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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list ordered by

1
+ - 34,725 17,121
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
+ - 31,980 16,281
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
+ - 20,800 16,022
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

4
+ - 27,899 15,129
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

5
+ - 27,222 13,534
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

6
+ - 19,859 13,818
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

7
+ - 16,905 17,420
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

8
+ - 15,813 16,962
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini age 49

9
+ - 18,006 15,666
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

10
+ - 28,728 14,680
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

11
+ - 28,324 16,070
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 31

12
+ - 23,889 16,500
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

13
+ - 15,469 13,953
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

14
+ - 23,289 14,772
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

15
+ - 11,438 13,281
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

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16
+ - 11,359 13,193
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

17
+ - 16,040 14,269
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

18
+ - 15,419 11,186
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

19
+ - 14,398 13,594
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

20
+ - 14,805 11,395
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

21
+ - 14,683 13,489
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

22
+ - 14,262 12,822
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

23
+ - 14,097 10,712
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

24
+ - 10,110 11,826
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

25
+ - 14,599 10,669
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

26
+ - 13,898 12,469
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

27
+ - 13,770 12,318
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 35

28
+ - 14,226 13,029
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

29
+ - 14,513 13,116
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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30
+ - 14,551 10,801
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

31
+ - 14,814 10,914
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

32
+ - 14,190 12,758
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka age 54

33
+ - 13,756 12,012
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

34
+ - 13,885 10,538
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

35
+ - 13,897 12,030
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
+ - 14,194 10,364
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

37
+ - 13,981 10,420
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 83

38
+ - 13,013 11,719
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

39
+ - 13,692 12,264
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Died at 76 (1897-1973)

40
+ - 13,064 10,584
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

41
+ - 13,255 11,696
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver age 79

42
+ - 14,195 10,815
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson age 51

43
+ - 13,514 11,981
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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44
+ - 13,091 11,453
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

45
+ - 12,653 10,391
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 72

46
+ - 12,891 10,098
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

47
+ - 12,365 11,200
Zico is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

48
+ - 13,159 11,512
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

49
+ - 12,444 11,162
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

50
+ - 12,872 11,324
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Stefan Edberg age 49