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
36,244 18,002
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
33,413 17,042
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
17,505 18,678
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
19,242 16,263
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

5
11,915 14,085
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

6
11,763 13,974
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
16,239 17,903
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 49

8
15,824 14,726
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

9
21,657 16,907
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

10
21,119 14,261
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

11
14,527 13,292
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

12
29,029 15,783
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

13
28,005 14,236
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

14
29,999 15,288
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

15
29,358 16,676
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
24,281 15,217
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

17
24,347 16,974
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

18
13,415 11,959
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 79

19
14,036 12,872
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

20
12,410 11,017
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Klammer age 64

21
12,228 11,031
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 61

22
15,990 11,451
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

23
13,944 12,712
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 33

24
12,500 11,465
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 13,853
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

26
16,329 14,741
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

27
14,446 13,993
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 11,061
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 12,223
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 13,289
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

31
14,355 11,003
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

32
14,282 13,009
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

33
15,286 11,091
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

34
13,980 12,266
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

35
15,011 10,910
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 10,515
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

37
13,065 12,002
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

38
15,099 11,721
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

39
12,772 10,635
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 70

40
14,330 10,590
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 81

41
14,141 10,739
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

42
15,005 11,093
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

43
12,435 11,429
Zico is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

The Greatest Defenders in NFL History The Best NFL Coaches of All Time

44
13,228 10,792
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

45
13,156 10,251
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

46
12,957 11,695
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 11,523
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 51

48
11,746 10,625
Gustav Thöni is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Gustav Thöni age 64

49
11,600 11,256
Pietro Mennea is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pietro Mennea Died at 61 (1952-2013)

50
12,747 10,122
Sugar Ray Robinson is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sugar Ray Robinson Died at 68 (1921-1989)