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
+ - 22,009 11,214
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
+ - 22,374 11,386
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
+ - 14,301 10,743
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky Brantford, Canada

4
+ - 20,696 10,132
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps Towson, Baltimore, Maryland

5
+ - 19,277 11,368
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana New Eagle, Pennsylvania, United States of America

6
+ - 24,410 10,903
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi Rosario, Argentina

7
+ - 13,201 11,052
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Julius Erving "Dr J" Roosevelt, New York, United States of America

8
+ - 19,919 11,217
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer Basel, Switzerland

9
+ - 13,447 10,702
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé Três Corações, Brazil

10
+ - 19,869 9,805
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland

11
+ - 19,822 10,586
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James Akron, Ohio, United States of America

12
+ - 10,949 10,707
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini Milan, Italy

13
+ - 13,138 10,638
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf Mannheim, Germany

14
+ - 12,845 10,464
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
+ - 13,802 10,322
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt Sherwood Content, Jamaica

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16
+ - 12,588 10,372
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit Amsterdam, Netherlands

17
+ - 12,163 10,221
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lorenzo Bernardi Trento, Italy

18
+ - 12,515 10,334
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Alexander Karelin Novosibirsk, Russia

19
+ - 12,407 10,275
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx Tielt-Winge, Belgium

20
+ - 12,494 10,249
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka Luhansk, Ukraine

21
+ - 12,578 10,203
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ingemar Stenmark Joesjö, Sweden

22
+ - 9,408 10,017
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe Wiesbaden, Germany

23
+ - 12,515 10,180
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire

24
+ - 9,391 10,046
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Marco van Basten Utrecht, Kingdom of the Netherlands

25
+ - 12,626 10,142
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Schumacher Hürth, Germany

26
+ - 12,295 10,015
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Magé, Brazil

27
+ - 12,315 10,129
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká Gama, Federal District, Brazil

28
+ - 12,394 9,999
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff Amsterdam, Netherlands

29
+ - 12,482 10,116
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paula Radcliffe Davenham, United Kingdom

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30
+ - 12,574 9,790
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus Upper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

31
+ - 12,321 9,968
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver Rockhampton, Australia

32
+ - 12,099 9,941
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah Monrovia, Liberia

33
+ - 12,145 9,899
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Onești, Romania

34
+ - 12,336 9,930
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Beckenbauer Munich, Germany

35
+ - 9,215 9,879
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi Travagliato, Italy

36
+ - 12,144 9,874
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Andriy Shevchenko Dvirkivschyna, Ukraine

37
+ - 12,129 9,835
Yelena Isinbayeva is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Yelena Isinbayeva Volgograd, Russia

38
+ - 12,152 9,863
Emil Zátopek is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Emil Zátopek Kopřivnice, Czech Republic

39
+ - 12,300 9,875
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Stefan Edberg Västervik, Sweden

40
+ - 11,218 9,709
Pietro Mennea is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pietro Mennea Barletta, Italy

41
+ - 12,270 9,848
Annika Sörenstam is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Annika Sörenstam Bro, Sweden, Sweden

42
+ - 11,739 9,714
Zico is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

43
+ - 11,976 9,757
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Brazil

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44
+ - 11,441 9,687
Paulo Roberto Falcão is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paulo Roberto Falcão Abelardo Luz, Brazil

45
+ - 12,146 9,814
Věra Čáslavská is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Věra Čáslavská Prague, Czech Republic

46
+ - 12,147 9,638
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sugar Ray Leonard Rocky Mount, North Carolina, United States of America

47
+ - 12,025 9,729
Björn Borg is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Björn Borg Stockholm, Sweden

48
+ - 12,054 9,679
Lindsey Vonn is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lindsey Vonn Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States of America

49
+ - 12,137 9,789
Ole Einar Bjørndalen is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ole Einar Bjørndalen Drammen, Norway

50
+ - 12,145 9,787
Sonja Henie is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sonja Henie Oslo, Norway