There are moments in time that we will always remember, some good and some bad. For those who do not have the best memories, many of these moments are captured on film. Iconic photos capture and permanently commemorate these defining moments throughout history, and the sports world is no exception. Whether you are one of the lucky ones who saw something history-making happen live or you missed it, a picture can go a long way in explaining a legacy in only one snapshot of time. Famous moments in sports are usually captured on video, which is great, but a single photo can contain the emotions, triumphs, and defeat all-in-one.
In this article, we will be going through the history of sports and selecting the 20 most iconic photos in sports history. Ranging from breaking barriers to breaking bones, these pictures are legendary to say the least. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but here, you'll get both. In most cases, you likely won't need an explanation for what the photo has captured, as these iconic images are likely seared in most memories.
As always, feel free to leave any comments about any other classic photos that could have been included in this list.
Here are the top 20 most iconic photos in sports history.
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18 Wilt Scores 100
March 2, 1962:
While the feat of scoring 100 points is definitely iconic, the picture taken of Wilt Chamberlain after the game is one of the most iconic photos in sports history. No one has ever really came close to scoring 100 points in a game, with Kobe Bryant trailing behind at 81 points. This makes the photo of Wilt even more legendary, especially since there wasn't even any footage of Wilt's 100 point game. Fortunately, Warriors PR manager Harvey Pollack went into the locker room, scribbled "100" on a piece of paper, and got photographer Paul Vathis to take the photo. Little did they know that the photo of Wilt would become one of the most iconic photos of all-time. If someone ever does score 100 points in an NBA game, which probably will never happen, they definitely will re-create this photo, but even then, it will not be able to compete with the photo that captured the first time it ever happened.
17 Mays' Catch
September 29, 1954:
Reenacted by millions of people around the world, Willie Mays' legendary catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series was one of the most legendary plays of all time. You may have seen this photo, as it portrays Mays as he tracks down the ball and grabs it out of the air before it hit the wall, keeping the 8th inning with a 2-2 tie intact for his Indians. Many consider this play to be one of the greatest moments in baseball history, as Mays made one of the most difficult catches on the biggest stage in baseball. Mays had an incredible baseball career, and the catch he made during the 1954 World Series added to his legacy immensely and ultimately sealed his reputation in history. For further proof of the significance of this catch, it is worth noting that the glove that Willie wore during the catch is currently on display in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
16 Concrete Charlie's Hit
November 20, 1960:
Chuck Bednarik was a football legend. Nicknamed Concrete Charlie, and you will soon understand why, Chuck could take it as well as he gave it out. With the division's 1st place spot on the line for the Eagles and the rival Giants, both teams badly wanted a win. Down 17-10, the Giants threw a pass to Hall of Famer Frank Gifford, who caught the ball in the middle of the field. As he turned around, Concrete Charlie completely demolished him, and forced a fumble, which the Eagles recovered.
The photo of Bednarik standing over the unconscious Gifford, is one of the most iconic photos in sports history, though not necessarily a celebratory one. Sadly, Gifford was out for 18 months, with a "deep brain concussion" due to the hit. The Eagles and the Giants have always had bad blood, and this hit by Concrete Charlie will always be remembered as a contributing factor.
15 Kirk Gibson's Homer
October 15, 1988:
It's the bottom of the 9th inning with a 3-2 count, Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. The game-tying run is on second, an injured Kirk Gibson stands at the plate. What happens next is absolutely legendary, as Gibson launches a homer, giving the Dodgers the win against the Oakland Athletics. The iconic picture shows the limping Gibson, rounding the bases as he pumps his fist in triumph. Kirk was at home plate for a full six minutes, as he battled the opposing pitcher until he found just the right pitch.
It was Gibson's only at-bat the entire series, which just underscores how injured he really was. Gibson fought through the pain, and delivered one of the most important hits in all of Dodgers history. It really is something when one at-bat can make someone a sports legend, as Kirk Gibson will always be remembered for his iconic home run in the 1988 World Series.
14 Miracle on Ice
February 22, 1980:
During the 1980 Winter Olympics, the U.S. men's hockey team faced the Soviet Union in a semi finals game at Lake Placid, New York. Tensions were high between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the 80s due to the Cold War, which gave the game some extra intrigue. The U.S. team consisted of amateur and collegiate players, and the Soviet team won six of the last seven gold medals, so a Soviet victory was expected. However, the U.S. team fought hard, and they were only down 3-2 going into the 3rd period.
Let's be honest, it is not called the "Miracle on Ice" for nothing as the U.S. team scored two goals in the 3rd, securing their victory over the Soviets. The photo shows the stunned and overjoyed American players embracing on the ice after their seemingly impossible victory, with a American flag flying above them -- a truly inspiring moment for American patriots.
13 Maradona's "The Hand of God"
June 22, 1986:
Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal during the 1986 FIFA World Cup was one of the most controversial plays in all of sports. Six minutes into the second half of the game, Maradona and England's goalkeeper went up for the ball, which Diego hit with the outside of his left hand, causing it to pop up behind the two players and roll into the goal. None of the referees saw the handball, despite the confusion among the players on the field after the goal. Maradona even said afterwards that he was telling his teammates to hug him after the goal to make it look legitimate.
The play was scrutinized by many soccer fans, as the somewhat obvious handball cost England a championship in 1986. The photo of Maradona flying high, hand on the ball, is one of the most iconic photos in sports. Maradona later exclaimed that the goal was scored "a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God."
12 Bobby Orr Soars
May 10, 1970:
The Stanley Cup is what every young hockey player dreams of winning. With the Boston Bruins up 3-0 in the series against the St. Louis Blues, it seemed as though Bobby Orr and the Bruins would be taking home the Stanley Cup to Boston. In Game 4 of the series, the Blues put up a fight as they forced the game into overtime. Forty seconds into overtime, however, Bobby Orr scored the game winning goal, ending the series. Bobby Orr had some incredible hockey moments throughout his successful career, but this moment has to take the cake.
Photographer Ray Lussier captured the essence of the moment perfectly with Orr soaring through the air in victory. This iconic photo is known as "The Flight," as it really does look like Orr is flying like an airplane. Becoming one of the most iconic photos in all of hockey, this photo has permanently sealed Orr's legacy forever.
11 "The Catch"
January 10, 1982:
In the 1982 NFC Championship game, the 49ers faced the Dallas Cowboys. Down 27-21, the 49ers were looking for a touchdown and found one in one of the most iconic plays in sports. Joe Montana launched an intentionally high pass to his tall receiver Dwight Clark, who leaped over Dallas cornerback Emerson Walls and made a fingertip catch for the touchdown. The catch signaled the end of the Cowboys NFC domination, and the beginning of the 49ers' 80s dynasty. San Francisco 49ers fans would love to go back to the era of Montana and Clark, as it really was a rich time for the franchise.
The photo of "The Catch" is considered one of the most iconic plays of all time, and the image of Clark bringing down the ball can be considered more than just a photograph, as it really does show the beginning of one of the greatest dynasties in football history.
10 Roger Bannister Makes History
May 6, 1954:
Before Roger Bannister's career of being a successful neurologist, he broke a record that seemed to be impossible at the time. Bannister was at the top of the sports world before breaking the record of a sub-four-minute mile, as he won 1954 Sportsman of the Year. On May 6, 1954, during a meet between British AAA and Oxford University, Bannister did what has never been done before. During his mile run, Bannister kept a very quick pace, and when he rounded the last turn, people knew he may get under four minutes.
The iconic photo shows Bannister, exhausted from his run, breaking through the mark to the astonishment of the people around him. Bannister really had a successful career, in both athletics and in the neurological field. The three minute and 59.4 second mile was truly a historic feat, as he was the first man ever recorded to run a sub-four-minute mile.
11. Bill Buckner's Error
October 25, 1986:
A play that will live on in infamy, Bill Buckner's famous error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was one of the worst moments in Boston sports history. With the Red Sox in a 9th inning 5-5 tie against the heavily favored New York Mets, batter Mookie Wilson hit a slow dribbler to Bill Buckner at first base, which rolled right underneath Buckner's glove. Scoring the game winning run from second base on the error, the Mets won the game, which forced a Game 7. The Red Sox would lose that World Series, and many fans blame Buckner's error for costing them the World Series championship.
While reflecting on the incident, Buckner stated his glove was old and there were "mechanical" issues with it when he tried to stop the ball. Whatever it was, this image of his famous error is one of the most iconic photos in sports history.
9 The Flu Game
June 11, 1997:
Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals was one of the most memorable games of Michael Jordan's storied career. At 2 am on the morning of the game, Jordan called his trainer from the fetal position as he sweated profusely. The team said there is no way Jordan would be able to play, as he most likely had food poisoning from the night before. The Jazz held the momentum having won two games in a row, which tied the series at 2-2. Knowing his team needed their leader, Jordan got out of bed to play in the game at 5:30 pm for a 7 o'clock tip off, only an hour and a half before the game.
Jordan was visibly weak, but his greatness could not be oppressed by his illness, as he scored 38 points in the Bulls' 90-88 victory over the Jazz. After the game, MJ collapsed into teammate Scottie Pippen's arms, a photo that symbolizes one of the greatest NBA athletic performances of all time.
8 Jeter's NY Goodbye
September 25, 2014
There are only a handful of Yankee players that have been beloved like Derek Jeter. Names like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig come to mind. Fifty years from now, Derek Jeter's name will be listed among the Yankees' greatest. Jeter's great play and humble attitude has secured his legacy as one of the greatest to ever play baseball. His last game wouldn't be at Yankee Stadium, so many looked at his last at-bat at home to be his true last hurrah. In storybook fashion, Jeter hit a walk-off single to give the Yankees the 6-5 win against the Baltimore Orioles. The moment was perfect as Jeter rounded first and jumped into the air in victory. The photo of both Jeter and the Yankee fans with their hands in the air as they celebrated his last at-bat in New York is one of the most iconic photos in all of sports.
7 The Black Power Salute
October 16, 1968:
The 1968 Summer Olympics was to be the stage for one of the most iconic moments in sports history. Tommie Smith and John Carlos won the gold and bronze medal in the 2oo-meter race at the event. When the Star-Spangled Banner played during their award ceremony, both Smith and Carlos bowed their head and put their fist in the air. In the backdrop of these Olympics was the Civil Rights movement, and Carols and Smith were advocating for black equality. Peter Norman, the second place finisher from Australia, supported the cause and wore a human rights advocacy button to show solidarity.
The picture taken by John Dominis is undoubtedly one of the most famous photos in all of human history, not just in the sports world. Smith and Carlos were booed after their actions, and Smith later said, "We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight."
6 Derek Redmond And His Father Finish Race
August 5, 1992:
Derek Redmond was one of the best runners in the world during the 1992 Summer Olympics, and his great start to the semi-finals of the men's 400-meter race was not a surprise. Redmond, sadly, tore his hamstring during the race however, and fell down to the ground in agony. Stretchers were being brought out, but Redmond decided he wanted to finish the race, and started limping towards the finish line. Derek's father, Jim Redmond, broke past security to join his son in helping him finish the race.
At the finish line, both father and son were crying, along with everyone in the stands and everyone watching on TV. "I'm the proudest father alive," Jim Redmond told the press afterwards, with tears in his eyes. "I'm prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did." The photo of the emotional Derek and his father finishing the race to a standing ovation shows the perseverance of the human spirit.
5 Joe Carter's Walk-Off
October 23, 1993:
Joe Carter's walk-off against the Phillies in the 1993 World Series was iconic to say the least. You know you have achieved iconic status when rappers mention it in their music. Toronto rapper Drake referenced this moment during a beef with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill. Joe Carter came up to bat in the bottom of the 9th, with two men on and one out. Carter hit a homer off of Mitch Williams, which won the Blue Jays the series and the championship.
Joe Carter goes absolutely insane after hitting the home run, as he jumped up and down, even losing his helmet in the process. The photo of Carter jumping in the air in excitement isn't just an iconic baseball photo, but is considered one of the most classic photos in sports. The late great Tom Cheek's quote right after the play was very memorable, as he said, "Touch em' all Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!"
4 The Steve Bartman Incident
October 14, 2003
During the 8th inning of Game 6 of the NLCS between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins, Steve Bartman did something that most people in his position probably would have done, as he reached out for a foul ball hit towards him. Unfortunately, Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou could have caught the ball that Bartman interfered with, which would have put the Cubs at only four outs away from winning their first NL pennant. Not only did the play not count as an out, but the Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning, winning the game 8-3.
Bartman was escorted out of the stadium and became one of the most hated men in Chicago. He even had to be protected by the police for some time after because his name was being released all over television. An ESPN 30 for 30 documentary was even made about Bartman, entitled Catching Hell, which analyzes one of the most iconic moments in sports history.
3 Brandi Chastain Celebrates
July 10, 1999:
The photo of Brandi Chastain celebrating her impressive victory is one of the most memorable moments in all of U.S. sports. Even with all of Chastain's immense success throughout her long soccer career, what she will be most known for is her celebration after her game winning penalty shot against China. The 1999 FIFA World Cup was held in the U.S., and the championship game between the U.S.A and China was played in the Rose Bowl to a screaming 90-plus thousand fans. The match was scoreless, so penalty shots had to be taken to crown a winner. The U.S. women's team converted on all of their shots, and the clinching goal was made by Brandi Chastain, who slid through the grass and ripped off her jersey in triumph. The Rose Bowl completely erupted as people from all over the country celebrated when the U.S. team won the FIFA Women's World Cup.
2 Jackie Robinson Breaks Barrier
April 11, 1947:
When Jackie Robinson officially joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was a giant step for racial equality in America. There was an incredible amount of backlash when it was announced that Jackie would be playing in the MLB, as he was the first ever African-American to play in the major leagues. The photo taken of Robinson entering the Dodgers' clubhouse for the first time is definitely iconic, as it shows Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. The photo shows Robinson holding his glove high in the air, smiling as he begins to enter the clubhouse, officially joining the team.
The photo represents more than just Jackie entering the clubhouse though -- it captured him making history and being the first ever African-American to play in the MLB. Many Dodger players didn't want to play with Jackie, but luckily the coaches of the team supported him and allowed him to become one of the best baseball players ever.
1 Jesse Owens Wins Gold
August 9, 1936:
The 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin, was thought to be Hitler's showcase of his allegedly superior Aryan athletes, as he fully expected them to bring home the majority of the gold medals. Jesse Owens had other plans though, as he won four gold medals and broke a multitude of records during the Olympics. Hitler told one of his officers how displeased he was that a colored American athlete was beating his German athletes, as he only shook the German athletes' hands when he went up to the podium.
The photo captured Owens saluting on the highest podium with USA on his chest, above the Nazi saluting German athlete and the athlete from Japan. The United States would go to war with both of these countries soon after, and the U.S. got the win here as well as they did in World War II. Another proud photo for patriots to behold.
1. A Legacy Is Born
May 25, 1965:
Ali's two bouts with boxing legend Sonny Liston in 1965 helped create the legend of Muhammad Ali. At 22-years-old, Ali was still hungry to be recognized as one of the best boxers in the world, and he was eager to show his worth against the 32-year-old Sonny Liston. Ali won the first bout with Liston, but the two were confronted with a lot of controversy over the fight, as people believed cheating was involved. The second bout, which was expected to be a long and fair fight, was anything but that. Ali knocked out Liston in only 1 minute and 40 seconds with his legendary hit on Liston, which was named the "Phantom Punch."
The photo captured by Neil Leifer of Ali standing over Liston in victory is one of the most iconic pictures to ever be taken, as it represents Ali's legacy better than any other photo and captured a moment that Ali's fans will likely always remember.
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