Top 20 Most Iconic Photos In Sports History

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.

18 20. Wilt Scores 100

AP Photo/Paul Vathis

March 2, 1962:

17 19. Mays' Catch


September 29, 1954:

16 18. 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.

15 17. 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.

14 16. Miracle on Ice

AP Photo

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.

13 15. 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.

12 14. 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.

11 13. "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.

10 12. 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.


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.

9 10. 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.

8 9. Jeter's NY Goodbye

William Perlman/NJ Advance Media for via USA TODAY Sports

September 25, 2014

7 8. 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.

6 7. 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.

5 6. Joe Carter's Walk-Off

AP Photo/Mark Duncan

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.

4 5. 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.

3 4. Brandi Chastain Celebrates


July 10, 1999:

2 3. 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.

1 2. Jesse Owens Wins Gold

AP Photo

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.


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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Top 20 Most Iconic Photos In Sports History