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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Top 25 Sports Characters

Aired August 7, 2005 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
LARRY SMITH, CNN ANCHOR, CNN 25: Twenty-five years. Twenty-five intriguing sports characters. From pitch men with something to prove --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to show the whole world that age 40 wasn't a death sentence.

SMITH: To primetime entertainment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The greatest show of Earth.

SMITH: These masters in motions have dazzled us with their ability and originality. The big. The bold. The beautiful. It's all about image. And inspiration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whatever doesn't hurt you will make you a stronger person.

SMITH: For the record, is a high-octane dose of adrenaline as we countdown the top 25 sports characters that engaged us and enraged us over the past 25 years?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: Welcome to CNN's TOP 25. I'm Larry Smith joining you from Atlanta. This month we look at the most intriguing sports characters of the past 25 years as CNN celebrates its silver anniversary. In sports venues like this one, we've seen athletes become champions and champions become legends. Some known more for their action and antics, others for their amazing athletic ability.

From the rinks to the links we countdown the top 25 sports characters you love and some not so much. We asked the editors at "Sports Illustrated" Magazine to come up with a list.

ROY JOHNSON, ASST. MANAGING EDITOR, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:" It wasn't just the fact that they were good at what they did. It was how they went about that. Did they go about it, with a joy that reminded us of the joy of our own youth, and why we became sports fans? Those are the primary factors that led us to determine to be the great characters of sports were for the last 25 years.

SMITH: Twenty five years, 25 sports characters. We begin our countdown with an athlete who broke a size stereotype. An unlikely quarterback at 5' 9" and under 200 pounds; yet he is an endearing member of the NFL and our 25.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH (voice-over): What Doug Flutie lacked in stature he made up in heart. The Heisman Trophy winner began his career with a short- lived USFL. His contract with the New Jersey Generals, owned by Donald Trump, netted him a $7 million, five-year contract, which was big money for that time. Flutie took a huge pay cut to join the NFL in 1986. His signature schoolyard style won over the fans.

JOHNSON: He was everyman. He was the high school quarterback. That scrambled around and just, you know, fought and clawed his team's way to victories.

SMITH: But his fighting spirit is not reserved for the field. In honor of his son, diagnosed with autism, Flutie has raised millions of dollars through his foundation dedicated to autism research. Now at age 42, Doug Flutie is back on home turf as a senior statesman. A quarterback with the New England Patriots, he is one of the oldest players in the NFL.

At number 24, her parents called her baby girl until she was renamed Picabo at the age of 3. For the tomboy from Triumph, Idaho, the need for speed began early for Picabo Street.

She began skiing at 6, and racing at 7. The rest is history. Winning the silver medal at the 1994 Olympics made her a household name. But her World Cup title the next year gave Street creed on the slopes. It was something no other U.S. skier had ever done.

BODE MILLER, WORLD CUP CHAMPION, ALPINE SKIING: She brought a level of intensity to the sport. She brought a level of individualism that wasn't seen before in women's skiing. She did things the way she wanted her own way and made everyone else shape their situation around her.

SMITH: Her gutsy performance in the 1998 Olympics is legendary. She captured gold, only days after a racing accident knocked her unconscious. The collision with the fence at 75 miles per hour left her with a concussion. Now retired from the sport, Picabo is considered the greatest American downhill skier. Although her appeal is strictly girl next door.

At number 23, he's a celebrated coach with a fear of flying and the gift for gab. Injuries may have kept John Madden from playing in the NFL but coaching put him in the record books. His winning ways on the gridiron including Super Bowl 11 were just a warm-up act. His way with the mic has made him a favorite to millions of football fans for 25 years.

JOHNSON: At the core, he is a great coach who understood the game, who understood how people viewed the game and was able to translate that in a way that no one else could.

SMITH: Madden has bankrolled his recognition into a franchise. Since 1989, his popular video game "Madden's NFL Football" has sold over 43 million copies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: When it comes to skateboarding, one name flies above all the rest, Tony Hawk. He is the single-most influential skateboarder ever. With more tricks than most people learn in a lifetime, plus six figure endorsement deals, video games and thriving businesses, he is not only a sports icon, Tony is the chairman of the board. Ray D'Alessio takes a look at number 22 on our list.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY HAWK, PRO SKATER: When I'm in front of crowds, that are when I get the most adrenalin going, the most rush.

RAY D'ALESSIO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's called the "Birdman," but he simply could be called the "Man."

BONNI "KUNG FU" FAISST, CHAMPION MOTORCROSS RIDER: Tony Hawk is the man. He's been the man on the skateboard for years.

ANDY MACDONALD, CHAMPION SKATEBOARDER: Tony has somehow transcended the sport of skateboarding and has become this icon for action sports as a whole.

D'ALESSIO: Tony mainstreamed an unrecognized sport into a phenomenon. They also call him the Michael Jordan of skateboarding. So I ask, how can I be like Tony? First, become a pro skater at 14. Invent over 80 regularly use the tricks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's an awesome skateboarder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He teaches me a lot of tricks.

D'ALESSIO: Endure numerous injuries.

HAWK: I broke my elbow. I knocked my teeth out a few times. I've had a few concussions. I fractured a rib. I fractured my pelvis.

D'ALESSIO: Own skate boarding's best record.

FAISST: He's got like over ten gold medals.

D'ALESSIO: Do a trick that was thought to be impossible.

HAWK: It's something that I had been chasing for years, I was obsessed by it. And then when I finally made it, it was this giant relief.

D'ALESSIO: Star in movies like "Lords of the Dogtown;" Co-found a skateboard company; start a clothing line and make millions from endorsing everything from khakis to drinks.

MAT "CONDOR" HOFFMAN, CHAMPION BMX RIDER: A lot of the his other projects built a bridge from our ramps to the living rooms of millions. Who knew the best way to promote our sport toss come out with a successful video games.

HAWK: I'm proud of our video games. You we did four pro skater series, we did two underground series. Now we're on to American wasteland.

D'ALESSIO: Create the Tony Hawk Foundation which helps build nonprofit skate parks. Headline the 2005 Boom Boom Huck Jam Tour. From action sports to music shows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tony Hawk!

D'ALESSIO: There's even a Tony Hawk helmet camp coming out. To truly be like Tony you have to be humble through it all.

HAWK: I would like to think that I am down to earth and approachable. I eat at McDonald's. I'm going grocery shopping. I'm not pretentious or hiding. That's just how I am.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: Another skating icon at number 21. Hockey coach Scotty Bowman. He is the winningest NHL coach of all time and with reason. With almost 1,500 wins and nine Stanley Cups with three separate teams. Bowman's nearly 30-year career made him rink royalty.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD DEITSCH, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:" He was able to win in different eras. He was able to adapt with his players. He was able to win with different styles.

SMITH (voice-over): Quiet and determined, there's no question about his desire to be number one.

DEITSCH: He was only about one thing, performance on the ice. Win and go home.

SMITH: Scotty Bowman decided to leave hockey in February of 2002. He led the Detroit Red Wings to their third Stanley Cup in five years that same season. Bowman retired a winner.

Twenty great sports characters still left to count down as we work our way to number one. Here's a hint -- this knight of the court seems to have diplomatic immunity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's why everybody wants to interview him. Because you never know what he's going to say.

SMITH: And coming up, this champion is part of a dynamic duo raised to be number one. And he could hit, he could steal. All the ingredients of a leadoff all-star.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMITH: As we count down the 25 sports characters of CNN's first quarter century. We continue with a party boy whose wild appetite for the fast life almost derailed his gridiron dream. Tenacious and innovative, this quarterback makes the list at number 20. For quarterback Brett Favre, the road to the Super Bowl began in the Bayous of Mississippi. Along the way, there were injuries, personal tragedies, alcohol problems and addictions to painkillers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRETT FAVRE: I'm going to beat this thing. I'm going to win a Super Bowl.

SMITH (voice-over): A notorious wild man, Favre became more famous for partying than playing. Yet through 13 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, he exhibited a legendary grit and a can do toughness.

FAVRE: That's what I've done all my life, is overcome obstacles and adversity. That's what keeps me ticking. That's the motivational factor behind the success I've had.

SMITH: Success has often been bitter sweet. The day after his father died Favre led his team to victory when he threw for four touchdowns and nearly 400 yards.

WALTER IOOSS, JR, PHOTOGRAPHER, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:" Every game he plays it to the very edge of what you can do. I mean, he does things no other quarterbacks can get away with, and shouldn't.

SMITH: Holding court at number 19, Anna Kournikova. When Russian-born teen Kournikova blazed onto the court women's tennis was never the same. She won the Australian Open Doubles title in 1999. But never won a WTA Singles title.

IOOSS: Anna got sidetracked. Injuries, and then her beauty. Then you start to find another world that you end up in and then tennis falls by the wayside.

SMITH: Voted one of "People" Magazine's 50 most beautiful people in 1998, Kournikova's credited with bringing sex appeal to women's tennis. Her private life kindles more headlines than her tennis game. Her current romance with Latin heartthrob Enrique Iglesias ignited during the making of his music video "Escape." Now there's no escaping her commercial appeal. Red hot with fans even though she hasn't played the pro circuit for two years, her endorsement deals from Adidas to Omega watches earn her millions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: There's no million-dollar payday for this former gold glove all-star. At 46 he's just happy to be in the game. Aaron Brown takes a look at baseball's master thief who lines up for our countdown at number 18.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's considered the best lead off hitter in the history of major league baseball. A likely first ballot Hall of Famer who ranks number one in runs scored, most lead off home runs, and most importantly, stolen bases.

VINCE COLEMAN, FMR. MAJOR LEAGUE ALL STAR: (INAUDIBLE) when you saw Ricky Henderson run the bases.

DON MATTINGLY, FMR. TEAMMATE, NEW YORK YANKEES: He is probably one the -- it is not the best part of the play, but one of the best plays ever played there.

BROWN: During his career Ricky Henderson stole more than 1,400 bases on the baseball diamond, but one stands out more than most. While playing for the Oakland A's back in 1991 Ricky broke Lou Brocks record for career-stolen bases, cashing in at 939. He was not exactly modest.

RICKY HENDERSON: Today, I'm the greatest of all time. Thank you.

BROWN: The comment raised a few eyebrows.

I can't see why that I would be criticized. Because I think I gave Lou Brock you know, his place with being the greatest base stealer at his time. And I had moved in front of him.

MATTINGLY: I don't think it's the fact that he's not humble, it's the fact that for him at that point, that day made him the greatest base stealer of all time.

BROWN: Ricky Henderson no longer steals bases or anything else in the major leagues. He made his last cut with the Dodgers in '03. But it doesn't mean he won't be back. He's hoping for one more shot. While taking his swings these days with the San Diego Surf Dawgs of the Independent Golden Baseball League.

TODD ANSON, CO-OWNER, GOLDEN BASEBALL LEAGUE: He really wants to retire with a major league ball cap on his head. And he deserves to. And the guy is hitting 300 for our league. He's leading the team in walks and stolen bases.

BROWN: Well known for his actions on the field, Ricky is less well known for his behavior off it.

TONY GARCIA, SHORTSTOP, SAN DIEGO SURF DAWGS: He's been in a couple of guys' apartments to barbecue. He wants to be one of the team, one of the guys on the team.

HENDERSON: I love that -- the quiet life you know. I do a lot of fishing and relaxation. You know. I'm just a down to earth type person.

BROWN: A very competitive person who ultimately may be best remembered for practicing what many simply preach.

HENDERSON: I'm trying to prove to people prove to myself, that, you know, if you love doing something and god gave you the ability and the strength and the health to go out and do it, get up and go do it. Don't worry about what people say. Go and enjoy it. You're only going to have it one time. (END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: Weighing in at number 17, with the frame the size of a household appliance, William "The Refrigerator" Perry charged his way into America's heart as part of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. The fridge, a defensive tackle known for his ferocity against a runner, was a first round draft pick. But this force of nature soon proved that he could do more than just block, he could move.

JIM MCMAHON, FMR. NFL ALL-PRO QUARTERBACK: You need at least two offensive linemen to keep him in check. A lot of people were surprised at his quickness. And how fast he was when he got going..

SMITH: In a surprising play the run stopping powerhouse bulldozed his way to score a touchdown at the Super Bowl, becoming the heaviest NFL player ever to run a ball into the end zone and cementing his place in sports history.

DEITSCH: Really took the country by storm. They were really sort of just charmed by again this big, huge guy who could bowl over people in football.

SMITH: Fernando Valenzuela sleeks in at number 16. In 1981, the 20-year-old Dodger rookie Fernando Valenzuela exploded onto the baseball scene, introducing the world to his devastating screwball pitch, the lefty from Mexico threw eight shut outs during his rookie season and became an instant sports icon.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH, DEP. EDITOR PHOTOGRAPHY, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:" When he stepped onto the mound and did the leg kick and he rolled his eyes back in his head he could put the ball anywhere he could do it every time.

SMITH: In his unforgettable first full season, Valenzuela led his team to a World Series win, claimed the rookie of the year title, and became the only major league baseball newcomer ever to win the Cy Young Award.

We're on our way to number one. Want a hint? He was once dubbed the round mound of rebound.

Also coming up, his control of the ball was magnificent. But some believe his volatile temper was a mind game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was not only a brilliant player, but he was a brilliant psychologist on the court.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: And ten years after mastering the old course at St. Andrews, this lion of the links finished 15th at the home of golf. There's more to come on CNN's TOP 25.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMITH: We're counting down the 25 sorts characters of CNN's first quarter century. We continue with an athlete who combined flash with dash. The neon superstar of baseball and football is our number 15. Flashy. Outspoken. Outrageous. Deion Sanders lived up to his high school nickname "Primetime" with his colorful antics.

Ready or not, Sanders famous swagger was backed by substance on two fields. In the late '80s he made sports history when he hit a home run and scored a touchdown in the same week. The next decade, more bragging rights as he played in both the World Series and two Super Bowls. He finessed his famous rap on his 1995 album "Primetime." The twice-married father of three ended a three-year retirement last year to sign with the Baltimore Ravens. In June he inked a deal for an additional year. For a man who likes to do things his own way, it was vintage Sanders.

CAVANAUGH: You take that flamboyance that he had and that sort of bravado, and you couple it with this amazing athlete, and it actually turned out that he was one of the most exciting athletes in American history.

SMITH: At number 14, he was called a fighter of the decade in the '80s. Sugar Ray Leonard won an unprecedented five world titles in five weight classes and was the first boxer to earn more than $100 million. He may not have been the first sugar Ray in the ring. But Leonard was hailed as the most celebrated boxer since Muhammad Ali. His bouts with Roberto Duran, Thomas Herns and Marvious Marvin Hagler were classic. But it was his charisma out of the ring that gained points with fans. Most recently with his boxing reality show "The Contender."

At number 13, he was the man in black. Known as the intimidator. Aggressive. Fearless. Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt once said racing was not for the faint of heart. Indeed, the master of draft took car number 3 to victory lane 76 times. Winner of seven Winston Cups, Earnhardt amassed a multi million dollar fortune before his quest for the checkered flag ended tragically at the 2001 Daytona 500. Although his legacy continues, as son, Dale Junior, burns up the track, the man called Ironhead will always be known as the face of Nascar.

JOHNSON: Nascar wouldn't be where it is today without Dale Earnhardt. Dale Earnhardt was the soul of that sport. Dale Earnhardt in the parlance of today's kids kept it real. And he was real for Nascar. And he was real up until the day he died.

SMITH: As one of tennis' hottest stars, Serena Williams isn't satisfied with just being a champion. She wants to add more titles to her name. Clothing designer, actress, model, and now reality TV star. In a show with her sister Venus. From competing on the courts to competing for ratings, serving up at number 12, here's Candy Reid.

CANDY REID: Serena and Venus Williams got their starts playing tennis on the tough courts of Compton. Older sister Venus was the first to make her professional debut but their father Richard was suggesting that Serena would eclipse her. JON WERTHEM, SENIOR WRITER, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:" People were blown away enough by Venus and the dad was saying, there's a better sister at home.

REID: Three years later a 17-year-old Serena quickly cracked the top 20, just eight months after her first full year on the WTA Tour. At that time that made her the quickest riser ever in the top tier of women's tennis.

WERTHEM: Serena was the better sister and the meaner sister. I think the fact that she had this sort of element of -- this tough streak that I think Venus sometimes lacks; I think that's really the big difference between the two.

REID: In 1999, Serena was the first sister to win the U.S. Open. Making her the first African-American woman to win a grand slam title in over 40 years. By 2002, Serena had eclipsed Venus, taking the number one spot in the world. The first time the sisters faced off in a major tournament was the 1998 Australian Open. When the sibling pressure was on Serena seemed to lack confidence.

SERENA WILLIAMS: When I first started playing Venus, it was a bit nerve-wracking for me. It was a little nerves and a lot of tension. And I was worried because she's such a good player.

REID: The Williams match ups that followed didn't come without controversy. There were rumors and accusations that the matches were fixed. An accusation the family and others denied.

BUD COLLINS, TENNIS ANALYST, NBC SPORTS: Richard didn't raise them to put on shows on the court. You win this week; I'll win next week. They raised them to be champions.

REID: Having conquered the court, Serena capitalized on her success. She scored about $20 million in endorsements this year alone. She's pitched everything from shoes to toothpaste, developed her own fashion line, written a book with Venus, and launched an acting career.

S. WILLIAMS: Got myself a triple-double.

REID: While she may be serving aces off the court, her tennis game is taking some hits. A recent third round loss at Wimbledon, which her sister went on to win, prompted some to speculate she may have already played her best tennis. Others say that's just not so.

COLLINS: Serena I think will probably be inspired by what Venus did at Wimbledon this year. And she'll want to get back there. She'll have to get in better physical shape, better mental shape, and be recovered from all her injuries. I don't think we've seen the best.

SMITH: The city of brotherly love knows number 11 by just two letters -- A. I., the NBA's Allen Iverson. Born into poverty and raised by a single mother in Hampton, Virginia, to the number one draft pick in 1996, he personified the defiant athlete. His tattoos and brushes with the law, as infamous as his crossover dribble and fearless play on the court.

DEITSCH: He's a 6-foot guy, he is very frail and slight, maybe a 160, 165 pounds soaking wet. I think people in the stands and certainly watching on TV can identify with him.

SMITH: Iverson carried the 76ers to the 2001 NBA finals and went on to win the league MVP award for his efforts that season. While remaining true to himself.

ALLEN IVERSON: All I can be is the best Allen Iverson that I can be.

SMITH: The top ten are in sight. Our number one player says he has one goal left in sight -- losing weight.

And coming up, talk about the survival of the fittest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the toughest Darwinian event on the planet. Bike riders can eat during this race the equivalent of three Thanksgiving dinners a day and still lose weight.

SMITH: And just ahead, this tennis star celebrated his forth birthday by hitting balls with Jimmy Connors. Stay tuned to CNN's TOP 25.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMITH: Welcome back to CNN's Top 25. I'm Larry Smith. Let's continue our countdown of the Top 25 Sports Characters of the past 25 years. We asked the editors at "Sports Illustrated" magazine to put together a list as CNN celebrates its own 25th anniversary.

Contrary to the latest speculation, our next tennis icon says he isn't ready for retirement yet. It's been a long, spectacular road that started earlier than you'd think. As a baby, he slept with a tennis ball over his head. The child prodigy who took the tennis world by storm rallies at No. 10.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH (voice-over): From a very early age, it was all about tennis for Andre Agassi. The youngest son of an Olympic boxer, he turned pro at 16. But it was his style, on and off the court, that won him fans as endearments made him millions.

ANDRE AGASSI, TENNIS PRO: Image is everything.

RICHARD DEITSCH, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Tennis has never seen a better showman than Andre agassi.

SMITH: The las Vegas native silenced critics when he won Wimbledon in 1992. While his celebrity grew with his marriage to Brooke Shields in 1997, his ranking plummeted. Two years later, Agassi defied the odds to reclaim the number one spot in tennis, but his marriage to Shields was over. Now 35, Agassi is ranked in the top 10. DEITSCH: And we've watched him grow from a boy to a man. We've seen the problems that he's had in his personal life. But he's persevered. He's persevered, he's become a better player.

SMITH: Off the court, tennis is all in the family. Agassi has two children with his second wife, Steffi Graf, the only other tennis player to strike Olympic gold and win all four grand slam events.

At No. 9, the black sheep on the field of dreams, baseball player Pete Rose.

WALTER IOOSS, JR., PHOTOGRAPHER, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: He was known as a guy that was going to beat you with his mind, his legs, his tenacity.

SMITH: Nicknamed "Charlie Hustle" for his aggressive style of play, Rose was undone by his taste for playing the odds. Four years after he broke Ty Cobb's record of career hits, Pete Rose was ban ford life from the sport he loved and barred from the Hall of Fame. For years, Rose denied that he'd bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds.

IOOSS: You know, it's a tragedy. All Pete had to do was confess and say he was sorry to the public.

SMITH: Finally, in 2004, he came clean about his gambling when he penned his book "My Prison Without Bars."

PETE ROSE, FRM. BASEBALL PLAYER: I'd change two years of my life, '87, '88. I'd be more selective of people I associated with, that was my problem. That was my mistake.

SMITH: At No. 8 Vincent Edward "Bo" Jackson was a man in the know. But before celebrity came the sports. The Heisman Trophy winner called football his "hobby" and baseball his first love. In 1986, he signed with the Kansas City Royals, then doubled up the following year by signing a multi million dollar deal with the NFL. The first athlete named to play in all-star games of two major sports, Jackson was sidelined by injuries and retired in 1995.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: Some athletes stand out as physical phenoms. While strength training in the gym has been an important part of his success, this renowned American cyclist's natural aerobic ability has been his ace in the hole. Clearly Lance Armstrong was born to ride. Once again he's the toast of the tour with a record seven consecutive titles, no rider is his equal. With luck No. 7 on our list here's Mark McKay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LINDA ARMSTRONG KELLY, LANCE'S MOTHER: He started racing 10k's when he was 10. At 16 he won the National Short Course Championship. It was at that time I said, this is going to be something big. MARK MCKAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nine years later, Lance was ranked the No. 1 cyclist in the world. But 1996 would be the year Armstrong faced the most important race in his life.

LANCE ARMSTRONG, CYCLIST: On Wednesday, October 2, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

MCKAY: The cancer metastasized, spreading into his brain and his lungs. Doctors gave him less than a 50/50 chance of survival. But Armstrong approached beating cancer with the same determination he brought to cycling.

AUSTIN MURPHY, WRITER, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: He came back from his chemo a leaner rider. He brought an adult's focus, focus of someone who has seen what he stands to lose.

ARMSTRONG: Psychologically, it was a good thing for me to be so scared and so fearful. To be given another chance.

MCKAY: Armstrong returned to racing with a vengeance. Just three years after his cancer diagnosis, taking on the grueling three- week Tour de France. Not just riding in it -- but winning it. Not just once -- but an unprecedented seven times. He's a seven-time "Sports Illustrated" cover boy; 2002 sportsman of the year. And in between races, Lance penned best selling books.

(on camera): Lance Armstrong not only became a champion at his sport, he became a super hero in the fight against cancer, dedicating his time away from racing to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. And by selling this little yellow bracelet, the foundation has raised more than $85 million to cancer research and support programs.

(voice-over): With his success came doping allegations. He is considered one of the most tested athletes in the world. But rumors of performance-enhancing drug use persist.

ARMSTRONG: I heard it in 1999, I heard it in 2001, again in 2003. It happens all the time. And every time we've chose ton just sit back and let it pass. We're sick and tired of these allegations and we're going to do everything we can to fight them. They're absolutely untrue.

MCKAY: After climbing so many mountains, Armstrong seems set to coast into the next stage of his life. He's dating rock star Sheryl Crow and contemplating a different type of race, a run for public office.

DANIEL DOYLE, AUTHOR, "LANCE ARMSTRONG'S WAR": Very, very oriented toward public service. He likes big contests. A journalist at the Tour de France placed a bet of about $100 that he would be president of the United States one day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SMITH: At No. 6, golf's bad boy and fan favorite John Daly. His motto, "grip it and rip it," describes the lifestyle of this big hitter and 1991 PGA tour rookie of the year.

DEITSCH: John Daly's life plays out like a bad country-western song. He's had battles with booze, he's had multiple wives, he's had gambling problems, substance abuse problems. And yet despite all of it, the golfing public and the American public still loves this guy because he can do one thing that most golfers can't do, and that is just rip the ball.

SMITH: Daly has won five tour victories in his 18-year professional career, most recently the 2004 Buick Invitational. Endearing fans to his resilience as much as his towering tee shots.

We're closing in on No. 1. Here's another hint: As a rookie he was called the "Clown of Renown." But first, the mountain may have come to Muhammad, but the legendary rumble in the jungle sent him packing and pitching. We continue our countdown on CNN's Top 25.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMITH: As we countdown our Top 25 Sports Characters we're reminded that the big time starts here, with gym time. For our next superstar athlete, it was all about physical fitness, this giant of the ring proved that there are second acts in America. With No. 5, here's Steve Overmyer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE FOREMAN, FMR. BOXER: Meineke Car Care Center.

STEVE OVERMYER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When George Foreman pops up on television these days chances are he's selling himself.

FOREMAN: I was robbed! I was robbed.

OVERMYER: Along with one of several products such as clothes...

FOREMAN: Get into my comfort zone.

OVERMYER: Or cleaning supplies.

FOREMAN: Cleaning champion of the world.

OVERMYER: Or the Foreman Grill.

FOREMAN: As you can see, it's easy to open.

OVERMYER: A highly sought after pitch man at the age of 56.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had a pretty good round here. OVERMYER: It's tough to believe the man with one of the most powerful punches in boxing history is just 10 years removed from owning the world's heavyweight boxing title and a few decades removed from possessing a personality which seemed welcome to none.

JIM LAMPLEY, BOXING COMMENTATOR, HBO: The guy seemed to be jacked to the gills on some kind of anti-social stimulant. And then in the second career, you get completely the opposite. You get a guy who shambles around the room like a dancing bear, almost with a smile on his face, and knocks people out with glancing blows. It was really an amazing transformation.

OVERMYER: A transformation which culminated in winning both the IBF and WBA titles in a fight against Michael Moore at the age of 45. It ranks as one of the most spectacular comebacks in all of sports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And once again Heavyweight Champion of the World, big George Foreman!

OVERMYER: After all, he lost the title to Muhammad Ali 20 years earlier.

BERT SUGAR, BOXING JOURNALIST: When people tell me Jack Nicklaus was winning tournaments at 45 and beyond, my answer is, nobody was throwing clubs at him. What George Foreman did was unique and stands alone in the annals of sports.

OVERMYER (on camera): The catalyst for this dramatic comeback stretches all the way back to 1977. After a loss in a ring much like this in Puerto Rico, a bloodied and beaten Foreman had a spiritual reawakening. He quit boxes and became an ordained minister. Ten years later, he found the strength to make a successful comeback.

SUGAR: There are second acts in America and George Foreman is proof positive.

OVERMYER (voice-over): During this comeback, foreman remained a force in the ring, but allowed a more engaging personality to shine through the tough exterior.

LAMPLEY: He's a very open-minded person in a lot of ways. I mean, this is a guy whose favorite actor is Ed Harris. And then beyond gospel music he'll listen to Bob Dylan. He's not what you expect.

OVERMYER: George Foreman no longer fights but he continues to stay busy. The boxer-turned-minister-turned-pitch can add another title to his collection -- children's author. Foreman released a book for kids, the story line, a group of sons named George who team up for their dad's birthday party. And yes, it's based on a true story.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH (voice-over): At No. 4, the ultimate bad boy of basketball, Dennis Rodman. Known as much for his audacious behavior off court, as his aggressive and Zen-like knack for anticipating rebounds on court, the flamboyant renegade of the NBA was part athlete, part swainer. Bold and bizarre, Rodman shattered convention when he wore a wedding gown to promote his tell-all book "Bad as I Wannabe." A late bloomer, Rodman's post-high school growth spurt of almost a foot enabled him to entertain hoop dreams. Although he had not played basketball in high school, he was a natural. By 26 he was drafted by the NBA.

CAVANAUGH: He's like this cross-dressing, you know, tattooed, pierced, rainbow-haired guy who happens to be one of the best rebounders the game has ever seen.

SMITH: At No. 3, Earvin "Magic" Johnson casts his spell on the court. At 6'9", he was the tallest point guard in league history. Changing the way the game was played.

ROY JOHNSON, ASST, MANAGING EDITOR, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: You just saw him as a young man who brought joy to the game and that joy just spread out through the stands and just about everywhere he went to became the pied piper of the NBA.

SMITH: Then at the top his game the court superstar made a stunning announcement.

"MAGIC" JOHNSON, FMR. NBA PLAYER: Because of the -- the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers.

SMITH: Today, at 45, the man who helped return the NBA to prime time is the most famous front man for living with HIV.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: From the basketball courts we turn to the tennis courts where this no holds barred player dominated the early '80s with fire and finesse. High above the courts the chair umpire often bore the brunt of his famous fury. Here's Mike Galanos with No. 2 on our countdown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE GALANOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John McEnroe holds 17 total grand slam tennis titles, 77 career singles titles.

JOHN MCENROE, TENNIS PRO: Answer my question!

GALANOS: Seventy-seven career doubles titles.

MCENROE: Can you see one (bleep) call!

GALANOS: Judging by the number of fines and disqualifications he garnered, the title of "Superbrat" was earned.

BUD COLLINS, TENNIS ANALYST, NBC SPORTS: He was new, he was different, he was a fighter. I think that attracted people who had no interest in tennis whatsoever. GALANOS: At 18 McEnroe was a hit. He made it from Wimbledon's main draw all the way to the semifinals. He eventually lost to Jimmy Conners but his outbursts were enough to prompt the British press to serve up pages of headlines and nicknames.

(on camera): The talk of McEnroe's on-court rage at times really eclipsed his talent. But in keeping with the, no publicity is bad publicity philosophy, in 1978 Nike co-founder, Phil Knight, capitalized on his anger signing him to one of the first pro endorsement deals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At that time, it was, you know, suspend McEnroe for a year, he's bad for the game, you know, and it was nice to have people like Phil Knight that would be, whatever you do, don't change.

GALANOS: After signing with Nike, McEnroe played in what some have called the greatest Wimbledon title match ever.

COLLINS: I don't think there's any doubt the most famous match was a defeat against Bjorn Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon final with that 18-16 tiebreaker in the fourth set when John saved five match points and won it on his seventh set point, even though Borg won the match.

GALANOS: The next year McEnroe would coin a phrase from which he would never escape, "You cannot be serious." That phrase among others has followed him to the present. Even to the cover of his 2002 autobiography.

For a while, McEnroe's life off court was as attention-grabbing as it was on. His tumultuous marriage to actress Tatum O'Neal ended in divorce. Five years later he met and married current wife rocker Patty Smythe. An artist and avid art collector and rock 'n' roll guitarist, McEnroe credits being the father of six with calming the rage and redirecting his focus. Since retiring from the pro tour in '92, McEnroe has made a couple of unforced errors. As a talk show and quiz show host, but he's also hit some aces as a commentator for major tennis championships, and he's made fun of himself on the big screen.

MCENROE: Hey, I saw what you did to those guys making fun of you. Nice work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what it's like to get riled up, don't you Johnny Mac?

MCENROE: That I do.

GALANOS: But for everything he takes a swing at, he always rallied for tennis.

COLLINS: He has a lot of good ideas about improving the game. He does have the game's best interests at heart.

MCENROE: Answer the question!

COLLINS: He can make fun of the way he behaved before. So it is a second act in his life and it's a good act.

GALANOS: Maybe a good act but it's the first act that cries for an encore.

MCENROE: Couldn't you see anything!

JON WERTHEIM, SR. WRITER, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: McEnroe hasn't played competitively in almost 15 years now and you still hear, where's somebody with McEnroe's fire, and color, and passion?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: We've finally reached the top of our list. Here's a final hint: He once called himself the ninth wonder of the world. Have you figured it out? We'll tell you next on CNN's Top 25.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMITH: Time for a story No. 1. Possessing a lot of talent and loads of heart, he bulldozed and finessed his way through the NBA. His playing days are over, but the lights shine brightly on the man who was paid to speak his mind. This court superstar would agree he belong at No. 1.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH (voice-over): From the "Round Mound of Rebound" to "Sir Charles," basketball star, Charles Barkley's nicknames have been as colorful as his game.

AHMED RASHAD, HOST, NBA INSIDE STUFF: He was one of the greatest basketball players to ever play. He was probably the best rebounder to ever play.

SMITH: The Philadelphia 76ers drafted the junior from Auburn fifth overall in the 1984 draft. He was an instant hit.

ERNIE JOHNSON, HOST. TNT'S INSIDE NBA: When you went to the arena to watch Charles play, you knew you were going to be entertained.

SMITH: Barkley played alongside the Hall of Famer, Julius Erving his first three seasons, and even won a rebound title in the mid '80s despite standing a listed 6'6" tall, a measurement some say is generous. But, there's no measuring the social impact of this famous Nike role model commercial.

CHARLES BARKLEY, FMR. NBA PRO: I'm not a role model. I'm not paid to be a role model.

JOHNSON: Charles has what I refer to as diplomatic immunity. In that he can say what he wants to say and folks out there who hear will say, that's -- well, that's just Charles being Charles.

SMITH: In 1992, Barkley was traded to Phoenix and had his biggest year, averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds a game to win the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award and led the Suns to the NBA finals.

DAN MAJERLE, FMR. TEAMMATE, PHOENIX SUNS: I mean, he had great stats, obviously. But for him, the whole thing was winning. And if we won a game, and he could have had an off game, he care less if somebody else had the spotlight or anything like that, he was just in there to win games.

SMITH (on camera): Barkley's career spanned 16 seasons. He played for three NBA teams, was a member of the original Dream Team, and won two Olympic gold medals, and is a lock for the Hall of Fame enshrinement, and his popularity has endured despite run-ins with fans and patrons at bars. In fact, he may be an even bigger star now in retirement.

JOHNSON: He will put so much effort into meeting folks and being a good guy, and he really is. But there are folks out there who take advantage of that.

SMITH (voice-over): This outspoken nature made him a hit on "Inside the NBA" on sister network TNT.

BARKLEY: Hey listen; I don't care what they think in Denver. I'm not...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are overrated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey Mark, by the way...

BARKLEY: It's nothing personal.

SMITH: This led to a short lived spin off: "Listen up, with Charles Barkley."

JOHNSON: Charles comes in, as he always has, he says, let's have some fun tonight, and he makes it that, you know. If the game isn't entertain enough, then Charles will create something that makes it fun that night.

RASHAD: What you see is what you get. He never puts on airs, he is one of the funniest individuals I have ever met.

SMITH: Who happens to have a deep passion for charity work. The 42-year-old's latest project one that encourages minorities to become organ donors.

BARKLEY: I started a program in Alabama because my brother got a heart transplant a couple of years ago and minorities donate less than one percent of all the organs and we've got to do a better job.

RASHAD: I think people think he's just a jolly old sort that doesn't have a serious bone in his body, they're wrong. He really is a deep, thoughtful person.

BARKLEY: The most important that I tell some young kids, get your education, listen to your mom and dad, and just try to be a good person. Be happy with yourself. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: Good advice from the man who wrote the book "I May be Wrong but I Doubt It."

That's it for this edition of CNN Top 25. Check out our website at CNN.com/CNN25. And be sure to join us next month as we countdown the top 25 entertainment stories. Coming to you from Atlanta, I'm Larry Smith. Thanks for watching.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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