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
+ - 33,417 16,503
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
+ - 30,945 15,766
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
+ - 20,147 15,393
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky Brantford, Canada

4
+ - 27,050 14,633
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps Towson, Baltimore, Maryland

5
+ - 26,516 13,021
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland

6
+ - 19,094 13,335
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt Sherwood Content, Jamaica

7
+ - 15,382 16,128
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini Milan, Italy

8
+ - 16,514 16,707
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
+ - 17,416 15,190
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé Brazil, Três Corações

10
+ - 27,479 15,440
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
+ - 23,446 16,048
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
+ - 28,146 14,321
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi Rosario, Argentina

13
+ - 22,696 14,473
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer Basel, Switzerland

14
+ - 15,270 13,546
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
+ - 15,864 13,838
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
+ - 11,280 12,842
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe Wiesbaden, Germany

17
+ - 11,236 12,783
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Marco van Basten Utrecht, Netherlands

18
+ - 14,525 11,113
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
+ - 14,336 13,215
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lorenzo Bernardi Trento, Italy

20
+ - 14,603 13,148
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit Amsterdam, Netherlands

21
+ - 14,180 12,503
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ingemar Stenmark Joesjö, Sweden

22
+ - 14,148 12,724
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx Tielt-Winge, Belgium

23
+ - 14,414 12,807
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Alexander Karelin Novosibirsk, Russia

24
+ - 13,811 12,191
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Magé, Brazil

25
+ - 14,955 11,008
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
+ - 13,849 10,538
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
+ - 14,128 12,500
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka Luhansk, Ukraine

28
+ - 13,656 12,034
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká Gama, Federal District, Brazil

29
+ - 10,050 11,570
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi Travagliato, Italy

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30
+ - 14,245 10,541
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Oakville, Alabama, United States of America

31
+ - 13,656 11,782
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff Amsterdam, Netherlands

32
+ - 14,196 10,650
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
+ - 13,787 11,801
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Schumacher Hürth, Germany

34
+ - 14,430 10,827
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
+ - 13,638 12,038
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
+ - 13,637 10,448
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
+ - 13,492 11,765
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paula Radcliffe Davenham, United Kingdom

38
+ - 12,977 11,517
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah Monrovia, Liberia

39
+ - 13,847 10,278
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
+ - 12,904 10,427
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
+ - 13,200 11,512
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver Rockhampton, Australia

42
+ - 13,660 10,327
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell West Monroe, Louisiana, United States of America

43
+ - 13,903 10,667
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

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44
+ - 13,019 11,288
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Onești, Romania

45
+ - 13,113 11,336
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Beckenbauer Munich, Germany

46
+ - 12,715 9,987
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
+ - 12,543 10,254
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
+ - 12,417 10,983
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Brazil

49
+ - 12,857 11,301
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Andriy Shevchenko Dvirkivschyna, Ukraine

50
+ - 12,329 11,023
Zico is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico Rio de Janeiro, Brazil