A Year Of Good Sports And Bad

First year of the new millennium? Last year of the old millennium? Who cares?

What's important is that, after the clock struck midnight, scoreboards around the world still worked and the games got played in 2000.

And whether it was Tiger terrorizing the tour, the Rocket whipping a shattered bat, Marion Jones blazing down the track in Sydney, one or both of the Williams sisters charging the net, Shaq attacking the rim, Bob Knight berating somebody or any of a hundred other significant sports stories, there was something for everyone.

That's part of the beauty of being a sports fan. While everyone gets lumped in to the category, individual events and achievements appeal to some more than others. Here's a glimpse at some that garnered big headlines:

The Big Four

The four recognized "major" professional sports, that is.

New York became the center of the baseball universe in October when the Yankees and Mets locked up in spirited battle. In the end, an experienced Yankees team proved too deep and determined for the Mets to handle. After five close games the Bronx Bombers claimed the championship for the third straight year, fourth in the last five and 26th overall.

Mets' Mike Piazza waves, but does not throw, portion of broken bat that stirred controversy in Subway Series.
The St. Louis Rams and their inspirational, adversity conquering, MVP-quarterback and former grocery store stock clerk Kurt Warner won Super Bowl XXXIV by the length of the ball as the Tennessee Titans came up just short as the game ended.

On the hardwood, the NBA's Western Conference final between Los Angeles and Portland was more anticipated and hyped than the final. It lived up to its billing with the Lakers prevailing in seven games and moving on to the finals where they beat the Indiana Pacers in six. The title was expected to be the first of many for Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, who no doubt hope to win a handful of rings like their coach, Phil Jackson.

On the ice, New Jersey mae a surprising coaching change during the regular season and it seemed to be just the spark they needed. Former Montreal Canadiens great Larry Robinson jumped behind the bench and led the Devils to their second Stanley Cup victory.

Tiger Tears Up The Tour

Though already considered the best in the world and with a caveat that the sky may still be the limit, Tiger Woods' breathtaking golf game reached new heights in 2000.

Woods won three majors on some of the game's most sacred ground: the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by a staggering 15 shots, the British Open at St. Andrews with a record score and the PGA Championship for the second consecutive year.

He finished the year with nine PGA Tour wins, including six straight, the most since Sam Snead's 11 in 1950.

"What we're doing is witnessing Rembrandt paint, and we're all marveling at him mixing paint and brushing strokes," his father, Earl Woods said. "The more you watch, the more you appreciate his talent. And every week, you see a move with the brush you had never seen before. And the painting starts to come to life, more and more and more. It is still unfinished."

A dominant player emerged on the LPGA Tour as well. Karrie Webb won seven times, including two majors, the Nabisco Championship and the U.S. Open.

Olympics Down Under

International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch proclaimed the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney the "best ever" but the Games were dominated as much by news of drug test positives as by medal-winning performances.

U.S. track & field athlete Marion Jones was inadvertently dragged into the drug debacle when news broke that her husband, U.S. shot put champion C.J. Hunter, who wasn't competing in the Games, had come up "hot" on a previous test.

Jones, in a much-publicized effort to win five gold medals, didn't seem affected and performed admirably, winning three gold, and two bronze medals.

"It was a tough time," Jones said. "I didn't get everything I wanted, but I didn't give in, I didn't give up. I can live with that."

Also at the Sydney Games, Michael Johnson capped his brilliant Olympic career by winning another gold in the 400. He was also a member of the winning 1,600 relay team.

Maurice Greene, the world's fastest man, blazed to victory in the 00 while Haile Gebrselassie outkicked Paul Tergat to win a stirring 10,000 meter final.

Other stars included Ian Thorpe, Inge de Bruijn and Lenny Krayzelburg in the pool, Rulon Gardner on the wrestling mat and the U.S. baseball and softball teams.

Another Tour de Lance

Cyclist Lance Armstrong added another heart-warming chapter to his remarkable story of perseverance. Armstrong won his second straight Tour de France just a few short years removed from a battle for his life against Cancer.

Lance Armstrong, right, cruises up the Champs Elysees on his way to victory in the Tour de France.
With tears welling-up in his eyes, Armstrong accepted the laurels of his victory on Paris holding his 9-month-old son Luke in his arms.

These Kids Are All Right

Way back in January, Florida State laid claim the college football's national championship. As the year wound down the Seminoles were poised to repeat and their quarterback, Chris Weinke, won the Heisman Trophy amid some controversy.

Michigan State and Connecticut survived the mayhem and won the men's and women's basketball tournaments.

Other Individuals Of Note

Venus Williams made sure the women's U.S. Open Tennis trophy remained in the house, winning the title in 2000 that her sister, Serena had won the year before. Venus, who returned after a six-month layoff due to tendinitis in her wrists, had already won Wimbledon and had a 35-match win streak at one point.

She also signed a $40 million endorsement contract, believed to be the richest deal ever for a female athlete.

"This is another part of reaching out for my dreams," Williams said.

In men's tennis, Gustavo Kuerten narrowly edged Marat Safin for the No. 1 spot in the ATP Tour rankings by winning the final event of the season.

Pete Sampras, who struggled through a disappointing season, did make history at Wimbledon. He won his seventh title at the most famous of grass court venues, and also claimed his 13th Grand Slam title in the process. That 13th Grand Slam allowed Sampras to pass Roy Emerson and become the undisputed king of men's slams.

In the world of professional boxing, the heavyweight division had a champion, Lennox Lewis, who was as close to a "unified" titleholder as it seems is possible in that fragmented sport. Meanwhile, Mike Tyson grabbed most of the headlines due more to bizarre antics than to his efforts between the bells.

A horse named Fusaichi Pegasus won the Kentucky Derby impressively, prompting comparisons to Secretariat. Lightly-raced the rest of the year, the immense colt flopped in the year's biggest race, the Breeders' Cup Classic. His connection's consolation prize: a $60 million stud syndication payoff.

On the popular NASCAR circuit, Bobby Labonte won his first Winston Cup championship.

Crime And Punishment

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was implicated in the murder of two men in Atlanta following the Super Bowl, but a plea agreement and testimony as a state's witness got Lewis a drastically reduced charge.

Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth was charged with capital murder in connection with the shooting of his pregnant girlfriend. His trial will wind up early in the New Year.

College basketball coaching legend Bob Knight was fired by Indiana University president Myles Brand for what Brand characterized as a "pattern of unacceptable behavior." Two highly publicized incidents, video of Knight grabbing a player by the throat during practice and the grabbing and lecturing of a student, precipitated the dismissal.

Baseball bad boy Jon Rocker was suspended for a series of disparaging remarks about New York City and its ethnically diverse inhabitants published in a Sports Illustrated article. His eventual return to the city ignited a media frenzy but proceeded without serious incident.

Produced by John Esterbrook