Last updated
SportsCentury logo.svg
Genre Documentary
Written byMichael Husain (11 episodes, 2001-2006)
Pat Smith (1 episode, 1999)
Michael Douglas Callan (1 episode, 2001)
Michael Strom (unknown episodes)
Directed byMichael Husain (2 episodes, 2001-2005)
Michael Douglas Callan (1 episode, 2001)
Sean Waters (1 episode, 2006)
Presented by Chris Fowler
Composer(s)Geoff Zanelli (8 episodes, 2000-2003)
Gregg Lehrman (3 episodes, 2004-2005)
Robert Leslie Bennett (2 episodes, 2000-2003)
Pedro Bromfman (2 episodes, 2003-2005)
Ramón Balcázar (1 episode, 2000)
Robin Lynn (1 episode, 2000)
Charles A. Wolschon (2 episodes, 2003-2005)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes261
CinematographyJim Grieco (87 episodes, 1999-2006)
Jared Manders (8 episodes, 2000-2005)
Doug Longwill (5 episodes, 2001-2004)
Running time30—60 minutes
Production company(s) ESPN
Distributor ESPN, Inc.
Original network ESPN
Original release1999 
Related shows Beyond the Glory

SportsCentury is an ESPN biography program that reviews the people and athletic events that defined sports in North America throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Using stock footage, on-camera interviews, and photographs of their athletic lives, who grew up.

ESPN is a U.S.-based sports television channel owned by ESPN Inc., a joint venture owned by The Walt Disney Company (80%) and Hearst Communications (20%). The company was founded in 1979 by Bill Rasmussen along with his son Scott Rasmussen and Ed Egan.


In 1999, ESPN counted down the Top 50 Athletes of the 20th Century, selected from North American athletes and voted on by a panel of sports journalists and observers, [1] premiering a new biography highlighting each top athlete every week throughout the year. The episodes for the top two athletes, Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth, appeared on a special combined edition broadcast on Christmas Day on ABC. The top two names were announced in no particular order, and the final positioning was announced at the conclusion of the two episodes. An additional list of numbers 51-100 were announced on the ESPN SportsCentury website. Themed specials such as Greatest Games, Greatest Coaches, Greatest Dynasties, and Most Influential Individuals were premiered throughout the year, as well as six SportsCenter of the Decade programs.

1999 in television may refer to:

Michael Jordan American basketball player and businessman

Michael Jeffrey Jordan, also known by his initials, MJ, is an American former professional basketball player. He played 15 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. His biography on the official NBA website states: "By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time." Jordan was one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation and was considered instrumental in popularizing the NBA around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. He is currently the principal owner and chairman of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets.

Babe Ruth American baseball player

George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr. was an American professional baseball player whose career in Major League Baseball (MLB) spanned 22 seasons, from 1914 through 1935. Nicknamed "The Bambino" and "The Sultan of Swat", he began his MLB career as a stellar left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but achieved his greatest fame as a slugging outfielder for the New York Yankees. Ruth established many MLB batting records, including career home runs (714), runs batted in (RBIs) (2,213), bases on balls (2,062), slugging percentage (.690), and on-base plus slugging (OPS) (1.164); the latter two still stand as of 2018. Ruth is regarded as one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture and is considered by many to be the greatest baseball player of all time. In 1936, Ruth was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its "first five" inaugural members.

After the initial run was complete, the episodes were rerun at various times on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic. The original plan for the series was to expand to include #51 through #100. Ultimately, the series featured just over half of the athletes from #51 to #100, and instead expanded to include over 150 other athletes, coaches, owners, personalities, and notable moments in sports history. Acknowledgements were given to athletes that were notable for more recent accomplishments, even if they spent only a small part of their career in the 20th century (e.g., Tiger Woods, Tom Brady), or were recently deceased (e.g. Pat Tillman, Dale Earnhardt). Special subsets of episodes were created revolving around a particular event, including athletes associated with the particular sport. They would typically air in the days leading up to those events. (e.g., Winter Olympics, golf majors, Indianapolis 500, etc.)

ESPN2 is an American basic cable and satellite television network that is owned by ESPN Inc., a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the Hearst Communications.

ESPN Classic television station

ESPN Classic is an American digital cable and satellite television network that is owned by ESPN Inc., a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and Hearst Communications. The channel features rebroadcasts of famous sporting events, sports documentaries and sports-themed movies. Such programs include biographies of famous sports figures or a rerun of a marquee World Series or Super Bowl game, often with added commentary on the event.

Tiger Woods American golfer

Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods is an American professional golfer who is one of the most popular athletes of the 21st century. He has been one of the highest-paid athletes in the world for several years. Woods is generally considered to be one of the greatest golfers of all time.

ESPN Classic began to feature the program with host, Chris Fowler, as the highlight of its weeknight prime-time programing, airing five nights a week. After cycling through the entire series several times, and after debuting several new episodes, it was removed as a nightly program. As of 2007, reruns of the documentary series airs Monday through Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern time. The last original program was that of Shaquille O'Neal, which aired in November 2007. [2]

Chris Fowler American sportscaster

Christopher Fowler is an American sports broadcaster for ESPN known best for his work on College GameDay, which he hosted between 1990 and 2014, and for college football. From 1989 until 2014, Fowler was the primary studio host for college football. Fowler is also a regular anchor on ESPN for coverage of tennis and soccer.

Shaquille ONeal American basketball player

Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal, nicknamed "Shaq", is an American retired professional basketball player who is a sports analyst on the television program Inside the NBA on TNT. He is widely considered one of the greatest players in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). At 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) tall and 325 pounds (147 kg), he was one of the tallest and heaviest players in the history of the NBA. O'Neal played for six teams throughout his 19-year career.


The final order of choices led to debate, some of which came from the SportsCentury camp. Bob Costas, one of the series' voters, said, "I had Babe Ruth as my number one, but I think the list they came up with was a good one. Everybody more or less deserved to be there." ESPN writer Bud Morgan conceded that the Secretariat pick "was kind of controversial because a lot of people took the attitude 'What is a four-legged animal doing on this list?'"

Bob Costas American sportscaster

Robert Quinlan Costas is an American sportscaster, who currently is employed by MLB Network, where he does play-by-play and hosts an interview show called Studio 42 with Bob Costas. He is known for his long on the air tenure with NBC Sports from 1980 through 2018. He was the prime-time host of 11 Olympic Games from 1992 until 2016.

Secretariat (horse) Thoroughbred race horse; winner of US Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in 1973

Secretariat was an American Thoroughbred racehorse who, in 1973, became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. His record-breaking victory in the Belmont Stakes, which he won by 31 lengths, is widely regarded as one of the greatest races of all time. During his racing career, he won five Eclipse Awards, including Horse of the Year honors at ages two and three. He was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1974. In the List of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century, Secretariat is second only to Man o' War, who also was a large chestnut colt given the nickname "Big Red".

Tony Kornheiser, whose ballot was topped by Ruth, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, said, "I can't conceive of how Ruth didn't finish number one. He had the greatest impact of anybody on a sport by far... Michael Jordan didn't have as many championships as Bill Russell and didn't score as many points as Wilt Chamberlain, and really didn't do anything to advance his sport, so maybe in retrospect I upgraded him a bit too much because the way he performed was so spectacular, and because of television I got to see highlights. They may have overpersuaded a lot of us... Did Jim Thorpe get the praise he deserved? Probably not, because there weren't enough people old enough to really remember him."

Tony Kornheiser American sportswriter

Anthony Irwin "Tony" Kornheiser is a former sportswriter and columnist, as well as a podcast and television talk show host and restaurateur.

Muhammad Ali American boxer, philanthropist and activist

Muhammad Ali was an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. Nicknamed "The Greatest", he is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century, and as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Bill Russell American basketball player and coach

William Felton Russell is an American retired professional basketball player. Russell played center for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1956 to 1969. A five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a twelve-time All-Star, he was the centerpiece of the Celtics dynasty, winning eleven NBA championships during his thirteen-year career. Russell tied the record for the most championships won by an athlete in a North American sports league. Before his professional career, Russell led the University of San Francisco to two consecutive NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956, and he captained the gold-medal winning U.S. national basketball team at the 1956 Summer Olympics.

ESPN anchor Charley Steiner said "I think picking [Jordan] number one was a generational decision, not a historical one. Babe Ruth deserved it more." [3]

The list was dramatically North American-centric. Only one athlete in the Top 100 list, Martina Navratilova, was born outside of the United States or Canada. Australian cricketer Donald Bradman, "considered by many to be the pre-eminent sportsman of all time" was also omitted. [4] Bradman scored a lifetime average far in excess of average - 4.4 standard deviations above the mean, compared to Jordan's inferior 3.4 - leading to the statement that "no other athlete dominates an international sport to the extent that Bradman does cricket". [5] No soccer player was included in the rankings despite it being the world's most popular sport; Brazilian soccer player Pelé also scored further above average than did Jordan. [6] Baseball player Ty Cobb, appearing at 20 on the list, also ranked objectively above Jordan on the same ground.


SportsCentury won a Peabody Award in 1999 "for overall excellence in sports broadcasting." [7]

SportsCentury: Top 50 American Athletes of the 20th Century (Original series)

Michael Jordan was voted no. 1 Jordan by Lipofsky 16577.jpg
Michael Jordan was voted no. 1
Babe Ruth was voted no. 2 Ruth1921.jpg
Babe Ruth was voted no. 2
Muhammad Ali was voted no. 3 Muhammad Ali NYWTS.jpg
Muhammad Ali was voted no. 3
1 Michael Jordan Basketball
2 Babe Ruth Baseball
3 Muhammad Ali Boxing
4 Jim Brown Football
5 Wayne Gretzky Ice hockey
6 Jesse Owens Track and field
7 Jim Thorpe Multiple sports
8 Willie Mays Baseball
9 Jack Nicklaus Golf
10 Babe Zaharias Multiple sports
11 Joe Louis Boxing
12 Carl Lewis Track and field
13 Wilt Chamberlain Basketball
14 Hank Aaron Baseball
15 Jackie Robinson Baseball
16 Ted Williams Baseball
17 Magic Johnson Basketball
18 Bill Russell Basketball
19 Martina Navratilova Tennis
20 Ty Cobb Baseball
21 Gordie Howe Ice hockey
22 Joe DiMaggio Baseball
23 Jackie Joyner-Kersee Track and field
24 Sugar Ray Robinson Boxing
25 Joe Montana Football
26 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Basketball
27 Jerry Rice Football
28 Red Grange Football
29 Arnold Palmer Golf
30 Larry Bird Basketball
31 Bobby Orr Ice hockey
32 Johnny Unitas Football
33 Mark Spitz Swimming
34 Lou Gehrig Baseball
35 Secretariat Horse racing
36 Oscar Robertson Basketball
37 Mickey Mantle Baseball
38 Ben Hogan Golf
39 Walter Payton Football
40 Lawrence Taylor Football
41 Wilma Rudolph Track and field
42 Sandy Koufax Baseball
43 Julius Erving Basketball
44 Bobby Jones Golf
45 Bill Tilden Tennis
46 Eric Heiden Speed skating, cycling
47 Edwin Moses Track and field
48 Pete Sampras Tennis
49 O. J. Simpson Football
50 Chris Evert Tennis

SportsCentury: 51-100

Mario Lemieux was voted no. 55 Mario Lemieux 2001.jpg
Mario Lemieux was voted no. 55
Pete Rose was voted no. 56 despite serving a lifetime ban from baseball. Pete Rose Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.jpg
Pete Rose was voted no. 56 despite serving a lifetime ban from baseball.
51 Rocky Marciano Boxing
52 Jack Dempsey Boxing
53 Rafer Johnson Track and field
54 Greg Louganis Diving
55 Mario Lemieux Ice hockey
56 Pete Rose Baseball
57 Bill Shoemaker Horse racing
58 Elgin Baylor Basketball
59 Billie Jean King Tennis
60 Walter Johnson Baseball
61 Stan Musial Baseball
62 Jerry West Basketball
63 Satchel Paige Baseball
64 Sammy Baugh Football
65 Althea Gibson Tennis, golf
66 Eddie Arcaro Horse racing
67 Bob Gibson Baseball
68 Al Oerter Track and field
69 Bonnie Blair Speed skating
70 Dick Butkus Football
71 Roberto Clemente Baseball
72 Bo Jackson Football, baseball
73 Josh Gibson Baseball
74 Deion Sanders Football, baseball
75 Dan Marino Football
76 Barry Sanders Football
77 Cy Young Baseball
78 Bob Mathias Track and field
79 Gale Sayers Football
80 A. J. Foyt Auto racing
81 Jimmy Connors Tennis
82 Bobby Hull Ice hockey
83 Honus Wagner Baseball
84 Man o' War Horse racing
85 Maurice Richard Ice hockey
86 Otto Graham Football
87 Henry Armstrong Boxing
88 Joe Namath Football
89 Rogers Hornsby Baseball
90 Richard Petty Auto racing
91 Bob Beamon Track and field
92 Mario Andretti Auto racing
93 Don Hutson Football
94 Bob Cousy Basketball
95 George Blanda Football
96 Michael Johnson Track and field
97 Citation Horse racing
98 Don Budge Tennis
99 Sam Snead Golf
100 Jack Johnson Boxing

Athlete statistics

Additional SportsCentury episodes


Coaches, owners, and other personalities

Games, teams, and other special episodes

Special episodes

SportsCentury: Greatest Games of the 20th Century

"Greatest Games" was a top ten countdown of the best games/matches voted on from a wide variety of team and individual sports.

  1. "The Greatest Game Ever Played" – (1958 NFL Championship): Baltimore Colts vs. New York Giants (1958)
  2. The Shot Heard 'Round the WorldBobby Thomson's home run (1951)
  3. Super Bowl IIINew York Jets defeat Baltimore Colts (1969)
  4. Miracle on IceU.S.A defeats U.S.S.R. (1980)
  5. "Thrilla in Manila" – Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (1975)
  6. "Ice Bowl" – Green Bay vs. Dallas (1967)
  7. Game 6 of the 1975 World SeriesCarlton Fisk's home run (1975)
  8. Tiger Woods wins the Masters (1997)
  9. Willis Reed and Knicks beat Lakers in Game 7 (1970)
  10. Borg-McEnroe Wimbledon thriller (1980)

SportsCentury: Greatest Coaches of the 20th Century

"Greatest Coaches" was a top ten countdown of the best coaches voted on from a wide variety of team sports

  1. Tony Wrubel
  2. Matt Giannini
  3. John Wooden
  4. Red Auerbach
  5. Dean Smith
  6. Phil Jackson
  7. John McGraw
  8. George Halas
  9. Don Shula
  10. Paul Brown
  11. Knute Rockne

SportsCentury: Greatest Dynasties

SportsCentury: Most Influential Individuals

Another top ten countdown special, focusing on influential figures in sports during the twentieth century, namely off-the-field contributors.

  1. Branch Rickey
  2. Pete Rozelle
  3. Roone Arledge
  4. Marvin Miller
  5. Kenesaw Mountain Landis
  6. David Stern
  7. Avery Brundage
  8. Walter O'Malley
  9. George Halas
  10. Mark McCormack

SportsCentury: The Year in Review

Also included in the overall production was "SportsCenter of the Decade", a series of six two-hour programs (1900-1949, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s). Each episode was presented as a fictional episode of SportsCenter , in the way ESPN would have covered the events at the time (styles, studio/production design, and other various pop culture references). [12]


  1. Jenner changed her first name to Caitlyn due to gender transition in 2015. [8]


  2. "SportsCentury Episode list". TV Guide. Retrieved July 9, 2014.
  3. Miller, James and Shales, Tom, Those Guys Have All the Fun, Little Brown & Co., 2011, pgs. 420-422
  4. Adams, Kathleen; et al. (4 March 2001). "Milestones". Time. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
  5. Hutchins, Brett (2002). Don Bradman: Challenging the Myth. Cambridge University Press. p. 21. ISBN   0-521-82384-6.
  6. Shaw, John (27 February 2001). "Sir Donald Bradman, 92, Cricket Legend, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
  7. 59th Annual Peabody Awards, May 2000.
  8. Buzz Bissinger (June 1, 2015). "Introducing Caitlyn Jenner". Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 1, 2015.

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Brian Lara West Indian cricketer

Brian Charles Lara, is a Trinidadian former international cricketer, widely acknowledged as one of the greatest batsmen of all time. He topped the Test batting rankings on several occasions and holds several cricketing records, including the record for the highest individual score in first-class cricket, with 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston in 1994, which is the only quintuple hundred in first-class cricket history. Lara also holds the record for the highest individual score in a Test innings after scoring 400 not out against England at Antigua in 2004. Lara also shares the test record of scoring the highest number of runs in a single over in a Test match, when he scored 28 runs off an over by Robin Peterson of South Africa in 2003.

Mickey Mantle American baseball player

Mickey Charles Mantle, nicknamed The Commerce Comet and The Mick, was an American professional baseball player. Mantle played his entire Major League Baseball (MLB) career with the New York Yankees as a center fielder and first baseman, from 1951 through 1968. Mantle was one of the best players and sluggers, and is regarded by many as the greatest switch hitter in baseball history. Mantle was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.

Honus Wagner American baseball player

Johannes Peter "Honus" Wagner, sometimes referred to as "Hans" Wagner, was an American baseball shortstop who played 21 seasons in Major League Baseball from 1897 to 1917, almost entirely for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wagner won his eighth batting title in 1911, a National League record that remains unbroken to this day, and matched only once, in 1997, by Tony Gwynn. He also led the league in slugging six times and stolen bases five times. Wagner was nicknamed "The Flying Dutchman" due to his superb speed and German heritage. This nickname was a nod to the popular folk-tale made into a famous opera by another Wagner.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias American golfer and athlete

Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias was an American athlete who excelled in golf, basketball, baseball and track and field. She won two gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Summer Olympics, before turning to professional golf and winning 10 LPGA major championships. She is widely regarded as one of the greatest female athletes of all time.

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Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, KNH, OBE, known as Viv Richards, is a former Antiguan cricketer, who represented the West Indies at test and international levels. He is regarded as one of the greatest batsmen of all time. Richards was voted one of the five Cricketers of the Century by a 100-member panel of experts in 2000, along with Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Jack Hobbs and Shane Warne.

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1918 World Series 1918 Major League Baseball championship series

The 1918 World Series featured the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the Chicago Cubs four games to two. The Series victory for the Red Sox was their fifth in five tries, going back to 1903. The Red Sox scored only nine runs in the entire Series, the fewest runs by the winning team in World Series history. Along with the 1906 and 1907 World Series, the 1918 World Series is one of only three Fall Classics where neither team hit a home run.

1921 World Series 1921 Major League Baseball championship series

The much-anticipated 1921 World Series featured John McGraw's New York Giants, dedicated practitioners of the dead-ball era's "inside game", and the New York Yankees, who relied on the "power game" exemplified by Babe Ruth, who was coming off of what was arguably his best year ever statistically. This was the first World Series appearance by the Yankees, who have gone on to play in the Series a record 40 times. The 1921 Series was a closely contested matchup that ended on a double play featuring a baserunning miscue.

1926 World Series 1926 Major League Baseball championship series

The 1926 World Series, the 23rd playing of Major League Baseball's championship series, pitted the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals against the American League champion New York Yankees. The Cardinals defeated the Yankees four games to three in the best-of-seven series, which took place from October 2 to 10, 1926, at Yankee Stadium and Sportsman's Park.

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The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... is a sports series that debuted in 2005 and aired on ESPN2 and ESPN Classic. The show ran from April 2005 to April 2007. The show was canceled when ESPN Classic phased out the production of original programs. Some episodes were planned but never completed. Reruns continue on ESPN Classic.

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