Top 10 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 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.
The Top Ten
1 Michael Jordan Michael Jeffrey Jordan, also known by his initials, MJ, is an American retired professional basketball player.

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.

2 Muhammad Ali Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. (January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an American professional boxer, activist, entertainer, poet, and philanthropist. Nicknamed The Greatest, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sporting figures of the 20th century, and... read more

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.

3 Wayne Gretzky Wayne Douglas Gretzky CC is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player and former head coach. He played 20 seasons in the National Hockey League for four teams from 1979 to 1999.

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.

4 Usain Bolt Usain St Leo Bolt is a Jamaican retired sprinter, widely considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time. He is a world record holder in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4 × 100 metres relay... 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.

5 Michael Phelps Michael Fred Phelps II (born June 30, 1985) is an American former competitive swimmer and the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (23), Olympic gold medals in individual events (13), and Olympic... read more

This dude not only won, but he did so repeatedly for a very long time. Father Time never seemed to hit him. 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.

6 Babe Ruth George Herman Ruth Jr., better known as Babe Ruth, was an American professional baseball player whose career in Major League Baseball spanned 22 seasons, from 1914 through 1935.

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.

7 Jim Thorpe James Francis "Jim" Thorpe was an American athlete and Olympic gold medalist. A member of the Sac and Fox Nation, Thorpe became the first Native American to win a gold medal for the United States.

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!

8 Bo Jackson Vincent Edward "Bo" Jackson is a former baseball and American football player. He is the only athlete in history to be named an All-Star in both baseball and football, and one of few to do so in two major sports.

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.

9 Pelé Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as "Pelé", was a Brazilian professional footballer who played as a forward. In 1999 he was named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee and was included in the Time list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. In 2000, Pelé was... read more

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.

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

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.

The Contenders
11 Roger Federer Roger Federer (born 8 August 1981) is a Swiss former professional tennis player who is currently ranked world No. 3 in men's singles tennis by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). He has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles, the most in history for a male tennis player. He has held the world No... read more

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.

12 LeBron James LeBron Raymone James is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association. LeBron has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and the Lakers.

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.

13 Lionel Messi Lionel Andrés "Leo" Messi was born on June 24, 1987. He is an Argentine professional footballer who plays as a forward for the American club, Inter Miami CF, in the MLS. Messi is widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time. His birthplace is Rosario, Argentina.

Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest footballer ever for the following reasons:
- In the field, he is like a PlayStation. 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 out 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.

14 Cristiano Ronaldo Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro (born 5 February 1985) is a Portuguese professional footballer who plays as a forward for Serie A club Juventus and captains the Portugal national team.

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.

15 Jesse Owens James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and field athlete and four-time gold medalist in the 1936 Olympic Games.Owens specialized in the sprints and the long jump and was recognized in his lifetime as "perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in... read more

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 four 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.

16 Bruce Lee Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973) was a Hong Kong and American martial artist, martial arts instructor, actor, director, screenwriter, producer, and philosopher. He was the founder of Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid martial arts philosophy drawing from different combat disciplines that is often... read more

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.

17 Tom Brady Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr., is a retired American football quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League. Brady is known for being the only quarterback in history to win 7 Super Bowls, and was often considered one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Brady was also... read more

After the Super Bowl LI comeback, Brady won his fifth Super Bowl (most of all time) and became a four-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.

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

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.

19 Bobby Orr Robert Gordon Orr is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player, widely acknowledged as one of the greatest hockey players of all time.

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.

20 Jim Brown James Nathaniel Brown was a former professional American football player and actor. He was a running back for the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League from 1957 through 1965.

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.

21 Gordie Howe Gordon "Gordie" Howe OC (March 31, 1928 – June 10, 2016) was a Canadian professional ice hockey player. From 1946 to 1980, he played twenty-six seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL).

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.

22 Zinedine Zidane Zinedine Yazid Zidane, nicknamed "Zizou", (born 23 June 1972) is a is a French former professional football player who played as an attacking midfielder. He received many individual accolades as a player, including being named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2003, and winning the 1998... read more

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.

23 Wilt Chamberlain Wilton 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 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.

24 Magic Johnson Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. is a retired American professional basketball player who played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association for 13 seasons.

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?

25 Jerry Rice Jerry Lee Rice is a former American football wide receiver who played 20 seasons in the National Football League, primarily with the San Francisco 49ers.

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.

Best NFL player of all time by far. His records double every other wide receiver's career high. He can never be replaced. He is one in a million.

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