Like every other year in the history, 2022 was no different, a year full of ups and downs, tears and laughter and trials and tribulations. There were so many things to cheer about – audience coming back to the sporting arena post covid, a landmark world cup in Qatar, Rafa Nadal finally breaking the jinx of 20 that kept the big three of tennis on same plane for long. But 2022 was also the year, where we bid farewell to three sporting legends who changed the way their sports were being looked at, they created a cult following for each of them and left an indelible impact on the society as a large.
“I hope I epitomize the American dream. For I came against long odds, from the ghetto to the very top of my profession.”. Said Bill Russell, surely did he inspire a generation and helped his club win 11 championship titles – if that was not a matter of dreams, what was? Russell not only created sensation on the court, but he was also a legend off the field as well. Growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, Russell was subjected to severe racial abuse, so much so that his house was vandalized in Boston, he was asked to go back to Africa. Such insults only motivated him to raise his bar and deliver unprecedented performance. His fight against racial justice stood the test of time. A lifelong activist, he boycotted games, led movements denouncing racism and joined hands with Wilt Chamberlain and Muhammad Ali to progress the Black Power Movement. To commemorate Russell’s tremendous contribution to Boston Celtics and the city, they erected a statue of him in Boston. A friendly person with a distinctive laugh, the legendary coach Auerbach once said he was ok to quit coaching for two reasons, one of them was Russell’s laugh (the other reason being his wife!). We will miss that trademark roar in 2023! So long Bill.
“Jogo bonito”, or the “beautiful game” as Pele described soccer, a sport he embellished with all his love, mesmerized millions with his magic and turned the soccer world cup into his personal showcase 3 times, 1958, 1962 and 1970 and truly made it the “greatest show on earth”. Pele is a story of dream, a saga of resilience and a chronicle of hard work and discipline. How a little boy, born in extreme poverty, who once did a job to shine shoes in his childhood, conquered the world as a teenager in the 1958 world cup, is a story of epic proportions. Beyond football, Pele played an important role to promote peace and goodwill on countless occasions. He was the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, participated in World Economic Forum, actively worked for many charities. And in his own country he transformed a generation. Football would not be the same without Pele. FIFA Player of the Century, we will miss you and we will treasure the memories you left us with.
“You cannot afford to live your life with regrets”. Never did the spin king Warnie (Shane Warne). He lived the life to the fullest. Love him or hate him for his smoking and drinking habits, his extra marital affairs or for taking the banned substance, one can’t deny the profound impact Warnie had on the game of cricket. Ask Mike Gatting and he will tell us how the “ball of the century” defied the rules of physics and crafted a new genre of leg spin that its creator would rule the world with, for next two decades. Records fell like the house of cards in front of him – most wickets by an Australian cricketer, first bowler to claim 700 wickets in test cricket, most wickets in a calendar year, Warnie had been there and done it all. But he took the world of cricket by storm with his flamboyance, he made the game vibrant and infused new energy to a sport that often lost momentum in the day long sessions. One eye with blue color and the other with green, Warnie surely epitomized the game of cricket and turned it as colorful as himself. Gone too early, Warnie we will miss your radiance and the world of cricket will never have another “Hollywood” who could grace the cricket field with a 97kg framework!