DENNIS JOHNSON | 52
THE SON of a Compton, Calif., bricklayer, DJ took after his old man in Game 7 of the 1978 NBA Finals, when he went 0 for 14 from the floor in the Sonics' loss to the Bullets. Johnson admitted that he "choked," but he made sure it never happened again, hitting plenty of big shots during championship runs with Seattle (1979) and Boston ('84 and '86). Still, the 6'4" guard was known less for his clutch shooting than his stellar defending; he was named to the NBA's All-Defensive first or second team nine straight seasons. He could handle a smaller point guard such as Isiah Thomas just as easily as he could check a bigger player; he memorably hounded Magic Johnson into making several crunch-time mistakes during the '84 Finals. Larry Bird, who was surrounded by Hall of Famers during his Celtics career, called DJ "the best I've ever played with." The coach of the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League, Johnson died of a heart attack after a practice.
DICK NOLAN | 75
NEW YORK fans loved the Giants' safety so much that Camel put him on its Times Square billboard. Cowboys coach Tom Landry respected him so much that he made him an assistant. After Nolan built the Dallas D into a powerhouse, he took charge of the 49ers, leading the team to three consecutive NFC West titles. Nolan's son Mike, now the San Francisco coach, has paid tribute to his dad by wearing a coat and tie on the sideline.
December 31, 2007
CLETE BOYER | 70
HE MOSTLY batted eighth during his eight seasons with the Yankees; traded to the Braves in 1967, he hit cleanup and had career highs in homers (26) and RBIs (96). One of the best third basemen ever, Boyer was never able to break Brooks Robinson's stranglehold on the Gold Glove award in the AL; he won the NL version just once, in '69. Said Braves teammate Phil Niekro, "Anytime I see the ball hit toward Clete, I know it's a sure out."
THE FABULOUS MOOLAH | 84
A SWEET SOUTHERN belle outside the ring, Lillian Ellison became an eye-gouging villain in it. Moolah started as a valet to wrestlers, then began grappling in the mid-1950s when she tired of being eye candy and wanted a better payday. (She said she wrestled "for the moolah.") She held the women's world title, which she won in '56, for 28 years—finally losing it to a wrestler managed by Cyndi Lauper in a match televised by MTV.
GAY BREWER | 75
AT THE 1966 Masters he three-putted from six feet on the 72nd hole and lost to Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. Undaunted, Brewer returned to Augusta the next year and shot a 67 on Sunday to edge Bobby Nichols by a stroke for his only major title to go with 10 other PGA Tour victories. "You always looked forward to being around him," said Nicklaus. "I could not have been happier for a fellow player when Gay won the Masters."
THE WRITERS' ROW
DAVID HALBERSTAM | 73
He was known as a chronicler of politics and wars, but his true love was sports. Halberstam wrote seven sports books, including what many consider the best ever about the NBA, The Breaks of the Game. He died in a car accident while researching a book on the 1958 NFL Championship Game.
MARK HARRIS | 84
Most people know Bang the Drum Slowly as a film, but Harris's 1956 novel about a catcher dying of cancer was No. 14 on SI's 2002 list of the best sports books. It was one of four Harris wrote about baseball; after he died, his ashes were scattered in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on the field where he played sandlot ball.
ROY TERRELL | 83
His first piece in SI—about horse psychiatrists—ran in the magazine's second issue. Terrell's byline would continue to appear for the next two decades on stories about a wide variety of sports. As SI's managing editor from 1974 to '79, he raised the bar even higher for reporting and writing.
NORMAN MAILER | 84
Even as his reputation as a writer, thinker and political activist grew, he remained drawn to sports—especially boxing. He wrote numerous magazine stories on the subject, and his sociological exploration of the 1974 Muhammad Ali--George Foreman bout in Zaire, The Fight, is a classic.