1942 — Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17 in Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali was a three-time heavyweight boxing champion and international icon. Known for his gift of gab, Ali participated in some of the most historic boxing matches in history, including his first-round knockout of Sonny Liston in 1965, 1971’s Fight of the Century against Joe Frazier, 1974’s Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman and the Thrilla in Manila in 1975, also against Frazier. Nicknamed “The Greatest,” Ali was also a civil rights activist, entertainer, poet and philanthropist. He also dabbled in the spoken word as a recording artist, releasing two albums that received Grammy nominations: I Am the Greatest! (1963) and The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay (1976).
1961 — As a 22-year-old rookie point guard for the Cincinnati Royals, Oscar Robertson becomes the youngest player to win the NBA All-Star Game MVP award. (This honor now belongs to LeBron James, who won the award in 2006 at age 21.) Robertson, who was named an All-Star 12 times in his 14-year NBA career, was one assist shy of a triple-double in the game, tallying 23 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists in the West’s 153-131 win. Nicknamed “The Big O,” he would go on to win two more All-Star Game MVP awards (1964 and 1969), the league MVP award (1964) and an NBA championship with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971.
1970 — Sporting News names San Francisco Giants center fielder Willie Mays its Player of the Decade for the 1960s, topping Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax and Frank Robinson. For those 10 seasons, Mays scored 1,050 runs, had 1,003 RBIs, 350 home runs and 126 stolen bases. He was named to the All-Star Game in each season — and when there were two All-Star Games per summer — and was a Gold Glove Award winner in nine of those 10 seasons. He won his second of two National League MVP awards in 1965.
1989 — During the team’s inaugural NBA season, the Miami Heat cancel their scheduled home game against the Phoenix Suns 50 minutes before tipoff at Miami Arena due to race riots. A day earlier, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Miami police officer William Lozano shot and killed 23-year-old Black motorcyclist Clement Lloyd, who was said to have been fleeing from another officer, nearly running over Lozano. Lloyd crashed into a car and his passenger, Allan Blanchard, also later died. Four days of rioting ensued in the Overtown and Liberty City neighborhoods of Miami near the Heat’s arena, and the city sustained more than $1 million in damage, with 18 people killed, 22 injured and 385 arrests. The Heat played their next home game on Jan. 19 against the Chicago Bulls. Super Bowl XXIII was held on Jan. 22 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami with heightened security.
1996 — Former U.S. Rep. and civil rights activist Barbara Jordan dies of pneumonia and complications of leukemia in Austin, Texas. She was 59. In 1966, Jordan became the first African American elected to the Texas Senate since 1883, and the first woman elected to that legislative body. Jordan remained in the Texas Senate until 1972, when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’ 18th district. Continuing to shatter the glass ceiling for Black women, in 1976, Jordan became the first Black woman to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and again in 1992. Jordan was a historically Black university alum, graduating magna cum laude from Texas Southern University in 1956, where she majored in political science and history, and earned a law degree from Boston University in 1959.