Becoming one of the most famous athletes in the world is no easy task. That being said, over the years we have seen several pro’s rise to the top in their respective sports and even become legends in some cases.
However, there have also been a number of sports stars who have achieved considerable notoriety, and later, often seemingly overnight, fade into the background. This has been especially true over the past several decades – do in part to the introduction of the internet and 24-hour sports news cycles.
As sports fans, most of us had a favorite athlete growing up that we may have lost track off or didn’t keep up with after they retired. In some cases, there were athletes who folks may have had a crush on in their youth – who later seemed to disappear entirely.
Today we are going to take few minutes to catch up with some of our favorite athletes from the past. We’ll find out, not only what they look like, but also what they have been up to since disappearing from the spotlight.
These athletes come from a variety of different sports, but one thing they all have in common is that at one point in time they were among the most well-known athletes in the world.
20 The 90s: Gabrielle Reece
Before Misty Mae-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings, San Diego California’s Gabrielle Reece was far and away the most popular female beach volleyball player in the world. The 6-foo-3 blonde was dominant in the 1990s. She was the WBVL kills leader from 1993-1996, Offensive Player of the Year in 1994-95, and led the league in blocks back in 1993. Off the sand, the tall starlet also had a great deal of success as a model. She appeared in magazines such as Shape & Outside.
Since retiring from volleyball, Reece has done some acting and landed a few small parts on television shows like North Shore and 8 Simple Rules. In 2013, she published a book; an autobiography entitled My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper: A Guide to the Less Than Perfect Life. Now 48 years of age, Gabrielle Reece has been married to her husband, pro surfer Laird Hamilton since 1997. The couple has 2 daughters together. These day, the family splits time between Hawaii and Malibu, California. She has also made peace her celebrity status and has publicly stated, “I don't want to be famous famous. I'm happy on the second tier, where I have autonomy on a professional level but I can still go out to the movies without being recognized.”
19 The 2000s: Stacy Keibler
Rosedale, Maryland’s Stacy Keibler is a former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader turned pro wrestler. She is best known for her stints in the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in the early 2000s. While she wasn’t known as an outstanding in-ring performer, the 5-foot-11 blonde beauty was widely considered one of the most breathtaking women in the business and was known for unusually long legs. Outside of wrestling, she became something of a mainstream celebrity following her appearance on the television show Dancing With the Stars. In 2011, she made headlines when it was announced that she was dating A-list actor George Clooney. They were an item for roughly 2 years, before calling it quits in 2013.
Keibler has distanced herself from professional wrestling and seldom makes headlines these days. The 38-year-old married businessman Jared Pobre back in 2014. The couple had a child, a girl named Ava Grace Pobre, a few months following their wedding. They currently reside in Atlanta, Georgia. Keibler has stated in the past,“I like my home to be somewhere where my friends can feel like they can put their feet up on the couch and for it to feel like really easy living. I really love to have my friends over, cook dinner for them, catch up, and spend quality time with quality people in my life.”
18 The 90s: Bo Jackson
When discussing stars from the 1990s, one of the first athletes that likely come to mind is Bessemer, Alabama’s Bo Jackson. Jackson was a phenomenal athlete who went pro in both football and baseball. He went on to become an All-Star (or Pro Bowler) in both sports – becoming the first athlete ever to do so. In Major League baseball he played the outfield for the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, and had a brief stint with the California Angels, before retiring in 1994. After winning the Heisman Trophy as a college football running back, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders. Unfortunately, Jackson’s NFL career was cut short due to a hip injury he suffered on the field. Sports fans will likely remember his “Bo Knows” Nike commercials that aired back in the late-80s and early-90s. The two-sport star was also a character in the Saturday morning cartoon Pro Stars.
After his sports careers ended, Jackson went back to school to get his Bachelor’s Degree in Family and Child Development. He would go on to serve as the President of the HealthSouth Sports Medicine Council. The 55-year-old also does speaking engagements. Though he does miss some aspects of the game. In his own words,“If I miss anything about the sport, it's the camaraderie of old teammates.”
17 The 2000s: Gina Carano
Before Ronda Rousey helped bring women’s mixed martial arts to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it was Dallas native Gina Carano who laid the foundation. In fact, it would be fair to say that Gina “Conviction” Carano was MMA’s first female star. The 5-foot-8 brunette went undefeated for almost 3 years, from 2006 through 2009, before suffering her first (and only) defeat to Cris Cyborg. She retired following her bout with Cyborg with a professional record of 7-1. During her career, she also starred in the remake of the American Gladiators series, as a gladiator by the name of Crush.
Since retiring the 36-year-old has gone on to become an actress. In fact, she landed the lead role in the Steven Soderbergh directed action film Haywire. The MMA pioneer has also been featured in movies like Fast & Furious 6, and Deadpool. When discussing her career and the sport in general, Carano has said, “There are certain things that I always dreamed of, like fighting in the UFC. There's just certain things that I feel like haven't been accomplished there. There's such great women coming up in the sport; seems like a wonderful time to be in women's MMA”
16 The 90s: Anna Kournikova
If you were a sports fan in the late 1990s, then there is an excellent chance that you remember tennis star, Anna Kournikova. The blonde Russian beauty was an outstanding doubles player who had a great deal of success with her partner Martina Hingis. The two young starlets were referred to as the “Spice Girls of Tennis” during the height of their popularity. The pair won the Australian Open on two separate occasions in 1999 and 2002 respectively. While Kournikova was known as much for her physical appearance as she was her play on the court – she was actually an outstanding player in her prime. In fact, she was the number 1 ranked doubles player in the world for a period back in 1999. Sadly, Kournikova’s career was cut short, and she was forced to retire in 2003, at the age of 21, due to injury. Outside of tennis, due to her movie star good looks, she became something of a sex symbol in the late 90s and was even one of the most commonly searched images on Google back in the day.
After retirement, she was a celebrity trainer on the reality series The Biggest Loser for 1 season. Anna Kournikova has been involved in a long-term relationship with pop singer Enrique Iglesias since 2001 – the couple recently welcomed twins in December of 2017.
15 The 2000s: Allen Iverson
Allen “The Answer” Iverson is a retired NBA star out of Hampton, Virginia. He was the number 1 overall draft pick in the 1996 NBA draft and went on the become one of the league’s premier stars in the 2000s. The 6-foot-tall point guard played for several teams over the course of his career but is best remembered as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers from 1996-2006. During his time in Philly, he became the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2001, an All-Star several times over, and was the league’s top scorer for 4 seasons. He also helped the US win a bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.
After his departure from the NBA, Iverson played in Turkey for a season before deciding to retire. “The Answer” would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. He would later come out of retirement in 2017 as part of the BIG 3 – a 3-on-3 professional basketball league – where he signed to be both a player and a coach. Iverson hopes his story inspires others and was quoted as saying, “That's where I'll get the love in my heart: from, the fact that little young guys can look at the obstacles that I had to go through to become a Hall of Famer and know it's not so bad when it comes to them trying to accomplish the same goal.”
14 The 90s: Sammy Sosa
1998 was one of the most exciting years in baseball, and Dominican slugger Sammy Sosa was a bigger part of the reason. That year, Sosa and Cardinal's star Mark McGwire were both chasing Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. While both players would end up breaking the previous record of 61 home runs (Sosa hit 65 that year), it was McGwire who finished the year as the single-season home run king with 70 on the season. Sosa would end up finishing his career with a Hall of Fame caliber resume which included 7 All-Star appearances, a National League MVP Award, and over 600 home runs. However, an article published back 2009 suggested that Sosa allegedly tested positive for performance enchaining drugs back in 2003 – leading some to question the legitimacy of his accomplishments.
Sammy Sosa, who is now 49 years of age, has been eligible for the Hall of Fame since 2013. At press time, he has never received more than 12.5% of the sportswriter's votes, out of the 75% needed to be enshrined in Cooperstown. He was received at least 5% of the vote each year, which is enough to maintain his eligibility. The former Chicago Cubs standout has gone on record stating, “I will calmly wait for my induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Don't I have the numbers to be inducted?”
13 The 2000s: Chad Johnson
Chad Johnson (aka Chad Ochocinco) is retired former National Football League wide receiver, who is best remembered for his time as a Cincinnati Bengals. He was an outspoken player who had an impressive career. Johnson made 6 Pro Bowl appearance between 2003 -2009 and led the league in receiving yards back in 2006. He also played in SuperBowl XLVI as a member of the New England Patriots, but his team would ultimately be defeated 21-17 by the New York Giants. Outside of football, he has appeared on several television shows including Dancing With the Stars and his own reality dating show called Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch.
Fans in the US haven’t heard much about Johnson in recent years. However, he did play in Canada for a season in 2014. Moreover, he also played in Mexico as recently as 2017, for a franchise known as the Monterrey Fundidores. Despite his reputation, Johnson has always loved the game of football and would have probably liked to play in the NFL even longer saying, “I will get an opportunity to play again. Why? Because this is the NFL and there are always second chances.”
12 The 90s: Mia St. John
In the early part career San Francisco, California’s Mia St. John was known as “The Bunny Boxer” – due to the fact that she had appeared in Playboy Magazine in 1999. However, she would later establish credibility after going 10 rounds in a close fight with legendary female boxer Christy Martin. While Martin ultimately won the bout, St. John was viewed by pundits as a top tier fighter afterward. Interestingly enough, St. John would later go on to avenge the loss to Martin, though the 2nd bout took place in 2012, when both women were well past their prime. Over the course of her career, she was the WBC Super Welterweight Champion. St. John also held the IBA and IFBA lightweight titles. Over a career that spanned almost two decades, Mia St. John fought nearly every top female fighter in the world –including current MMA standout and former champ Holly Holm.
While she hasn’t made many headlines in recent years, St. John has fought as recently as 2016 – in a retirement bout held in New Zealand. She now works as a mental health advocate. When reflecting on her career, St. John has said, "I feel people have to respect me as a fighter, not only for what I have done for women's boxing but just for getting into the ring with Christy. The two of us have worked very hard and have done far more than anyone else to help get women's boxing where it is today.”
11 The 2000s: Matt Hughes
In the mid-2000s, there wasn’t a more dominant mixed martial artist in the world then 2-time UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes. The native of Hillsboro, Illinois was also an accomplished wrestler who was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame (a Hall of Fame for college wrestlers). Hughes holds victories over several legends of the sport including B.J. Penn, Royce Gracie, and Georges St-Pierre. He has always been outspoken and never shy about giving his opinions. When analyzing his former oppoent Georges St-Piere, Hughes went on the record stating, "GSP actually looked worse in this fight than I’ve ever seen him before. I really feel like Georges fights not to lose, he just doesn’t fight to win anymore." - His thoughts about the GSP/Shields bout. His last MMA fight was in 2011 – a KO loss to Josh Koscheck.
Following his retirement, Hughes hosted a TV miniseries called uncaged, which aired on The Sports Channel in 2014. In 2017, the former champion was involved in a serious car accident when a train struck his vehicle at a railroad crossing. He was even in a coma for a period following the incident. The former champ would go on to recover and was later honored at a UFC Fight Night in St. Louis, last January.
10 The 90s: Nancy Kerrigan
Stoneham, Massachusetts Nancy Kerrigan was one of the top figure skaters in the world during the 1990s. In fact, she even won a silver medal in the 1994 Winter Olympic Games and was the 1993 US National Figure Skating Champion. Sadly, despite her many accomplishments on the ice, Kerrigan is best remembered for being on the receiving end of an attack at the hands of a man named Shane Stant – who was linked to her skating rival at the time – Tony Harding. Stant hit Kerrigan in the thigh with a police baton in an effort to force her out of active competition. The incident ended up being one of 1994’s top news stories, and both Kerrigan and Harding became household names. The plan failed, and Kerrigan ended up competing at the 1994 Olympics. The extent to which Harding was involved in the incident is still subject to debate, though she denies that she was involved in the planning.
Nancy Kerrigan reemerged briefly in 2017 to compete on the television series Dancing With the Stars. In December of 2017, a movie entitled I, Tonya, a biopic about Tonya Harding was released. Kerrigan, who was surprisingly a peripheral character in the film, was played by actress Caitlin Carver.
9 The 2000s: Trish Stratus
#raw25 #ootd - shout out to my peeps that put together this look so I could deliver stratusfaction!! - Started with some hair slaying in #the6ix by @hairbystavro24. Armed with my kickass new logo created by @overbydesign, my girl @madistylesdesign fashioned my regular men's tee done by @realtshirttime (thx Omar & Ryan!!) to look like that!! And, sun-kissed by @tanontherun - At the show @wweglamsquad got their hands on me for makeup... thank you @bfabulous1 - who happens to be a hairmaster also and styled my hair for the night! - It takes a village .... thanks guys, for being awesome at what you do!! 😘 💅🏼💄💋👠👑 . . . . . . . . . #raw25 #raw #styling #customtee #stratusfaction #blonde #salonglamour #madistyles
Patricia Stratigeas (better known as Trish Stratus) is a retired professional wrestler who made a name for herself in World Wrestling Entertainment back in the early-2000s. The Canadian began her career as a manager and would later go on to become an accomplished in-ring competitor. When discussing her improvements over the years, Stratus has said, “I can wrestle, I can go out there and cut an entertaining promo, I can also do the backstage stuff... and if you can contribute more to the show, you have more staying power.” She had plenty of staying power, having won the WWE Women’s Championship 7 times over the course of her career and is widely considered to be one of the greatest female performers of all-time. Wrestling fans will likely remember her feuds with stars like Lita, Mickie James, and Stephanie McMahon. She would wrestle her final match as a full-time competitor in 2006.
After retiring, Stratus would go on to open her own eco-friendly yoga studio. In 2013, she was officially inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by her former rival Lita. The blonde stunner still makes appearances for WWE and even recently wrestled at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view event last January. The 41-year-old is now a mother of 2 and resides in the greater Toronto area.
8 The 90s: Jennifer Capriati
New York’s Jennifer Capriati was one of the one the top tennis players in the early-90s before falling in the ranking and struggling to reestablish herself in the later part of the decade. Interestingly enough, she would re-immerge a play the best tennis of her career in the early 2000s. In 1991 she became the youngest player, at just 14 years of age to be ranked among the top 10 players in the world. In 1992 she would go on to capture an Olympic gold medal as a singles player in Barcelona. She then dealt with some personal struggles early on in her career and was arrested for shoplifting and marijuana possession – which caused her to take a break from the tour. She struggled following her return in 1996. However, she hit her stride once more in 2001 when she won both the French and Australian Open. Capriati played her final seasons in 2004, marking the end of an outstanding career.
Following her retirement, in 2009, she appeared on the ABC reality show The Superstars. She also made headlines in 2013, following an alleged domestic issue, which resulted in the former tennis star having to attend anger management counselling.
7 The 2000s: Lance Armstrong
When it comes to the sport of cycling, Lance Armstrong is in a league of his own in terms of name recognition. Armstrong became a national star in his early teens and was considered one of the top athletes in the world in the 1990s and 2000s. The Plano, Texas product won the Tour de France 7 consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, which was a record at the time. However, Armstrong’s world would turned upside down in 2012, when he was banned from sanctioned Olympic cycling for life, due to a series of doping offenses. He was also stripped of several of his titles. The cyclist was once quoted as saying, “Two things scare me. The first is getting hurt. But that's not nearly as scary as the second, which is losing.”The quote may help fans understand the former champs mindset and comprehend why he decided to step outside the rules.
Outside of cycling, Armstrong has several business ventures including a coffee shop in Austin, Texas is known as “Juan Pelota Café.” He also has a bike shop known as “Mellow Johnny’s.” The Tour de France winner has served as a technical advisor for SRAM Corp, a bicycle component manufacturer, for which he also a stock owner.
6 The 90s: Penny Hardaway
Before Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal’s right-hand man was a guy out of Memphis, Tennessee by the name of Anfernee “Penny" Hardaway. At 6-foot-7, Hardaway was an exceptionally tall point guard who made a name for himself playing for the Orlando Magic alongside Shaquille O'Neal in the early 90s. During his career, he was a 4-time all-star and also helped the United States win a gold medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics Games. After Shaq left the Magic in 1996, Hardaway suffered a series of injuries and his play steadily declined. He would play on for several teams until 2007, but was never able re-established himself as one of the NBA’s premier stars.
Outside of basketball, Hardaway owns several businesses including salon and barbershop in Memphis, Tennessee. The former Magic star also has a turf business in Miami, Florida. These days, as many college basketball fans may already know, he is the head coach of the Memphis Tigers – his alma matter – replacing former coach Tubby Smith. Hardaway rose through the ranks at the high school level, having coached at East High School, which is also located in Memphis. The former all-star will have an opportunity to establish himself as one of college basketball’s top coaches next season
5 The 2000s: Ashley Hakleroad
Ashley Harkleroad was professional tennis player out of Rossville, Georgia. She achieved her highest ranking as a singles player, number 39 in the world, back in September of 2003. While the 5-foot-5 blonde was a solid player, she received a great deal of attention due to her remarkable beauty. Due to her appearance, she was sometimes compared to another gorgeous tennis star, Anna Kournikova. In 2008 she made headlines when she posed for Playboy Magazine after being inspired to do so by Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard, who had previously posed. She retired from the sport in 2012 after taking home over $1 million in winnings.
Harkleroad married her former coach Chuck Adams, with whom she was 2 children. The 33-year-old had been fairly quiet following her retirement until the news involving Maria Sharapova having tested positive for a banned substance in 2016 surfaced. Harkleroad, who player Sharapova 5 times during her career, expressed her disapproval and went on record stating, “ I think this offense should be taken very seriously and with the utmost penalty because for 10 years she seems to have never played "sober." Harkleroad went on to say, “I wish I could have another opportunity to play her under fair conditions. Even though all this time has passed, I can't help but ask myself... who is the real Maria Sharapova, how good was she after all?”
4 The 90s: Jim Abbott
Jim Abbott is a retired Major League Baseball player out of Flint, Michigan. What makes him particularly noteworthy is the fact that he was born without a right hand. However, that didn’t stop him from having pro baseball career that lasted roughly a decade (from 1989 to 1999). The left-hander player for several teams including the California Angels, the New York Yankees, and the Chicago White Sox. In 1991, his best seasons in the majors, he finished the year with 18 wins and posted a 2.89 ERA. The highlight of Abbott’s MLB career came in 1993 when he pitched a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians.
With quotes like, “There are millions of people out there ignoring disabilities and accomplishing incredible feats. I learned you can learn to do things differently, but do them just as well. I've learned that it's not the disability that defines you, it's how you deal with the challenges the disability presents you with. And I've learned that we have an obligation to the abilities we DO have, not the disability” and “Never allow the circumstances of your life to become an excuse. People will allow you to do it. But I believe we have a personal obligation to make the most of the abilities we have”, it’s no surprise that Abbott has found success as a motivational speaker since retiring from baseball.
3 The 2000s: Aaron Brooks
Before Drew Brees became a legendary starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, that job was held by a man named Aaron Brooks. The 6-foot-4 native of Newport News, Virginia was originally drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 4th round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He didn’t take any regular seasons snaps during his rookie season and was traded to the Saints the following year. He would end up taking over the starting job and even help lead his team past the defending Super Bowl champs, the St.Louis Rams, in his first career start. He held on to starting job for roughly 5 seasons and became the Saint’s all-time franchise leader in both season, and career TD passes – both records would later be broken by current QB Drew Brees. Brooks also played one season with the Raiders before retiring in 2006 .
Since leaving the NFL, the former quarterback has invested in a development project in his hometown of New Port News. The vice mayor of the city praised Brooks work stating that it's"significant that one of our own has taken his resources and other resources to show us that we can do it. It's a good day. It's a good day for our community."
2 The 90s: Albert Belle
Albert Belle was a left fielder who played for the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago White Sox, and the Baltimore Orioles. He was a 5-time all-star, led the American League in Home Runs in 1995, and finished his career with .295 batting average to go with 381 homers. He was also known for being a serious competitor on the field. Belle was once quoted as saying, “In baseball, I don't fraternize with players when it's time to hit. I'm preparing for the game. It's the most important time of the day. And I know if I don't hit, I won't have a job in the big leagues. That's why I tend to get very upset when people try to talk to me.” He wasn’t always popular with the press either and had a rocky relationship with the media. In 1994 he was at the center of controversy when he was suspended for using a corked bat.
Since leaving the game baseball, the 51-year-old has a had some legal issues. In 2006, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail after allegedly stalking a former girlfriend. Last March he was arrested in Arizona and charged with indecent exposure and DUI. The former White Sox once said, “People want me to do things, be a certain way, and that's not going to happen. I'm going to be Albert Belle.”
1 The 2000s: Nastia Liukin
Nastia Liukin is an American gymnast who rose to prominence in 2008, after winning the Olympic individual all-around. When looking back on her Olympic experience, she has said, “The first time I walked into the Olympic athlete village seeing the Visa ATM machine with my picture on it and the Chinese characters saying 'Destiny.' For some reason, it just boosted my confidence, and it was before I had even worked out or had my first training or competed.”Outside of Olympic competition, the talented gymnast was also a 4-time all-around national champ. After failing to make the 2012 Olympic team, the blonde world champ decided to call it a career.
It may be hard to believe, given the fact that she became a public figure roughly a decade ago, but Nastia Liukin is just 28 years of age. In 2015, she announced that she would be appearing on the 20th season of the hit reality television series Dancing with the Stars. Alongside her partner Derek Hough, she made it to the semifinal round of the dancing tournament before being eliminated, though she consistently received the highest scores from the judges throughout the season. Liukin is also a public speaker who discuss topics such as women in sports
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