.

    Seles, 42, turned pro in 1989 and then two years later unleashed hell on her opponents.

    From 1991 to 1996, she won nine Grand Slams, including the French Open in '90, '91 and '92, the Australian Open in '91, '92 and '93 and the U.S. Open in '91 and '92.

    She regularly dominated legends such as Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova, and her signature grunts not only gave her power but knocked opponents off their game.

    According to the WTA website, Seles won 53 career singles titles, six double titles, earned more than $14 million in prize money and amassed a 595-122 won/loss record.

    But after an obsessed fan of Graf's named Gunter Parche stabbed Seles on April 30, 1993, during a quarterfinals match in the Citizen Cup in Germany, she was never the same.

    As Navratilova said in an espnW retrospective of the stabbing, "This guy changed the course of tennis history, no doubt about that."


    Who She Is Now

    Seles retired in 2008 and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame a year later. She has competed on Dancing with the Stars, and more personally, has revealed her struggles with an eating disorder.

    She is also the writer of a young-adult series about a tennis boarding school and wrote an autobiography in 2009.


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