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The 20th Century Awards

Sports Illustrated honors world's greatest athletes

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Posted: Friday December 03, 1999 12:00 AM

  Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods paused for a picture before the awards ceremony. AP

NEW YORK (CNN/SI) -- Some of the world's greatest athletes gathered in New York's Madison Square Garden for the Sports Illustrated's 20th Century Sports Awards Thursday night.

In one of the most moving moments of the night, Sports Illustrated named Muhammad Ali the sportsman of the 20th Century. With a unique combination of skill, style and character, the Greatest became a three-time heavyweight champion and the world's most adored athlete. The audience gave Ali a standing ovation, and once again the champ electrified the Garden.

Al Pacino presented the first award of the evening to Jim Brown. Brown was named the best football player of the century by Sport Illustrated. In nine seasons he rushed for 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns, won an NFL-record eight rushing titles and never missed a game. When he retired he left the game as the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

SI's Top 10 Sports Moments of the 20th Century
1. The 1980 Olympic hockey team stuns the Soviet Union en route to winning the gold medal, Feb. 23, 1980
2. The Giants' Bobby Thomson smashes "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" to win the NL pennant, Oct. 3, 1951
3. Mark McGwire belts homer run No. 62 to break Roger Maris' single-season record, Sept. 8, 1998
4. Muhammad Ali TKO's Sonny Liston in the seventh round to win the heavyweight title, Feb. 25, 1964
5. Bob Beamon shatters the long jump world record at the Mexico City Olympics, Oct. 18, 1968
6. North Carolina State upsets Houston on a last-second shot to win the NCAA basketball title, April 4, 1983
7. Roger Bannister becomes the first person to run the mile in under four minutes, May 6, 1954
8. Michael Jordan sinks the title-winning shot in the 1998 NBA Finals, June 14, 1998
9. Secretariat wins the Triple Crown with a record 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes, June 9, 1973
10. Don Larsen pitches the first perfect game in World Series history, Oct. 8, 1956
Sports Illustrated selected Wayne Gretzky as the 20th Century's greatest hockey player. The Great One, who retired following the 1998-99 season, holds 61 NHL records, including career marks in points (2,857), goals (894) and assists (1,963); nine times he was named league MVP. His rise helped hockey reach a new level of popularity and solidified the NHL in the Sun Belt.

Upon receiving the award Gretzky said "I am so proud to be part of this (the awards ceremony)." He went on to thank his teammates, fans, friends and family.

Michael Jordan was selected as the best basketball player by Sports Illustrated. Besides his six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and five MVP awards, MJ holds records for career scoring average (33.4) and most seasons leading the league in scoring (10). Jordan, who retired after the 1997-98 season, became one of the most popular athletes of the century, and his fame transcended basketball.

SI named Carl Lewis as the best Olympian of the century. Throughout the 1980s and into the early '90s, no one ran faster or jumped farther more consistently than Lewis, a 10-time Olympic medalist, nine of them golds.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias was selected by Sports Illustrated as the best female athlete of the 20th Century. One of the greatest all-around athletes in history, male or female, she won three Olympic medals and 31 LPGA titles, including 10 majors.

Sports Illustrated selected Jack Nicklaus as the best individual male athlete of the 20th Century. With a revolutionarily powerful game, the Golden Bear won a record 18 major championships, including an unmatched six Masters. His record has set the standard for golf greatness.

Babe Ruth was named Sports Illustrated's best baseball player. The Babe began his career as a pitcher and won 20 games twice, then became a full-time outfielder and slugged 714 home runs; he was not only the dominant player of his day but also the dominant personality of an era.

Related information
A Gathering of Greats: Baseball
A Gathering of Greats: Basketball
A Gathering of Greats: Football
A Gathering of Greats: Hockey
A Gathering of Greats: Individual Men
A Gathering of Greats: Olympians
A Gathering of Greats: Individual Women
Muhammad Ali on CNN NewsStand, Friday, Dec. 3, 10 p.m. ET
Ali's acceptance speech was an emotional one. (1.59 M)
Boxing fan and friend Billy Crystal presented Muhammad Ali's Sportsman of the Century award.
  • Start(1.47 M .MOV)
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