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
+ - 34,697 17,105
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
+ - 31,950 16,269
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
+ - 20,786 16,004
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

4
+ - 27,881 15,117
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

5
+ - 27,210 13,517
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

6
+ - 19,837 13,805
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

7
+ - 16,897 17,396
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

8
+ - 17,988 15,657
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

9
+ - 15,810 16,940
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini age 49

10
+ - 28,714 14,664
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

11
+ - 28,313 16,049
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 31

12
+ - 23,878 16,485
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

13
+ - 23,267 14,762
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

14
+ - 15,462 13,940
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

15
+ - 11,432 13,266
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
+ - 16,036 14,255
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

17
+ - 11,352 13,182
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

18
+ - 14,796 11,381
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

19
+ - 15,404 11,178
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

20
+ - 14,395 13,582
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

21
+ - 14,680 13,476
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

22
+ - 14,260 12,810
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

23
+ - 13,895 12,460
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

24
+ - 14,088 10,709
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

25
+ - 14,589 10,666
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

26
+ - 10,108 11,816
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

27
+ - 13,769 12,308
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 35

28
+ - 14,226 13,020
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

29
+ - 14,508 13,104
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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30
+ - 14,542 10,792
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

31
+ - 14,799 10,911
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

32
+ - 14,187 12,750
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka age 54

33
+ - 13,753 12,003
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

34
+ - 13,879 10,533
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

35
+ - 13,896 12,018
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
+ - 14,180 10,363
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

37
+ - 13,976 10,416
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 83

38
+ - 13,012 11,711
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

39
+ - 13,690 12,255
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Died at 76 (1897-1973)

40
+ - 13,062 10,577
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

41
+ - 13,253 11,689
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver age 79

42
+ - 14,191 10,807
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson age 51

43
+ - 13,514 11,971
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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44
+ - 13,085 11,448
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

45
+ - 12,887 10,094
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

46
+ - 12,647 10,388
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 72

47
+ - 12,363 11,194
Zico is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

48
+ - 13,157 11,507
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

49
+ - 12,442 11,156
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

50
+ - 12,870 11,318
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Stefan Edberg age 49