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Top 25: Sports characters

Magic Johnson's efforts on and off the court earned him a spot as one of the top sports characters.





2. John McEnroe
3. Magic Johnson
4. Dennis Rodman
5. George Foreman
6. John Daly
7. Lance Armstrong
8. Bo Jackson
9. Pete Rose
10. Andre Agassi
11. Allen Iverson
12. Serena Williams
13. Dale Earnhardt
14. Sugar Ray Leonard
15. Deion Sanders
16. Fernando Valenzuela
17. William "The Refrigerator" Perry
18. Rickey Henderson
19. Anna Kournikova
20. Brett Favre
21. Scotty Bowman
22. Tony Hawk
23. John Madden
24. Picabo Street
25. Doug Flutie

(CNN) -- In the past quarter-century, influential sports personalities slammed their competition on the playing field and scored news headlines, too, according to editors at Sports Illustrated magazine who recently ranked for CNN the athletes who most caught our attention with their mix of talent and larger-than-life personas.

Some of the most flamboyant and talented athletes of the past 25 years caught our attention on the basketball court, but no player had quite so much flare as "Sir Charles." His outspoken nature, outrageous sense of humor and serious commitment to various charities make Charles Barkley a lock for the top pick.

In 1992, Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns where he had his biggest years, averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds a game to win the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award and lead his team to their first NBA Finals appearance.

He also captured Olympic Gold in Barcelona in 1992 as part of the celebrated "Dream Team," which included basketball greats Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, among others.

But "Sir Charles" may be an even bigger star in his retirement. His exuberant nature made him a natural hit on "Inside the NBA," a sports commentary TV show on TNT (which, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner).

"What you see is what you get. He never puts on airs. He is one of the funniest individuals I have ever met," said Ahmad Rashad, executive producer and managing editor of the sports show "NBA Inside Stuff."

Another master of the basketball court and No. 3 on our countdown is Earvin "Magic" Johnson. An inspiration on and off the court, "Magic" admitted to the world he was HIV positive and has since worked tirelessly for AIDS charities.

"Magic brought AIDS out of the closet and put it on the kitchen table," says Roy Johnson, assistant managing editor of Sports Illustrated.

"Magic" was at the top of his game when he made the announcement and retired from the Lakers. Today, the player who cast a spell on the court with his effortless play is famous for his work for AIDS charities.

Basketball star Dennis Rodman (No.4) brought excitement to the court with a bad-boy reputation and bold rebounding. He shattered convention when he wore a wedding dress to promote his tell-all book, "Bad as I Wanna Be."

"He's like this cross dressing ... tattooed, pierced, rainbow-haired guy who happens to be one of the best rebounders the game has ever seen," said Maureen Cavanaugh, deputy picture editor for Sports Illustrated.

The fast and furious Allen Iverson (No. 11) proved he could play basketball on his own terms. His tattoos and brushes with the law are as infamous as his crossover dribble is famous.

Racquets and tempers fly

Whether they play on clay, grass or cement, the tennis players on our list served ace after ace in the court of public opinion.

Tennis great John McEnroe (No.2), well known for his tremendous volley and volatile temper, served up one of the greatest Wimbledon finals ever in a match against rival Bjorn Borg.

But his outbursts on the court, including his now famous line, "You cannot be serious," got even more press than his spectacular play.

Andre Agassi (No.10) was known more for his long hair and celebrity image, but he silenced critics when he won Wimbledon in 1992. After his incredible ascension, Agassi suffered a number of personal and professional setbacks, but two years later he powered back to capture the No. 1 ranking.

Serena Williams (No.12) fought her way onto our list with her incredible game and foray into the fashion and entertainment industries. And while Williams made strength stylish on the court, Russian-born Anna Kournikova (No.19) was voted one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in 1998. She won the Australian Open doubles title in 1999, but she really made her mark in endorsement deals; from Adidas to Omega watches, this athletic beauty earns millions.

Locking horns on the gridiron

Formidable athletes on the football field also made headlines and the list.

Tough-minded Bo Jackson (No.8) proved he could master two sports: football and baseball.

"I think Bo not only had this great physical ability and this body from

Zeus, but the advertising that went along with Bo from Nike made him even a bigger star," said Walter Iooss, a photographer with Sports Illustrated.

Known for his sheer size and strength, NFL defensive lineman William "The Refrigerator" Perry (No.17) bulldozed his way to the end zone for a touchdown in Super Bowl XX and onto the list.

Fan favorite Brett Favre (No. 20) caught the public's attention for his legendary grit and determination. A day after his father's death, the Green Bay Packers quarterback passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns, placing him in second place in NFL history for career touchdown passes.

Diminutive Doug Flutie (No.25) made up for his stature with coolness under pressure on the football field. And at age 42, this quarterback is one of the oldest players in the NFL.

Coach John Madden (No. 23) led football teams to victory, but his gift for gab on television made him a favorite commentator for millions of football fans for 25 years.

"There's a whole generation of fans who think John Madden is the BOOM guy, the turkey guy, the telestrator guy," said Johnson. "But at the core, he was 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."

Charlie Hustle and the Sultan of Stolen Bases

Scandal, notoriety and immense talent are no less a part of baseball than any other sport, and the diamond has seen its fair share of all three.

Pete Rose (No.9) was nicknamed "Charlie Hustle" for his aggressive style of play, but the tenacious athlete was undone by his taste for playing the odds. For years, Rose denied he bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds only to come clean years later in his autobiography, "My Prison Without Bars." Rose was banned from the sport he loved and the Baseball Hall of Fame for his actions.

Making the list at No. 15, Deion "Primetime" Sanders conquered both football and baseball and electrified fans with his confident swagger.

And Fernando Valenzuela (No.16) wowed fans from the mound with his golden pitching arm.

The Sultan of Stolen Bases, Rickey Henderson, slides onto our list at No. 18.

Sluggers, cyclists and catching air

The boxing ring produced two larger-than-life characters that made the list. George Foreman (No.5) left his mark as a former heavyweight champion and as a master product pitchman. Sugar Ray Leonard (No.14) won an unprecedented five world titles, but it was his charisma out of the ring that made points with fans and netted him lucrative endorsements.

Some sports characters capture our imaginations because of their audacity to flirt with disaster and still prevail. Cyclist Lance Armstrong (No.7) demonstrates his courage to confront tragedy with every mile he logs.

He was just a kid when he started competing in triathlons, but by the time Armstrong was in his mid-20s he was ranked as the No. 1 cyclist in the world. He would beat cancer and capture seven consecutive victories in the grueling Tour de France.

"He came back from his chemo a leaner rider able to ... attack the mountains ... and he just brought an adult's focus. The focus of someone who's seen what he stands to lose," said Austin Murphy with Sports Illustrated.

Golfer John Daly (No. 6) is known as the bad boy of his sport. He has battled alcohol and gambling problems, but he has always been able to rip the golf ball right down the fairway. Daly has five tour victories in his 18-year professional career, and his fans love his resilience as much as they admire his towering tee shots.

Racing legend Dale Earnhardt (No. 13), known as "The Intimidator" around the track, won seven NASCAR Winston Cup championships. He was killed in a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500.

Downhill skier Picabo Street (No. 24) lived the mantra "no guts, no glory" as she took Olympic gold in 1998 just days after a racing accident knocked her unconscious and left her with a concussion. Skateboarder Tony Hawk (No. 22) has the same go-getter attitude. His devotion to his sport has helped elevate skateboarding from extreme sport to the mainstream.

And, finally, hockey coach Scotty Bowman (No. 21) knows a little bit about winning. He guided three teams to nine different Stanley Cups, making him one of the most successful coaches in the game.

Stay tuned as CNN continues to celebrate its 25th anniversary by unveiling other top 25 lists through 2005.

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