The 2000s were a great time to be a sports fan, not just for the great games, athletes and teams we witnessed, but for the advent of high-definition TV! One could even say that HDTV marked the point in which fans started going to fewer sporting events in order to watch a similarly clear picture at home or at bars.
But let’s get back to the greats of this decade; the 2000s were the best period in sports if you prefer dynastic teams and dominating athletes. The Lakers and the Spurs dominated this decade with multiple NBA championships, while the Patriots dominated on the gridiron with the Steelers sprinkled in. Both the Yankees and the Red Sox each claimed two World Series championships, while Tiger Woods put himself onto not just the Mount Rushmore of Golf, but the Mount Rushmore of Sports.
Those teams were dominated by larger-than-life athletes such as Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz. They are among the all-time greats and are destined to be in the Halls of Fame in their respective sports, if they aren’t already there (in Shaq’s case). We all know about them on and off the court/field, but what about the forgotten athletes from this era? What about those athletes who had a short, but exciting run in which they were seemingly on top of the world, only to fall off for whatever reason? We will revisit some of these athletes who peaked during the 2000s and haven’t really been heard of since then. Here are 15 forgotten athletes of the 2000s and what they look like today.
15. Jennie Finch
Quick: How many women’s softball players can you name? Jennie Finch is likely the only name that comes to mind and that is essentially on the heels of her performance in college and at the Olympics. Finch won an NCAA-record 51 straight games as a pitcher and then won a gold medal at the 2004 Games. Team USA then won a silver medal at the 2008 Games and Finch finished her national team career with a 0.42 ERA across 239.1 innings pitched. Finch was offered to pose in Playboy, but turned it down citing her religious beliefs. She did, however, pose in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition as was voted as the most-attractive female athlete in an ESPN poll.
In 2016, Finch served as the guest manager for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League for one game. That made her the first woman to ever manage a professional baseball team and the Bluefish won the game.
14. Roy Jones Jr.
Imagine a bigger, stronger, more exciting version of Floyd Mayweather Jr. That’s essentially what Roy Jones Jr. was from the 1990s-2000s. RJ JR is the only boxer in the history of the sport to start his career at light middleweight (147-154 lb) and go on to win a heavyweight title. By doing so, he became the first boxer in 106 years to win a middleweight and heavyweight championship, as Jones kept moving up in class to face stiffer competition. Coincidentally, Jones’ fall from grace came when he cut weight after winning the heavyweight title and moved back to light heavyweight, as the muscle loss did him in and he was never the same fighter afterwards.
After winning 49 of his first 50 fights, Jones then lost 7 of his next 12 fights. He is still active today at 48-years-old, but he hasn’t competed for a major title since 2004. Today, Jones is an analyst for HBO Boxing where he frequently spars, with a microphone, with ESPN’s Max Kellerman.
13. Priest Holmes
It’s not hyperbole to say that Priest Holmes had the greatest three-year stretch for a running back in NFL history. From 2001-03, Holmes averaged over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns per season. He led the league in rushing in 2001 and then led the league in touchdowns in both 2002 and 2003. Injuries forced him into an early retirement but he made a brief comeback as a 34-year-old in 2007 before retiring for good. Holmes now operates the Priest Holmes Foundation, which is based out of his hometown of San Antonio. The non-profit encourages education and enhances the lives of children in the community by offering scholarships for people who wouldn’t normally be able to attend college. Speaking of college, Holmes went back to the University of Texas and completed his degree 19 years after leaving the school in 1996.
12. Jim Edmonds
Edmonds was a staple on many a SportsCenter Top 10 during the 2000s for his monstrous home runs and his unbelievable catches at center field. Edmonds was a great fielder during the 1990s while with the Angels, but his bat came alive during the 2000s with the Cardinals. Edmonds won eight Gold Gloves during his career and was a four-time All-Star. Despite being one of eight players in MLB history with eight Gold Gloves and 390+ home runs, Edmonds received just 2.5 percent of the votes for the Hall of Fame and was removed from the ballot. He still lives in St. Louis and works as a Cardinals analyst for Fox Sports Midwest. He is also in the restaurant business and has opened three different restaurants throughout Missouri. Edmonds’ wife, Meghan, is also one of the housewives on the Real Housewives of Orange County.
11. Amanda Beard
The former world-record holder in the 200m breaststroke made her Olympics debut in 1996 as a 14-year-old. She won three medals at that Games, won another in 2000 and then again won three medals at the 2004 Games. Boosted by the success and notoriety she had at the Olympics, Beard then graced the cover of Playboy in 2007 in a nude pictorial. That is in stark contrast from the bulimia nervosa disorder she used to struggle with; while in college Beard would have anxiety just from people taking pictures of her in her swimsuit. Ironically, Beard ended up marrying a photographer after she retired from competitive swimming and she is now the mother of two young kids. She also released an autobiography in which she chronicled her struggles with self-mutilation and drug use, as she credits her husband with helping her overcome those dark times.
10. Zach Thomas
Thomas had the unfortunate honor of being in Ray Lewis’ draft class, and thus, played in the shadow of perhaps the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history. But Thomas was a star in his own right and made five All-Pro teams which is even more than another contemporary, Brian Urlacher. All but two of the linebackers who have made five All-Pro teams have made the HOF, but Thomas seems to be on the outside looking in and can’t even crack the list of finalists. However, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for his time at Texas Tech and his brother-in-law, Jason Taylor, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thomas now runs a couple of businesses in both Miami and his native Texas, including a real estate company and a health club.
9. Steve Francis
Before Eli Manning said he didn’t want to play in San Diego, Steve Francis said he didn’t want to play in Vancouver and was subsequently traded to the Rockets after being drafted by the Grizzlies. Stevie Franchise was the Rookie of the Year and a three-time All-Star in Houston before being traded to Orlando in a deal which brought Tracy McGrady to H-town. For whatever reason, Francis began a steep decline in his late 20s and he was out of the NBA at the age of 30. He resurfaced in China two years later but retired for good after averaging 0.4 points per game over four games.
It was later revealed that Francis suffers from Meniere’s disease, which causes episodes of vertigo and constant ringing in the ears. That is the main reason why Francis, who is a month younger than 40-year-old Vince Carter, looks much different than he did during his playing days.
8. Annika Sorenstam
Widely considered the greatest female golfer of all-time, Sorenstam won 72 LPGA tournaments including 10 majors. From 2001-2006 Sorenstam won eight majors which is one more than Tiger Woods won during that stretch. In 2003 Sorenstam was invited to play a tournament on the PGA Tour which made her the first female to do so in 58 years. Sorenstam retired after the 2008 season and she ranked first on the LPGA’s career money list with earning over $22 million. The person in second place had about $20 million, but competed in 149 more events than Sorenstam did. In retirement, Sorenstam has opened her own golfing academy in Florida which hosts clinics for junior golfers. She also has gotten involved in golf course design and has designed courses in China, South Africa and South Korea.
7. Zinedine Zidane
Before it was (Cristiano) Ronaldo and Messi battling it out for the title of world’s best soccer player, it was Ronaldo (Brazil) and Zidane. The Frenchman was one of the most-skilled players the game has ever seen and it seemed like he had the ball on a string while dribbling through defenders. He won three FIFA World Player of the Year awards, won a World Cup and almost won another.
Unfortunately, the last image many people remember about Zidane’s career was his headbutt to Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final. That would be his final game but most remember the great play throughout his career rather than a single act. David Beckham, a former teammate, described Zidane as “the greatest of all-time” and in 2002 ESPN named him the greatest player in the world. Now Zidane is the manager of one of his former club teams, Real Madrid, and coaches the player who may have supplanted him for the best ever, Cristiano Ronaldo.
6. Mike Bibby
The epic 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Kings and Lakers made Bibby a household name. But that series would be the highlight of his career as, surprisingly, Bibby never made an All-Star team during his NBA career. Still, he had a 14-year career and made over $107 million in career earnings. After retiring in 2012, Bibby returned to his alma mater in Arizona, Shadow Mountain High School, and became their basketball coach. He coached his son, Michael, who initially played at South Florida but then transferred to Appalachian State. The elder Bibby still hoops from time to time and participated in the Big3 league in 2017. Bibby led the league in assists while his team, Ghost Ballers, finished in third place.
5. Daunte Culpepper
Vikings fans “got their roll on” alongside Culpepper who was built like a tight end, but had one of the strongest quarterback arms in NFL history. He and Randy Moss hooked up for 53 touchdowns from 2000-2004 and DC would have his best season in 2004. He led the NFL in passing yards while also rushing for over 400 yards and finished runner-up in MVP voting. But an injury early in the 2005 season ended up derailing Culpepper’s career and he was never the same afterwards. He only threw 20 TDs only the last five years of his career, combined, and retired at the age of 33 in 2010. Culpepper looked like a tight end when he played, but he looks like an offensive lineman now and is likely tipping the scales at 300 lbs.
4. Marion Jones
Jones was supposed to be this generation’s version of Jackie Joyner-Kersee as the world’s greatest female athlete. She was certainly off to a great start as she won an NCAA championship in basketball and then won five medals at the 2000 Olympics. However, it was later revealed that Jones had used PEDs and was subsequently stripped of her medals in addition to three World Championship medals. Things would go from bad to worse as Jones was involved in a check-counterfeiting scheme and she ended up spending 49 days in prison.
By the time she got out, her track career was over and she was ostracized from the sport. But Jones then went back to basketball and made her WNBA debut at the age of 35 in 2010. Not too many people, male or female, can say they participated in the Olympics in one sport and played in a top league in a different sport. Today, Jones is a motivational speaker and mother to three kids.
3. Eric Gagne
A hard-throwing French-Canadian, Gagne didn’t even speak English when he came to the United States in the mid-1990s. He said he learned the native language by watching Nickelodeon’s Kenan and Kel. Communication certainly wasn’t a problem for Gagne on the mound as he was the game’s preeminent closer from 2002-2004. He won a Cy Young award, made three All-Star appearances and set an MLB record with 84 consecutive converted saves. However, injuries (and appearing on the Mitchell Report) derailed Gagne’s career and he pitched in his last MLB game at the age of 32 in 2008.
With his MLB career now done, Gagne returned to Canada and pitched there for a few years. He even made a comeback at the 2017 World Baseball Classic where he pitched for Team Canada. He last pitched for the independent Long Island Ducks and retired for good in May 2017.
2. Rick Fox
“Pretty Ricky” was born in Canada and raised in the Bahamas before moving to the United States as a teen. Most people remember him for winning three NBA titles with the Lakers, but Fox actually got his NBA career started with the rival-Celtics. He was Larry Bird’s “rookie” on the court and had a burgeoning acting career off the court. During his NBA career, Fox appeared in basketball movies Blue Chips and He Got Game, while also becoming a regular on the HBO series Oz.
Outside of basketball and acting, Fox has also gotten into the esports-craze as he created Echo Fox, which has signed many e-sports teams and players alike. But for all Fox has accomplished in basketball, acting and in business; perhaps his dating life deserves the most acclaim. Fox was married to former Miss America Vanessa Williams and also dated actresses Eliza Dushku and AnnaLynne McCord.
1. Lance Armstrong
In the early 2000s, Armstrong was on the same level as such athletes like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant in terms of popularity. He won a record seven straight Tour de France races from 1999-2005 and was named SI’s Sportsman of the Year in 2002. Armstrong overcoming cancer in the 1990s was a great backstory to his accomplishments, but those accomplishments would become tainted (and rescinded) when it was found that Armstrong used PEDs. He lost virtually all his sponsorships as well as many of his awards. The US government is still going after Armstrong as a $100 million civil fraud case against him will being in May 2018. At 46 years old, Armstrong no longer cycles competitively, but he still races in charity events that raise awareness and money for cancer research.
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