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
24,412 20,223
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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
43,145 20,901
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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
39,615 19,352
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

4
19,161 23,997
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeeBob added 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

5
17,567 22,282
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added 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

6
26,338 15,387
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

7
12,791 18,262
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added 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

8
12,814 18,611
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

9
16,661 18,534
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

10
15,014 16,438
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added 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

11
33,824 16,958
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

12
36,246 16,707
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

13
13,968 14,681
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added 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

14
24,873 18,160
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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
30,926 15,440
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

16
34,052 18,129
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
age 34 LeBron Raymone James is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association. Standing at 6 ft 8 in and weighing 250 lbs., he has started ...more

17
27,392 16,027
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

18
14,520 14,499
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added 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

19
12,632 12,663
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

20
25,819 17,966
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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
17,897 12,142
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

22
16,171 11,029
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

23
16,830 11,706
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

24
16,428 11,354
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

25
16,471 11,499
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

26
15,389 11,060
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

27
9,920 12,268
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added 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

28
14,631 12,972
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

29
15,033 11,760
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
age 62 Sugar Ray Leonard is an actor.

30
10,385 13,066
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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
14,995 14,673
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

32
14,474 13,649
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

33
13,275 12,785
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

34
14,524 14,838
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added 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

35
12,669 12,054
Zico is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

36
12,623 12,217
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

37
13,131 11,274
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

38
9,520 10,229
Gino Bartali is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

39
14,751 11,033
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

40
14,521 13,878
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

41
12,359 11,736
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added 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

42
14,464 13,574
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added 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

43
13,681 11,217
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

44
11,854 11,321
Gustav Thöni is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
age 67 Gustav Thöni is a retired alpine ski racer from Northern Italy.

45
11,658 11,823
Pietro Mennea is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

46
12,236 10,377
Nils Liedholm is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

47
15,662 12,040
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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
16,754 15,122
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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

49
15,418 11,398
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
age 52 Michael Gerard "Mike" Tyson is an American retired professional boxer. Tyson is a former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and holds the record as the youngest boxer to win ...more

50
11,780 11,097
Didi is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
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