In 2003 this was voted the greatest sport photo ever by the Observer. Even Neil Leifer calls it his best shot – one, he says, on which he cannot improve. He’s right. The pristine white canvas is the perfect backdrop, accentuating the two fighters whose figures are so neatly counterposed. I can’t imagine boxing will ever look this sublime again.
Photograph: Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Jacques Plante - Canadiens at Rangers, Dec. 18, 1957
Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante surveys the ice without a mask during a game between the Canadiens and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Plante was the first NHL goalie to wear a goaltender mask on an everyday basis, a practice he started during the 1959-60 season.
Muhammad Ali and Cleveland Williams - Nov. 14, 1966
Ali knocks out Cleveland ‘Big Cat’ Williams in three rounds at the Houston Astrodome to defend his heavyweight title in November 1966. The bout drew a record indoor crowd of 35,460.
Dennis Rodman - Pacers at Bulls, March 7, 1997
Chicago Bulls power forward Dennis Rodman goes horizontal for a loose ball during a game against the Pacers at the United Center in Chicago, Ill. Rodman won his sixth rebounding title during the 1996-97 season averaging 16.1 total rebounds a game.
Greg Olson - World Series Game 1, Oct. 19, 1991
Atlanta Braves catcher Greg Olson goes head over heels after tagging Minnesota left fielder Dan Gladden out at home during Game 1 of the 1991 World Series. The Twins would win Game 1, 5-2, and go on to win the Series in seven games
Pittsburgh Pirates Fans - 1960 World Series, Oct. 13, 1960
University of Pittsburgh students cheer as they look down on Forbes Field from the top of their campus’s Cathedral of Learning as the Pirates are winning their first World Series in 35 years against the Yankees. In Game 7, Bill Mazeroski hit the first walk-off home run in World Series history, a shot over the left-field fence that gave the Pirates a 10-9 win.
Mike Tyson and Evander - Holyfield Heavyweight Bout, June 28, 1997
Mike Tyson bites the ear of Evander Holyfield during their 1997 heavyweight fight. Tyson’s boxing license was temporarily revoked for the incident and he was fined $3 million
Julien Leparoux and Sanibel Storm - Keeneland Race Course, April 28, 2006
Jockey Julien Leparoux tries to hold on to the bridle as he is catapulted off Sanibel Storm, which hit the rail during the stretch run. The jockey and horse were both uninjured.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos - Summer Olympics, Oct. 16, 1968
American sprinters Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) raise their black-gloved fists on the Olympic medal podium in Mexico City to signify Black Power. Smith, the gold medalist in the 200-meter race, and Carlos, the bronze medalist, were kicked out of the Games for their overtly political statement.
Carmen Basilio and Tony DeMarco - Nov. 30, 1955
Carmen Basilio (right) celebrates with his cornermen after knocking out Tony DeMarco (left) in the 12th round for the world welterweight title.
Ervin Kovacs - Paralympic Games, Sept. 21, 2004
Hungary swimmer Ervin Kovacs starts the 200-meter freestyle SM5 at the Paralympic Games. Kovacs took the silver medal in the race, finishing behind only China’s Junquan He.
Pete Rose - Reds vs. Cubs, August 1975
Cincinnati’s Pete Rose dives into third base in a game with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Baseball’s all-time hits leader, Rose was 4-for-9 and drew eight walks during the series with Chicago.
Joe Namath - Bills at Jets, Dec. 8, 1974
New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath listens on the sidelines during a messy New York Jets-Buffalo Bills Game. The Jets would win 20-10 behind Namath’s 131 yards and two passing touchdowns.
Maxwell Fornah and Victor Musa - Sierra Leone, April 6, 2006
The members of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club of Sierra Leone chase for the ball in Freetown. A brutal civil war left more than 6,000 amputees in Sierra Leone.
Bobby Orr - Stanley Cup finals Game 4, May 10, 1970
Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr celebrates his Cup-winning goal during overtime of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals against the St. Louis Blues. Orr would win MVP honors, and the victory was Boston’s first Cup in 29 years
Bob Beamon - Summer Olympics, Oct. 18, 1968
U.S. track and field athlete Bob Beamon flies through the air during his world record long jump of 8.9 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Beamon’s jump, which inspired a new adjective for spectacular feats ('Beamonesque’), stood as the world record for 23 years.
Bobby Martin - Belmont High at Colonel White High, Sept. 24, 2005
Three-foot, 112-pound Bobby Martin played on punt and kickoff coverage and was the backup varsity noseguard for Dayton’s Colonel White High. Born without legs, he can’t wear prosthetics because he has no thighs to affix them to.
Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston - May 25, 1965
In their heavyweight title rematch Ali defeated Liston by knockout in the first round. Ali would hold the heavyweight title until 1967, when he was stripped of it for refusing to be drafted into the Army.
Brandi Chastain - Women’s World Cup, July 10, 1999
U.S. women’s soccer player Brandi Chastain exults after kicking the World Cup-winning penalty kick in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final.
Michael Jordan - All-Star Weekend, Feb. 6, 1988
Air Jordan takes off from the free throw line and soars to a perfect score of 50 to defeat Dominique Wilkins in the finals of the Slam Dunk Contest. It was the second straight title for the Bulls star, and the '88 contest is widely considered the best ever because of the duel between Jordan and Wilkins.
Referee Jack Vaughn - Eagles at Bears, Dec. 31, 1988
Referee Jack Vaughn tries to follow a field goal attempt from Eagles placekicker Luis Zendejas during the Fog Bowl, a 1988 NFC divisional playoff game between the Eagles and the Bears in Chicago, Ill. A heavy sheet of fog rolled over Soldier Field during the second quarter, cutting visibility to around 10-20 yards for the remainder of the game.
Casey Sanders and Julius Peppers - Chapel Hill, N.C., March 4, 2001
Casey Sanders of Duke (20) tries to stop North Carolina’s Julius Peppers at the Dean E. Smith Center. No. 2 Duke defeated No. 4 North Carolina 95-81.