best athletes The Best Athletes of All Time  

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List Rules Open to all amateur or professional athletes in any sport

The greatest athletes of all time: a list of the most dominant, iconic athletes to ever play sports. This list gathers sports stars from across every professional league, as well as amateur athletes who may have never competed professionally, in one overall list. Though it may be challenging to compare performance in a variety of different competitive arenas requiring different skill sets, this list nevertheless attempts to distinguish the top, highest-performing and most successful athletes ever to play. The sports stars that rise to the top can be considered to be the best athletes of all time.

Aspects to consider in picking a best athlete of all time would include, obviously, that player's raw talent and born ability. Some individuals seem to prodigally gifted in their sport of choice, and it's hard to discount the importance of this kind of natural talent. However, it's also important to evaluate hard work, discipline and a commitment to the game. Some athletes may not have the natural, genetic ability to dunk a basketball or hit a home run, but nonetheless have trained to the point of reaching these goals all the same. (They may not be the greatest athlete of all time at all sports, but they have mastered their activity.)

Finally, it can be a challenge to compare an athlete who competed in a solo competition with a member of a well known sports organization or club. How do you look at the achievements of, say, a boxer like Muhammad Ali alongside an athlete like Michael Jordan, who had to not only perform to his own best abilities but work as a cohesive unit along with other members of his team? These are the questions that must be answered when compiling a list of the world's greatest all-time athletes.

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1
+ - 26,234 13,183
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Jordan New York City, New York, United States of America

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2
+ - 25,654 13,064
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali Louisville, Kentucky, United States of America

3
+ - 16,597 12,362
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky Brantford, Canada

4
+ - 23,018 11,765
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps Towson, Baltimore, Maryland

5
+ - 14,352 13,141
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Julius Erving "Dr J" Roosevelt, New York, United States of America

6
+ - 14,947 12,252
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé Três Corações, Brazil

7
+ - 20,840 13,366
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana New Eagle, Pennsylvania, United States of America

8
+ - 22,408 10,847
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland

9
+ - 12,224 12,319
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini Milan, Italy

10
+ - 22,444 12,084
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James Akron, Ohio, United States of America

11
+ - 25,860 12,800
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi Rosario, Argentina

12
+ - 21,087 12,904
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer Basel, Switzerland

13
+ - 15,786 11,357
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt Sherwood Content, Jamaica

14
+ - 13,665 11,585
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras Potomac, Maryland, United States of America

15
+ - 14,280 11,970
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf Mannheim, Germany

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16
+ - 10,014 10,984
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe Wiesbaden, Germany

17
+ - 9,968 10,959
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Marco van Basten Utrecht, Netherlands

18
+ - 12,963 11,398
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lorenzo Bernardi Trento, Italy

19
+ - 13,366 11,504
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit Amsterdam, Netherlands

20
+ - 13,244 11,310
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Alexander Karelin Novosibirsk, Russia

21
+ - 13,055 11,245
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx Tielt-Winge, Belgium

22
+ - 13,136 11,063
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ingemar Stenmark Joesjö, Sweden

23
+ - 13,099 11,137
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka Luhansk, Ukraine

24
+ - 12,765 10,806
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Magé, Brazil

25
+ - 12,814 10,857
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká Gama, Federal District, Brazil

26
+ - 13,231 10,165
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus Upper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

27
+ - 12,806 10,652
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff Amsterdam, Netherlands

28
+ - 13,036 10,792
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Schumacher Hürth, Germany

29
+ - 12,984 10,954
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire

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30
+ - 9,471 10,462
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi Travagliato, Italy

31
+ - 12,825 10,750
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paula Radcliffe Davenham, United Kingdom

32
+ - 12,614 10,553
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver Rockhampton, Australia

33
+ - 12,373 10,533
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah Monrovia, Liberia

34
+ - 12,725 9,926
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sugar Ray Leonard Rocky Mount, North Carolina, United States of America

35
+ - 12,459 10,435
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Onești, Romania

36
+ - 12,973 9,956
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Oakville, Alabama, United States of America

37
+ - 12,643 10,476
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Beckenbauer Munich, Germany

38
+ - 12,969 10,037
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

39
+ - 12,409 10,432
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Andriy Shevchenko Dvirkivschyna, Ukraine

40
+ - 11,932 10,184
Zico is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

41
+ - 12,364 10,330
Yelena Isinbayeva is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Yelena Isinbayeva Volgograd, Russia

42
+ - 12,524 10,380
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Stefan Edberg Västervik, Sweden

43
+ - 12,150 9,838
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, United States of America

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44
+ - 12,380 10,357
Emil Zátopek is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Emil Zátopek Kopřivnice, Czech Republic

45
+ - 12,112 10,198
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Brazil

46
+ - 11,589 10,119
Paulo Roberto Falcão is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paulo Roberto Falcão Abelardo Luz, Brazil

47
+ - 11,396 10,191
Pietro Mennea is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pietro Mennea Barletta, Italy

48
+ - 12,474 10,264
Annika Sörenstam is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Annika Sörenstam Bro, Sweden, Sweden

49
+ - 12,641 9,948
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Serena Williams Saginaw, Michigan, United States of America

50
+ - 12,377 9,797
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Martinez, California, United States of America