The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which debuted 25 years ago today, did a lot of things well, including working in numerous celebrity guest appearances. Whether they were playing a character or themselves, it seemed like every week there was someone famous visiting the Banks residence.
It wasn’t just movie stars and musicians showing up (although a lot of musicians showed up — you’d think Will Smith was a rapper or something). Plenty of figures from the sports world popped by to visit and, more often than not, threaten Will with bodily harm. Which athletes were those, you ask? Why, there’s a list of them right here!
If you’re too young to remember Bo Jackson, you really missed out. I could go on about his Hall of Fame college football career. Or how he was the first true “two-sport” all-star, when he played for both the Kansas City Royals and the (then) Los Angeles Raiders in 1987. Or how he made Brian Bosworth shut his mouth by plowing through him during a touchdown run on Monday Night Football. But the true indicator that he was an athlete for the ages is the fact that he was in a cartoon series where he fought crime with Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.
And let’s not forget Tecmo Bo.
In this first season two-part episode, “Someday, Your Prince Will Be in Effect,” both Will and Carlton are vying for the affections of the same woman. In order to be the most impressive, Will brags about knowing various famous people, including — obviously — the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner.
Isiah Thomas played against some big names in his Hall of Fame NBA career, including Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. While he certainly held his own — and then some — against those greats, beating Will Smith during a dream sequence on his own show? Yeah, like that’s going to happen. Still, he has those two NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons to comfort him, so that’s good.
In what is probably one of the greatest Christmas episodes of any TV show ever (season one, “Deck the Halls”), Will decides to go all out with the decorations, causing an uproar with their stuffy, no-fun one-percenter neighbors. Included among these neighbors? Then-heavyweight boxing champion of the world Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield. After Will calls him out over the telephone — not knowing it was him — Holyfield shows up at the house to teach him a lesson. Thankfully, it turns out the champ is also friends with Hilary and so the tension is defused. Oh, and then Ronald Reagan shows up.
Holyfield actually won the championship from Buster Douglas just two months before this episode aired. He held the title for two years, defending it against challengers such as George Foreman and Larry Holmes, well before he had his ear nearly eaten by Mike Tyson. Coincidentally, the man he lost it to — in fact, the man who handed Holyfield his first professional loss ever — would appear on the show two years later.
On Nov. 13, 1992, Riddick Bowe handed Evander Holyfield his first professional loss, winning the undisputed heavyweight boxing championship via a unanimous decision. The fight itself would go on to win The Ring magazine’s “Fight of the Year.” Holyfield went down in round 11, but managed to get a second wind and put up an impressive recovery before ultimately losing a close fight.
Bowe, however, had less trouble dispatching his next opponent: Will Smith. In the season three episode “You Bet Your Life,” Will and Carlton stop in a cafe/casino on the way to visit a potential college for Will to attend. While there, Carlton becomes obsessed with hitting the jackpot on a slot machine in the back, with absolutely no success. When the next person to use the machine wins, Carlton freaks out and accidentally rips the man’s shirt. That man just happened to be Bowe in a guest appearance. Unfortunately for Will, he was the one who took the knockout blow instead of Carlton.
After spending 20 years in the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most decorated players to ever step foot on a court. He’s won six NBA championships, as well as six MVP awards. He’s had his jersey number (33) retired by both the Milwaukee Bucks (whose all-time scoring record he still holds) and the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s in both the professional and college basketball Halls of Fame. Oh, and when he wasn’t playing basketball, he was co-piloting jet airliners and fighting Bruce Lee. In the movies, anyway.
In the season five episode “Will’s Misery,” Phil and Vivian are given a pair of furry blue golf shirts, which immediately repulses them until they spy the former NBA superstar wearing the same outfit. The episode is made even more awesome by this classic, fourth-wall-breaking ending.
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Ken Griffey Jr. cameo on The Fresh Prince by 23city
One of the greatest players to never play in a World Series, Junior is a member of the respective Halls of Fame for both the Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds. He’s a 10-time Golden Glove Award-winner and was the 1997 American League MVP. By all accounts, he’s one of the best players of all-time and is probably a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame someday.
And, as you can see, in the episode “Love Hurts” from season five, he’s kind of a dick.