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
35,876 17,794
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
33,057 16,883
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
17,339 18,360
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeeBob added Julius Erving "Dr J" age 67

4
21,446 16,743
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

5
18,923 16,115
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

6
11,784 13,844
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

7
11,639 13,738
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Marco van Basten age 53

8
16,099 17,686
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 47

9
15,753 14,553
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

10
28,755 15,685
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

11
20,828 14,189
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

12
27,847 14,133
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

13
29,635 15,185
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

14
14,476 13,156
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

15
24,079 15,143
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

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16
29,091 16,570
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 33

17
24,248 16,907
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

18
16,261 14,678
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

19
15,872 11,398
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

20
13,983 12,766
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

21
10,208 12,141
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

22
12,218 10,932
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 61

23
13,380 11,887
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 79

24
12,491 11,382
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

25
14,308 10,940
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

26
13,899 12,628
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 33

27
14,436 13,918
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 47

28
15,189 11,050
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

29
14,944 10,868
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

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30
14,765 13,784
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

31
13,931 12,214
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

32
14,290 13,239
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

33
15,048 11,679
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

34
12,395 10,958
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Klammer age 64

35
14,518 10,481
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
14,266 12,961
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

37
14,096 10,698
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

38
14,931 11,051
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

39
14,272 10,548
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 81

40
9,289 10,990
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 74

41
12,753 10,577
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 70

42
13,055 11,940
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

43
13,108 10,210
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

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44
13,193 10,744
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

45
12,429 11,384
Zico is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

46
12,944 11,646
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Andriy Shevchenko age 41

47
13,200 11,598
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

48
11,876 11,137
Paulo Roberto Falcão is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

49
12,950 11,488
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 51

50
14,620 13,387
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time