The greatest athletes of all time: a list of the most dominant, iconic, famous players in the history of 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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- Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. Nicknamed "The Greatest," he is widely regarded as ...more
- Michael Jeffrey Jordan (born February 17, 1963), also known by his initials MJ, is an American former professional basketball player and the principal owner of the Charlotte Hornets of the National ...more
- Usain St Leo Bolt (; born 21 August 1986) is a retired Jamaican sprinter. He is a world record holder in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4 × 100 metres relay. Owing to his achievements and dominance ...more
- Michael Fred Phelps II (born June 30, 1985) is an American retired competitive swimmer and the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals. Phelps also holds ...more
- George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948) was an American professional baseball player whose career in Major League Baseball (MLB) spanned 22 seasons, from 1914 through 1935. ...more
- Lionel "Leo" Andrés Messi (born 24 June 1987) is an Argentine professional footballer who plays for Paris Saint-Germain and captains the Argentina national team. Often considered the best player in ...more
- LeBron Raymone James Sr. (born December 30, 1984) is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). His accomplishments include ...more
- Roger Federer (born 8 August 1981) is a Swiss professional tennis player. He has been ranked world No. 1 by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for 310 weeks, including a record 237 ...more
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born April 16, 1947) is an American retired professional basketball player who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los ...more
- Wilton Norman Chamberlain (; August 21, 1936 – October 12, 1999) was an American basketball player who played as a center and is considered one of the greatest players in history. He played for the ...more
- John David Newcombe, AO, OBE (born 23 May 1944) is a former tennis player from Australia who is one of the few men to have attained a world No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles. At the majors he ...more
- Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. (born August 14, 1959) is an American retired professional basketball player and former president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers of the National ...more
- James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and field athlete and four-time gold medalist in the 1936 Olympic Games. Owens specialized in the sprints and ...more
- Wayne Douglas Gretzky (; born January 26, 1961) is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player and former head coach. He played 20 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) for four teams ...more
- Serena Jameka Williams (born September 26, 1981) is an American professional tennis player and former world No. 1. The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) ranked her world No. 1 in singles on eight ...more
- William Felton Russell (born February 12, 1934) is an American retired professional basketball player who played center for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1956 ...more
- Michael Gerard Tyson (born June 30, 1966) is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1985 to 2005. He reigned as the undisputed world heavyweight champion and holds the record as the ...more
- Larry Joe Bird (born December 7, 1956) is an American former professional basketball player, former coach, and former executive who most recently served as President of Basketball Operations for the ...more
- Daniel William Carter (born 5 March 1982) is a New Zealand rugby union player. Carter plays for Kobelco Steelers in Japan and played for New Zealand's national team, the All Blacks. He is the ...more
- Paweł Wojciechowski is a Polish defender who plays for Lechia Zielona Góra.
- Kim Antonie Lode Clijsters (Dutch pronunciation: [kɪm ˈklɛistərs] (listen); born 8 June 1983) is a Belgian former professional tennis player. Clijsters was a world No. 1 in both singles and doubles, ...more
- Rocco Francis Marchegiano (September 1, 1923 – August 31, 1969), best known as Rocky Marciano (), was an American professional boxer who competed from 1947 to 1955, and held the world heavyweight ...more
- Pertti Johannes Karppinen (born 17 February 1953) is a retired Finnish rower noted for his three consecutive Olympic gold medals in single sculls in 1976, 1980 and 1984.
- Oscar Palmer Robertson (born November 24, 1938), nicknamed "The Big O", is an American retired professional basketball player who played for the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks. The 6 ft 5 in ...more
- Ola Vigen Hattestad (born 19 April 1982) is a former Norwegian cross-country skier who competed from 2002 through 2018. He is the most successful male cross-country sprinter of all time. Competing in ...more