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
+ - 33,257 16,447
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
+ - 30,819 15,717
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
+ - 20,081 15,329
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky Brantford, Canada

4
+ - 26,961 14,575
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps Towson, Baltimore, Maryland

5
+ - 26,429 12,974
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland

6
+ - 15,349 16,037
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini Milan, Italy

7
+ - 19,010 13,287
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt Sherwood Content, Jamaica

8
+ - 16,478 16,624
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
+ - 17,347 15,142
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé Brazil, Três Corações

10
+ - 27,380 15,367
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
+ - 23,407 16,009
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
+ - 28,092 14,293
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi Rosario, Argentina

13
+ - 22,655 14,437
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer Basel, Switzerland

14
+ - 15,251 13,504
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
+ - 15,848 13,799
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
+ - 11,271 12,797
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe Wiesbaden, Germany

17
+ - 11,227 12,741
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Marco van Basten Utrecht, Netherlands

18
+ - 14,332 13,175
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lorenzo Bernardi Trento, Italy

19
+ - 14,502 11,082
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus Upper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

20
+ - 14,598 13,112
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit Amsterdam, Netherlands

21
+ - 14,178 12,467
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ingemar Stenmark Joesjö, Sweden

22
+ - 14,410 12,770
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Alexander Karelin Novosibirsk, Russia

23
+ - 14,143 12,692
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx Tielt-Winge, Belgium

24
+ - 13,808 12,156
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Magé, Brazil

25
+ - 14,906 10,998
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
+ - 13,827 10,514
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
+ - 14,123 12,469
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka Luhansk, Ukraine

28
+ - 13,645 12,007
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká Gama, Federal District, Brazil

29
+ - 10,047 11,542
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
+ - 14,212 10,529
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
+ - 13,647 11,757
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff Amsterdam, Netherlands

32
+ - 13,771 11,777
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Schumacher Hürth, Germany

33
+ - 14,159 10,637
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Serena Williams Saginaw, Michigan, United States of America

34
+ - 13,638 12,007
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire

35
+ - 14,389 10,817
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson Lansing, Michigan, United States of America

36
+ - 13,607 10,437
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
+ - 13,488 11,737
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paula Radcliffe Davenham, United Kingdom

38
+ - 12,974 11,490
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah Monrovia, Liberia

39
+ - 12,888 10,407
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, United States of America

40
+ - 13,198 11,489
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver Rockhampton, Australia

41
+ - 13,807 10,269
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar New York City, New York, United States of America

42
+ - 13,629 10,318
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
+ - 13,863 10,657
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
+ - 13,012 11,270
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Onești, Romania

45
+ - 13,108 11,318
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Beckenbauer Munich, Germany

46
+ - 12,535 10,233
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America

47
+ - 12,693 9,980
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Brockton, Massachusetts, United States of America

48
+ - 12,414 10,964
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Brazil

49
+ - 12,852 11,282
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Andriy Shevchenko Dvirkivschyna, Ukraine

50
+ - 12,322 11,007
Zico is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico Rio de Janeiro, Brazil