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Sports Authority

Adams: Greatest sports comebacks

| Monday, April 29, 2019

There have been a lot of great comeback stories in sports history. Tiger Woods’ recent Masters victory was the culmination of a comeback a decade in the making and sparked a debate over whether or not it was the greatest comeback ever. Here is my totally subjective list of the greatest individual sports comebacks that I can think of.

  1. Muhammad Ali

Some might think Ali belongs higher than this, but it will become clear that while his career did suffer a major setback, it never took a physical toll on him as it did to the other individuals on this list. Ali was at the top of the boxing world before it all came crashing down when he refused to enlist in the draft for the Vietnam War. Facing imprisonment, Ali was lucky to only be stripped of his boxing license and passport for four years.

After returning to boxing over three years later, Ali suffered the first loss of his career to Joe Frazier, but he persisted and managed to defeat him in their second fight. He eventually knocked out George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” to reclaim his world title.

  1. Bernard King

Bernard King is one of the greatest but most forgotten scorers in the history of the NBA. Only true Knicks fans will remember him as the first player since Rick Barry in to score 50 points in back-to-back games. However, in 1985, at the peak of his career, King suffered a devastating leg injury that included torn cartilage, a broken bone and a torn ACL.

Medicine at the time was not what it is now, and an ACL tear alone was widely considered to be essentially career-ending, as no one who had suffered the injury had ever returned to their prior form. However, King persisted, and despite missing a full season rehabbing and being released by the Knicks at the end of the 1986-87 season, he joined the Washington Bullets and averaged more than 20 points per game in three straight seasons.

  1. Rudy Tomjanovich

For those who are fans of legendary sports fights/brawls, you’ve probably seen the clip of Los Angeles Lakers forward Kermit Washington punching then Houston Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich in the head. What many don’t know is that that punch nearly killed him, nevertheless breaking his face and jaw.

However, the worst part was that he suffered a tear that caused spinal fluid to leak into his mouth. He would have died within a couple of days had the doctors not solved the problem. After fighting for his life and being sidelined for five months, Tomjanovich returned to action and, two years after the incident, made the All-Star team. He eventually went on to coach the Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon to back-to-back NBA championships.

  1. Lance Armstrong

You have to genuinely feel sorry for Lance Armstrong. The man suffered pain you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Armstrong started doping before his cancer diagnosis, but no amount of performance-enhancing drugs could cure stage three testicular cancer that had spread to his brain, lungs and abdomen. Armstrong’s doctor said he had essentially no chance of survival.

“We told Lance initially 20 to 50% chance, mainly to give him hope. But with the kind of cancer he had, with the X-rays, the blood tests, almost no hope,” he said.

However, Armstrong managed to come back and be competitive in races. PEDs do need some base level of strength to bolster, so even having the natural strength after his treatment to consider competing was an impressive feat. But still, his doping is what keeps him at No. 2.

  1. Tiger Woods

Here it is. I didn’t even realize what Woods went through before his Masters victory this year, thinking that the extent of his problems was related to his personal life over the drama with his adultery. But Woods endured back problems that required surgery, and there were questions over whether he would even walk again.

However, Woods fought his way back from the abyss and achieved a tearful victory as he hugged his son in the same spot he hugged his father after winning his first Masters. Say what you will about the man as a person, but he is on the Mount Rushmore of professional athletes.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

Contact Hayden