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
35,622 17,624
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

The Greatest Baseball Players of All Time The Biggest Breakout Stars of 2014

2
32,785 16,744
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
21,290 16,576
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

4
17,214 18,136
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeeBob added Julius Erving "Dr J" age 67

5
18,675 16,024
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

6
28,564 15,569
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

7
27,715 14,007
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

8
20,608 14,119
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

9
16,011 17,544
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 47

10
11,672 13,681
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 56

11
15,688 14,438
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 44

12
11,556 13,581
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Marco van Basten age 53

13
29,381 15,101
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

14
23,917 15,079
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

15
28,921 16,482
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 33

The Best Hitters in Baseball History The Weirdest Sports from Around the World

16
24,179 16,834
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

17
14,414 13,081
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

18
16,215 14,603
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

19
15,771 11,359
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

20
10,189 12,074
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

21
14,277 10,893
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

22
14,749 13,739
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

23
14,434 13,862
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 47

24
15,013 11,631
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

25
13,969 12,708
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

26
14,878 10,826
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

27
15,116 11,025
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

28
13,863 12,573
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 33

29
13,357 11,847
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 77

The Smartest Professional Athletes 80 Great Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree

30
13,892 12,179
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

31
14,057 10,671
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

32
14,273 13,210
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

33
14,858 11,005
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

34
14,251 12,934
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

35
14,457 10,457
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
14,222 10,521
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 81

37
12,740 10,544
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 70

38
9,278 10,956
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 74

39
12,478 11,342
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

40
13,048 11,901
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

41
12,205 10,900
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 61

42
12,384 10,934
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Klammer age 64

43
13,171 10,723
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

The Best Hispanic Actresses of All Time The Best "Your Mom" Jokes in Internet History

44
13,062 10,193
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

45
12,420 11,356
Zico is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

46
14,596 13,350
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

47
12,935 11,465
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 51

48
14,040 12,236
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

49
13,172 11,578
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

50
14,416 10,986
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson age 51