Sports
132.0k voters

The Best Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 37.2m votes 132.0k voters 1.0m views1.8k items

List RulesOpen 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.

For more sports news and athlete trade rumors, vote on this list of sports news sites.

Photo:
...more
  • Muhammad Ali1
    46,469
    29,652

    Muhammad Ali

    Louisville, Kentucky
    Muhammad Ali (; born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an... more on Wikipedia
  • Carl Lewis2
    24,867
    16,160

    Carl Lewis

    Birmingham, Alabama
    Frederick Carlton "Carl" Lewis (born July 1, 1961) is an American former track and field... more on Wikipedia

    More Carl Lewis 

    #28 of 77 The Best Athletes Who Have Used Performance Enhancing Drugs#70 of 80 80 Famous People with ADHD

  • Usain Bolt3
    34,530
    25,755

    Usain Bolt

    Sherwood Content, Jamaica
    Usain St Leo Bolt (; born 21 August 1986) is a retired Jamaican sprinter. He is a world... more on Wikipedia

    More Usain Bolt 

    #986 of 2,443 The Most Influential People of All Time#939 of 1,355 The Greatest Minds of All Time

  • Roger Federer4
    33,659
    26,034

    Roger Federer

    Basel, Switzerland
    ← Roger Federer (German pronunciation: [ˈrɔdʒər ˈfeːdərər]; born 8 August 1981) is a Swiss... more on Wikipedia

    More Roger Federer 

    #6 of 216 The Greatest Men's Tennis Players of All Time#6 of 18 Coolest Athlete Logos

  • Michael Jordan5
    51,624
    28,801

    Michael Jordan

    New York City, New York
    Michael Jeffrey Jordan (born February 17, 1963), also known by his initials MJ, is an American... more on Wikipedia

    More Michael Jordan 

    Wild Stories And Rumors About Michael JordanRanking Every Air Jordan Sneaker Ever Made

  • Michael Phelps6
    41,233
    25,776

    Michael Phelps

    Towson, Baltimore
    Michael Fred Phelps II (born June 30, 1985) is an American retired competitive swimmer and the... more on Wikipedia
  • Diego Maradona7
    23,373
    14,197

    Diego Maradona

    Lanús, Argentina
    Diego Armando Maradona (30 October 1960 – 25 November 2020) was an Argentine retired... more on Wikipedia
  • LeBron James8
    42,971
    31,000

    LeBron James

    Akron, Ohio
    LeBron Raymone James Sr. (; born December 30, 1984) is an American professional basketball... more on Wikipedia

    More LeBron James 

    The Best LeBron 15 Colorways, RankedThe Best LeBron 16 Colorways, Ranked

  • Ayrton Senna9
    18,280
    14,670
    Ayrton Senna da Silva (Brazilian Portuguese: [aˈiʁtõ ˈsẽnɐ dɐ ˈsiwvɐ] (listen); 21 March 1960... more on Wikipedia

    More Ayrton Senna 

    #367 of 403 Famous Role Models We'd Like to Meet In Person#1 of 71 The Greatest Formula One Drivers Ever

  • Alexander Karelin10
    17,711
    15,640

    Alexander Karelin

    Novosibirsk, Russia
    Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin (Russian: Александр Александрович Карелин; born 19 September... more on Wikipedia

    More Alexander Karelin 

    #277 of 329 The Most Obnoxious Athletes#44 of 190 The Toughest Professional Fighters in History

  • Blanka Vlašić11
    17,302
    15,025

    Blanka Vlašić

    Split, Croatia
    Blanka Vlašić (Croatian pronunciation: [ˈblaːŋka ˈʋlaʃitɕ]; born 8 November 1983) is a... more on Wikipedia

    More Blanka Vlašić 

    #5 of 238 The Best Female Athletes of All Time#667 of 670 Rank the Sexiest Current Female Athletes

  • Zvonimir Boban12
    16,921
    14,477

    Zvonimir Boban

    Imotski, Croatia
    Zvonimir Boban (Croatian pronunciation: [zʋônimiːr bǒban] (listen); born 8 October 1968) is a... more on Wikipedia

    More Zvonimir Boban 

    #661 of 1,310 The Best Soccer Players of All Time#78 of 103 Coolest Soccer Players

  • Paavo Nurmi13
    17,074
    15,078

    Paavo Nurmi

    Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
    Paavo Johannes Nurmi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈpɑːʋo ˈnurmi] (listen); 13 June 1897 – 2... more on Wikipedia
  • Lionel Messi14
    43,486
    27,483

    Lionel Messi

    Rosario, Argentina
    Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini (Spanish pronunciation: [ljoˈnel anˈdɾez ˈmesi] (listen); born... more on Wikipedia
  • Babe Ruth15
    37,317
    25,215

    Babe Ruth

    Pigtown, Baltimore
    George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948) was an American... more on Wikipedia

    More Babe Ruth 

    #34 of 39 Longest Hitting Streaks in Baseball#7 of 146 The Best Boston Red Sox Of All Time

  • Larry Bird16
    19,644
    15,024

    Larry Bird

    West Baden Springs, French Lick Township
    Larry Joe Bird (born December 7, 1956) is an American former professional basketball player,... more on Wikipedia
  • Janica Kostelić17
    16,233
    13,552

    Janica Kostelić

    Zagreb, Croatia
    Janica Kostelić (Croatian pronunciation: [janitsa kǒstelitɕ]; born 5 January 1982) is a former... more on Wikipedia
  • Martina Navratilova18
    20,731
    13,597

    Martina Navratilova

    Prague, Czech Republic
    Martina Navratilova (Czech: Martina Navrátilová pronounced [mar'cɪna navˈraːcɪlovaː]; born... more on Wikipedia

    More Martina Navratilova 

    #2 of 319 The Most Inspiring (Non-Hollywood) Female Role Models#552 of 595 American Public Figures Who Are National Treasures

  • Wilt Chamberlain19
    25,745
    22,772

    Wilt Chamberlain

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Wilton Norman Chamberlain (; August 21, 1936 – October 12, 1999) was an American basketball... more on Wikipedia

    More Wilt Chamberlain 

    18 Unbelievable But True Stories from the Buckwild Life of Wilt Chamberlain#461 of 583 The Greatest Entertainers of All Time

  • Michael Johnson20
    15,260
    13,487

    Michael Johnson

    Dallas, Texas
    Michael Duane Johnson (born September 13, 1967) is a retired American sprinter who won four... more on Wikipedia
  • Jesse Owens21
    21,874
    19,303

    Jesse Owens

    Oakville, Alabama
    James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and... more on Wikipedia

    More Jesse Owens 

    #213 of 753 People We Wish Were Still Alive#12 of 60 Famous Athletes Who Could Have Dominated a Second Sport

  • Bjørn Dæhlie22
    16,632
    14,708

    Bjørn Dæhlie

    Elverum, Norway
    Bjørn Erlend Dæhlie (born 19 June 1967) is a Norwegian businessman and retired cross-country... more on Wikipedia
  • Pelé23
    29,981
    26,552

    Pelé

    Três Corações, Brazil
    Edson Arantes do Nascimento, KBE (Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈɛtsõ (w)ɐˈɾɐ̃tʃiz du nɐsiˈmẽtu];... more on Wikipedia
  • Monica Seles24
    20,555
    13,431

    Monica Seles

    Novi Sad, Serbia
    Monica Seles (; Hungarian: Szeles Mónika, pronounced [ˈsɛlɛʃ ˈmoːnikɒ]; Serbian: Моника Селеш,... more on Wikipedia
  • Lou Gehrig25
    13,719
    12,119

    Lou Gehrig

    Yorkville, New York City
    Henry Louis Gehrig (born Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig; June 19, 1903 – June 2, 1941) was an American... more on Wikipedia