Sports
132.1k voters

The Best Athletes Of All Time

Updated January 27, 2020 37.2m votes 132.1k 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.

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  • Muhammad Ali1
    46,492
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    Muhammad Ali

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

    Birmingham, Alabama
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  • Usain Bolt3
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    Sherwood Content, Jamaica
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  • Roger Federer4
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    Roger Federer

    Basel, Switzerland
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  • Michael Jordan5
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    New York City, New York
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    Towson, Baltimore
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  • Diego Maradona7
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    Lanús, Argentina
    Diego Armando Maradona (30 October 1960 – 25 November 2020) was an Argentine retired... more on Wikipedia
  • LeBron James8
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    Akron, Ohio
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  • Ayrton Senna9
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  • Zvonimir Boban10
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    Imotski, Croatia
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  • Blanka Vlašić11
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    Blanka Vlašić

    Split, Croatia
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  • Lionel Messi12
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    Lionel Messi

    Rosario, Argentina
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  • Babe Ruth13
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    Pigtown, Baltimore
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  • Larry Bird14
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    Larry Bird

    West Baden Springs, French Lick Township
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  • Janica Kostelić15
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    Janica Kostelić

    Zagreb, Croatia
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  • Martina Navratilova16
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    Martina Navratilova

    Prague, Czech Republic
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  • Wilt Chamberlain17
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    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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  • Bjørn Dæhlie18
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    Bjørn Dæhlie

    Elverum, Norway
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  • Michael Johnson19
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    Michael Johnson

    Dallas, Texas
    Michael Duane Johnson (born September 13, 1967) is a retired American sprinter who won four... more on Wikipedia
  • Jesse Owens20
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    Jesse Owens

    Oakville, Alabama
    James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and... more on Wikipedia
  • Pelé21
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    Pelé

    Três Corações, Brazil
    Edson Arantes do Nascimento, KBE (Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈɛtsõ (w)ɐˈɾɐ̃tʃiz du nɐsiˈmẽtu];... more on Wikipedia
  • Monica Seles22
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    Monica Seles

    Novi Sad, Serbia
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  • Alexander Karelin23
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    Alexander Karelin

    Novosibirsk, Russia
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  • Paavo Nurmi24
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    Paavo Nurmi

    Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire
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  • Johan Cruijff25
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    Johan Cruijff

    Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Hendrik Johannes Cruijff OON (Dutch: [ˈjoːɦɑn ˈkrœyf] (listen), internationally spelled... more on Wikipedia

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