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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list ordered by

1
+ - 34,633 17,073
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
+ - 31,899 16,225
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
+ - 20,752 15,955
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

4
+ - 27,817 15,087
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

5
+ - 27,169 13,468
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

6
+ - 19,782 13,766
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

7
+ - 16,878 17,344
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

8
+ - 17,947 15,630
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

9
+ - 15,792 16,883
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini age 49

10
+ - 28,679 14,617
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

11
+ - 28,267 16,007
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 31

12
+ - 23,856 16,447
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

13
+ - 23,207 14,732
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

14
+ - 15,443 13,915
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

15
+ - 16,027 14,217
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

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16
+ - 11,417 13,234
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

17
+ - 11,340 13,153
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

18
+ - 14,778 11,357
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

19
+ - 15,374 11,162
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

20
+ - 14,392 13,554
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

21
+ - 14,673 13,453
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

22
+ - 14,255 12,787
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

23
+ - 14,071 10,693
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

24
+ - 14,560 10,648
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

25
+ - 13,888 12,440
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

26
+ - 14,222 12,997
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

27
+ - 14,504 13,072
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

28
+ - 10,104 11,794
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

29
+ - 13,762 12,284
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 35

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30
+ - 14,515 10,768
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

31
+ - 14,769 10,903
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

32
+ - 14,185 12,730
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka age 54

33
+ - 13,748 11,981
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

34
+ - 13,864 10,523
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

35
+ - 13,890 11,993
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
+ - 14,154 10,354
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

37
+ - 13,689 12,230
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Died at 76 (1897-1973)

38
+ - 13,949 10,409
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 83

39
+ - 13,054 10,560
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

40
+ - 13,009 11,692
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

41
+ - 14,169 10,786
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson age 51

42
+ - 13,514 11,949
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

43
+ - 13,244 11,675
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver age 79

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44
+ - 13,080 11,437
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

45
+ - 12,879 10,083
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

46
+ - 12,639 10,375
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 72

47
+ - 13,153 11,493
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

48
+ - 12,363 11,179
Zico is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

49
+ - 12,886 11,466
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

50
+ - 12,441 11,143
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)