Each week from Monday - Saturday at midnight ET, ESPN Classic will present a SportsCentury profile. Check out this week's lineup.
Friday, Aug. 24
Magic Johnson could turn on the world with his smile. The former Los Angeles Laker is more than a graceful 6-foot-9 giant who redefined his position as the first oversized point guard. He is more than a winning athlete, one who won three championships at three different levels in four seasons before he was 21 years old. He is more than the player who, along with Larry Bird, transformed the NBA from the brink of bankruptcy into a lucrative attraction. There have been many great athletes this century. But only one has the most famous smile since the Mona Lisa. It is this smile on his face that enables us to see his heart on his sleeve. He transmits a warmth and sweetness that few people do. Not even testing positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 1991 was able to wipe the smile from Magic's face. If anything, it showed that the charismatic Magic was vulnerable, just like any Mr. Johnson. His legacy as a player certainly is impressive. As a sophomore at Michigan State, he led the Spartans to victory over unbeaten Bird-led Indiana State for the NCAA championship in 1979. His passing for the Lakers made "Showtime" the rage of the 1980s, much to the delight of Jack Nicholson and millions of others, and was instrumental in LA reaching nine NBA Finals and winning five championships in 12 seasons. Three times Magic was the MVP of the league and three times the Finals MVP. Nine consecutive seasons he was all-NBA first-team. Averaging 11.2 assists for his career, he is one of only two players (John Stockton is the other) to surpass 10,000 assists. His performance in the 1992 All-Star Game, three months after being diagnosed with HIV and retiring (for the first time), is the stuff of fairy tales.
Saturday, Aug. 25
Images of Pete Rose flash as vibrantly as his quick-talk personality. Baseball's all-time hits leader was admired by fans for not only what he accomplished but how he did it. He played the game with childish joy, exuberance at odds with the disgrace of a lifetime suspension from baseball, a ban that has kept him from induction into the Hall of Fame. Rose visuals: Pounding the top of his batting helmet with his fist. Crouching at the plate. Whipping the bat quickly with his compact swing, sending the ball on a line. Sprinting to first base after a walk. Running the bases, thick legs churning, cap flying off. Belly-flopping into a base, face full of dirt. Smooth? Sleek? Graceful? Not Rose. "Charlie Hustle" had no time for style points. Rose led his hometown Reds to two World Series triumphs (and four pennants) and helped Philadelphia to one Series win (and two pennants). He produced a modern National League record 44-game hitting streak in 1978, broke Ty Cobb's 57-year-old career hits record in 1985 and retired a year later with 4,256 hits. His biggest loss came on Aug. 24, 1989 when commissioner Bart Giamatti suspended him for gambling on baseball.
Monday, Aug. 27
Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King won a dozen Grand Slam singles titles, including six Wimbledon championships and four U.S. crowns. She was ranked No. 1 in the world five years. She defeated such magnificent players as Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Margaret Court. History has recorded all she has accomplished in furthering the cause of women's struggle for equality in the 1970s. She was instrumental in making it acceptable for American women to exert themselves in pursuits other than childbirth. She was the lightning rod in starting a professional women's tour. She started a women's sports magazine and a women's sports foundation.
Yet of all her victories, the one that is remembered most is her beating a 55-year-old man. She humbled Bobby Riggs, a 1939 Wimbledon champion turned hustler. The "Battle of the Sexes" captured the imagination of the country, not just tennis enthusiasts. On Sept. 20, 1973 in Houston, she was carried out on the Astrodome court like Cleopatra, in a gold litter held aloft by four muscular men dressed as ancient slaves. Riggs was wheeled in on a rickshaw pulled by sexy models in tight outfits, "Bobby's Bosom Buddies." King, then 29, ran the con man ragged, winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in a match the London Sunday Times called "the drop shot and volley heard around the world."
Tuesday, Aug. 28
Frank Robinson had a way of repeating his feats: he is the only player to win a Most Valuable Player award in both the National and American Leagues and the only African-American to manage in each circuit. His duplication of deeds as well as his breaking of the racial barrier as a dugout boss has sometimes obscured his prodigious slugging and his no-holds-barred style of play. Robinson began rewriting the record book his rookie year with Cincinnati in 1956, when he tied Wally Berger's freshman mark for homers with 38 and led the National League with 122 runs to win Rookie of the Year. In his 10 seasons with the Reds, he slipped below 29 homers only once and paced the league in slugging percentage in three consecutive seasons (1960-62). He won his N.L. MVP in 1961 while leading the Reds to their first pennant since 1940. But his individual performance was even better in 1962, when he topped his MVP season in almost every category. After being traded to Baltimore in 1966, Robinson had his best season, copping a Triple Crown - with a .316 average, 49 homers and 122 RBI - while also leading the American League in slugging percentage (.637) and runs (122). His banner season not only won him the AL MVP, but also helped the Orioles to their first pennant. Topping off that extraordinary year, he also was World Series MVP. The right-handed slugger was a central figure in three more Baltimore pennants (1969-71).When he retired in 1976, Robinson had 586 homers (fourth on the all-time list). His lifetime average was .294 and he knocked in 1,829 runs. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1982.
Wednesday, Aug. 29
Like Mickey Mantle, there is a similar majesty that goes along with being Paul Hornung. Whether he's at a Notre Dame game or a reunion of fellow Hall of Famers, there is a charisma he continues to carry well into his seventh decade of life and fourth decade of retirement. He was the All-American triple-threat from Notre Dame who won the Heisman Trophy in 1956. That might have been enough for Hornung, who said years later, "I didn't grow up even thinking about the pros. The idea of being a professional just didn't cross my mind." Hornung's career with the Green Bay Packers was not just a passing thought. It was more of a running and kicking fancy, complete with a nine-year average of 4.2 yards per carry, 130 catches, 66 field goals and 760 points. His 176 points in 1960 remain an NFL record, even though the league has long since expanded from 12 to 16 games. A member of four championship teams, Vince Lombardi called him "the most versatile man who ever played the game." But Hornung also is remembered for being suspended for a season because he bet on NFL games, sometimes on his own team. "It was a carefree, thoughtless thing I did," Hornung said. Despite the scandal, football's "Golden Boy" was still remembered fondly enough two decades later when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thursday, Aug. 30
Archie Moore was an enduring sort in the most literal sense. Consider that he made his professional debut during the Depression, got his first title shot just as television was coming into American homes and did not finish his career until the start of Beatle-mania. Endurance was all too necessary for "The Ol' Mongoose," whose rise to the light-heavyweight championship was slowed by racism. But what also endures is Moore's record of 141 knockouts, a mark that still stands today. He fought his early bouts in "tank towns" all over America, trying to carve out a living and make a name for himself. "Nothing ever came easy to me," Moore said, "except ulcers." He became a fixture on what became known as "The Chittlin' Circuit," an unending string of boxing honky-tonks open to "colored" fighters who couldn't break into the white man's big time. Moore also battled physical adversity - a severed tendon in his wrist, acute appendicitis, an organic disorder of the heart and a perforated ulcer that was life threatening. A prominent surgical scar would become an unintended trademark. It wasn't until 1952, almost two decades after he started fighting professionally, that Moore got his shot at the light-heavyweight championship. Once he took the crown from Joey Maxim, he would never lose it in the ring. And he would defend that crown even as he approached a half-century of life.
Friday, Aug. 31
Season after season, the Boston Celtics won the championship trophy, and Jerry West took home the consolation prize: praise for the runner-up. West would play brilliantly in the NBA playoffs, only to finish short of his goal. In the seventh game of the 1969 Finals, West played with a leg injury and had 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists - and his Los Angeles Lakers lost. The performance moved Celtics center Bill Russell to say, "Los Angeles has not won the championship, but Jerry West is a champion." Nine times in his 14 seasons West's Lakers made the Finals: They lost eight, the first six times to the Celtics. He got his only NBA title in the Lakers' record-setting 1971-72 season, but championships never defined him. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound West was peerless as a clutch shooter, a player who could score, pass and defend and who raised his game in the playoffs. He averaged 29.1 points in the postseason, second all-time only to Michael Jordan's 33.4. The perfectionist averaged more than 20 points per game in every NBA season but his first, and when he retired in 1974, he ranked high in the record books. He was third in scoring with 25,192 points, fourth in average (27.0), fifth in assists (6,238) and second in free throws (7,160). West, the NBA's scoring champion in 1969-70 (31.2), was first-team all-league 10 times and made the all-defensive team four years. He was chosen for 14 All-Star Games, winning the MVP in 1972.
Saturday, Sept. 1
A superlative centerfielder on three pennant-winning St. Louis teams in the 1960s, Curt Flood hit better than .300 six times and won seven Gold Gloves in his 12 seasons with the Cardinals. A productive leadoff and No. 2 batter who had at least 200 hits twice, his lifetime batting average was .293. But his baseball legacy is fated to have little connection with his accomplishments on the field. Flood is best remembered for his courage in challenging the reserve clause, a move as crucial to the economic rights of players as Jackie Robinson's was to breaking the color barrier. In 1969, the Cardinals sent Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies as part of a seven-player trade. Flood had several problems with the deal. He didn't appreciate hearing about it from a front-office underling. He didn't like Philadelphia, a losing team in a rundown ballpark with hostile fans in a city he regarded as racist. But, most important, he didn't think he should be treated like a commodity. Refusing to accept the trade, he wrote a letter asking Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to declare him a free agent. When Kuhn refused, Flood decided to retire, but then changed his mind. Instead, he declared war on the reserve clause, filing an anti-trust suit. And baseball hasn't been the same since. Flood's anti-trust suit against MLB paved the way for free agency.