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
35,330 17,450
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
32,516 16,578
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
21,145 16,372
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

4
17,098 17,914
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeeBob added Julius Erving "Dr J" age 67

5
18,435 15,902
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

6
28,356 15,431
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

7
27,555 13,856
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

8
20,366 14,022
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

9
15,929 17,372
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 49

10
15,625 14,292
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

11
11,587 13,533
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

12
11,486 13,429
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Marco van Basten age 53

13
29,114 14,970
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

14
23,708 14,986
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

15
28,713 16,382
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 31

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16
24,080 16,748
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

17
16,166 14,497
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

18
14,348 13,006
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

19
15,671 11,308
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

20
13,949 12,635
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

21
14,218 10,842
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

22
14,957 11,549
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

23
14,730 13,673
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

24
14,427 13,790
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 49

25
10,160 11,998
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

26
14,803 10,759
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

27
15,018 10,993
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

28
14,007 10,627
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

29
14,769 10,920
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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30
13,842 12,134
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

31
13,826 12,500
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 35

32
14,236 12,877
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

33
14,256 13,155
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

34
13,330 11,800
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 79

35
14,374 10,430
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
14,153 10,494
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 83

37
12,709 10,508
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 72

38
13,035 11,848
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

39
14,575 13,268
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

40
12,466 11,288
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

41
13,142 10,689
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

42
13,011 10,166
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

43
14,000 12,166
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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44
12,405 11,312
Zico is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

45
9,259 10,905
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 74

46
13,148 11,546
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

47
14,337 10,927
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson age 51

48
12,918 11,428
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 49

49
12,188 10,855
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 61

50
13,736 12,387
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paavo Nurmi Died at 76 (1897-1973)