Top 10 Greatest Athletes of All TimeThis 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 cyclists. 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.
There may be very few human beings who could keep up athletically with MJ (Bo Jackson, Carl Lewis, etc.). There are very few who might keep up with MJ's skill, coordination, and grace (Kobe Bryant, Zinedine Zidane, 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 at the level MJ did. The greatest athlete who ever lived - without a shadow of a doubt - is Michael Jordan.
He is the one who inspired me to play basketball, way back in the 1997 finals against the Utah Jazz. The way he jumps high, it's like he has wings. And the humbleness of His Airness on and off the court is noteworthy.
Michael Jordan is a widely recognized athlete all over the Earth. He has achieved many feats, including NBA Rookie of the Year, Slam-Dunk contest winner, six NBA championships, five NBA Most Valuable Player awards, two Olympic gold medals, a spot on the 1992 Dream Team, and appearances in thirteen All-Star games. And that's still not all of his accomplishments. He earned all of these in fourteen years in the NBA, which is unbelievable. There were few who could even come close to matching his fantastic abilities, like Larry Bird or Magic Johnson. Sure, there are rumors about Jordan having addictions to gambling, but they are all illegitimate. Jordan even tried baseball!
He is the most inspirational and most thrilling athlete of all time. If you judge his boxing career only by its first half, before being banned because of his opposition to killing another person of color for the sake of white men in Vietnam, you will see he is the greatest athlete of all time with all his athletic abilities such as speed, coordination, and accuracy. If you judge him based on his entire career, you will see the most honorable, durable, skilled warrior in the boxing arena and outside, teaching us what is important and what is not. I think he is one of the prominent reasons why the world, and especially the U.S.A., is no longer as racist as it was in his childhood. He is the best sportsman. Most importantly, he is the definition of a man.
Muhammad Ali had a bigger impact on boxing than any boxer from now back to the lesser-known Jack Johnson. The courage he showed time and time again is arguably the best ever. His endurance couldn't be equaled by the great Michael Jordan, considering boxing is a more physically challenging sport! His speed, accuracy, and technique fall short only to the greatest pound-for-pound of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson. Ali fought Joe Frazier (3x), George Foreman, Ken Norton, Sonny Liston, and Ernie Shavers and was never stopped by any of them, showing his heart and durability. The fact that he was an activist and a BLACK nationalist at the height of his popularity means he was more of a global icon than the president of the United States.
Clearly, he must be the greatest!
Let's take a look at some important stats. He got his first thousand points the fastest ever, and then got his next thousand the second fastest ever. So, he is both the best and the second-best ice hockey player who ever lived, by an incredibly wide margin. And if you watch clips of his games, it becomes questionable why he isn't the greatest athlete of all time. Statistically, even though he leads, he should be far more in first than he is. He would often skate the puck down the ice through an entire team before making a pass for an assist. He set up his teammates as often as he could, and if he hadn't, he would be by far the greatest athlete ever, statistically.
Besides having to learn a whole new skill set (i.e., skating without breaking your neck), the Great One owns every important stat in his sport, other than goalie stats. Not only was he an automatic entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame (that's right, kids, no five-year wait), he has a room dedicated to him. Jordan was great at his sport, no doubt, but he is still compared to Kobe and LeBron. No one gets compared to Wayne. There is no comparison. People say, "So and so is the Jordan of their sport," and call that high praise. How about Jordan is the Gretzky of basketball? Truly the best and deserving of the name, The Great One.
An eight-time Olympic gold medallist, Bolt is the only sprinter to win Olympic 100 m and 200 m titles at three consecutive Olympics (2008, 2012 and 2016). He also won two 4 × 100 relay gold medals... read more
I'd suggest that anyone not familiar with track records, especially the 100M, take a look at what this man has accomplished (the first to break the 9.7 barrier and a month later the 9.6 barrier). You'll see why I already consider him the greatest athlete of the century, and perhaps of all time. They say he's capable of breaking his current record of 9.58, and if he does, look for it to become the longest-lasting track and field record ever. I'm headed for bed after reaching #16, but I know one athlete who won't be listed, and he may be, as many have argued, the greatest athlete ever: Mikhail Baryshnikov. He has 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 an amazing athlete. His primary sport is track and field, of course. He is the fastest sprinter in the world. His combination of being an athlete is well-balanced because he is good at a lot of sports. He has earned three gold medals in each Olympic Games that he has participated in. Usain Bolt runs the 100 meters in 9.58 seconds, the 200 meters in 19.19 seconds, and the 4x100 relay in 36.84 seconds. His average speed is 23.5 mph. 9.58 seconds in the 100m multiplied by 60 by 60 equals 23 mph, but it takes a few seconds to accelerate. His top speed is 28 mph. He could have been the best in the 300-meter hurdles. Usain Bolt is strong. He bench presses 350 lbs. He is also good at football, baseball, and basketball.
This dude not only won, but he did so repeatedly for a very long time. Father Time never seemed to hit him, as even when he "retired," he came back and still won more golds. Speaking of golds, he won 23 of them. Not just medals, but gold medals. He also won various other medals as well. There has never been a more dominant athlete in history. And in terms of athleticism, while he never trained for other sports, he would have been just fine if he did. His long, lanky arms and legs would have done well for him in other sports. Simply put, his body was built for sports.
Most individual world titles of any athlete ever. Most world records. Most decorated Olympic athlete. Most gold medals. And he wins by wide margins. Add to all that the fact that he made a huge personal comeback and continues to dominate well past the age when most athletes have retired. He does so multiple times a day for several days. There is no dispute. It's a simple fact. He's the best. Opinions are irrelevant. Math and logic confirm it. The most winning athlete of all time is the best athlete of all time. Simple criteria. Why are we struggling with this?
Ruth would have made the Hall of Fame as a pitcher, not to mention the fact that he revolutionized the game at the plate. Relative to his time and era, he was unparalleled as an athlete and transcended his sport and his era. It's laughable that he's only at #8. The fact is, he should be #1, and that's coming from a Chicago native who loves MJ. Oh, and let's not get hung up on body type or lifestyle choices. Jordan was notorious for some of his questionable lifestyle choices during his career, and Charles Barkley was flat-out fat during much of his career. Nonetheless, MJ is considered to be the best basketball player ever, and Barkley is in the top 50.
Babe Ruth is the greatest athlete of all time. Not only was he a great pitcher before being recognized as the greatest slugger of all time, he changed baseball forever. His only, by today's standards, miscue was that he trained on hard living and not steroids. Furthermore, he appeared to love people and, especially children, i.e., tossing balls to kids outside his deathbed window. Remember, too, he never pushed off like MJ.
Please, enough of this MJ worship! The title of greatest basketball player is an acceptable choice, but this guy has never shown proficiency in any other sport! He was a minor league baseball flop, still has a laughable handicap in golf, and has never been known for lightning 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 initially had no business playing Major League Baseball, but learned on the fly and finished with a respectable .252 batting average in seven 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. Hands down, he's the Greatest Athlete of All Time!
Not only did he play in two professional sports, but he was also 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. As a football player, Bo won the Sugar Bowl MVP award, the Liberty Bowl MVP award, and 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.
Whoever is voting on here must have never watched Bo. The question is who was the best athlete, NOT "who was the best at their sport?". Bo was, without question, the best athlete that God has blessed us with. It was a great honor to watch this man perform. It would have been great if we could have watched his career play out. I think we all could agree it would have been pretty cool to see an athlete be inducted into the Hall of Fame in two sports. No question he would have. His numbers continued to go up every season in the MLB and to play part-time in the NFL and almost carry 1000 yards when the leader had 1400 for the season is remarkable. He also has the highest per carry average in the NFL with 5.4. Without a doubt, the greatest speed and power combo. A baseball 5-tool player, his arm was amazing, his bat continued to improve in average and power, he covered the outfield very well, and of course, his speed was outstanding.
Awesome talent for sure. This guy stood out not only for his talent but also for captivating people with his skill set. I started watching soccer because of Pele and have yet to see anyone come close to his talent level on the field. He reminds me of Bruce Lee with the ease with which he played the game. It came naturally to Pele, as fighting did to Bruce Lee. Pure and smooth best describe this icon. He's number 1 on my list.
The king of the most popular sport on the planet, football (soccer for those who don't know better), was respected and admired by billions around the globe long before athletes such as Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky became superstars of their respective sports, and still is to this day. Pele should be #1 on this list, followed by Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, and Wayne Gretzky.
What an American list. I don't even know some of those mentioned. I know Michael Jordan from Space Jam, though. I didn't know he played pro sports. Only Ali could have the honor of being above this guy. Who are Jim Thorpe, Bo Jackson, or Wayne Gretzky? These are not, and have never been, global superstars. Their sports are not globally important enough to justify their ranks. This applies to Jordan and Ruth too.
Joe is the better QB over Brady. Brady has had 260 regular-season starts with the Pats, and Joe had only 139 starts with the 49ers. Joe was perfect in Super Bowls, going 4-0 with no lost fumbles and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions. That's like having four perfect Don Larsen World Series games. If he could have had 260 starts with the 49ers, he would have won more Super Bowls than Brady, bank on it. Plus, Brady has three losses in Super Bowls, which Joe does not have. In the '88-'90 playoffs, he threw 22 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.
Montana was known as a limited athlete. He didn't have a rifle arm, nor was he Tarkenton or Vick when running. If this is about athleticism, no. If this is about winning and being the best at your craft, yes.
Confidence and courage: a winning combination. Never mind his thousands of crunches to recover from back surgeries before quarterbacks were protected by the NFL.
Without a doubt, Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player in the history of the sport. But his prowess is not only apparent in tennis. His records are incredible, and they probably won't be touched anytime soon. What other athlete in any sport has dominated his or her sport the way Federer did in the 2000s? Now he is 30+, and he is still relevant in his sport, competing avidly against his younger competitors. Yes, his invincibility has lessened, but the fact that he is still considered a major contender even at such an old age is a testament to his ability and dedication to the game. He is also a class act outside the court. No one trumps Federer in the athletic department. No one. Period.
It's not even a competition. It's not about who has the most titles, or who won what, or whatever. It's about who changed the sport. Federer completely revolutionized tennis in the open era by being the first major proponent of the serve and volley, crushing all of his opponents with it from an early age. Then, when many of the best players began to catch on and use it themselves, he created a new shot: the dipper, once thought to be a very foolish choice in tennis. Using this, he then reduced the prominence of the serve and volley, completely changing the game again while staying on top. His ability to see the court from a thousand different angles and weave a point as elegantly and effortlessly as possible truly marks him as the best athlete ever.
Should be higher on this list. He is the most athletic person to ever set foot on this planet. Hear me out. I get that MJ is the greatest NBA player ever, but do you people realize how physically dominant LeBron James is? He is a human wrecking ball. He's huge. He can overpower anyone, even 7-foot centers. He can run the point guard position better than any point guard. He is the only player to ever be able to competitively play all five positions. The fact that he is out of the top 10, in my opinion, is crazy. He should be in the top 5 with Jordan, Ali, Bolt, and Phelps. He doesn't get enough credit. This man is the most physically dominant human ever created. That's a fact.
What people are clearly forgetting when voting is that this list is about the greatest athletes ever, not players in their sports. MJ, Ali, Thorpe, Phelps, Bo, and Bolt are decent choices, but LeBron is the greatest athlete ever. MJ was fast and could leap, but he wasn't nearly as strong as LeBron. Ali's athleticism was limited to a ring, so he couldn't truly show us what he was capable of. Thorpe lived in a time before modern practices, where athletes were a fraction of what they are today. At the time, Thorpe may have been the greatest athlete ever, but he isn't anymore. Phelps is the greatest swimmer, but he doesn't have the strength or speed on land that LeBron does. Usain is clearly the fastest man, but he doesn't show us any other ability (i.e., jumping, upper-body strength, agility) because of his sport. Finally, Bo, the biggest threat to LeBron, in my opinion. Bo was stronger and more talented at other sports (which isn't inherently an athleticism thing), but LeBron could leap higher, is more agile, and faster. LeBron is the ideal athlete.
Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest footballer ever for the following reasons:
- In the field, he is like a PlayStation, as the things he does are just not normal at all.
- He can dribble past the whole team. He takes the ball under control and insists to his teammates, "I see you. I really don't need you."
- His goals are a joy to watch, especially when finished with a chip.
- He is completely unselfish. If one of his teammates is in a better position, then Messi will pick him with a lethal pass.
- What I like most about this guy is that, despite being the best, he is so humble, never loses his cool, and doesn't have an ego.
I see this list is overrun by American athletes. No doubt they are great, but basketball, hockey, and baseball are all very confined sports, played by hardly 10 countries. Lionel Messi is the best player in the world in the biggest sport in the world. There are more countries in FIFA than in the UN! Football is the biggest and most followed sport on the planet. The UEFA Champions League final and the World Cup are the biggest sporting events on the planet. Considering the kind of popularity and money football involves, no other sport does. Lionel Messi is not only the best player at the moment but also the best ever to grace the pitch. Considering these facts, I believe he should automatically make it to the top 5.
Without a doubt, he is the greatest athlete of all time, as well as being the greatest footballer of all time. He has won every possible trophy with Manchester United, Juventus, and Real Madrid. The only trophy this man doesn't have is the World Cup. Sadly, he couldn't bring it home in his last World Cup in Qatar.
Cristiano Ronaldo deserves to be in the top 15 of this list. For me, he is the most complete football player of all time. He has won 3 Golden Balls, 4 Golden Boots, and many other individual awards. He has also won many trophies with his teams. He was part of a historic Manchester United team where he won the UEFA Champions League, the Barclays Premier League, the FIFA Club World Cup, and many other trophies. Currently, Cristiano is 31 years old and he is already the top scorer in the history of Real Madrid, the top scorer for the Portugal national team, the top scorer of the UEFA Champions League, and the top scorer of the UEFA Euro. Many coaches have said that Cristiano is something different. Ronaldo has worked with great managers through the years like Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson, Manuel Pellegrini, Luiz Felipe Scolari, and Rafael Benitez, and all of them have fond memories of the Portuguese superstar. He is surely one of the best, if not the best.
If ever there was an athlete worthy of the title athlete, it was Jesse Owens. At the Berlin Olympics in 1936, he not only ran for America, he ran for the whole free world against Nazi Germany - and beat them all. Hitler was so incensed that he refused to congratulate him at the podium and stormed out of the games.
Owens held or shared the 100-meter world record for 20 years and also held the long jump world record for 25 years! As much as I like Usain Bolt and admire his fabulous times, it is hard to put Bolt ahead of Owens.
In 1936, Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in Germany, a country ruled by the face of evil (Hitler), who thought the Aryan race was superior. Jesse Owens overcame all the obstacles facing him and brought home the gold.
After the Super Bowl 51 comeback, Brady won his fifth Super Bowl (most of all time) and became a 4-time Super Bowl MVP (most of all time). After this historic win, he's the greatest of all time in all sports, not just football. I've watched him play ever since he got drafted. After watching him win all five of his Super Bowls, he's the greatest athlete to ever walk the earth. He's going to keep winning more titles, especially a sixth Super Bowl. The rest is pretty much self-explanatory. Love him or hate him, he's the GOAT for real. There's no question about it anymore. You can't dream of a career like his. There won't ever be someone better than Tom Brady.
I know many people hate him, but what other athlete has accomplished so much over so long a period of time, in a sport that is designed not to let you stay on top due to the salary cap? There are some amazing athletes on the list above him, but none of these other athletes played in such a challenging and competitive system that makes racking up championships repeatedly so hard. I really think this guy deserves his due as the best athlete ever.
Bruce Lee was the best athlete. He had so many in-depth strengths. I mean, he was so fast in terms of striking as a fighter/martial artist. He had so much power in terms of punching and kicking. He could do two-finger push-ups, hold a 75lb barbell straight out for 20 seconds or whatever length of time it was. He was thrusting fingers into unopened cans of Coke, and he could open beer bottle tops with just his thumb. Physically, he was doing things other athletes don't ordinarily do. He was a martial arts genius, and he was so wise with his quotes, like a Buddha to boot, but that's a little off-topic.
But yeah, Bruce Lee is the number one athlete, as he is going to inspire the next generation and always be relevant.
I know Bruce Lee wasn't a sportsman, but I'm sure a great martial artist would qualify as an athlete. Since Bruce was the best martial artist of his time, surely he's one helluva athlete. As good an athlete as Ali, or Michael Jordan? Sure, why not? Bruce Lee is greater, in my humble, unbiased opinion.
Jordan can boast he can dunk a ball better than Bruce. But Bruce can close the gap to destroy an opponent in seconds better than Michael Jordan can, and even Ali could. But it's no big deal to me. However, a list where Bruce isn't going nose to nose with the best athletes is wrong.
If Tiger hadn't been injured for about four years, he would most likely be the greatest golfer of all time. But as of now, he is second in overall PGA Tour wins (81) and major title wins (15). But I think he could possibly be better than Jack. When he got his 71st win, statistics showed that Tiger won 30% of the tournaments he entered. Knowing how hard it is to do that against other big talents like Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, and Phil Mickelson makes it even more impressive. If you disagree that he is the greatest golfer ever, look at some of his victories. He won a couple of his tournaments by over 10 shots. Some of these wins might have been lucky because the other competitors missed some easy putts, but that was because they were pressured by Tiger. Try golf out for yourselves, and see some of Tiger's greatest shots, and you will start to believe that Tiger is not just possibly the greatest golfer of all time, but possibly one of the greatest and most dominant athletes ever.
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.
Beyond merely changing the game of hockey, Bobby Orr could keep control of the puck and make the other nine 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 won't 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. He was the Maradona of hockey, in my opinion.
I have seen many great athletes - Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Federer, to name a few. But the greatest of all was Bobby Orr. With unmatched grace and skill, he was so clearly better than his contemporaries or any players since that he deserved to play in his own league. As the great Bobby Hull said, "He was better on one leg than the rest of us." By the way, Orr won the scoring title twice.
104.3 yards per game. Zero NFL games missed. 5.22 yards per carry. Led the NFL in rushing eight of his nine 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 that 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.
I'm gonna guess many people today are unaware of him.
Granted, this is subjective, and I don't diminish any of those above. Yet I strongly believe this man deserves to be in the top ten, or at least above some currently there.
Wow. The number one all-around best athlete ever! What he did when being a hockey player meant keeping your job the hard way and totally loved to play. He owned the league and made it look easy. Tough, good, and a true idol for millions. Amazing, Chris.
GOAT of hockey. Gretzky was insane but played in an era where he was guaranteed to score a lot. Nobody beats Mr. Hockey!
He played in the NHL until he was 51. He dominated every aspect of the game. One of the greatest athletes of all time.
I can't believe Zidane is not ranked higher than Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. Having said that, I still haven't seen Cruyff here, which says a lot. More generally, how come there are so few football (soccer) players when it is the most practiced and popular sport on the planet?
Arguably the most skilled football player and easily one of the top five best players ever - genius midfield maestro with one-of-a-kind ball handling, superb teammate and team captain, countless individual awards, and of course, World and European Champion with France. Pure greatness.
Zidane is a legend of football and will remain a unique, iconic player of all time. No one could replace him. Zidane is better than any other player in the world. He was the most effective player on the football ground.
Wilt Chamberlain set the books by scoring the most points scored in a single game (100), most rebounds in a game (55), and most consecutive field goals (18).
He played for the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors,... read more
The only big man to lead the NBA in assists, his rebounding and shot-blocking were exceptional. I know they didn't record shot-blocking for most of his career. He also blocked shots that remained in play instead of going into 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 discussed, but not that during his season when he averaged 50 points per game. If he scored only 27 points in one game (what was LeBron James's average last season that makes him so great?), he would have to score 73 points just to reach his average! I know we do not compare centers with other positions or the era in which they 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 affect a game. Does anybody remember 1972 when Wilt and the Lakers won 33 games in a row? Or 68 wins for the season? I know the Bulls won 69, but they played more games than the Lakers did in '72.
I think he should easily be in the top 10!
- Took LAL to 9 Finals
- Won 5 Championships
- Smart and Successful Businessman
- Respects Everyone and Is Well-Spoken
- Very Charismatic
What more do you need?
A legend, and just think, if he hadn't had that knee injury, his numbers would have been untouchable for many more years. He is the greatest receiver of all time, without a doubt. I do feel that as far as the greatest football player of all time, he is in the top 5 for sure.
The best wide receiver to ever live. They took all of Jerry Rice's records one time and compared them to every person who has ever played in the NFL. And there were only seven men in all of history who even had half.
I have a Jerry Rice football card, and let me tell you, it is stacked with amazing stats. He is totally the #1 athlete, without a doubt. G.O.A.T.