Many sports have internationally known, iconic players. Boxing has Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis. Soccer has Pele and David Beckham. For international rugby, the past 20 years has been indelibly stamped by Jonah Lomu.
Lomu’s career was one of great highlights and accolades. He burst onto the world stage as one of the All Blacks’ youngest debut players in 1994. A year later, he was in the 1995 Rugby World Cup finals against South Africa—the first major sporting event in the country since the end of apartheid. Lomu was also a part of the first Tri-Nations championship team as an All Blacks team member. In 63 rugby union games, he scored 37 tries, 15 of them in World Cup matches.
On November 30, the people of New Zealand and the rest of the world had a chance to pay tribute to their favorite wing in Auckland’s Eden Park. Of Tongan descent, the tribute featured a haka by members of the All Blacks and performances by Pacific Island peoples. Lomu, 40, was married and a father of two. Broadcast tributes from Beckham, Queen Elizabeth II and actor Morgan Freeman were also included.
Lomu’s awards and accolades include being in the International Rugby Hall of Fame and the World Rugby Hall of Fame, and being awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit. He was a member of the Champions for Peace, a global group of athletes for world peace headed by Prince Albert II of Monaco. McDonald’s restaurants in New Zealand also created a “Jonah Burger” in honor of Lomu.
For much of his career, Lomu struggled with nephrotic kidney disease, which took his life on November 18, 2015. Lomu had a kidney transplant in 2004, and continued to play until his retirement in 2007.