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
+ - 21,602 10,993
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
+ - 22,037 11,182
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
+ - 14,084 10,550
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky Brantford, Canada

4
+ - 20,441 9,953
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps Towson, Baltimore, Maryland

5
+ - 19,117 11,136
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana New Eagle, Pennsylvania, United States of America

6
+ - 24,217 10,687
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi Rosario, Argentina

7
+ - 19,808 10,980
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer Basel, Switzerland

8
+ - 13,049 10,859
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
+ - 19,617 9,689
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland

10
+ - 13,257 10,555
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé Três Corações, Brazil

11
+ - 19,555 10,437
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James Akron, Ohio, United States of America

12
+ - 13,051 10,474
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf Mannheim, Germany

13
+ - 10,849 10,559
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini Milan, Italy

14
+ - 12,758 10,331
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
+ - 13,556 10,245
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt Sherwood Content, Jamaica

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16
+ - 12,461 10,219
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Alexander Karelin Novosibirsk, Russia

17
+ - 12,534 10,262
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit Amsterdam, Netherlands

18
+ - 12,369 10,176
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx Tielt-Winge, Belgium

19
+ - 12,458 10,161
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka Luhansk, Ukraine

20
+ - 12,119 10,116
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lorenzo Bernardi Trento, Italy

21
+ - 12,543 10,123
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ingemar Stenmark Joesjö, Sweden

22
+ - 12,481 10,086
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire

23
+ - 12,583 10,046
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Schumacher Hürth, Germany

24
+ - 12,282 10,052
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká Gama, Federal District, Brazil

25
+ - 12,476 10,036
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paula Radcliffe Davenham, United Kingdom

26
+ - 12,274 9,956
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Magé, Brazil

27
+ - 9,363 9,948
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe Wiesbaden, Germany

28
+ - 12,378 9,943
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff Amsterdam, Netherlands

29
+ - 9,364 9,978
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Marco van Basten Utrecht, Kingdom of the Netherlands

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30
+ - 12,522 9,744
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus Upper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

31
+ - 12,309 9,912
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver Rockhampton, Australia

32
+ - 12,135 9,846
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Onești, Romania

33
+ - 12,090 9,887
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah Monrovia, Liberia

34
+ - 12,325 9,880
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Beckenbauer Munich, Germany

35
+ - 12,115 9,790
Yelena Isinbayeva is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Yelena Isinbayeva Volgograd, Russia

36
+ - 12,134 9,828
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Andriy Shevchenko Dvirkivschyna, Ukraine

37
+ - 12,147 9,823
Emil Zátopek is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Emil Zátopek Kopřivnice, Czech Republic

38
+ - 12,294 9,837
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Stefan Edberg Västervik, Sweden

39
+ - 11,214 9,668
Pietro Mennea is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pietro Mennea Barletta, Italy

40
+ - 12,267 9,804
Annika Sörenstam is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Annika Sörenstam Bro, Sweden, Sweden

41
+ - 12,144 9,764
Věra Čáslavská is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Věra Čáslavská Prague, Czech Republic

42
+ - 11,433 9,658
Paulo Roberto Falcão is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paulo Roberto Falcão Abelardo Luz, Brazil

43
+ - 9,196 9,840
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi Travagliato, Italy

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44
+ - 12,013 9,688
Björn Borg is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Björn Borg Stockholm, Sweden

45
+ - 11,966 9,728
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Brazil

46
+ - 12,133 9,757
Ole Einar Bjørndalen is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ole Einar Bjørndalen Drammen, Norway

47
+ - 12,144 9,753
Sonja Henie is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sonja Henie Oslo, Norway

48
+ - 12,037 9,651
Lindsey Vonn is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lindsey Vonn Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States of America

49
+ - 11,731 9,683
Zico is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

50
+ - 12,049 9,709
Carolina Klüft is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Carolina Klüft Sandhult, Sweden