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
36,239 17,999
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

The Smartest Celebrities The Best Heavyweight Boxers of All Time

2
33,407 17,038
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
17,499 18,677
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
19,237 16,261
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

5
11,910 14,082
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

6
11,760 13,970
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Marco van Basten age 53

7
16,235 17,901
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 49

8
15,821 14,726
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

9
21,655 16,904
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

10
21,115 14,259
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

11
14,526 13,290
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

12
29,025 15,781
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

13
28,003 14,234
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

14
29,995 15,285
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

15
29,354 16,673
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 33

The 50 Highest-Paid Athletes The Top Men's Shoe Designers

16
24,278 15,214
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

17
24,346 16,972
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

18
13,414 11,957
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 79

19
14,035 12,870
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

20
12,409 11,015
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Klammer age 64

21
12,228 11,029
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 61

22
15,988 11,449
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

23
13,943 12,710
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 33

24
12,500 11,463
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

25
14,782 13,851
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

26
16,328 14,740
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

27
14,446 13,991
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 47

28
9,374 11,059
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 74

29
10,219 12,220
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

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30
14,312 13,287
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

31
14,355 11,001
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

32
14,282 13,006
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

33
13,980 12,264
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

34
15,285 11,090
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

35
15,010 10,908
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

36
14,594 10,512
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

37
13,065 11,999
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

38
15,098 11,719
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

39
14,329 10,589
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 81

40
12,772 10,632
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 70

41
14,140 10,738
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

42
15,003 11,092
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

43
12,434 11,427
Zico is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

The Most Obnoxious Athletes The Best Soccer Goalies of All Time

44
13,227 10,791
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

45
13,155 10,250
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

46
12,956 11,693
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Andriy Shevchenko age 41

47
12,977 11,522
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 51

48
12,747 10,120
Sugar Ray Robinson is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sugar Ray Robinson Died at 68 (1921-1989)

49
13,221 11,637
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

50
11,676 10,627
Didi is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Didi Died at 73 (1928-2001)