4.1k voters

Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire

Updated May 21, 2020 22.7k votes 4.1k voters 89.5k views85 items

List RulesAthletes who retired too late

Athletes who waited too long to retire for one reason or another made the choice to continue playing, sometimes for several years, when really they should have thrown in the towel. These football, basketball, baseball, and hockey players, along with fighters, were once at the top of their respective sports but couldn't quit while they were ahead. Instead they played into their 40s, 50s and sometimes 60s, and sometimes hurt their teams in the process of their denial.

Arguably, this list contains some of the best athletes ever to play in their respective sports. Professional basketball player Michael Jordan, hockey player Gordie Howe, and boxer Muhammad Ali are all regarded as some of the best ever but sadly they also come in as athletes who played well past their prime. Instead of stopping when they started to decline, they continued to compete and a small part of their legacy suffered because of it.

Perhaps the most erroneous case of not knowing when to stop is former National Football League quarterback Brett Favre. Number four played atop the league for 17 seasons, mainly with the Green Bay Packers, before retiring after the 2007 season. What followed was what was called the annual Brett Favre unretirement, a process that lasted THREE YEARS. In 2008 he played (poorly) for the New York Jets, then he retired again. A few months later he returned to the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings for the 2009 campaign. Lather, rinse, and repeat again in 2010. Spoiler: None of those final seasons led to a Super Bowl victory.

Athletes on this list prove that just because you are great at what you do does not mean you can do it forever. We feel bad for those athletes whose careers ended too soon due to circumstances out of their control but we also go sick of the athletes who refused to retire when they were old and washed up. 
  • Brett Favre1

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceGulfport, Mississippi, United States of America

    TeamsGreen Bay Packers, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings

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  • Muhammad Ali2

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceLouisville, Kentucky, United States of America

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  • Evander Holyfield3

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceAtmore, Alabama, United States of America

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    #24 of 100 The Best Heavyweight Boxers of All Time#59 of 60 The Most Iconic Celebrity First Names

  • Mike Tyson4

    Mike Tyson

    Age: 54

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceBedford-Stuyvesant, New York City, New York, United States of America

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  • Ric Flair5

    Ric Flair

  • Hulk Hogan6

    Hulk Hogan

    Age: 67

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceAugusta, Georgia, United States of America

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  • Larry Holmes7

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceCuthbert, Georgia, United States of America


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  • Shaquille O'Neal8

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceNewark, New Jersey, United States of America

    TeamsLos Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics

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    #1013 of 2,443 The Most Influential People of All Time#9 of 256 The Top NBA Players Of All Time

  • Phil Niekro9

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceBlaine, Ohio, United States of America

    TeamsNew York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Braves

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    #11 of 106 The Best Atlanta Braves Of All Time#172 of 255 The Best Players in the Baseball Hall of Fame

  • Roberto Alomar10

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplacePonce, Puerto Rico

    TeamsNew York Mets, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox

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    #87 of 708 The Best Hitters in Baseball History#23 of 109 The Greatest Baltimore Orioles of All Time

  • Kobe Bryant11

    Kobe Bryant

    Dec. at 41 (1978-2020)

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplacePhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

    TeamsLos Angeles Lakers

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  • George Foreman12

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceMarshall, Texas, USA

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  • Patrick Ewing13

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceKingston, Jamaica

    TeamsNew York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Seattle Supersonics

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    #6 of 161 The Best NBA Players With No Championship Rings#6 of 165 The Greatest NBA Centers of All Time

  • Jimmy Connors14

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceEast St. Louis, Illinois

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  • Julio Franco15

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceHato Mayor Province, Dominican Republic

    TeamsAtlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers

  • Chuck Liddell16

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceSanta Barbara, California, United States of America

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  • Sachin Tendulkar17


    BirthplaceMumbai, India

    TeamsMumbai Indians, India national cricket team, Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Mumbai cricket team, Cricket Club of India

  • Michael Jordan18


    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

    TeamsChicago Bulls, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Washington Wizards, North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball

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  • Guy Lafleur19


    BirthplaceThurso, Canada

  • Tony Esposito20

    NationalityCanada, United States of America

    BirthplaceSault Ste. Marie, Canada

  • Terrell Owens21

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceAlexander City, Alabama, United States of America

    TeamsSan Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills

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    #23 of 214 The Best Wide Receivers of All Time#16 of 66 The Most Controversial Athletes in Sports History

  • W. G. Grace22

    W. G. Grace

    Dec. at 67 (1848-1915)


    BirthplaceDownend, United Kingdom

    If Grace retired in 1880,aged 32,he would have averaged 50 with the bat when it was hard to average more than 30 and averaged 5 wickets a match at an average of 14.He retired in 1908 aged 60 with a batting average below 40 and 3 wickets a match at an average of 18. 
  • Lleyton Hewitt23


    BirthplaceAdelaide, Australia

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  • Joe Louis24

    Joe Louis

    Dec. at 67 (1914-1981)

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceLa Fayette, Alabama, United States of America

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  • Charlie Hough25

    NationalityUnited States of America

    BirthplaceHonolulu, Hawaii, United States of America

    TeamsMiami Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox

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