The dreaded 2020 is finally coming to an end. If the global effect of the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t bad enough, the sporting world also lost some of its favourite pupil this year.
From the legendary Diego Maradona to former India football captain PK Banerjee, from Dean Jones to Kobe Bryant…the losses will be hard to fill. As we take baby steps into 2021, a look at the sporting icons who left for heavenly abode.
Diego Maradona (Oct 1960 – Nov 2020)
One of the greatest footballers of all time, the Argentina star was born in Lanus, a town near Buenos Aires, on October 30, 1960. He started playing football in the streets around his neighbourhood and at the age of twelve, he was part of the children’s team Los Cebollitas.
The World Cup-winning footballer represented Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, and Newell’s Old Boys as a player. Diego was considered solely responsible for taking Argentina to their second World Cup title in 1986.
With the Argentine team, he won the World Cup at Mexico 86, a tournament in which he stood out, above all, in a match against England. He scored two goals, including one with his hand which went down in history as ‘the hand of God,’ and another exceptional strike that is considered one of the best in the history of the competition.
Maradona was hospitalised after he complained of being fatigued regularly. His tests at the La Plata clinic revealed a blood clot in the brain, which doctors later revealed was operated on successfully. He passed away on November 25 after suffering a heart attack.
Kobe Bryant (Aug 1978 – Jan 2020)
American basketball legend Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. The 41-year-old Bryant had won five National Basketball Association (NBA) championships in his 20-year-long career while playing for Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant became one of NBA’s most popular players and the face of the Lakers during his career. Winning a record four NBA All-Star Game MVP awards, he was the overall league MVP in 2008, a two-time NBA scoring champion, and 12 All-Defensive selections.
He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001, and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist with the dominant U.S. team, Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game. In December 2017, the Lakers hung banners retiring his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys in the Staples Center rafters in an unprecedented double honor.
PK Banerjee (June 1936 – Mar 2020)
The former India football captain PK Banerjee passed away at the age of 83 after a prolonged illness in March. The legendary Indian footballer was an integral part of India’s gold medal-winning team in the 1962 Asian Games and even scored in the final against South Korea as India fought against all odds to script a historic 2-1 triumph in Jakarta.
Banerjee, who was the first footballer to receive the Arjuna Award (in 1961), represented India in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and played a pivotal role in the 4-2 victory against Australia in the quarter-finals where India eventually finished fourth.
Banerjee was also bestowed with the FIFA Fairplay Award (in 1990), and the FIFA Centennial Order of Merit in 2004.
Balbir Singh Sr (Dec 1923 – May 2020)
Three times Olympic medal-winning hockey legend, Balbir Singh Sr. passed away on May 25 due to multiple health issues at the age of 96.
The iconic center-forward was one of India’s most accomplished athletes and was the only Indian among the 16 legends chosen by the International Olympic Committee across the modern Olympic history. He won three gold medals in 1948 in London, in 1952 in Helsinki, and in 1956 in Melbourne. Balbir Singh is still remembered for scoring five goals in India’s 6-1 victory over the Netherlands in the Helsinki Games in 1952. In 1957, he was conferred with Padma Shri Award for his contributions and achievements in the field of hockey.
Dean Jones (Mar 1961 – Sept 2020)
Former Australia cricketer Dean Jones passed away due to a cardiac arrest at the age of 59 on September 24 during the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). A gritty, attacking player, the Victorian made 3631 runs at an average of 46.55 in Tests, while in ODIs he made 6068 runs, at 44.61, with seven hundreds and 46 fifties. He also remains No.5 on the all-time ICC Batting Rankings in the format.
His most memorable Test innings came in 1986 when in the heat and humidity of Chennai, he battled exhaustion and illness to make a heroic 210 in what would be only the second tied Test ever.
Jones went on to make 10 more hundreds, with a career-best 216 against West Indies in Adelaide in 1989. He retired from international cricket in 1994 – much too early, according to his supporters, but went on to play first-class cricket till the 1997/98 season.