best 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
20,751 17,249
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 78 Pele, is almost universally regarded as the greatest player in the history of football. Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, Pele emerged on to the ...more

2
38,416 18,855
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Jordan age 55 Michael Jeffrey Jordan, also known by his initials, MJ, is an American former professional basketball player. He is also an entrepreneur, and principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte ...more

3
18,215 20,503
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeeBob added Julius Erving "Dr J" age 68 Julius Winfield Erving II, commonly known by the nickname Dr. J, is a retired American basketball player who helped launch a modern style of play that emphasizes leaping and play above the rim. ...more

4
12,392 15,656
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 59 John Patrick McEnroe, Jr. is a former World No. 1 professional tennis player from the United States often rated among the greatest tennis players of all time, especially for his touch on the ...more

5
12,296 15,361
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Marco van Basten age 54 Marcel "Marco" Van Basten is a Dutch football manager and former football player, who played for Ajax and A.C. Milan, as well as the Netherlands national team, in the 1980s and early ...more

6
16,178 15,891
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 47 Pete Sampras is a retired American tennis player and former World No. 1. During his 14-year tour career, he won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, becoming the first player to break Roy Emerson's ...more

7
16,823 19,159
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 50 Paolo Cesare Maldini is an Italian former footballer who played as a left back or central defender, being adept with either foot although naturally right-footed. He spent all 25 seasons of his ...more

8
14,816 14,263
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 62 Jan Ingemar Stenmark, born 18 March 1956 in Joesjö, Sweden, is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from Sweden. He is regarded as one of the most prominent Swedish sportsmen, and as the ...more

9
35,377 17,719
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 76 Muhammad Ali is an American former professional boxer, generally considered among the greatest heavyweights in the sport's history. A controversial and polarizing figure during his early career, ...more

10
13,676 12,662
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 80 Rodney George "Rod" Laver MBE is an Australian former tennis player widely regarded as one of the greatest in tennis history. He was the No. 1 ranked professional from 1964–70, ...more

11
22,655 14,651
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 32 Usain St. Leo Bolt, OJ, CD, is a Jamaican sprinter. Widely regarded as the fastest person ever, he is the first man to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records since fully automatic ...more

12
30,464 16,164
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps age 33 Michael Fred Phelps II is an American competition swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals, ...more

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13
12,511 11,608
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Klammer age 65 Franz Klammer is a former champion alpine ski racer from Austria. Klammer overwhelmingly dominated the downhill event for four consecutive World Cup seasons. He was the gold medalist at the 1976 ...more

14
22,884 17,350
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 57 Wayne Douglas Gretzky, CC is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player and former head coach. He played 20 seasons in the National Hockey League for four teams from 1979 to 1999. ...more

15
31,781 15,790
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 31 Lionel Andrés "Leo" Messi Cuccittini is an Argentine professional footballer who plays for Spanish club FC Barcelona and the Argentina national team. He is a forward and serves ...more

16
14,176 13,423
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983) Manuel Francisco dos Santos, known by the nickname Garrincha, was a Brazilian footballer who played right winger and forward. He is regarded by many as the best dribbler in football history. The ...more

17
28,998 14,710
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948) George Herman "Babe" Ruth, Jr. was an American baseball outfielder and pitcher who played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball from 1914 to 1935. Nicknamed "The Bambino" and ...more

The Best Heavyweight Boxers of All Time

18
25,564 15,534
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 37 Tennis player Roger Federer (IPA pronunciation: [ˈɹɑ.dʒər ˈfɛ.dər.ər]) (born August 8, 1981) is a Swiss tennis professional, currently ranked World No. 1. Many experts and many of his own tennis ...more

19
30,688 17,250
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 34 LeBron Raymone James is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association. Standing at 6 ft 8 in and weighing 250 lb, he has started ...more

20
24,905 17,349
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 62 Joseph Clifford "Joe" Montana, Jr., nicknamed Joe Cool and The Comeback Kid, is a retired professional American football player, a hall of fame quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers ...more

21
9,795 11,544
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 75 Giovanni "Gianni" Rivera is an Italian former football midfielder, who was mostly utilised as an offensive playmaker; he was awarded the Ballon d'Or, one of the most prestigious ...more

22
16,648 11,717
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999) Wilton Norman "Wilt" Chamberlain was an American basketball player. He played for the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA; ...more

The 50 Highest-Paid Athletes

23
11,821 10,949
Gustav Thöni is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Gustav Thöni age 67 Gustav Thöni is a retired alpine ski racer from Northern Italy.

24
15,821 11,328
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 59 Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. is a retired American professional basketball player who played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association for 13 seasons. ...more

25
15,082 10,700
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar age 71 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is an American retired professional basketball player who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. During his ...more

26
14,631 11,301
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sugar Ray Leonard age 62 Sugar Ray Leonard is an actor.

27
12,913 10,911
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 73 Walter "Clyde" Frazier is an American former basketball player in the National Basketball Association. As their floor general, he led the New York Knicks to the franchise's only two ...more

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28
12,517 11,698
Zico is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 65 Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as Zico, is a Brazilian coach and former footballer. Often called the "White Pelé", he was a creative player, gifted with excellent ...more

29
12,541 11,814
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013) Djalma Pereira Dias dos Santos known simply as Djalma Santos was a Brazilian footballer who started for the Brazil national team in four World Cups, winning two, in 1958 and 1962. Santos is ...more

30
10,280 12,584
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 58 Franco Baresi is an Italian football youth team coach and a former player and manager. He played as a sweeper and as a central defender, and spent his entire 20-year career with Serie A club ...more

31
12,281 11,419
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 62 Sebastian Newbold Coe, Baron Coe, CH, KBE, often referred to as Seb Coe or Lord Coe, is a British politician and former track and field athlete. As a middle-distance runner, Coe won four Olympic ...more

32
13,150 12,334
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 52 George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah is a Liberian humanitarian, politician, and an ex-footballer who played as a striker. Regarded as one of the greatest African players of all time, in 1995 ...more

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33
14,386 13,277
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 55 Serhiy Nazarovych Bubka is a former Ukrainian pole vaulter. He represented the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991, was twice named Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News, and in ...more

34
11,624 11,526
Pietro Mennea is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pietro Mennea Died at 61 (1952-2013) Pietro Paolo Mennea was an Italian sprinter and politician, who was the 1980 Moscow Olympic 200 meter champion, and also held the 200 m world record for almost 17 years with his time of 19.72 ...more

35
9,480 9,875
Gino Bartali is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Gino Bartali Died at 86 (1914-2000) Gino Bartali, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI, nicknamed "Gino the Pious", was a champion road cyclist. He was the most renowned Italian cyclist before the Second World War, having won ...more

36
14,479 14,371
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 50 Lorenzo Bernardi is a former Italian volleyball player and coach, double European Champion and double World Champion, silver medalist of the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996, a five-times gold ...more

37
14,864 14,209
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 56 Ruud Gullit, OON, is a Dutch football manager and former football player who played professionally in the 1980s and 1990s. He was the captain of the Netherlands national team that was victorious ...more

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38
14,428 13,577
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 73 Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Merckx, better known as Eddy Merckx, is a Belgian former professional road and track bicycle racer, considered to be the greatest cyclist ever. The French magazine ...more

39
14,226 12,531
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 71 Hendrik Johannes Cruijff OON, born 25 April 1947, known as Johan Cruyff, is a former Dutch footballer and was until recently the manager of the Catalonia football team. He won the Ballon d'Or ...more

40
14,107 13,135
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 36 Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, commonly known as Kaká or Ricardo Kaká, is a Brazilian professional footballer who plays as an attacking midfielder for American club Orlando City ...more

41
15,466 11,047
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980) James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens was an American track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medalist. Owens specialized in the sprints and the long jump and was recognized in his ...more

42
14,667 10,729
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 84 William Felton "Bill" Russell is an American retired professional basketball player. Russell played center for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association from 1956 to ...more

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43
12,201 10,104
Nils Liedholm is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nils Liedholm Died at 85 (1922-2007) Nils Liedholm was a Swedish football midfielder and coach. Il Barone, as he is affectionately known in Italy, was renowned for being part of the Swedish "Gre-No-Li" trio of strikers ...more

44
13,417 10,994
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988) Peter Press "Pistol Pete" Maravich was an American professional basketball player. He was born and raised in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Maravich ...more

45
15,453 11,270
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Serena Williams age 37 Serena Jameka Williams is an American professional tennis player who is currently ranked No. 1 in women's singles tennis. The Women's Tennis Association has ranked her World No. 1 in singles on ...more

46
14,396 10,881
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999) Joseph Paul "Joe" DiMaggio, born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, nicknamed "Joltin' Joe" and "The Yankee Clipper", was an American Major League Baseball center fielder who ...more

47
15,347 11,875
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 78 Jack William Nicklaus, nicknamed "The Golden Bear", is a retired American professional golfer. He is widely regarded as the greatest professional golfer of all time, winning a total of ...more

48
11,714 10,855
Didi is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Didi Died at 73 (1928-2001) Waldyr Pereira, nicknamed Didi, was a Brazilian footballer who played midfielder. He played in three FIFA World Cups, winning the latter two and was named the tournament's best player in 1958. ...more

49
13,050 11,721
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 52 Stefan Bengt Edberg is a Swedish former world no. 1 professional tennis player. A major proponent of the serve-and-volley style of tennis, he won six Grand Slam singles titles and three Grand ...more

50
16,562 14,942
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 49 Stefanie Maria "Steffi" Graf is a German former world No. 1 tennis player. Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Her 22 singles titles is second all time behind Margaret Court, and ...more