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Sunday, August 29, 2004
Updated: August 31, 11:56 AM ET
ESPN25: 100 Best Seasons

By David Schoenfield
Page 2

As ESPN celebrates the past 25 years in sports, Page 2 celebrates those athletes who transcended their teams and sports, who amazed us with the greatest individual seasons over the past 25 years.

The concept? Simple. Which athlete had the best season? We spent hours checking the numbers, analyzing their value, adjusting for the context of their stats (for example, NBA games see fewer points scored now than in the 1980s while baseball games see more home runs and higher ERAs). We factored in playoff heroics as merited. We jigged and jimmied, knocked a few athletes off at the last minute and added more deserving candidates.

And we arrived at our list of the 100 greatest individual seasons of the past 100 years.

Enjoy -- and let the debate begin.

(Note: Sports considered include NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, college football, college basketball, golf, tennis and NASCAR. One rule: no athlete could have more than three seasons on the list.)

Complete list: 1-25| 26-50 | 51-75 | 76-100

ESPN25: 100 GREATEST INDIVIDUAL SEASONS
50
DALE EARNHARDT SR., 1987
11 wins in 29 races, points title
The Dominator won seven points titles in his NASCAR career, but it could be argued that NASCAR's huge rise in popularity began in 1987 when Earnhardt won 11 races.
49
MAGIC JOHNSON, 1989, Los Angeles Lakers
22.5 ppg, 12.8 apg, 7.9 rpg, MVP
Magic could do it all on the court and even added the 3-point shot to his arsenal for the first time in '89. An injured hamstring limited Johnson in the Finals against Detroit and the Pistons swept the Lakers.
48
TIM DUNCAN, 2003, San Antonio Spurs
23.3 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.9 bpg, MVP, Finals MVP
Duncan brought home an NBA title with a sterling performance against the Nets, averaging 24.2 points and 17 rebounds per game.
47
PETE SAMPRAS, 1994
Pete Sampras
2 Grand Slam wins, won 10 of 22 tournaments, 77-12 record
The man many regard as the greatest male tennis player of all time (14 career Grand Slam titles) had his best year in '94, even though he didn't win the U.S. Open, a tournament he won five times.
46
MARCUS ALLEN, 1981, Southern Cal
2,427 rushing yards, 5.6 ypa, 23 TDs, Heisman winner
Opponents knew Allen was getting the ball -- he carried it over 400 times -- but still couldn't stop him, as he averaged over 200 yards per game and topped 200 in five straight games.
45
HAKEEM OLAJUWON, 1993, Houston Rockets
26.1 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 4.2 bpg, 52.9 FG%, defensive player of year
Yes, Charles Barkley was the NBA MVP that year, but Hakeem could dominate both ends of the court. Let's put it this way: the Hakeem of 1993 to 1995 is vastly underrated.
44
PATRICK ROY, 2001, Colorado Avalanche
Patrick Roy
2.21 GAA, 40-13-7 record, playoff MVP
Is there another goal you want in the nets for a crucial playoff game? For the fourth time, Roy was on a Stanley Cup winner -- and for the third time he was the playoff MVP, as he went 16-7, spun four shutouts, and allowed a lowly 1.70 GAA.
43
ROGER CLEMENS, 1997, Toronto Blue Jays
21-7, 2.05 ERA, 264 IP, 204 H, 68 BB, 292 K's, Cy Young
In his first year in Toronto, the Rocket had the best year of his career, capturing the pitching "Triple Crown" (leading the AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts). And then he'd do it again the next year.
42
CHRISTIAN LAETTNER, 1992, Duke
21.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 57.0 FG%, NCAA title, Olympic gold medal
So he didn't really contribute much to the gold medal. But he did have The Shot to beat Kentucky. And love him or hate him -- OK, hate him -- there's no denying he was one of college hoops' great clutch players.
41
STEVE YOUNG, 1998, San Francisco 49ers
4,170 yards, 8.1 ypa, 36 TDs, 12 INT, 454 rushing, 6 TDs
And to think what his career would have been if he hadn't been 30 years old until he became a starting QB.
40
BARRY BONDS, 1993, San Francisco Giants
.336, 46 HR, 123 RBI, 129 runs, .458 OBP, .677 SLG, MVP
Oh yeah, throw in a Gold Glove, 29 stolen bases, 38 doubles and, yes, fear in the faces of opposing managers -- he was intentionally walked 43 times even back then.
39
JEFF GORDON, 1998
Jeff Gordon
13 wins in 33 races, points title
Gordon hasn't come close to repeating his dream season of '98, when he won 13 races and finished in the top 5 26 times. And you wonder why many racing fans don't like him?
38
RICKY WILLIAMS, 1998, Texas
2,327 yards rushing, 6.0 ypa, 30 TDs, Heisman winner
There was a reason Mike Ditka traded his entire draft to make sure Williams ended up in New Orleans. In winning the Heisman, Williams twice rushed for 300 yards and twice scored six TDs in a game.
37
SHERYL SWOOPES, 1993, Texas Tech
28.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, NCAA title
When you score 47 points in the NCAA title game and win it 84-82, you get a spot on this list.
36
DANNY MANNING, 1988, Kansas
Danny Manning
24.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 27.2 ppg in NCAA Tournament
Forget his NBA career; in March of 1988, no college hoops star ever shined as brightly as Manning as he carried the undermanned Jayhawks to an improbable NCAA title. In the Final Four, he scored 25 in the semis and 31 in the title win over Oklahoma.
35
TIGER WOODS, 1999
Tiger Woods
8 tournament wins, one major (PGA), POY
The scary thing for the rest of the PGA Tour? Tiger got even better in 2000.
34
BARRY SANDERS, 1997, Detroit Lions
2,053 rushing yards, 6.1 ypa, 305 receiving, 14 TDs
Nobody is supposed to average 6 yards per carry in the NFL. Except Barry Sanders.
33
KURT WARNER, 1999, St. Louis Rams
4,353 yards, 8.7 ypa, 41 TDs, 13 INT, MVP, Super Bowl MVP
Look, you can argue that he was the beneficiary of all the Rams' offensive talent. But only Dan Marino has ever thrown more TD passes and Warner added five TD passes in one playoff game and then 414 yards in St. Louis' Super Bowl win.
32
MARIO LEMIEUX, 1989, Pittsburgh Penguins
85 goals, 114 assists, 199 points
Career points per game: Gretzky, 1.92; Lemieux, 1.91.
31
ANNIKA SORENSTAM, 2002
Annika Sorenstam
11 tournament wins, one major
That number is not a typo. Sorenstam joined Mickey Wright as the only LPGA players to win 11 tournaments in a year -- and she also won a tournament in Australia and one in Sweden, giving her 13 wins in 25 worldwide starts. Guess who the player of the year was?
30
RANDY JOHNSON, 2001, Arizona Diamondbacks
Randy Johnson
21-6, 2.49 ERA, 249.2 IP, 181 H, 71 BB, 372 K's, Cy Young
His strikeout rate of 13.4 per nine innings is a record for starting pitchers. And if that isn't good enough for you, Johnson won two games in the NLCS and three more in the World Series, including Game 7 in relief.
29
JOHN MCENROE, 1984
2 Grand Slam wins, won 13 of 16 tournaments, 82-3 record
Johnny Mac will no doubt tell you that he deserves to be on this list.
28
JOE MONTANA, 1984, San Francisco 49ers
3,630 yards, 8.4 ypa, 28 TDs, 10 INT, 102.9 QB rating, Super Bowl MVP
Bonus points: Montana outdueled Marino in the Super Bowl, throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
27
WAYNE GRETZKY, 1982, Edmonton Oilers
92 goals, 120 assists, 212 points, MVP
Wouldn't you love to turn back time a little bit and see the young Great One, owning the ice, scoring a record 92 goals ...
26
LARRY BIRD, 1986, Boston Celtics
25.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 6.8 apg, 49.6 FG%, MVP, Finals MVP
In the championship victory over the Rockets, Bird nearly averaged a triple double -- 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.5 assists.