When Magic Johnson made the announcement, it struck like a jackhammer: He had tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS and was retiring from pro basketball after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles in 12 years.
But with Johnson's shocking disclosure came a vow, to be a spokesman on the disease, educating young people about the AIDS virus and promoting safe sex.
"It's another challenge, another chapter in my life," Johnson said bravely. "Your back is against the wall. And I think you just have to come out swinging. I'm swinging."
Though Johnson's story easily rates as the most important of the year, there were many others of interest.
It required 59 coaches and eight hours to take away part of Colorado's first national football championship. After Colorado beat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, the Associated Press declared the Buffaloes No. 1, but coaches then voted upstart and unbeaten Georgia Tech first in the UPI poll by one point.
Rod Carew became a baseball Hall of Famer in his first year of eligibility. Pro Football Hall of Famer Red Grange, the famed Galloping Ghost, died at 87, and former Baltimore Oriole Alan Wiggins died at 32 of AIDS.
In the closest Super Bowl ever, it was the New York Giants 20, the Buffalo Bills 19, as Ottis Anderson rushed on, 33-year-old legs for 102 yards, earning the first Pete Rozelle Award as game MVP. Ex-Towson State whippet David Meggett tormented Buffalo with 129 all-purpose yards.
Sugar Ray Leonard went out battling, bowing to super welterweight champion Terry Norris in 12 rounds. "As soon as I got in the ring, I sensed it wasn't there," Leonard said. "But it was something I had to experience for myself. Now I feel good about moving on."
Nevada-Las Vegas, which ripped Duke by 30 points in the 1990 NCAA basketball final and had won 45 straight games, was stunned by the Blue Devils in the semifinals. Two days later, Duke marched into April by defeating Kansas for its first national championship in five trips to the final.
"These kids had a great month of March," coach Mike Krzyzewski. "We finally won a game in April." On April Fool's Day, no less.
Ian Woosnam, standing all of 5 feet 4 M-=, won the Masters for his 27th victory but first on U.S. soil. All-time winning jockey Bill Shoemaker was paralyzed in a car accident.
Nolan Ryan pitched his seventh no-hitter, three more than anyone in history. Manager Bobby Valentine opened a bottle of 1986 Dom Perrignon, which he had been saving for a World Series celebration, for a toast to Ryan.
After stealing his 939th base to break Lou Brock's all-time record, Rickey Henderson announced modestly, "Lou Brock was a symbol of great base-stealing, but today I am the greatest of all time."
Hansel breezed in the Preakness, with Kentucky Derby winner Strike The Gold a soundly beaten favorite.
The torch was passed from Magic Johnson to Michael Jordan. Jordan, choking back tears after Chicago's triumph over the Lakers for the Bulls' first NBA title in their 25-year history, said, "It has been a seven-year struggle for me and the city."
Steve Palermo, in his 14th year as "an American League umpire, suffered damage to his spinal column when he was shot outside a Dallas restaurant while coming to the aid of a waitress, who was being robbed.
In Benton Harbor, Mich., in his first competitive golf tournament, Michael Jordan shot an 85. An observer said wryly that he was unaccustomed to having to hit the ball to the hole; he was used to scooping it up and flying there.
Paul Brown, who founded the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals and built them into power-houses, died at 82.
At 21 years, 141 days, Wilson Alvarez of the White Sox became the youngest pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the majors since Vida Blue (21 years, 55 days) in 1970. He did it against the Orioles in his second big-league start.
Bob Beamon's 1968 "leap into the 21st century" failed to make it past 1991. Mike Powell's long jump of 29 feet 4 M-= inches at the World Championships in Tokyo broke by two inches the oldest world record in the track and field book and forced Carl Lewis to absorb his first defeat in the event in a decade.
At the same meet, Lewis broke the world record in the 100 meters by four-hundredths of a second with a 9.86.
The advance of 39-year-old Jimmy Connors to the semifinals commanded the spotlight at the U.S. Open. When Stefan Edberg annihilated Jim Courier in the final, he said, "The best I've ever played. It was almost like a dream."
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, whose loss to Buster Douglas was the Associated Press' top story of 1990, again made the top 10, this time for his indictment on rape charges.
Leo Durocher died at 86. The Lip, as he was known, is sixth on the all-time list of winning managers with 2,008. Said Los Angeles Dodg-ers manager Tom Lasorda, who, like Durocher, wears No. 2, "Leo was my idol."