best athletes The Best Athletes of All Time  

Originally by
34M votes 68k voters 669k views 2,142 items Follow Embed

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.

For more sports news and athlete trade rumors, vote on this list of sports news sites.

1
+ - 33,491 16,542
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

The Greatest Baseball Players of All Time The Best European Cruise Lines

2
+ - 30,993 15,796
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
+ - 20,179 15,429
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky Brantford, Canada

4
+ - 27,093 14,661
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps Towson, Baltimore, Maryland

5
+ - 26,556 13,048
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland

6
+ - 19,125 13,364
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt Sherwood Content, Jamaica

7
+ - 15,409 16,174
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini Milan, Italy

8
+ - 16,540 16,753
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Julius Erving "Dr J" Roosevelt, New York, United States of America

9
+ - 17,449 15,217
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé Brazil, Três Corações

10
+ - 27,526 15,471
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
+ - 23,468 16,067
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana New Eagle, Pennsylvania, United States of America

12
+ - 28,170 14,340
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi Rosario, Argentina

13
+ - 22,719 14,487
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer Basel, Switzerland

14
+ - 15,277 13,571
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
+ - 15,870 13,861
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf Mannheim, Germany

The Best Hitters in Baseball History The Weirdest Sports from Around the World

16
+ - 11,286 12,864
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe Wiesbaden, Germany

17
+ - 11,241 12,806
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Marco van Basten Utrecht, Netherlands

18
+ - 14,542 11,126
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus Upper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

19
+ - 14,338 13,237
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lorenzo Bernardi Trento, Italy

20
+ - 14,607 13,170
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit Amsterdam, Netherlands

21
+ - 14,183 12,524
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ingemar Stenmark Joesjö, Sweden

22
+ - 14,420 12,823
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Alexander Karelin Novosibirsk, Russia

23
+ - 14,151 12,743
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx Tielt-Winge, Belgium

24
+ - 13,814 12,208
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Magé, Brazil

25
+ - 14,980 11,019
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

26
+ - 13,863 10,542
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sugar Ray Leonard Rocky Mount, North Carolina, United States of America

27
+ - 13,663 12,045
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká Gama, Federal District, Brazil

28
+ - 14,129 12,515
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka Luhansk, Ukraine

29
+ - 14,258 10,545
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Oakville, Alabama, United States of America

The Smartest Professional Athletes All of the Months of the Year, Ranked

30
+ - 10,050 11,586
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi Travagliato, Italy

31
+ - 13,659 11,792
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff Amsterdam, Netherlands

32
+ - 14,210 10,657
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Serena Williams Saginaw, Michigan, United States of America

33
+ - 13,791 11,813
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Schumacher Hürth, Germany

34
+ - 14,452 10,828
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson Lansing, Michigan, United States of America

35
+ - 13,640 12,047
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire

36
+ - 13,647 10,451
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Martinez, California, United States of America

37
+ - 13,494 11,775
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paula Radcliffe Davenham, United Kingdom

38
+ - 12,978 11,530
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah Monrovia, Liberia

39
+ - 13,861 10,283
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar New York City, New York, United States of America

40
+ - 12,913 10,434
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, United States of America

41
+ - 13,677 10,331
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell West Monroe, Louisiana, United States of America

42
+ - 13,201 11,524
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver Rockhampton, Australia

43
+ - 13,918 10,673
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York City, New York

The Best Hispanic Actresses of All Time The Best "Your Mom" Jokes in Internet History

44
+ - 13,022 11,299
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Onești, Romania

45
+ - 13,116 11,347
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Beckenbauer Munich, Germany

46
+ - 12,725 9,994
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Brockton, Massachusetts, United States of America

47
+ - 12,549 10,262
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America

48
+ - 12,419 10,995
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Brazil

49
+ - 12,859 11,314
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Andriy Shevchenko Dvirkivschyna, Ukraine

50
+ - 12,331 11,035
Zico is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico Rio de Janeiro, Brazil