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Black History Month: the greatest black athletes

Written by Sport

Given that October is Black History Month, there is no better time to celebrate the achievements of some of history’s most successful and inspirational black athletes, trail blazers who have fought prejudice both historically and in our times to reach the pinnacles of their chosen sports and forge a pathway for future black sportspeople.

 

Jofra Archer- Philip Etchells

Instagram @jofraarcher, Jofra Archer celebrates one of his 20 wickets at this summer’s ODI World Cup

“I do think where black people are, black people will follow”

These are the words of Jofra Archer, England Cricket’s fast bowling sensation who burst onto the international cricket scene earlier this summer and who is rapidly emerging as one of the most exciting young players in the game. Tipped by some as having the potential to become one of the world’s best in the years to come, Archer could be the role model Britain’s African-Caribbean cricketing community desperately needs.

Archer, aged 24, was born in Barbados to a British father and could have played for the West Indies. However, after not being picked for the Windies side in the 2014 Under-19 World Cup, the paceman used his British passport to apply to play for England. He has only been playing County Cricket since 2016 and credits his friend Chris Jordan, a fellow Barbados born England player, for recommending him to the Sussex County team.

Archer is also in high demand in domestic cricket around the world. Rajasthan Royals, in the Indian Premier League paid £800,000 to retain his services for the 2019 season. He is popular with fans too. A series of his tweets from years ago went viral earlier in the summer when he seemed to “predict” what happened in this year’s Cricket World Cup. He has his own YouTube channel and at one point in the summer his odds to win Sports Personality of the Year dropped from 50/1 to 16/1.

It was first thought that Archer would have to wait until 2022 before he was eligible to play for England, but thanks to a change to the qualification rules in 2018, the paceman was able to feature for England over the past summer, and he has made quite a start to his international career. He was England’s leading wicket taker in their World Cup triumph back in July and his blistering pace bowling was one of the talking points in the Ashes defeat to Australia in August. He reached speeds of 96mph in some bowling spells and struck Australia’s Steve Smith on the neck during one game. The injury sustained meant Smith had to miss the following Test Match with concussion.

“I’d love to get to the top and encourage black kids to play” 

Apart from reaching the top of the game, Archer hopes he will be able to use his platform to inspire the next generation of black players. In the recent 2019 ECB Cricket Playing Survey, results showed that only 1% of players at recreational level are black. Although the data is unconfirmed because surveys are based on self identity, this figure is mirrored by the 1% of black coaches in the game. Since 1999, Archer is only the third black cricketer to make his debut for the England Test side. Now he’s made it, Archer could be the catalyst for increased participation at grassroots level for young black players in the game.

 

Michael Jordan- Sesha Subramanian

Instagram @therareair: Michael Jordan dunks for the Chicago Bears

When people talk of the greatest basketball player of all time, there is almost no debate as to who it is. Born on 17th February 1963 in New York City, Michael Jeffrey Jordan would go on to become one of the most recognisable faces in the history of sport. He would win six NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals and be named the league MVP five times, the NBA Finals MVP all six times he won the championship, and an All-Star 14 times.

His work ethic and determination to succeed would come to the fore in high school. Jordan averaged more than 25 points per game in the final two years of his high school career, earning a selection to the McDonald’s All-American Game – designed to showcase the country’s premier high school talent.

Accepting a basketball scholarship to the University of North Carolina, Jordan would spend three years playing college basketball, the highlight being his game winning jumpshot in the 1982 NCAA Championship Final – a shot he described as a major turning point in his career.

Jordan was chosen in the 1984 draft by the Chicago Bulls and would quickly become a fan favourite throughout the NBA, with even opposing arenas taking a liking to the sport’s newest superstar.  He was voted an All-Star in his debut season and won Rookie Of the Year, turning Chicago into playoff contenders. However, his first taste of the playoffs (as well as his second and third) would end badly as the Bulls failed to make it past the first round.

In 1987-88 Chicago would make it past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in Jordan’s career as he won MVP and Defensive player of the year as well as being the league’s leading scorer with 35 points per game. Despite beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, the Bulls would lose to the more experienced Detroit Pistons and Isiah Thomas, beginning an acrimonious rivalry that Jordan would describe as “war”. The rivalry peaked when the Bulls swept the Pistons in four games in 1991, in a show of defiance Thomas and most of his teammates would walk off the court, refusing to shake the Bulls players’ hands – Jordan reportedly reacted by threatening to refuse to play on Team USA at the 1992 Olympics should Thomas be included in the team.

That game would mark the ultimate rise for the young superstar as the 1991 playoffs ended with Jordan and the Bulls beating Magic Johnson and the Lakers to win the first of six NBA championships in eight years. In this period, Jordan would elevate his status to that of the greatest of all time. In successive playoffs he would beat fellow Hall of Famers and set a longstanding record in 1995-96 for regular season team wins.

Jordan finally retired in 2003. He would go on to buy the Charlotte Hornets in 2014, becoming the first African-American majority owner in the NBA. His off-court management of the franchise may be questionable but there is no question about the impact he has had on the game of basketball.

He was a tough competitor who would stop at nothing to play the game at the highest level- most famously in the 1997 NBA Finals ‘Flu Game’. He rarely missed games and would give his all at both ends of the floor (epitomised by him being one of only two players ever to win both the league MVP and Defensive Player awards in the same season). His style of play, athleticism, ability to perform under pressure and marketability as a global superstar would influence the next generation of basketball players. Outside of the USA, he was the main selling point for Team USA at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, inspiring scores of basketball players worldwide.

The modern day NBA owes a lot to Michael Jordan from a playing as well as a non-playing perspective- the competition has imprints of Jordan all over it even today.

 

Jonah Lomu- Tom Moorcroft

Instagram @zeroenconducta2019, Jonah Lomu flies through the England backs

Jonah Lomu wasn’t just a Rugby player. He was the definition of an athlete. Weighing in at 120 KG of pure muscle, and towering at 6 ft 5 in, he struck fear into not only his opponents, but probably a few of his teammates! The New Zealand national had an outstanding career for a variety of teams across the world, spanning over 16 years.

He debuted as the youngest ever All Black in 1994, at the age of 19 years and 45 days (making me question what I’ve accomplished in my 19 years on this planet), and still holds the Rugby World-Cup try scoring record of 15. However, what made Jonah Lomu stick out from the crowd (except for his height), would be his unbelievable will-power, when faced with kidney problems throughout his playing career. At the age of 20, he was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a major kidney disease which affected his life, and by 2003, at the age of 28, he was on dialysis 3 times a week.

A year later he received a kidney transplant, after doctors feared if he didn’t have surgery, he may never walk again. Where most people would’ve retired, Lomu decided to have another shot at Rugby, and was playing a year later at the age of 30. However, after more kidney problems, he had a very rocky couple of years, and ended up retiring from professional rugby at the age of 32.

This wasn’t the end of Jonah’s involvement in sport. In 2011, he joined the ‘Champions for Peace’ club, which consisted of 54 athletes dedicated to promoting peace through sport, and in 2015 he worked in the UK, promoting the 2015 England Rugby World-Cup. However, this would be his last venture into the world of Rugby, as he died on the 18th of November, a few weeks after watching his pride and joy, New Zealand, win the World Cup.

Jonah Lomu wasn’t just an amazing athlete, he was an inspiration to people on and off the pitch. At the age of 20, on the periphery of his career, he received life-changing news that he had kidney problems. But he played on through this weakness, and showed that people don’t have to be defined by their inadequacies. He’s a testament to how tenacity and hard work can overcome adversity.

Last modified: 21st October 2019

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