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
35,338 17,461
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
32,525 16,584
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
21,150 16,383
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

4
17,101 17,924
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
18,448 15,906
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

6
28,366 15,435
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

7
27,565 13,858
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

8
20,373 14,025
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

9
15,931 17,377
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 49

10
15,627 14,298
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

11
11,589 13,538
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

12
11,488 13,435
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
29,127 14,973
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

14
23,712 14,992
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

15
28,722 16,384
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
24,085 16,749
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

17
16,168 14,501
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

18
14,349 13,010
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

19
15,676 11,311
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

20
13,950 12,639
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

21
14,222 10,844
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

22
14,960 11,551
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

23
14,732 13,676
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

24
14,428 13,793
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 49

25
10,161 12,001
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

26
14,807 10,761
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

27
15,023 10,996
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

28
14,013 10,628
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

29
14,771 10,923
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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30
13,843 12,136
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

31
13,829 12,501
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 35

32
14,237 12,879
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

33
14,257 13,157
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

34
13,331 11,802
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 79

35
14,378 10,432
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
14,156 10,496
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 83

37
12,711 10,510
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 72

38
13,036 11,850
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

39
14,577 13,270
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

40
12,467 11,290
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

41
13,143 10,691
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

42
13,013 10,167
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

43
14,001 12,168
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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44
12,406 11,314
Zico is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

45
9,260 10,906
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 74

46
13,149 11,548
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

47
14,341 10,929
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson age 51

48
12,918 11,430
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 10,857
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 12,389
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)