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
+ - 26,277 13,204
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
+ - 25,690 13,077
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
+ - 16,621 12,381
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky Brantford, Canada

4
+ - 23,039 11,780
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps Towson, Baltimore, Maryland

5
+ - 14,361 13,164
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Julius Erving "Dr J" Roosevelt, New York, United States of America

6
+ - 14,964 12,268
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé Três Corações, Brazil

7
+ - 20,859 13,379
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana New Eagle, Pennsylvania, United States of America

8
+ - 22,434 10,856
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland

9
+ - 12,227 12,343
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini Milan, Italy

10
+ - 22,469 12,104
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James Akron, Ohio, United States of America

11
+ - 25,874 12,807
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi Rosario, Argentina

12
+ - 21,097 12,913
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer Basel, Switzerland

13
+ - 15,808 11,360
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt Sherwood Content, Jamaica

14
+ - 13,671 11,593
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
+ - 14,285 11,979
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf Mannheim, Germany

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16
+ - 10,015 10,995
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe Wiesbaden, Germany

17
+ - 9,970 10,967
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Marco van Basten Utrecht, Netherlands

18
+ - 12,963 11,407
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lorenzo Bernardi Trento, Italy

19
+ - 13,367 11,512
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit Amsterdam, Netherlands

20
+ - 13,245 11,317
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Alexander Karelin Novosibirsk, Russia

21
+ - 13,058 11,252
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx Tielt-Winge, Belgium

22
+ - 13,137 11,071
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ingemar Stenmark Joesjö, Sweden

23
+ - 13,099 11,146
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka Luhansk, Ukraine

24
+ - 12,769 10,811
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Magé, Brazil

25
+ - 12,818 10,863
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká Gama, Federal District, Brazil

26
+ - 13,236 10,168
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus Upper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

27
+ - 12,808 10,656
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff Amsterdam, Netherlands

28
+ - 13,038 10,795
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Schumacher Hürth, Germany

29
+ - 12,986 10,959
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire

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30
+ - 9,471 10,468
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi Travagliato, Italy

31
+ - 12,825 10,756
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paula Radcliffe Davenham, United Kingdom

32
+ - 12,618 10,557
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver Rockhampton, Australia

33
+ - 12,375 10,537
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah Monrovia, Liberia

34
+ - 12,731 9,930
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sugar Ray Leonard Rocky Mount, North Carolina, United States of America

35
+ - 12,461 10,441
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Onești, Romania

36
+ - 12,980 9,959
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Oakville, Alabama, United States of America

37
+ - 12,645 10,481
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Beckenbauer Munich, Germany

38
+ - 12,984 10,038
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

39
+ - 12,412 10,435
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Andriy Shevchenko Dvirkivschyna, Ukraine

40
+ - 11,934 10,188
Zico is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

41
+ - 12,527 10,384
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Stefan Edberg Västervik, Sweden

42
+ - 12,365 10,335
Yelena Isinbayeva is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Yelena Isinbayeva Volgograd, Russia

43
+ - 12,156 9,842
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, United States of America

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44
+ - 12,113 10,203
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Brazil

45
+ - 12,380 10,363
Emil Zátopek is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Emil Zátopek Kopřivnice, Czech Republic

46
+ - 11,590 10,124
Paulo Roberto Falcão is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paulo Roberto Falcão Abelardo Luz, Brazil

47
+ - 11,396 10,197
Pietro Mennea is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pietro Mennea Barletta, Italy

48
+ - 12,653 9,951
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Serena Williams Saginaw, Michigan, United States of America

49
+ - 12,474 10,271
Annika Sörenstam is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Annika Sörenstam Bro, Sweden, Sweden

50
+ - 12,389 9,798
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Martinez, California, United States of America