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
35,906 17,809
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
33,083 16,900
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
17,358 18,387
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
21,462 16,759
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

5
18,965 16,122
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

6
11,806 13,866
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

7
11,655 13,758
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
16,116 17,705
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 47

9
15,761 14,566
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

10
20,861 14,199
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

11
28,787 15,696
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

12
27,866 14,140
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

13
29,672 15,194
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

14
14,480 13,169
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

15
24,103 15,151
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
29,116 16,583
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 33

17
24,259 16,916
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

18
13,986 12,778
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

19
16,271 14,687
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

20
15,886 11,402
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

21
12,218 10,943
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 61

22
13,382 11,893
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 79

23
10,208 12,149
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

24
12,491 11,390
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

25
14,765 13,791
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

26
14,314 10,947
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

27
14,437 13,925
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 47

28
13,902 12,634
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 33

29
13,935 12,219
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

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30
12,397 10,962
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Klammer age 64

31
15,200 11,053
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

32
14,948 10,874
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

33
14,291 13,243
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

34
15,053 11,683
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

35
9,295 10,997
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 74

36
14,526 10,483
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

37
14,101 10,702
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

38
14,940 11,055
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

39
14,280 10,550
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 81

40
14,266 12,966
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

41
12,756 10,582
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 70

42
13,055 11,946
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

43
13,198 10,747
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

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44
13,113 10,214
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

45
12,429 11,388
Zico is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

46
12,945 11,650
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Andriy Shevchenko age 41

47
11,877 11,141
Paulo Roberto Falcão is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

48
13,202 11,602
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

49
12,953 11,491
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 51

50
12,715 10,089
Sugar Ray Robinson is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sugar Ray Robinson Died at 68 (1921-1989)