Notable Sports Deaths in 2020: January

By Anthony McClean, Editor-In-Chief Emeritus

As the year slowly begins to wind down, BASN will devote the final 12 days of 2020 to look back at the pioneers, contributors, and innovators we lost during the last 12 months. The specter of Covid-19 has been prevalent all year and the sports world was no different.

Today, we focus on the month of January.


Roscoe Nance, journalist (1/7)

Nance was the Mississippi Clarion Ledger’s first SWAC reporter, the paper’s first black sportswriter and a journalist later known around the country as the dean of black college sportswriters. The retired USA Today NBA reporter and SWAC Hall of Famer died of cancer at his Virginia home, according to family members. He was 71.

Rocky Johnson, wrestler (1/15)

Johnson was a WWE Hall of Fame professional wrestler and the father of Hollywood star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He was part of the first African-American World Tag Team Champions in WWE history as a member of The Soul Patrol with Tony Atlas. He was 75.

Kobe Bryant, NBA Hall of Famer (1/26)

Bryant, one of the greatest players to put on an NBA uniform, died in a helicopter crash, in Calabasas, California, at the age of 41. Bryant played all 20 of his seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, leading them to five NBA titles. Wearing his familiar numbers of 8 and 24, the shooting guard was an 18-time All-Star and a two-time NBA finals MVP. An unstoppable scorer from outside and inside, he averaged 25 points a game in his career. He won two gold medals for Team USA in the Olympics.

Chris Doleman, NFL Hall of Famer (1/28)

Doleman, whose enviable blend of speed and power made him one of the game’s most feared pass rushers during 15 seasons in the league, died two years after being diagnosed with brain cancer. The longtime Vikings star, who had 150½ career sacks to rank fifth on the all-time list, was 58. Doleman spent his first nine seasons with Minnesota, collecting a league-high 21 sacks in 1989 while forming a fierce pass-rushing tandem with Keith Millard, who had 18 sacks himself that year for the NFC North champions. Doleman was a two-time first-team All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowl selection who played in 232 of a possible 234 regular-season games.

Johnny “Bump City” Bumphus, boxer (1/30)

A former junior welterweight world titleholder, Bumphus died due to cardiac arrest in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington. He was 59. Bumphus, nicknamed “Bump City,” was a skillful southpaw who boxed professionally from 1980 to 1987 but whose career was cut short by drug addiction. Bumphus, who lived for many years in Nashville in addition to Tacoma, won the vacant WBA 140-pound world title by 15-round unanimous decision over Lorenzo Garcia on Jan. 22, 1984, overcoming a knockdown, at the Sands Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was a significant win not only for Bumphus but also for fledgling promotional company Main Events, which went on to become one of boxing’s powerhouse promoters for decades. Bumphus was the company’s first fighter to win a world title.

NEXT: February.

Anthony McClean can be reached via email at

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