Greatest Athletes of All Time

This is not a list of the greatest players of all time, although many of the athletes on the list may have been great players. This is a list of the greatest athletes which begs the question, what makes someone a great athlete. For the purpose of this list, athletic greatness is defined as possessing a variety of attributes that contribute to athletic prowess. These include speed, quickness, endurance, power and hand-eye coordination. That is why this list does not include specialized athletes such as marathon runners or bicyclists. While it is clear that Lance Armstrong is a master in his field, he has not proven that he could compete in other sports where more is required than pumping his thighs for hours on end.

The Top TenXW

1Michael Jordan

There may be a very few human beings that could keep up athletically with MJ (Bo Jackson, Carl Lewis etc. )... There are a very few human beings that might keep up with MJ's skill, coordination, and grace (Kobe Bryant, Zinedine, Roger Federer)... There are even fewer who might be able to match his mental game and competitiveness (Tiger woods, Larry Bird)... But there is no one- NO ONE-who has ever possessed all of these qualities on the level that MJ did. The Greatest Athlete that ever lived... Without a shadow of a doubt... Its Michael Jordan.

MJ is the best! There will never be another Michael Jordan. He is without doubt the greatest athlete of all time!

Mj reinvented basketball. If it wasn't for MJ, many moves, dunks, and styles wouldn't exist

Because he is the best basketball player in the world

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2Muhammad Ali

He's got more endurance, speed, accuracy, determination, and most importantly heart then any other athlete ever to walk the planet. Defiantly the best all around athlete. PERIOD.

If we were to show another species the strength, courage, love and intelligence that Man has, Muhammad Ali would be Mankind's Representative.

His passion, dedication, confidence, attitude... No doubt The Greatest... He should have been number 1... The Man had it all.. His fellows respected him. What more do you want

He took his sport to a different level. Every Nation in this universe Knew Muhammed Ali. He was the Greatest Champion Ever

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3Wayne Gretzky

The "Great One" changed the face of hockey as he brings a new era of speed, skill, and scoring touch into the game. Entered the NHL erasing almost all scoring records he quickly built the Oilers Dynasty with amazing haste. Along with his hockey sensation Gretzky is recognized for his charity work and a strong connection with the game of Hockey.

No player in the history of sports has ever come close to dominating their sport like The Great One

THE GREAT ONE. Enough said. He holds every important record in hockey. Arguably the toughest sport to play

No doubt in my mind, the Great One, is the greatest pro of all time, in one of the toughest sports of all time The NHL

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4Bo Jackson

Bo knows... And he's the greatest athlete ever. Ever argue at the bar over this one? The only thing anyone will ever say to shoot down Bo Jackson is the fact that his career was too short. But length of service is only one thing. His two sport versatility easily compensates for this.

Bo hit 141 hr in 2300 games, which is close to on pace with the likes of Mike Schmidt. That was before the pre 1996 hr derby style baseball too. Imagine a healthy Bo Jackson slugging 50 homers a season and hitting 500 home runs in his career. Would there be any doubt then who was the greatest ever to step on the field? That's not even counting his ridiculous range in the OF.

Oh, and that's just baseball. Hey MJ fans, you want to see athletic dominance? Watch a Bo Jackson football highlight reel. Then tell me he wasn't the best athlete ever. Had he focused on football, and stayed healthy, he'd own Emmit Smith, and Barry Sanders. Every scout agreed that he was THE BEST ever. Speed, power, ...more

OH MY GOSH! What is this dude not doing at least at number 5?! Not many can say that they're an outstanding football and baseball player, at professional l level, be amazing (at times) at both, be able to break a bat on your knee, oh and do almost the impossible by running almost completely vertical on the fence, and act like its completely normal! The thing is, I believe he would be #1 no competition if it weren't for that devastating knee injury, that basically just happened cause he was a combine of a unbelievably strong, big, and with a speed that makes you go "what the heck just happened? " Don't even get me started on his arm, getting a ball from the warning track and throwing it- accurate and fast- to home to get an amazing out, with no bounces from the ball! MJ, an outstanding athlete, yes, but did he excel at two sports, a big fat no. For me, an athlete myself, I try to be the best I can be in my sport, and yet struggle to do that in other sports, and sometimes even in my ...more

Not only did he play in two professional sports, but he was a superstar in both. On the baseball diamond, Bo had a career batting average of.250 and hit 141 home runs in just under 694 career games. In 1989 he was selected to the American League All-Star team and went on to win the game's MVP award. And that doesn't count Bo's "hobby" sport. Bo the football player won the Sugar Bowl MVP award, the Liberty Bowl MVP award and then the Heisman Trophy. Then, when he decided to play pro football, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry for his short career and was named to the Pro Bowl team. At one time, Bo was in commercials with Jordan and Gretzky and if it weren't for his career ending hip injury, he would still be regarded as deserving of that type of company.

If it's greatest careers of all time no. If it's greatest athlete, this guy has to be number one!

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5Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is the greatest athlete of all time, as he didn't just win a gold medal in the hardest sport, he did it 8 times over. No other athlete can match his determination, mental preparedness, or physical ability.

Undoubtedly the most amazing swimmer the world has ever seen! He dominates every corner of the sport while clearly showing the world what truly makes an athlete!

39 World Records. 22 Olympic Medals, 18 of them Gold, with 11 of the Gold coming from individual events. He dominated a sport like nobody has ever dominated any sport. 16 years of being the uncontested greatest in the world. He could keep going, but he already has everything locked down.

There is no comparison, because nobody has ever won anything to the degree he has outside of Jordan, and he competed in a team sport.

I hate swimming cause you're so prideful.

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6Usain Bolt

Another cool name. And fastest man EVER

I'd suggest that anyone not familiar with track records, especially the 100M, take a look a at what this man has accomplished ( the first to break the 9.7 barrier and a month later the 9.6 barrier) and you'll see why I already place him as the greatest athlete of the century and perhaps all-time. They say he's capable of breaking his current record of 9.58, and if he does look for it to be the eventual longest lasting track and field record ever. I'm headed for bed after reaching #16, but I know one athlete that's not going to be listed, and he may be, as many have argued, the greatest athlete ever; Mikhail Baryshnikov. The same hang-time as M.J. - 0.9. I would list my top three as Babe Ruth, Tiger Woods, and Jim Brown when you consider how great they were compared to the rest of their competition in their prime. In lesser followed sports, there's no doubt that "Lightning" Bolt is #1.

Usain Bolt is the best 200m runner ever hands down, so good he can even dominate the glamour 100m event as well. Loads more gold coming in London 2012.

My inspiration!

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7Roger Federer

To be consistent throughout his career is just astounding. And let's not forget the fact that he was the number one player for 237 weeks consecutively. The fact that he was dethroned after that did not stop him from getting back the top rank as he regained the position from Rafael Nadal and collected a total record of 285 weeks overall.

Roger Federer is Not only one of the best sportsman, but also the most respectful of all... Genuine, humble, passionate, dedicated, consistent and humane...

Federrer is Simply The Best. Both character & as a Tennis Player. He has the techniques to play tennis. He is my favourite. Djorkovic and Nadal are behind him

It's impossible to say anything negative about Roger Federer when I come to think of him..

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8Jim Thorpe

Please, enough of this MJ worship! Greatest Basketball player is an acceptable choice, but this guy has never shown to be proficient at any other sport! He was a minor league baseball flop, still has a laughable handicap in golf and has never been known for lightening speed. Unlike this one sport star, Jim Thorpe, with little expert training or equipment, was voted into the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with the Track & Field Hall of Fame! Thorpe also had no business playing Major League Baseball at first, but learned on the fly and finished with a respectable .252 batting average in 7 part-time seasons. Jim Thorpe was successful in three sports to Jordan's one, doing this as an impoverished ward of the government and enduring untold racial bigotry. No athlete came so far with so little! He's Jim Brown, Jesse Owens and Bo Jackson rolled into one. Hand's down the Greatest Athlete Of All Time!

The greatest athlete ever to come from Lawrence KS (Haskell Indian Jr. college) which is saying something since other mentionables include Wilt Chamberlain, Gayle Sayers, Jim Ryun, Danny Manning, Paul Pierce, John Riggins and others. Local legends of the man still recount tails of him drop kicking balls through the goalpost from the 20 yard line (opposing) into the wind. Winning every event he entered in a track meet after he forgot his shoes. Not to mention being good at anything he tried.

I don't know who the greatest athlete of all time is, but I think of those we know about, Jim Thorpe was the greatest athlete of them all. He won the gold medal in the 1912 Olympics in both the decathalon and pentathalon. An All-American football player in college, he was one of the greatest football players ever in college as well as the pros. There was no pro football right after college so he couldn't play until he was 27 years old and played until his early 40's. In the acclaimed Thorpe biography by Robert W. Wheeler, a camera man and photographer were on hand to watch Thorpe punt before a football game. They had heard that he could punt further than anyone, so they measured the field, which checked out ok. Out comes Thorpe. He just loved to punt. I'm going from memory, but I think they said he punted 5 times. He stood in the endzone and 2 times the ball landed in the other endzone, in the air! Two times the ball bounced for the first time at about 75-80 yards and once at about 90 ...more - lb5100

He is a monster

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9Babe Ruth

Let's be real, people. Until this guy is voted to the top spot then this list should be considered a joke! He was out-homering ENTIRE teams in an era when the ball was more dead than alive! And yes, he could pitch as well. His head to head record against Walter Johnson was 11-1! Are you serious?! And, wrap your brain around this if you can. He did all this while partying like it was 1999 EVERY NIGHT! RUN THAT UP YOUR FLAGPOLE AND SALUTE IT! Enough said.

Not only that but he was one of the greatest pitchers ever. No one ever credits babe for that. He was the best because, he could do both at just a high level, the most highest!

No one broke Ruth's home run record, to break it would be with the same number of at bats, so Aaron and Bonds with the help of many more games,162 game seasons, surpassed the record. Seems Ruth's record is really in tack Ruth played many years under a rule the fair/foul ball rule, if a ball was fair past the foul pole but curved foul there after it wasn't a homer, Ruth lost at least 50 homers because of this rule, and perhaps as many as 75 in total. So what's 714 and 50 it's 764 and that's the low number. Why doesn't baseball correct this wrong, they put the great black ball players of the past who never played in the major leagues into the hall of fame, it was only right. how about baseball going back in time and picking the MVP and the best Pitcher of the year for all those years past, also under the same rules of today, in some of those years, once you won the MVP you couldn't win it again until years later it was finally changed. Babe Ruth and others lost out of other MVP awards ...more

Made baseball america's national pastime did more for his sport than any other athlete.. This is evident when he hit more homeruns, than entire teams, he and ali are the most recognized athletes in the world, yes he's better than them all he's the best

Babe is he best

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10Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento)

All-time soccer leading scorer in history with over 1,000 goals in his career, and champion in two world cups with his native country Brazil making him the best soccer player in history over Argentinian astro player Diego Armando Maradona.

Pele is and still the best soccer player in the world he made #10 what it is now, anybody that wears that # in the soccer field knows the weigh of that # 10 you have to be the best, that means pele.

Pele has scored 1152 goals in 1220 games that I legendary compared to anybody else on this list he should be number one he is a pure hero to the world and especially Brazilians - egillaxelsson

I was looking at some of the ones higher then pele and I almost dropped dead. Some I can believe like gretzky and jordan and ali and ruth but woods and federer

This thing is horrible he should be number 4 best soccer player ever

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The Newcomers

?Antonio Brown

I don't think he's the best yet but if a mediocre player who is known for 1 great catch and has done nothing sense. Why shouldn't Antonio Brown be on the list. After all he is probably the best receiver in the NFL today

?Damian Lillard

He is the face of the Trail Blazers franchise - Htown3ball

The Contenders

11Tiger Woods

Best Athlete by far. Golf is the hardest sport to play because there is no room for error and Tiger dominated the game like no other Athlete has dominated their sport. Anyone who says golf isn't a sport is just arrogant because it takes strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, and TREMENDOUS mental strength. What Tiger Woods has done is just simply amazing.

I know golf isn't as physical as most other sports, but I play golf and know how easy it is to make a mistake. Tiger Woods is the best athlete because of all his accomplishments & is still young and will be achieving even more before he's done. Michael Jordan was great, but his name also gave him extra room with refs and getting away with stuff, not to mention the intimidation he struck into others that guarded him. Tiger has no refs, therefor no miss calls or extra slack from refs because of his star level. - PDP

Michael vick number 10!? You are a complete IDIOT for that one. No rings. No awards. 2 years behind bars. COOL! Ato boldon? Get out of here. Wayne Gretzky? Good, bump him behind woods. Golf is the toughest game... Ever. Tiger has damn near perfected it. Enough SAID.

The greatest!

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12Sachin Tendulkar

He is a person who has played under extreme levels of expectations of a billion people of a cricket crazy nation and yet managed to maintain his excellent performances over a period of 22 years and is still going strong. His careers defines modern day cricket. He holds almost every record in the book.

This guy is nothing less than GOD... He has shown me how to live life... And wt is the meaning of passion, hardwork and consistency... I bet... No athlete can ever match his hunger to excel and performing at the same level... Fulfilling his responsibilities in the same manner he had started 22 years back when he began his international career at just age 16.. For all those guys who don't vote for him because you don't know much about him,... At whatever level you adore other athletes in this list... Do learn more about him and I bet, slowly you are gonna fall in love with a true gentleman or even the first look itself...

It is not how best athlete he is, the thing that is awesome about him is how long he remained the best athlete and obviously the best batsman. He is the best batsmen in the history of cricket. He has most number centuries in ODI and test cricket. He has most no of runs in both format of the game. It is his bad luck that cricket is not as famous as football or tennis otherwise he would have been rated as the greatest sportsman.

Sachin is master on ground but at same time when he is playing you can see a whole nation taking a pause. His perfection is strokes is most adorable thing. His straight drive is the definition of perfection. His constant eager for playing cricket and being honest with game has made him GOD of cricket

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13Bruce Lee


Bruce lee is superhumanly fast, he's also extremely strong and powerful. He was one of the most committed and determined athletes to ever live. He is easily the most influential martial art master of all time.

He is the greatest athlete that has ever lived fast and furious, strong both mentally and physically. Now you better add him in the list or I will kill you all.

Bruce can kick you ass and play ping pong with nun chucks at the same time

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14LeBron James

He is 6'9, has the body of an NFL linebacker, runs like a track star, and jumps as high as anyone in the NBA. I wouldn't be surprised if he could compete in any sport at a professional level. - rmoore26

Jordan is the Greatest BB player... But Lebron is the best all round player to ever do it... Pass Magic, score like MJ, Rebound like a PF and defend like Gary Payton... did I mention he can shoot the trey and block a bball as well...?

As far as pure athletic ability, very few can match LeBron. Dude's not the best NBA player of all time, but he the greatest NBA pure athlete of all time. - Real_1985

Boss player and has amazing shoes

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15Donald Bradman

Bradman owns! Statistically he stands so far above everyone else that it is impossible for him not to be the number 1. List is biased against sports not popular in America... Also took a year off cricket once and won the South Australian open squash tournament.

It is crazy how biased these results are to American sports. Don Bradman is the only athlete ever to be statisically twice as good as as the rest of his time! And even decades later the next best averages are around 40% lower. And for your info Americans, India alone makes cricket a higher played sport than your American basketball, baseball and nfl. Not too mention the other 100's of millions in the other commonwealth countries. Bottom line is if you did your research you would find it hard to argue against bradman, whose hand-eye coordination is so far ahead of ANYONE else ever to have lived, including federer. And if you were going to argue against bradman, it could only be with bruce lee, as as a purely physical specimen no one can match him. He would have kicked ali's arse in a boxing match blindfolded, and you know it

Sir Donald Bradman the greatest cricketer of all time in the toughest sport of all time in one of the toughest periods on earth of all time. Batting Average of 99.94.06 from being perfect that's why he is the greatest to be that close to being perfect is an amazing feat.

Raw numbers do not lie - scored twice as many as any other player in 125 years of a sport played by hundreds of million

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16Leo Messi

I think Messi should be the world's best athlete for the moment. He has a blend of all footballers rated above him and his best is yet to come. His speed, ball control, and ability to trick and score are 1 of the best seen so far. Plus, his modest and non-arrogant attitude puts him at his best.

He's fast, skilled, and at the top of his sport.

Messi doesn't desreve to be out of the top 10
He has shown his superhuman capabilities time and time again.
Never failing to perform

Best player ever seen playing.

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17Wilt Chamberlain

The only big man to lead the NBA in assists. His rebounding and shot blocking I know they didn't record shot blocking for most of his career. He also blocked shots that remained in play instead of in the stands so the other team kept control of the ball. Rebounding was not only great but his ability to block other players so his teammates could get rebounds is almost never talked about. His scoring is talked about but not that during his 50 points a game season. If he scored only 27 points in one game (what's King James average last season that makes him so great? ) he would have to score 73 points to just get to his average! I know we do not compare centers with other positions or the era in which he played, but who has done it better please be specific with numbers. I know he didn't win many titles but he did when given teammates who could actually effect a game. Any body remember 1972 when Wilt and the Laker won 33 games in a row? Or 68 games for the season I know the Bulls won 69 ...more

The NBA was a different game at the time, but Wilt's numbers are still staggering. You know most of them but you may not be aware of his endurance as evidenced by his record career average of 45.8 minutes per game (and you thought I was going to use the number 20,000). Also, don't forget that Chamberlain ran track and recorded a sub 11 second 100-yard dash in high school.

The greatest basketball player of all time, books and videos are the proof of that. Nobody gets close to what Wilt was able to do on both sides of the court. Unbelievable physical specimen and arguably the best athlete that has ever walked on the face of the earth. The reason he is not #1 here is because he finished playing in 1973 and most of the people are not familiar with his accomplishments.

Because he scored 100 points in a game

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18Joe Montana


Montana was known as a limited athlete. Didn't have a riffle arm, no Tarkenton or Vick when running. If this about athleticism no. If this about winning, being the best at your craft, yes.

Confidence and courage, a winning combination. Nevermind his thousands of crunches to recover from back surgeries before quarterbacks were protected by the NFL.

Joe is the greatest quarterback who ever lived, and should be higher up.

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19Manny Pacquiao

Manny should be the greatest athlete of all time because he is the most well-rounded champion and person. He's a 10 time champion in 8 different weight divisions in his profession. He's always humble with his achievements. He's charismatic on both a professional and personal level. He's always entertaining and exciting. He always think of those whom are less fortunate in life and always uses his successes to directly help better those people and everyone around him. Other athletes maybe leaders, champions or icon of their respective team or sports, but Manny is a leader and icon for a nation and the less fortunate of the world. Manny is the "true" champion of the people. This is what differentiates Manny from the rest of all those other champions.

He deserve to be one of the greatest.. In fact boxing is not an easy sport compare with others... You must have passion for it and a desire to win not only for the money and fame but for the pride of your country... Imagine this... His heart and mind is so strong... That's what you call passion

Widely recognized as one of boxing greats and not only in sports but also in various achievements like politics, as a humanitarian and as a singer etc.

Manny is very humble and kind I hope that every athlete is just like him - rururomel

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20Jim Brown

obivously a top ten all time caliber running back (may have been best ever except he stopped playing at age 30), but was also offered to pitch for the yankees, one of the greatest lacrosse players ever (in hall of fame), good track athlete (5th in national decathalon), and could have won a national championship for syracuse if there had been no rule for not allowing 3 african american players to start for a team (Brown didn't go out his senior year because he may not have started over 2 other players) - danajs24

104.3 yards per game. 0 NFL games missed. 5.22 yards per carry. Led the NFL in rushing 8 of his 9 seasons, and the season he didn't finish first he played most of the season with a broken arm. Enough said. Greatest NFL player of all time and was so dominant in lacrosse that they made a rule after him (Having a crease around the goal). Former NFL players have been on record saying at age 50 he could still win the MVP in the NFL.

Not only was he one of the greatest football players of all-time, but he was perhaps the greatest lacrosse player of all-time too. And he could play basketball and baseball well enough to attract the pro scouts.

Amazing lacrosse and football player

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List StatsUpdated 14 Feb 2016

25,000 votes
475 listings
9 years, 332 days old

Top Remixes (101)

1. Muhammad Ali
2. Usain Bolt
3. Bruce Lee
1. Usain Bolt
2. Michael Jordan
3. Roger Federer
1. Sachin Tendulkar
2. Michael Jordan
3. Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento)

View All 101


Wayne Gretzky is NOT One of the Greatest Athletes of All Time
What sport DIDN'T Jim Thorpe dominate?
Best athlete, not best player!
Ruth. Gretzky, Jordan
Greatest ATHLETES of All Time
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