30 Iconic Sports Celebrations We’ll Never Forget
For every Barry Sanders, who simply handed the ball to the ref after he scored, there are 100 Terrell Owens who have lavish exhibits after a touchdown. Celebrations can often enhance the sporting event, game or play, and sometimes, they can even overshadow them. Whether you love them or hate them, they are undoubtedly a huge part of the sports experience.
Some athletes like to dance or shimmy after a great play, while others leap into the air with exuberance. Then, there are the celebrations that involve lots of choreography and could involve multiple teammates or even the whole team. However, an understated yet still impactful sports celebration is simply a pose, and those often make their way onto posters, paintings and murals around the world.
But which 30 sports celebrations stand out from the thousands that we’ve seen? The preceding play, the importance of the moment and the creativity of the celebration all go into our formula in crowning the greatest sports celebration of all time.
30. LeBron James – The Silencer
Event: Miami Heat vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Date: March 20, 2013
During his third season in Miami, and during a return to Cleveland to face the Cavs, LeBron debuted his signature celebration, which has since been imitated by athletes in many different sports. It consists of him pushing both hands down three times as if it was the opposite of the raise the roof gesture, while also exaggeratingly raising his knees as he walks. He then uses one hand to slap his chest a couple of times before letting off a primal scream.
Despite the move ending with a scream, it’s known as The Silencer since it’s usually performed when a game’s result is fait accompli. Among those that copied the move include Cam Newton, Julian Edelman, Dwyane Wade and LeBron’s oldest son, Bronny James.
29. Megan Rapinoe – The Pose
Event: 2019 Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal
Date: June 28, 2019
At the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Rapinoe memorably ran to an on-field microphone after scoring a goal and began singing “Born in the USA” into the mic. While that moment was unforgettable, her celebrations at the 2019 Women’s World Cup were iconic.
After scoring in the quarterfinals against France, Rapinoe ran to a corner and simply posed with her arms outstretched and a smile on her face. There was nothing extravagant about it, and it was possibly just a “look at me” moment, but it was the enduring image of the tournament. Famed sportswriter Bill Simmons even commented that the image of Rapinoe’s celebration was “one of my favorite sports pictures of the decade.”
28. Merton Hanks – Funky Chicken
Event: San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Date: Nov. 12, 1995
In 1994, the 49ers had players like Deion Sanders and Ricky Watters whose dancing often got them lots of individual attention. Those players left the team a year later, so safety Merton Hanks thought that some type of celebratory dance would get a spotlight shone on him. The inspiration for his dance, though, would come from the unlikely place of "Sesame Street."
He saw Bert doing a move called “The Pigeon” and decided to incorporate a similar move into his new celebration. Thus, when Hanks scooped a fumble up and returned it for a touchdown versus the Cowboys in 1995, he unveiled his touchdown dance to the world. He violently jerked his neck back and forth like a chicken, and the move would become known as the Funky Chicken.
27. Kendrys Morales – Walk-Off Broken Leg
Event: Los Angeles Angels vs. Seattle Mariners
Date: May 29, 2010
Not all celebrations end up with everyone smiling and high-fiving, and this is one example. Morales hit the first grand slam and the first walk-off HR of his career all on one swing in what should have been a joyous occasion. And it was one until he reached home plate where his teammates were waiting.
Morales jumped into the air when reaching home, but when he came down, his ankle turned and all 225 pounds of him landed on that turned ankle. He ended up breaking his leg, which ended his season and sidelined him for nearly two full years. After the injury, the Angels manager implemented new rules regarding walk-offs that required much tamer celebrations.
26. Nick Young – Premature Celebration
Event: Los Angeles Lakers vs. New York Knicks
Date: March 25, 2014
Bottom Line: Nick Young: A celebration doesn’t require a successful endeavor as Nick Young reminded us while he was with the Lakers. By this time, Steph Curry had captivated NBA fans by shooting a 3P and celebrating before the shot even went in. Young tried to do the same except, when he turned around to celebrate, out of the corner of his eye he noticed that the shot didn’t go in.
Swaggy P suffered from premature celebration, and for a guy who played a dozen NBA seasons, it’s probably the defining moment of his career.
25. Atlanta Falcons – Soul Train Line
Event: Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks
Date: Nov. 20, 2017
In 2017, the NFL relaxed its rules on touchdown celebrations and allowed multiple players to join in without penalty. The Atlanta Falcons clearly took the rule change to heart and got their entire offense in on Mohamed Sanu’s touchdown reception.
The players formed two parallel lines with space in the middle for the dancer, just as became customary in the 35 years of Soul Train. The dancer had to be the touchdown scorer, and Sanu did his best Soul Train-inspired dance through the line.
24. Carl Edwards – Backflip
Event: Aaron’s 312
Date: March 20, 2005
Sprint driver Tyler Walker deserves an honorable mention for this, as Edwards admitted to taking his celebration from Walker. Yet, Edwards was the more famous and accomplished driver, so the back-flip-off-the-winning-vehicle celebration is known as his.
He first performed it after his first Cup Series victory in 2005, and it helped him gain notoriety outside the NASCAR world. That includes Edwards being a part of a 2016 "This is SportsCenter" commercial in which he tries to cheer up a dejected SportsCenter anchor by performing his backflip.
23. Miami Heat – No-Look Alley-Oop
Event: Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Date: Dec. 6, 2010
Most celebrations are done after the fact when you know the job is done. But for Dwyane Wade, he must have realized that lobbing up a pass to LeBron James is essentially fait accompli, so he celebrated a little prematurely. Wade’s celebratory pose and this picture may be the single defining image of the four years that James and Wade teamed together in Miami. All you have to do is Google “lebron wade poster,” and the first dozen images that come up are this photo.
22. Bo Jackson – Wall Run
Type: Show off
Event: Kansas City Royals vs. Baltimore Orioles
Date: July 11, 1990
Maybe the most memorable moment of Bo Jackson’s baseball career came after he made a lunging outfield catch. Jackson’s momentum took him to the outfield wall, and instead of doing the little sideways jump into the wall that many outfielders do in that situation, Jackson decided to show off his athleticism. He ran three steps along the wall to avoid impact with it, and it almost looked superhuman at first glance.
Both the crowd and the announcers couldn’t get enough of Jackson’s display, and only Bo could pull that off as a celebration.
21. Tim Tebow – Tebow Makes the Call
Event: Florida vs. LSU
Date: Oct. 6, 2007
Were you expecting Tebowing? Sorry, but the former QB/outfielder/TE had a cleverer celebration while in college. The week before Florida played at LSU, a rowdy Tigers fan got Tebow’s phone number and passed it around campus. Thus, Tebow got hundreds of threatening and profane voice messages that caused him to turn his phone off.
So, when the Florida-versus-LSU game rolled around and Tebow threw a first-quarter touchdown, what did he do? He acted like he had a phone in his left hand and mockingly dialed numbers with his right hand. He then put the phone up to his ear and gave a nice, long stare to the LSU faithful.
20. Michael Jordan – Gooseneck
Event: 1998 NBA Finals – Game 6
Date: June 14, 1998
In a career filled with iconic plays and memorable celebrations, Michael Jordan’s exaggerated follow-through in the 1998 NBA Finals reigns supreme. It is the last shot he ever took in a Chicago Bulls uniform, and it sealed the Bulls’ sixth title in eight years.
Jordan’s pose with his wrist pointing downward is nicknamed The Gooseneck because it resembles the outline of an actual goose’s neck. Even in the moment, Jordan clearly understood the significance of the play, and it’s a reminder to all basketball players to always follow through on your shot.
19. Maurice Greene – Feet on Fire
Event: 2004 Home Depot International – 100m
Date: May 22, 2004
Points for creativity to Greene who clearly planned this stunt well in advance. After running the 100 meters in 9.86 seconds, which was the world’s fastest time of the year, Greene then celebrated by running to the middle of the track and then quickly taking off his shoes as if they were on fire. He then had hurdler Larry Wade lurking in the infield, and Wade came out with a fire extinguisher to “extinguish” Greene’s track shoes.
For a sport that was dealing with various doping allegations to its top stars at the time, this was a nice change of pace in the coverage that track and field got from the media.
18. Mark McGwire – Breaks Maris’ Record
Event: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs
Date: Sept. 8, 1998
Sometimes, you get so excited at doing the seemingly impossible that you just lose it while celebrating, and that’s what happened to McGwire. After hitting his 62nd home run and breaking the 37-year-old, single-season home run record, McGwire was beside himself and so excited that he skipped first base while celebrating with the Cardinals’ first-base coach.
He had to go back and tap the bag before he then composed himself and trotted around the bases. The Cubs, who had just given up the record-breaker, also got in on the celebration as each of the Cubs infielders slapped hands or gave hugs to McGwire while rounding the bases.
17. Tiger Woods – Missed High Five
Event: 2005 Masters
Date: April 10, 2005
Not all celebrations are successful endeavors, and this one is known for its awkwardness. After Woods found himself off the green and about 50 feet from the hold, he pulled off one of the greatest, and most dramatic, shots in golf history. It culminated in the ball sitting on the edge of the hole for seconds before dropping in.
Woods and his caddie, Steve Williams, reacted with the kind of excitement you would expect, but their exuberance caused them to miss hands on a high-five attempt. They then “ran it back” and slapped hands again to provide a memorable celebration to a memorable shot.
16. Sam Cassell – Big Balls
Event: 2004 Western Conference Semifinal – Game 7
Date: May 19, 2004
This celebration traces its roots to the 1994 movie "Major League II" but entered NBA circles thanks to former All-Star Sam Cassell. After hitting a big shot late in a Game 7, Cassell imitated the movie by gesturing that he had “Big Balls” for taking and making the shot.
The NBA initially didn’t recognize the reference from the movie and didn’t know what Cassell, and others who followed, were inferring with the celebration. But eventually, the league caught on and has since fined any player who does what’s now known in the media as the “Sam Cassell Celebration." That even includes fining LeBron James.
15. Dikembe Mutombo – Finger Wag
Event: 1994 Western Conference First Round – Game 3
Date: May 2, 1994
Over his 18 NBA seasons, Dikembe Mutombo blocked 3,289 shots, which is second most in league history. And he seemingly wagged his finger after all of them. Mutombo said he initially would just shake his head “no” after a blocked shot, but that wouldn’t deter opponents from still trying to challenge him.
Thus, he started wagging his finger “no” at opponents after he blocked their shots, which earned him lots of technical fouls and lots of fines. Finally, the celebration evolved to Mutombo wagging his finger at the crowd after one of his blocks, which didn’t elicit a technical foul call.
14. Serena Williams – Crip Walk
Event: 2012 Summer Olympics
Date: Aug. 4, 2012
The All England Club at Wimbledon is known for its prim and proper etiquette, which includes players wearing all white, competitors being referred to as “Gentlemen” and “Ladies,” and strawberries and cream being the main snack served. So, the patrons were left aghast after witnessing Serena Williams celebrate after she won the gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Williams walking over Maria Sharapova in straight sets wasn’t a surprise, but Williams crip walking afterward was. The dance was created by a gang member in Williams’ hometown of Compton, California, so many thought she was glorifying criminals by doing the dance.
The reaction to Williams’ dance was vastly different from the response that former NBA player Brent Barry got when he celebrated with a c-walk, in that Barry got no media reaction afterward.
13. Cristiano Ronaldo – Siiii
Ronaldo is known for two celebrations — one in which he takes his shirt off after a goal and poses — and the other is the Siiii!!!! Sometimes, he does the two together, but the Siii, which means “Yes” in English, is done when he performs a mid-air pirouette before landing in a firm stance with his arms outstretched by his sides.
He screams “SIIII!!!!” while doing this, and it has become his trademark move. He does the move after important goals, and he’s had no shortage of those. After all, Cristiano Ronaldo is the all-time leading goal scorer in the UEFA Champions League, in the European Championship and has the most international goals by a male player.
12. Bash Brothers – Monster Bash
Event: 1988 MLB Spring Training
In 1986, Jose Canseco was named AL Rookie of the Year, and a season later, Mark McGwire won the same award. Thus, by 1988 Spring Training both had established themselves as elite power hitters, so they decided to come up with a celebration for when either hit a home run. They would smash each other’s forearms, forming an X, after meeting at home plate.
McGwire and Canseco were known as the Blast Brothers before the advent of their celebration, and afterward, they were known as the Bash Brothers. The forearm slap eventually overtook the entire team who celebrated with the Monster Bash celebration instead of the customary high-five.
11. Joe Horn – Cell Phone
Event: New Orleans Saints vs. New York Giants
Date: Dec. 14, 2003
One year before Horn pulled off his cell phone celebration, Terrell Owens pulled a Sharpie out of his sock to sign a football after a touchdown. That prompted the NFL to implement a rule in which players could not carry foreign objects on themselves. Thus, Horn saw a way around that rule by putting his foreign object in the goal post padding.
Horn’s stunt actually came on his second of four touchdowns he scored in this game, but he only pulled off this celebration on one of the four. That’s probably a good thing, as he was fined $30,000 for the exhibit, so he may have been looking at $120,000 in fines if he did it four times.
10. Milwaukee Brewers – Walk-Off
Event: Milwaukee Brewers vs. San Francisco Giants
Date: Sept. 6, 2009
It’s always fun to see an entire team get in on a celebration, and literally, the entire Brewers dugout got in on this one. After Prince Fielder launched a walk-off homer and was rounding the bases, the Brewers formed a semi-circle around home plate, as teams normally do for a walk-off.
But when Fielder leapt onto home plate, the surrounding Brewers acted like an explosion just happened, falling to the ground in unison while Fielder extended his arms overhead as if he caused the explosion. It was definitely a memorable moment and made this walk-off stick out from all of the others.
9. Usain Bolt – Lightning Bolt
Event: 2008 Summer Olympics – 100m
Date: Aug. 16, 2008
After running a 9.69 100m dash to not only win Olympic gold but also set a new world record and become the Fastest Man Ever, Usain Bolt introduced everyone to his signature pose. Obviously playing off his surname, Bolt struck the Lightning Bolt pose in which he’s pointing with both hands with his arms staggered, knees slightly bent and hips turned.
The way his arms are positioned is meant to resemble a lightning bolt, and the Jamaican sprinter would display the pose throughout his record-breaking career.
8. Ickey Woods – Ickey Shuffle
Event: Cincinnati Bengals vs. New York Jets
Date: Oct. 10, 1988
When your touchdown dance is still making its way into commercials more than 25 years later, then that definitely classifies as iconic. But the Ickey Shuffle that we all know is actually the second version of the dance. Woods originally performed a stationary celebration after scoring his first NFL touchdown on Sept. 25, 1988.
But his teammates clowned him for the dance, so he decided to amend it and add some steps into it. Thus, the Ickey Shuffle was born, and he busted out the move two weeks later. The additional steps he added into the move have since been adopted into agility drills, so the Ickey Shuffle is both a dance and a training drill.
7. Homer Jones – Spike
Event: New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Date: Oct. 17, 1965
The answer to the trivia question of, “Who invented the touchdown spike” will always be Homer Jones. Prior to 1965, players would often just toss the ball into the stands after they scored a touchdown, which led to lots of lost NFL footballs.
But in 1965, the NFL implemented a new rule in which a player would be fined $500 if they threw a ball into the crowd. Jones was well aware of that rule, so once he scored his first career touchdown, he just threw the ball down hard while in the endzone. Thus, the spike was born and it’s still being used as a celebration more than 50 years later.
6. Bobby Orr – Flying Goal
Event: 1970 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 4
Date: May 10, 1970
One of the most famous games, goals, celebrations and photos all took place in the span of a few seconds during the 1970 Stanley Cup Final. Orr scored the game-winner to give the Bruins the Cup, and then he both jumped and was tripped at the same time with his arms extended in celebration, which led to the horizontal salute embodied in the photo.
Orr’s famous goal is simply called “The Goal,” while his infamous leap is known as “The Flight.”
5. Brandi Chastain – Sports Bra
Event: 1999 Women’s World Cup
Date: July 10, 1999
One month before this moment, Chastain perhaps provided a bit of foreshadowing by posing in a magazine with some strategically placed soccer balls and cleats. She didn’t go quite as far when her penalty kick won the Women’s World Cup for the USWNT, but Chastain also wasn’t shy in celebrating. She ripped off her shirt to reveal the world’s most famous sports bra while clenching her fists and flexing her arms.
Soccer players ripping off their jerseys after scoring a goal was commonplace on the men’s side, but Chastain’s celebration made nearly as many headlines as the U.S. winning the tournament.
4. Muhammad Ali – The Greatest
Event: Ali vs. Liston II
Date: May 25, 1965
Some call Ali posing over Sonny Liston the greatest sports photo of all time, even though it wasn’t actually a pose. Ali was actually gesturing and yelling at Liston “Get up and fight, sucker” because he knocked him out in the first round of their highly anticipated rematch. Still, it was part-taunt and part-celebration, as Ali retained his heavyweight titles that he had just won versus Liston in their previous bout a year earlier.
Ringside photographer Neil Leifer snapped the photo, and right afterward, Ali continued his celebration by prancing around the ring with his arms raised in victory.
3. Michael Jordan – The Shrug
Event: 1992 NBA Finals – Game 1
Date: June 3, 1992
During his first 16 games of the 1992 playoffs, Jordan made a total of five 3-pointers, as that wasn’t a big part of his game. But during Game 1 of the ’92 Finals, Jordan knocked down six 3-pointers in the first half alone, which set an NBA record.
It was after the sixth that he turned to the NBC broadcast booth — where Magic Johnson was an analyst — and he offered his famous shrug as if saying not even he could explain what was going on. Jordan finished with 35 points in the first half of that game, which was also an NBA record, as Chicago cruised to a Game 1 win and a series win.
2. Jose Bautista – Bat Flip
Type: Leap, Pose, Dance
Event: 2015 ALDS – Game 5
Date: Oct. 14, 2015
A bat flip so memorable that it has its own Wikipedia page, Jose Bautista’s bat flip stands out because of how over-the-top it was. After Bautista hit a late-game go-ahead home run, he first admired the long ball before tossing his bat in the air to the delight of the home crowd.
The moment became one of the most meme-worthy and Vine-worthy celebrations of all time and was even etched into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. Bautista would later say it was purely organic, and he just got caught up in the emotion of the moment. It was so iconic that it made its way into other sports, as the NHL 17 video game included a similar celebration, except with hockey players doing “stick flips” with their hockey sticks after an important goal.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – High Five
Event: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Houston Astros
Date: Oct. 2, 1977
No one really knows who invented the high five, but conventional wisdom points to a pair of Dodgers teammates in Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker. Yep, that same Dusty Baker who’s managing MLB teams in his 70s was the recipient of the first-ever high five. Baker, who was a two-time All-Star as a player, hit a home run on the last day of the 1977 season to give him 30 for that season. That made the Dodgers the first team in MLB history to have four players with at least 30 homers, and after he crossed home plate, Burke was waiting for him in the on-deck circle. Burke exuberantly thrust his hand into the air, and Baker, unsure of what exactly to do, just smacked the hand, later saying “It seemed like the thing to do.”
The gesture then caught on within the Dodgers, within baseball and within all sports. It has since spawned multiple variations including the low five, the air five and the self-high five. But they all trace their origins back to Burke and Baker in 1977.