Sports

The Best Athletes Of All Time  

Ranker Community
Originally by Ranker Community
34.1M votes 114.2k voters 929k views 2,198 items

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, 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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list ordered by
1
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 79
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, KBE (Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈɛtsõ (w)ɐˈɾɐ̃tʃiz du nɐsiˈmẽtu]; born 23 October 1940), known as Pelé ([peˈlɛ]), is a Brazilian retired professional ...more
2
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 56
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 ...more
3
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 77
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 ...more
4
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 33
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 ...more
5
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 34
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 ...more
6
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
LeeBob added age 69
Julius Winfield Erving II (born February 22, 1950), commonly known by the nickname Dr. J, is an American retired basketball player who helped popularize a modern style of play that emphasizes ...more
7
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 58
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
8
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 32
Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini (Spanish pronunciation: [ljoˈnel anˈdɾez ˈmesi] (listen); born 24 June 1987) is an Argentine professional footballer who plays as a forward and captains ...more
9
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
Dec. at 53 (1895-1948)
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 ...more
10
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
Skojare added age 63
Jan Ingemar Stenmark (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈɪŋː(ɛ)mar ²steːnmark]; born 18 March 1956 in Joesjö, Sweden) is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from Sweden. He is regarded as one of ...more
11
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
JonathanWeider added age 51
Paolo Cesare Maldini (Italian pronunciation: [ˈpaːolo malˈdiːni]; born 26 June 1968) is an Italian former professional footballer who played as a left back and central defender for A.C. Milan ...more
12
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 48
Pete Sampras (born August 12, 1971) is an American former professional tennis player. A right-handed player with a single-handed backhand, his precise and powerful serve earned him the nickname ...more
13
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 38
← Roger Federer (German pronunciation: [ˈrɔdʒər ˈfeːdərər]; born 8 August 1981) is a Swiss professional tennis player who is currently ranked world No. 3 in men's singles tennis by the ...more
14
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 60
John Patrick McEnroe Jr. (born February 16, 1959) is an American retired tennis player. He was known for his shot-making artistry and volleying skills, and for confrontational on-court behavior ...more
15
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
JonathanWeider added age 55
Marcel "Marco" van Basten (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈmɑrkoː vɑn ˈbɑstə(n)] (listen); born 31 October 1964) is a Dutch football manager and former professional football player, who played ...more
16
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 35
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 ...more
17
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
RodneyBlair added age 81
Rodney George Laver (born 9 August 1938), better known as Rod Laver, is an Australian former tennis player. He was the No. 1 ranked professional from 1964 to 1970, spanning four years before and ...more
18
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
JonathanWeider added Dec. at 50 (1933-1983)
Manuel Francisco dos Santos (28 October 1933 – 20 January 1983), nicknamed Mané Garrincha, best known as simply Garrincha (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɡaˈʁĩʃɐ], "little bird"), ...more
19
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
Dec. at 63 (1936-1999)
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 ...more
20
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 66
Franz Klammer (born 3 December 1953) is a former champion alpine ski racer from Austria. Klammer overwhelmingly dominated the downhill event for four consecutive World Cup seasons (1975-78). He ...more
21
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
Dec. at 67 (1913-1980)
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 ...more
22
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 63
Joseph Clifford Montana Jr. (born June 11, 1956), nicknamed "Joe Cool" and "the Comeback Kid", is an American former football quarterback who played in the National Football ...more
23
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 72
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr.; April 16, 1947) is an American retired professional basketball player who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) ...more
24
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 60
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 ...more
25
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes Of All Time
age 38
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