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 JordanMichael Jeffrey Jordan, also known by his initials, MJ, is an American retired professional basketball player.

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

He could be at the other person goal and make a shot

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2Muhammad AliMuhammad Ali was an American former professional boxer. He was generally considered among the greatest heavyweights in the history of the sport.

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

Simply the greatest.

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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

Dominated his sport like no one else.

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4Usain BoltUsain St. Leo Bolt is a Jamaican sprinter. Regarded as the fastest person ever timed, he is the first man to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records since fully automatic time measurements became mandatory in 1977. Along with his teammates, he also set the world record in the 4×100 metres ...read more.

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.

Usain bolt he is one man army in world. I love you so much

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5Bo 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.

How is this even a debate? This isn't about who was best at their respective sport. This is about the best athlete. The answer is Bo and it's not even close.

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6Michael PhelpsMichael Fred Phelps II is an American competition swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals in three Olympiads.

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.

He is not merely a medalist, he is a beautiful person inside out. He is a mirror of living a dream, and work hard for it. He brings inspiration and motivations.

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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

The best influence as athlete of all history, impeccable!

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8Babe 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 Ruth is the greatest athlete of all time in any sport. Period. Once you study the statistics he put up compared to every other PROFESSIONAL who has played the game, you'll be convinced. It's not even close.

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9Jim 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.

Don't get me wrong, Gretzky, Jordan, Ali, and Phelps are all great at their chosen sport, and each of them could claim the top spot on a list of greatest hockey players, basketball players, greatest boxers, and greatest swimmers of all time. However, if this is a list of all time greatest athletes then Jim Thorpe undeniably takes 1st place. This guy played football, baseball, basketball, competed and won in worldclass athletics competitions, and won two Olympic gold medals in what are arguably the toughest sports contested at the Olympics, the pentathlon and decathlon. To this day we still say the olympic gold medal winner of the men's decathalon is the greatest athlete of the time. The same way we say that the Olympic gold medal winner of the men's 100m race, Ussain Bolt, is the fastest man on earth of the time. No disrespect to the Gretzky's, Jordan's, and Bolt's of the world, but their records will be broken as they broke the records of their predecessors. Thorpe, on the other ...more

Complete athlete... Head to toe... At EVERYTHING! SHOULD BE #1

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10Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento)Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pelé, is a retired Brazilian professional footballer who played as a forward.

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

Simply the best. No more comments

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The Newcomers

?Asafa Powell
?Mark Spitz

In the 1972 Summer Olympics Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in swimming and set seven new world records. A feat only surpassed by Michael Phelps in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

He dominated men's swimming in the late 60's and early 70's in ways never seen before. I believe that he was listed the Guinness Book of World Records on several occasions.

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The Contenders

11Tiger WoodsEldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods is an American professional golfer who is among the most successful golfers of all time.

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

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.

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.

I think he is very inspirational and in that picture he actually looks like a tiger

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12Leo 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

He is great greater greatest

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13LeBron JamesLeBron Raymone James is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association.

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

Favorite basketball player

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14Sachin TendulkarSachin Ramesh Tendulkar is a former Indian cricketer and captain, widely regarded as one of the greatest batsmen of all time.

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.

Because he deserves it

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15Bruce LeeBruce Lee was a Hong Kong American martial artist, action film actor, martial arts instructor, philosopher, filmmaker, and the founder of Jeet Kune Do.

WHEN YOU SAY WHO IS THE GREATEST ATHLETE OF ALL TIME IT IS BRUCE LEE. WHO ELSE DO KNOW THAT CAN DO 50 ONE ARM PULL UPS IN A ROW WITHOUT STOPING. CAN SOMEONE TELL ME WHY MICHAEL JORDAN IS NUMBER 1 WHEN ALL HE IS MOST POPULAR FOR IS DUNKS. KNOW THINK ABOUT IT HE DOESN'T HAVE THE MOST RINGS, THE MOST POINTS AND OTHER MOST EITHER I'M NOT SAYING WHETHER HE IS THE BEST OR NOT I'M JUST SAYING HE MIGHT BE THE BEST ATHLETE IN BASKETBALL BUT NOT EVER. BRUCE LEE NOT ONLY IS BEST ATHLETE BUT THE SMARTEST TO, HIS IQ WHICH IS 200 IS THE HIGHEST OUT OF ALL OF THESE GUYS ON THIS LIST. I JUST CAN'T BELIEVE BRUCE LEE IS NUMBER 16 ON THIS LIST, THIS LIST IS A JOKE. WHO ELSE CAN SEND SOMEONE FAR BACK FROM A ONE INCH PUNCH. Their IS A LOT MORE TO BE SAID BUT MJ REALLY IS AT THE TOP BECAUSE THE NBA IS THE MOST POPULAR SPORT OF THEM ALL, JUST LOOK AT THE VIDEO GAME SELLING FOR NBA. MJ COULD BARELY DUNK FROM THE ENTIRE FREE THROW LINE AND IS YOU GO YOUTUBE AND SEE SERGE IBAKA HE IS THE ON NBA PLAYER WHO ...more

135 Lbs, and he can kick a 300 lb heavy bag to the ceiling. He has a national China championship in Boxing, and knows multiple martial arts (Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, etc etc etc.) he started and mastered fundamentals for Jiu Jitsu, and made his own, called Jeet Kune Do. Chuck Norris admitted Bruce was physically superior and far more skilled as well, note that Chuck Norris has a Black belt in Judo, a 3rd degree black belt in Jiu Jitsu, 5th in Karate, 8th in Tae Kwon Do, 9th in Tang so Do, and 10th in Chun Kuk Do. Chuck also is a 6-time karate world champion, and was also in the military acquiring 5 medals. Most people that weigh 135 can barely move a 300 pound heavy bag (strength). Bruce Lee does the Dragon Flag with ease (strength), one finger pushups (strength), plays ping pong with nunchucks at a pro level (awareness, and concentration), and can do 50 one arm pullups like its no big deal (strength, and endurance) and can kill a man with a punch from only a inch away. Bruce Lee when ...more

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.

Not a sportsman, per say, but undoubtedly an athlete. Scientifically studied for his unprecedented muscular symmetry, Bruce was know for unparalleled speed and precision.

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16Joe MontanaJoseph Clifford "Joe" Montana, Jr., nicknamed Joe Cool and The Comeback Kid, is a retired American football quarterback.

THERE ARE ONLY TWO NFL QUARTERBACKS WHO HAVE WON 4 SUPER BOWLS JOE MONTANA IS ONE OF THEM

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.

He is AWESOME should be fourth after lebron james

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17Donald 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.

Without him nothing

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18Wilt ChamberlainWilton Norman "Wilt" Chamberlain was an American basketball player . He was born on August 21, 1936 in Philadelphia and died on October 12, 1999 in Los Angeles due to heart failure . ...read more.

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.

Nobody could score like him in his day. He scored 100 points in a game and once averaged 50.4 points a game for an entire season. The greatest combinations of rebounding and scoring the NBA has ever seen.

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19Jim 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.

Jim Brown should be in the top 5 Greatest of All Time...

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20Bobby Orr

Beyond merely changing the game of hockey, Bobby Orr could keep control of the puck and make the other 9 players on the ice look like idiotic little kids. no one had seen that before, or since, not even in Gretzky. His +/- record of +124 wont be broken in the next 50 years, possibly ever. He simply dominated every game, end to end, that he ever played, and often on only one good knee. no one could touch him. The maradona of hockey in my opinion.

Watching Bobby Orr on an end-to-end rush was a sight to behold. He even won the scoring title one year, as a defenseman! I can't think of any comparable feat in any sport. Bobby Orr revolutionized the game of hockey. He had the artistry of Roger Federer and the grit and toughness of Rafael Nadal. As a Montreal Canadiens fan, I've seen a lot of great players, going back to Rocket Richard. None could compare with Bobby Orr.

Watching this guy was an event. I have yet to see a hockey player enhance this game like this man did. Today our kids play this game with superior skates/equipment than dreamed of at that time. Still watch his acceleration, his puck control.

Who is Bobby Orr? Outside of America he is a nobody. May as well have called this list the greatest American Sportsmen of all time.

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