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
+ - 26,791 13,449
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
+ - 26,069 13,283
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
+ - 16,877 12,599
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky Brantford, Canada

4
+ - 23,351 11,976
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps Towson, Baltimore, Maryland

5
+ - 15,168 12,488
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé Três Corações, Brazil

6
+ - 14,565 13,466
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Julius Erving "Dr J" Roosevelt, New York, United States of America

7
+ - 22,774 11,008
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland

8
+ - 21,051 13,610
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana New Eagle, Pennsylvania, United States of America

9
+ - 22,876 12,361
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James Akron, Ohio, United States of America

10
+ - 12,431 12,642
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini Milan, Italy

11
+ - 26,074 12,924
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi Rosario, Argentina

12
+ - 21,232 13,022
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer Basel, Switzerland

13
+ - 16,069 11,458
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt Sherwood Content, Jamaica

14
+ - 13,719 11,727
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
+ - 14,367 12,118
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
+ - 10,081 11,138
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe Wiesbaden, Germany

17
+ - 10,034 11,095
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Marco van Basten Utrecht, Netherlands

18
+ - 12,999 11,531
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lorenzo Bernardi Trento, Italy

19
+ - 13,402 11,629
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit Amsterdam, Netherlands

20
+ - 13,292 11,413
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Alexander Karelin Novosibirsk, Russia

21
+ - 13,091 11,352
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx Tielt-Winge, Belgium

22
+ - 13,164 11,168
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ingemar Stenmark Joesjö, Sweden

23
+ - 13,132 11,244
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka Luhansk, Ukraine

24
+ - 12,804 10,911
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Magé, Brazil

25
+ - 13,324 10,215
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus Upper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

26
+ - 12,866 10,956
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká Gama, Federal District, Brazil

27
+ - 12,822 10,724
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff Amsterdam, Netherlands

28
+ - 13,080 10,855
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Schumacher Hürth, Germany

29
+ - 12,989 11,025
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
+ - 9,476 10,528
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi Travagliato, Italy

31
+ - 12,831 10,813
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paula Radcliffe Davenham, United Kingdom

32
+ - 12,626 10,617
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver Rockhampton, Australia

33
+ - 12,381 10,591
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah Monrovia, Liberia

34
+ - 12,804 9,971
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
+ - 13,064 9,988
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Oakville, Alabama, United States of America

36
+ - 12,474 10,494
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Onești, Romania

37
+ - 13,127 10,076
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

38
+ - 12,658 10,534
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Beckenbauer Munich, Germany

39
+ - 12,420 10,490
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Andriy Shevchenko Dvirkivschyna, Ukraine

40
+ - 11,942 10,245
Zico is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

41
+ - 12,373 10,377
Yelena Isinbayeva is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Yelena Isinbayeva Volgograd, Russia

42
+ - 12,531 10,432
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Stefan Edberg Västervik, Sweden

43
+ - 12,195 9,883
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
+ - 12,771 9,981
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Serena Williams Saginaw, Michigan, United States of America

45
+ - 12,119 10,250
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Brazil

46
+ - 12,381 10,413
Emil Zátopek is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Emil Zátopek Kopřivnice, Czech Republic

47
+ - 11,598 10,169
Paulo Roberto Falcão is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paulo Roberto Falcão Abelardo Luz, Brazil

48
+ - 11,398 10,244
Pietro Mennea is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pietro Mennea Barletta, Italy

49
+ - 12,476 9,826
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Martinez, California, United States of America

50
+ - 12,849 10,003
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson Lansing, Michigan, United States of America