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
35,558 17,591
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

The Greatest Baseball Players of All Time The Biggest Breakout Stars of 2014

2
32,739 16,699
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
21,261 16,520
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

4
17,188 18,082
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeeBob added Julius Erving "Dr J" age 67

5
18,620 15,998
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

6
28,525 15,532
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

7
27,683 13,969
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

8
20,560 14,088
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

9
15,989 17,497
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 47

10
15,674 14,402
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 44

11
11,652 13,644
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 56

12
11,539 13,537
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Marco van Basten age 53

13
29,327 15,065
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

14
23,868 15,052
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

15
28,874 16,455
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 33

The Best Hitters in Baseball History The Weirdest Sports from Around the World

16
24,154 16,814
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

17
14,398 13,060
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

18
16,208 14,573
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

19
15,749 11,350
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

20
14,262 10,883
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

21
10,182 12,052
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

22
13,965 12,690
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

23
14,434 13,843
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 47

24
14,746 13,724
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

25
15,000 11,616
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

26
14,860 10,813
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

27
15,098 11,018
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

28
13,858 12,554
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 33

29
13,353 11,837
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 77

The Smartest Professional Athletes 80 Great Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree

30
14,247 12,922
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

31
13,880 12,169
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

32
14,047 10,660
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

33
14,841 10,992
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

34
14,267 13,198
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

35
14,441 10,451
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

36
14,205 10,517
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 81

37
12,733 10,534
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 70

38
9,276 10,941
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 74

39
13,045 11,890
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

40
12,476 11,327
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

41
14,592 13,333
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

42
13,165 10,715
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

43
13,051 10,189
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

The Best Hispanic Actresses of All Time The Best "Your Mom" Jokes in Internet History

44
12,203 10,888
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 61

45
12,416 11,346
Zico is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

46
12,933 11,456
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 51

47
12,379 10,928
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Klammer age 62

48
14,025 12,222
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

49
13,165 11,573
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

50
14,398 10,972
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Mike Tyson age 51