Sports
133.1k voters

The Best Athletes Of All Time

Updated February 22, 2021 32.5m votes 133.1k voters 1.0m views1.4k 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.

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    Muhammad Ali

    Louisville, Kentucky
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  • Lorenzo Bernardi2
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    Trento, Italy
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  • Carl Lewis3
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  • Usain Bolt4
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  • Roger Federer5
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    Basel, Switzerland
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  • Michael Jordan6
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  • LeBron James10
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    Três Corações, Brazil
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    Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
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    Pigtown, Baltimore
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  • Lionel Messi15
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    Rosario, Argentina
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  • Franz Beckenbauer16
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    Franz Beckenbauer

    Munich, Germany
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    Mannheim, Germany
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  • Björn Borg18
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    Stockholm, Sweden
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  • Janica Kostelić19
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    Zagreb, Croatia
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    Larry Bird

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    Nyagan, Russia
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    Nadia Comăneci

    Onești, Romania
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