Top 11: Sitcom Athletes of the ’90s

Because this was the steroid era of American sitcoms.

11. Zack Morris, Saved By The Bell

Zack Morris wasn’t the greatest athlete in the world, but he had his moments. As a freshman, he placed third at a cross country meet, then later starred on the track team in the mile, earning himself the nickname “Running Zack” in the process. In later years, Morris would injure himself as a member of the school’s basketball team, propose the construction of a domed stadium for his teammates on the baseball squad, lead a group of misfits to victory in a week-long set of physical challenges sponsored by the U.S. Army, prove to be a talented beach volleyball player, and even organize a charity wheelchair basketball game for a paraplegic girl he wanted to sleep with.

10. Stephanie Tanner, Full House

Not often remembered for her athletic prowess, Tanner was a dominating right-handed pitcher for her Little League baseball team, the Giants. Armed with a wicked out pitch dubbed the “Tanner Twister,” Tanner faced a critical dilemma during one contest when her opponent-slash-boyfriend, Brett, asked her to serve one up and essentially throw the game. After conferring on the mound with her sister, D.J., Tanner whiffed her love interest for the final out of the ballgame.

9. Sam Malone, Cheers

A former relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, Malone was the owner and lead bartender at a popular Boston watering hole by the name of Cheers. Though his playing days were behind him by this point in time, Malone was perhaps most recognized for having once relinquished four consecutive home runs to the lowly Seattle Mariners.

8. Telly Radford, Salute Your Shorts

Radford was the star athlete amongst her peers at Camp Anawanna. Excelling in kickball, softball, tennis, basketball and seemingly every other sport ever invented, Radford dominated the competition in two brief years at this summer outpost.

7. Brad Taylor, Home Improvement

A race car fanatic as a child, Taylor spent his later years running up and down the pitch as a star high school soccer player. As his prep days were nearing their end, Taylor became a sought-after college recruit, and would even receive an offer to play professionally for England’s Birmingham Chubbs. While his pro career never came to fruition, Taylor earned a college scholarship, carrying on his playing career at the post-secondary level.

6. Julie Connor, Hang Time

A blonde, blue-eyed tomboy with a killer jumper, Connor was a modern-day anomaly as a female playing on an all-boys high school basketball team (this, in spite of Title IX). Academics were apparently not a priority for Connor, as she starred for six seasons as the Deering Tornadoes’ starting shooting guard. Though she faced a number of hurdles as a minority in her sport — sharing a locker room, at times, with her male teammates, for example — Connor persevered and helped blaze a trail for future female athletes in sitcoms.

5. Steve Urkel, Family Matters

A true rags-to-riches story, Urkel made his athletic debut in a high school basketball game for the Vanderbilt Muskrats. The team’s equipment manager at the time, Urkel was pressed into action after all but four members of the squad had either fouled out or were injured. In a dramatic turn of events, the scrappy point guard led the Muskrats to an unprecedented come-from-behind victory that culminated in his being carried off the court on the shoulders of his teammates.

4. Eddie Winslow, Family Matters

A standout hoop sensation and one-time teammate of the aforementioned Urkel, Winslow was a prep superstar on the hardwood. In his early high school years, Winslow was targeted as a future NBA player by, among others, his own father, Carl Winslow. Though his playing career would be cut short by other financial opportunities — namely, a managerial position at hot dog conglomerate Mighty Weenie — Winslow will always be remembered as a high school basketball legend in the city of Chicago.

3. Mark Cooper, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper

A struggling NBA player who became a substitute teacher to make ends meet, Cooper was one of the original sidekicks on Don Nelson’s famed Run-T.M.C. Golden State Warriors squads. Though he couldn’t quite hang with the likes of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin, Cooper was invited back to try out for his former club on at least one occasion. Though his playing career was ultimately cut short, Cooper would continue on in athletics as the boys’ basketball coach at Oakland’s Oakbridge High School.

2. Will Smith, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

In West Philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground was where Will Smith spent most of his days. Though he regularly chilled out, maxed, relaxed, and acted all cool, Smith often could be found shooting some b-ball outside of the school. His life would be flipped — turned upside down — when a couple of guys who were up to no good started making trouble in his neighborhood. Smith got in one little fight and his mom got scared and said, “You’re moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air.” Once he made it to Bel-Air, Smith became the focal point of his high school basketball team’s offense. Advanced metrics would later show that he was one of the greatest basketball players at any level in the history of the sport.

1. A.C. Slater, Saved By The Bell

Named All-City in four sports, Albert Clifford Slater was an athletic demigod at Southern California’s Bayside High School. The quarterback and captain of the football team, the captain of the wrestling team, and a solid contributor on both the basketball and baseball teams, Slater found success in every arena he entered. Above all else, Slater was an extraordinarily talented grappler, and was offered a full-ride scholarship to the University of Iowa. He would turn down the Hawkeyes, however, to stay close to home and attend Cal U with his two best friends, Samuel “Screech” Powers and the aforementioned Zack Morris.

12 thoughts on “Top 11: Sitcom Athletes of the ’90s”

  1. Not sure about the rest of them, but the actor who played Brad Taylor actually was good at soccer. I remember reading about his team making the nationals for his age group when I was younger.

  2. I love how every sitcom basketball game in the 90’s (and even now) was played in an elementary cafeteria with no out of bounds.

  3. It’s no wonder none of these sitcom basketball players evolved past the high school level. All their games were played on 50-foot courts and 9-foot hoops. The endurance wasn’t quite where it needed to be.

  4. Alex, you’ve outdone yourself. This list is flippin fantastic. Attention to detail and historical knowledge is off the charts.

  5. Great list!

    For #11, I’d throw in Jerry Seinfeld.

    During “The Race” episode of the sixth season, we learn of Jerry’s dominating, albeit truncated, history as a sprinter. His incredible speed – the result of an inadvertent head start – becomes legendary, passed down over the years like the tale of Odysseus during the time of Homer. Soon after the run, however, Jerry retires because “I choose not to run,” walking away during his prime like Barry Sanders or Dave Chappelle. Only, unlike those two and reminiscent of MJ’s double nickel over the Knicks in ’95, Jerry comes out of retirement to claim victory once again over his arch-enemy, Duncan, who has suspected something amiss since that fateful first race. To the tune of the Superman theme, Jerry crosses the finish line with arms raised in triumphant acknowledgment of his dominant, unbeaten career.

  6. What about Hawkeye Pierce from MASH who played defensive back in college. Miami Vice’s Sonny Crockett, who was a star wide receiver for University of Florida before he injured his knee. Wood Newton(Burt Reynolds) from Evening Shade who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers before returning home to his Arkansas home town. George Papadopolis(Alex Karras) who took care of a young Webster after he had retired from professional football. The entire casts of 1st & 10, Coach and Footballer’s Wives.

    Just a few suggestions.

  7. Ahhh….I just re-read 90’s part so let’s just leave Coach, Evening Shade and Miami Vice in there.

  8. I always wondered how AC Slater was able to be on the basketball team and wrestle at the same time. That alone definitely earns him the #1 spot.

  9. AC Slater couldn’t have been that great of a QB, dude wore number #73! At my high school #73 was reserved for the mental case who graduated 10 years prior but stayed on as “manager.”

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