As Tennis Channel counts down the top players in history next week, it will enlist the help of five superstars who are known for greatness in sports other than tennis—beginning with golf icon Jack Nicklaus. The network’s 100 Greatest of All Time, a first-of-its-kind, five-night series, will be hosted by a different all-time great each evening: a roster that includes the Golden Bear, football’s Jerry Rice, hockey’s Wayne Gretzky, basketball’s Lisa Leslie, and Olympic track and field’s Carl Lewis. Nicklaus, an avid tennis player who has three grass courts at his North Palm Beach home and can be found playing most weekends, will kick off the series, which begins Monday, March 19, at 7 p.m. ET. Additional episodes will air at the same time the next four nights.
Determined by an international panel of tennis experts, 100 Greatest of all Time ranks both men and women on the same top 100 list as it makes its way toward the unveiling of the No. 1 player of all time at the conclusion of the final episode Friday, March 23. During its attempt to answer this age-old argument about the very best to ever pick up a tennis racquet – and where all others stand in comparison – Tennis Channel is calling on perspective that only comes from being one of the very best competitors in a particular arena.
No golfer has won more professional major championships than Nicklaus’ 18, and Rice’s 1,549 total receptions and 197 touchdown catches remain NFL records to this day. Known simply as “The Great One,” Gretzky’s 894 career goals are 93 goals more than the second-place scorer in the NHL’s record books. Likewise, WNBA pioneer Lisa Leslie outshot her competition on the way to establishing the league-record of 2,332 field goals. Lewis is one of only two track and field stars to win nine Olympic gold medals, and the only man to defend an Olympic 100-meter or long-jump title successfully.
“We’re privileged to have such a collection of standard-setting athletes as hosts for Tennis Channel’s 100 Greatest of all Time,” said Laura Hockridge, vice president, original programming. “When you look over what these players accomplished in their careers, it’s both awe inspiring and surreal. Their tremendous achievements set the stage perfectly as we make our way to history’s best tennis player.”
Jack Nicklaus put together a five-decade golf career that saw him win 120 professional tournament worldwide, among them six Masters, five PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens and three British Opens (golf’s four major events). He is one of only five golfers to win all four of golf’s majors and the only one to also have done this on the senior circuit, the Champions Tour. Nicklaus played on six Ryder Cup teams and captained two others, and is five-time winner of the PGA Player of the Year Award. Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974, he has been honored as the Individual Male Athlete of the Century by Sports Illustrated and is considered by many to be the greatest golfer in history.
Jerry Rice’s gridiron accomplishments include three Super Bowl championships with the San Francisco 49ers during a career that rewrote much of the NFL record book for wide receivers. In his 20 years on the field, he was selected to 13 Pro Bowls and amassed a record 22,895 receiving yards. His 208 total touchdowns are also a record, as are his 1,256 total points, the most ever for a non-kicker. He played in more games than any wide receiver in league history as well: 303. In 2010 NFL Network’s NFL Films Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players named Rice the greatest player in NFL history, the same year he was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Wayne Gretzky obliterated many of the records that existed when he began the first of his 20 years in the NHL. As the most dominant player in the history of the game, he won the scoring race almost every year during the 1980s, including seven straight scoring titles beginning with the 1980-81 season. He established new single-season and career goal (92/894), point (215/2,856) and assist (163/1,962) records and played in the NHL All-Star Game every year he played in the league. Gretzky won four Stanley Cup championships with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. Following his final season in 1998-99, the NHL retired his No. 99 jersey for all teams. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.
Lisa Leslie is also considered the most dominant player in her sport, and is widely renowned as the first woman to slam dunk in a professional game. The first WNBA player to win the regular season MVP, All-Star Game MVP and playoff MVP in the same season (2001), throughout her career Leslie was the most-recognized player in the league and led her Los Angeles Sparks to two league championships. In all she was honored as WNBA regular-season MVP three times. Internationally, she led the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball teams to four consecutive gold medals in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008, in doing so becoming the first team-sport Olympian to win four straight gold medals.
Carl Lewis, who was deemed “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated, ruled the track and field scene for a majority of his 17-year career which began in 1979 when he first achieved world ranking. Lewis was a dominant sprinter and long jumper who was named “Athlete of the Year” by Track and Field News in 1982, 1983 and 1984, and set world records in the 100 m, 4 x 100 m and 4 x 200 m relays. His world record in the indoor long jump has stood since 1984 and his 65 consecutive victories in the long jump, achieved over a span of 10 years, is one of the sport’s longest undefeated streaks. Lewis also helped transform track and field from its nominal amateur status to its current professional status, thus enabling athletes to have more lucrative and longer-lasting careers.
Tennis Channel is the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle. A hybrid of comprehensive sports, health, fitness, pop culture, entertainment, lifestyle and travel programming, the network is home to every aspect of the wide-ranging, worldwide tennis community. It also has the most concentrated single-sport coverage in television, with telecast rights to the US Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros (French Open), Australian Open, Olympus US Open Series, ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events, top-tier WTA competitions, Davis Cup and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, and Hyundai Hopman Cup. Tennis Channel is carried by nine of the top 10 video providers.