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
35,902 17,804
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

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2
33,081 16,897
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali age 75

3
17,356 18,383
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
21,459 16,756
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky age 56

5
18,960 16,120
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé age 77

6
11,800 13,862
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe age 58

7
11,650 13,754
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Marco van Basten age 53

8
16,110 17,701
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Paolo Maldini age 47

9
15,761 14,563
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras age 46

10
20,856 14,197
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt age 31

11
28,779 15,695
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

12
27,864 14,139
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Died at 53 (1895-1948)

13
29,666 15,192
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi age 30

14
14,478 13,167
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Skojare added Ingemar Stenmark age 61

15
24,099 15,149
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer age 36

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16
29,112 16,581
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James age 33

17
24,257 16,914
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana age 61

18
16,269 14,685
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf age 48

19
13,985 12,775
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Garrincha Died at 50 (1933-1983)

20
15,884 11,401
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Died at 63 (1936-1999)

21
12,218 10,941
Sebastian Coe is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Coolza added Sebastian Coe age 61

22
13,382 11,892
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
RodneyBlair added Rod Laver age 79

23
10,208 12,147
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi age 57

24
12,491 11,388
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Died at 84 (1929-2013)

25
14,765 13,789
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit age 55

26
14,314 10,945
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

27
14,437 13,923
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
wolfkkk added Lorenzo Bernardi age 47

28
13,902 12,632
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká age 33

29
13,934 12,217
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff age 70

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30
12,397 10,961
Franz Klammer is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Klammer age 64

31
15,199 11,052
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Magic Johnson age 58

32
14,948 10,871
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Died at 67 (1913-1980)

33
14,291 13,242
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx age 72

34
15,052 11,682
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus age 77

35
9,295 10,994
Gianni Rivera is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
bohater added Gianni Rivera age 74

36
14,525 10,482
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

37
14,101 10,700
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Died at 85 (1914-1999)

38
14,938 11,054
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

39
14,279 10,549
Bill Russell is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Bill Russell age 81

40
14,266 12,965
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
enros added Sergei Bubka age 54

41
12,755 10,581
Walt Frazier is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Walt Frazier age 70

42
13,055 11,943
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah age 51

43
13,196 10,747
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

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44
13,111 10,212
Rocky Marciano is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rocky Marciano Died at 46 (1923-1969)

45
12,429 11,387
Zico is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico age 62

46
12,945 11,649
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Andriy Shevchenko age 41

47
13,202 11,601
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

48
12,952 11,490
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
JonathanWeider added Stefan Edberg age 51

49
11,876 11,139
Paulo Roberto Falcão is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time

50
12,714 10,088
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)