The 16 Greatest Moments in Latino Sports History!

There are many goosebump, pride-instilling moments by Latinos in the history of the sport, but we restrained ourselves and picked a few favorites for you to look back on and enjoy as you watch your Thanksgiving Day football, belly full of turkey and ron. Enjoy!

Rafael Nadal Wins French Open!

1. Latino Sports: Oscar de la Hoya

Oscar de la Hoya wins Gold at the Olympics

A Mexican kid from East L.A. fights his way into the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, then faces down German fighter Marco Rudolph, who had defeated him a year earlier at the World Boxing Championships. De La Hoya dominated the bout, knocking out Rudolph in the third round and taking the gold medal—the only U.S. boxer to medal during the games. Perhaps more significantly, as he danced around the ring holding American and Mexican flags, he knew he’d kept a promise he’d made at his cancer-stricken mami’s deathbed to win the gold. It was one of those stories that tugs at your heart relentlessly and was the starting bell of Golden Boy’s great career.

2. Latino Sports: Rebecca Lobo

Rebecca Lobo leads UConn Huskies to undefeated season and championship

Dare we call this the top Latino basketball highlight ever? Why not? Sure, the higher-profile Manu Ginobli and Pau Gasol have earned championships as part of NBA teams but pat-Cuban American Lobo is in a class by herself. As center for the University of Connecticut Huskies, Lobo, who had been a high school star recruited by 100 colleges, was the inspiring leader who pushed her teammates to greatness. By the time the last buzzer had sounded at the 1995 National Championships, she had also inspired thousands of little girls to be athletes.

3. Latino Sports: Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera saves his 602th game

We already knew he was great. The panameño has been one of the most consistent pitchers ever, dispatching batter after batter—with just one pitch, the cut fastball—when the game is on the line for the 17 years he’s been with the Yankees. But striking out Minnesota Twins shortstop Chris Parmalee in the ninth inning of a Sept. 19 game confirmed him as the winningest—and best—closer ever, as well as a humble guy who can take it all in stride.

4. Latino Sports: Lorena Ochoa

Lorena Ochoa overtakes Annika Sorestam to become #1 female golfer

Ochoa was 5 when she started playing golf, and 11 when she asked a pro to coach her with the intent of becoming the best in the world. She did just that in April 2007, overtaking women’s golf poster child Annika Sorenstam on a week when Ochoa wasn’t even playing—that’s how dominant she’d been that year.  Not only had the Latina Tiger Woods become the best, a title she kept until retiring in 2010, but she’d also become the best paid, earning $4 million a year. 

5. Latino Sports: Jim Plunkett

Jim Plunkett wins Super Bowl XV

Before Mark Sanchez and Tony Romo trotted onto their first football field, before they were born, even, fellow Mexican American Plunkett had already made gridiron history as the first minority to quarterback a team to a Super Bowl victory (the Raiders, in 1981, and again in 1984) and the only Latino to date to be named Super Bowl MVP. On that first Super Bowl victory, at the New Orleans Superdome in January 1981, Plunkett—one of only four players ever to win the college Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP—threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns. Shockingly, he is not in the Hall of Fame. Yet.

6. Latino Sports: Scott Gomez

Scott Gomez becomes NHL Rookie of the Year, helps win Stanley Cup

Gomez was the only Latino in the mostly white hockey league—and the first native Alaskan—and he represented us beautifully, straight out of the gate. After excelling in the New Jersey’s farm team, he made his NHL debut in 1999, racking up 51 assists and 70 points. The Colombian-Mexican Gomez was awarded the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie and was selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game. Then he topped himself, scoring 10 points in the 2000 NHL playoffs, helping usher the Devils to their second Stanley Cup. 

7. Latino Sports: Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod becomes the highest paid athlete in baseball

Ten years, $252 million: it was a gargantuan sum, and even if you weren’t into baseball, you heard about how a Dominican kid from Miami had signed the most lucrative contract in sports history with the Texas Rangers, worth $63 million more than the second-biggest baseball deal. To some, the salary was obscene, but to many Latinos, the moment was an achievement that finally reflected the decades of contributions that Latino players had made to the game.

8. Latino Sports: Pancho Gonzales

Pancho Gonzales becomes the #1 player for an unequalled 8 years

Playing his first games as an 11-year-old with a 50-cent racket his mother bought him, and once banned from the game because of skipping school, the Mexican American Gonzales mostly taught himself what was then a very white sport. And he dominated it, winning the United States Championship twice and twelve Pro Slam titles. Gonzales always played with fierce vengeance, and that showed during a 1969 battle at the Wimbledon, in which, at age 41, he beat a man 16 years his junior in a grueling match that lasted five hours and 12 minutes. The length of the match led officials to institute the tie-breaker rule, but not before Gonzales had shown his endurance one more time. 

9. Latino Sports: JJ Barea

JJ Barea becomes the breakout star of the 2011 NBA Finals

He is little by NBA standards—the better to get around defenders on his way to the basket. And in the 2011 playoffs, Barea got around defenders and under their skins like no one else, drawing two fouls and a suspension as opponents tried to stop him, to no avail. During the last game of the Finals against the Miami Heat, the scrappy point guard contributed 15 points, making the Heat’s much vaunted Three Kings—superstars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh—look like three dunces.

He is only the second Puerto Rican to earn an NBA Championship.

10. Latino Sports: Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente earns his 3,000th hit

It would be his greatest and last baseball achievement. Exactly three months before Clemente died in a plane crash on his way to delivering hurricane relief supplies to Nicaragua, the Puerto Rican Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder stepped to the plate for what would be his last regular season at bat. He made it one for the ages, hitting his 3,000th hit, a double that brought fans to their feet at Pittsburgh’s Riverfront Stadium and placed Clemente into the exclusive 3,000 hit club (which at the time had just 10 other members and now has 28) and later, into the Hall of Fame.

11. Latino Sports: Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal becomes youngest ever to earn Career Grand Slam

No tantrums, no scandals. Just good, old fashioned hard work and determination. That sums up Nadal’s work ethic, as is clear from his record of winning 10 Grand Slams and a gold medal in the Olympics. But no accomplishment has been as sweet as winning a Career Grand Slam—winning all four Grand Slams—by beating Novak Djokovich in a rain-delayed 2010 U.S. Open final that lasted six hours. The adorable Spaniard was only the seventh man to do so and the youngest in the open era. As he smashed a final forehand and collapsed in joy at his victory, he stepped into the history books.

12. Latino Sports: Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols’ historic Game 3 of the 2011 World Series

The Dominican first baseman has been called possibly the best ever Latino baseball player, and he’s still playing. Well, not just playing—Pujols, a nine-time All-Star, plays like his life depends on it. He proved that when the St. Louis Cardinals faced the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series. In that game, itself being called an instant classic for the ages, Pujols joined elite company of Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as only the third player ever to hit three home runs in a single World Series game. For Pujols, one of the most dreaded batters for pitchers everywhere, it was a monster game: he also became the first in championship history to get hits in four consecutive innings, tied for most hits (five) and most RBIs (six), and set a new record for total bases at 14. Any wonder that the Cardinals went on to win the series?

13. Latino Sports: Julio Cesar Chavez

Julio Cesar Chavez beats Hector "Macho" Camacho

A six-time world champion in not one, not two, but three weight divisions, Chavez is consistently ranked as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers ever to enter the ring. And it’s no wonder: The Mexican pugilist, known for his relentless body attack and stalking, grew up in an abandoned railroad car with nine siblings. In one of the most legendary fights, he dominated another Latino boxing great, Puerto Rican Hector “Macho” Camacho in a unanimous decision. The fight made Chavez, already a hero in Mexico, an even bigger star. So much so that then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari sent a special car to take him home from the airport when he arrived in his homeland.

14. Latino Sports: Pele

Pele’s 1000th goal

How can you possibly pick a defining moment in the “King of Football’s” career? Do you mention that at age 17, he was the youngest player ever to play in the World Cup? That he later became the first player to score in three consecutive World Cups and earn three championships? Which one of his jaw-dropping goals to you pick? Well, how about #1000, which came in 1969? That’s the goal that Pele dedicated to the poor children of Brazil, showcasing him as more than a sports great, but as an advocate for the millions of disadvantaged kids in his beloved homeland. Pele would retire in 1977 having scored 1281 goals in 1363 games, but none were as meaningful as that one. 

15. Latino Sports: Roberto Duran

Roberto Duran beats Sugar Ray Leonard

Going in to the 1980 fight that would go down in history as the “Brawl in Montreal,” Duran was mad as hell. Though the Panamanian fighter had a record of 71-1 just behind opponent Leonard, who was undefeated, he learned he would only be making a fraction of Leonard’s salary for the bout. Duran seemingly used his anger to his advantage, winning a grueling 15-round fight for the welterweight title. Considered one of the best lightweight fighters of all time and one of a few who have scored wins in five different decades—Duran, nicknamed “Manos de Piedra” or Hands of Stone, was inducted into Hall of Fame in 2006. 

16. Latino Sports: Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona scores the “Goal of the Century”

Maradona’s whole career, which included four FIFA World Cup appearances and victory after thrilling victory, is a highlight—especially when you consider that he is widely hailed as the best ever to put foot to soccer ball. Yet even having said that, it’s easy to pick THE absolute highlight, which every diehard fan of the Argentine master has committed to memory: On the road to a 1986 World Cup victory, the Argentine team faced England in a tough match. Just three minutes after scoring what would become known as the “Hand of God” goal, which Maradona scored with his hand, somehow escaping a penalty, he threaded his way through six stunned English defenders to score a goal. He had traveled 66 yards in 10 seconds. Argentina would go on to beat West Germany for the cup and Maradona won the Golden Ball for best player in the tournament.

17. Latino Sports: Related Links