Every year at this time I write a column honoring those in the sports world who died in the previous year and every year I’m amazed at the names and personalities that are on that list. It seems as I get older, more and more of my childhood memories are laid to rest in the persons of these great athletes who I looked up to, and some who I emulated. This past year is certainly no different.
I must first point out that four former members of the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters passed away in 2015. If you are a frequent reader of this column, you know of my love for the Globetrotters and that I have worked for the team a couple of times in the past four years. Paul “Pablo” Robertson was a member of the Globetrotters in the late 1960s to early 1970s, and was featured in the team’s Saturday morning cartoon, as well as in many Globetrotters (Hanna-Barbera) comic books. He died in February.
Another former Globetrotter and Sand Springs native, Marques Haynes, died May 22 at the age of 89. He played high school basketball at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, and then went on to play college ball at Langston University. Haynes made his mark as one of the greatest dribblers of all-time. He was a member of the Globetrotters two different times totaling 14 years. He also played for his own exhibition team the “Harlem Magicians,” and retired at the age of 66 in 1992. He became the first member of the Harlem Globetrotters to be inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998, and was inducted in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2011.
The Globetrotters most famous “Clown Prince” Meadowlark Lemon died most recently, just a couple days after Christmas, he was 83. Lemon spent 24 years with the Globetrotters and was featured in numerous cartoons, the Saturday morning “Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine,” Wide World of Sports appearances with the team and on dozens of television shows and commercials. After playing with the Globetrotters, Lemon formed his own basketball exhibition teams while also traveling as an evangelist speaking in churches and schools all over the country. He was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Another member of the Globetrotters died this past year, but he is better known as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers; Darryl Dawkins, affectionately known as “Chocolate Thunder” was 58. Dawkins was famous for his backboard shattering dunks and spent 14 seasons in the NBA with Philadelphia, New Jersey Nets, Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz. After leaving the NBA, Dawkins spent some time in the Italian pro league and in the CBA, and joined the Globetrotters for one season (1994-95). He was 43 when he retired in 2000.
Another 76ers great, the big man Moses Malone was 60 years old when he died on Sept. 13. Malone was named NBA MVP three times and was a member of the NBA All-Star team 12 times, during a 20-year career.
Ernie Banks, who wore the title of “Mr. Cub,” was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Banks got his start in the old Negro Leagues and later became a fixture with the Chicago Cubs for 19 seasons. He was 83.
Another baseball great died this past year; Yogi Berra, the anchor behind the plate of all the great Yankees teams of the 1950s, played 19 seasons in the majors in a career covering three decades. He was the American League MVP three times (1951, 1954, and 1955). Berra played on 10 World Series winners and in 75 World Series games; both are records. He made 18 straight All-Star game appearances.
Football great Frank Gifford, an All-American at USC, became the face of the great New York Giants teams of the 1950s and 1960s. The former running back, defensive back, wide receiver and member of the special teams unit, played in five NFL title games and was the league’s MVP in 1956. When he retired, Gifford became a broadcaster and joined the Monday Night Football crew of Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. He was 84.
Two college basketball coaching greats were among those who passed on in 2015; Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian. Smith, 83, led the North Carolina Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours, winning national titles in 1982 and 1993. He earned an Olympic title in 1976 and is noted for coaching some of the game’s best players, including Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Vince Carter and Rasheed Wallace.
Tarkanian died just three days after Smith, and was 84 years old. He led the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels to four Final Fours and won the 1990 title, crushing Duke 103-73 in the final. In all, he coached 31 seasons (19 at UNLV).
Other notable sports deaths in 2015 include, in baseball; Joaquin Andujar, Minnie Minoso, Dean Chance, Dave Henderson, Darryl Hamilton, Tommy Hanson, Frank Malzone, Bill Monbouquette and Al Rosen.
In hockey, former New York Islander coach Al Arbour and the great Canadiens winger Dickie Moore.
Football players who died this past year include Ken Stabler, the left-handed quarterback of the 1970s Oakland Raiders, and Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian.
Tragedy struck the racing world as IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died one day after being struck in the head by debris at Pocono. He was 37.