ESPN SportsCentury (1999–2007)
|Genre||Documentary, Biography, History, Sport|
|Company||ESPN (Entertainment & Sports Programming Network)|
SportsCentury is an ESPN biography television program that reviews the people and 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.
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, 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.
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.)
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.
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?'"
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."
ESPN anchor Charley Steiner said "I think picking number one was a generational decision, not a historical one. Babe Ruth deserved it more."
Don King lawsuit
In 2005, Don King and his promotional company, Don King Productions, Inc. filed a $2.5 billion defamation suit against the Walt Disney Company, the current owners of ESPN and ABC Cable Networks Group, and Advocate Communications, after an documentary alleged that King had "killed, not once, but twice", threatened to break Larry Holmes' legs, had a hospital invest into a film that was never made, cheated Meldrick Taylor out of $1 million, and then threatened to have Taylor killed. Though the documentary repeated many claims that were already made, King said he had now had enough. King's attorney said "It was slanted to show Don in the worst way. It was one-sided from day one, Don is a strong man, but he has been hurt by this."
The case was dismissed on summary judgment with a finding that King could not show "actual malice" from the defendants, and that King had failed to prove that any of the challenged statements were false. The judgement also pointed out that the studio had tried on a number of occasions to interview King for the documentary, but he had declined; while not suggesting that King had a legal obligation to do so, the court sympathized with ESPN's circumstances on those grounds. King appealed the decision and, 3 years later, the Second District Court of Appeals upheld the summary judgement, but disagreed with the original finding that none of the statements were false. In any case, Judge Dorian Damoorgian ruled, "Nothing in the record shows that ESPN purposefully made false statements about King in order to bolster the theme of the program or to inflict harm on King".
SportsCentury won a Peabody Award in 1999 "for overall excellence in sports broadcasting."
SportsCentury: Top 50 American Athletes of the 20th Century (Original series)
|5||Wayne Gretzky||Ice hockey|
|6||Jesse Owens||Track and field|
|7||Jim Thorpe||Multiple sports|
|10||Babe Zaharias||Multiple sports|
|12||Carl Lewis||Track and field|
|21||Gordie Howe||Ice hockey|
|23||Jackie Joyner-Kersee||Track and field|
|24||Sugar Ray Robinson||Boxing|
|31||Bobby Orr||Ice hockey|
|41||Wilma Rudolph||Track and field|
|46||Eric Heiden||Speed skating, cycling|
|47||Edwin Moses||Track and field|
|49||O. J. Simpson||Football|
|53||Rafer Johnson||Track and field|
|55||Mario Lemieux||Ice hockey|
|57||Bill Shoemaker||Horse racing|
|59||Billie Jean King||Tennis|
|65||Althea Gibson||Tennis, golf|
|66||Eddie Arcaro||Horse racing|
|68||Al Oerter||Track and field|
|69||Bonnie Blair||Speed skating|
|72||Bo Jackson||Football, baseball|
|74||Deion Sanders||Football, baseball|
|78||Bob Mathias||Track and field|
|80||A. J. Foyt||Auto racing|
|82||Bobby Hull||Ice hockey|
|84||Man o' War||Horse racing|
|85||Maurice Richard||Ice hockey|
|90||Richard Petty||Auto racing|
|91||Bob Beamon||Track and field|
|92||Mario Andretti||Auto racing|
|96||Michael Johnson||Track and field|
Additional SportsCentury episodes
Coaches, owners, and other personalities
Games, teams, and other special episodes
- 1972 Olympic Men's Basketball Final
- 1977 British Open
- Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals ("The Flu Game")
- Ball Four
- Epic in Miami (Chargers vs. Dolphins)
- New York Yankees
- Jerry's Cowboys
- Bears 46 defense
- Villanova vs. Georgetown (1985 NCAA Championship)
- Disciples of Jackie Robinson
- 1999 Ryder Cup
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.
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
SportsCentury: Greatest Dynasties
- New York Yankees
- Boston Celtics
- Montreal Canadiens
- John Wooden's UCLA Bruins (1960s and 1970s)
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team (1946–1949)
- Dallas Cowboys (1990s)
- Atlanta Braves (1990s)
- Chicago Bulls (1990s)
- San Francisco 49ers (1980s)
SportsCentury: Most Influential Individuals
Another top ten countdown special, focusing on influential figures in sports during the twentieth century, namely off-the-field contributors.
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).