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Top Ten Sports Athletes of All Time

Updated on October 20, 2016

Sporting Legends

Jim Thorpe was a great all around athlete who excelled in many sports.
Jim Thorpe was a great all around athlete who excelled in many sports. | Source
Jim Brown was a legendary football player in the NFL.
Jim Brown was a legendary football player in the NFL. | Source
Michael Phelps has won 8 Gold medals with his swimming prowess.
Michael Phelps has won 8 Gold medals with his swimming prowess. | Source

Basketball Legend: Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is seen here shooting and making a free throw shot during a game with his eyes closed.
Michael Jordan is seen here shooting and making a free throw shot during a game with his eyes closed. | Source

The Best of the Best

Wayne Gretzky had a successful hockey career playing for the Rangers and the L.A. Kings.
Wayne Gretzky had a successful hockey career playing for the Rangers and the L.A. Kings. | Source
John McEnroe has won 278 tennis matches during his long and storied career.
John McEnroe has won 278 tennis matches during his long and storied career. | Source

Ten Best Athletes in Sports History

1. Michael Jordan (Basketball) Jordan won six NBA Championships and many other awards during his amazing career. Jordan is the most famous and marketed athlete of all time. His skills on offense and defensively were second to none and he embarrassed legends such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird with his flashy dribbling. Michael Jordan did it all in basketball being the best at steals and the top scorer of all time during his era. Rarely in a team sport, does one player mean so much but, when things were going down hill for the Bulls Jordan would raise his game and boom, they would make some incredible comebacks and win. Simply amazing. Even though he is not playing basketball any longer, his number and his stance (where he is holding the ball with one hand and jumping) are still used today.

2. Muhammad Ali (Boxing) Ali won a Gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Games and he is a three time heavyweight champion of the world. He took on all comers and in his prime dominated great boxers in the ring they way Jordan schooled Hall of Famers on the court. Ali fought with speed, skills, reflexes and an unmatchable will that saw him beat great fighters such as Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sonny Liston and Kenny Norton. Ali danced on his toes and taunted champions and contenders alike as he popped them with jabs and yelled at them like they were inferior and indeed they were.

3. Jim Thorpe (Football, Baseball, Basketball, Track and Field) Thorpe excelled in Track and Field and Professional Baseball. Jim Thorpe also played as a starter on a college football team and in the NFL. This versatile athlete won two Gold medals in the Olympics for the Decathlon and the Pentathlon. We all find it amazing when Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders plays pro baseball and pro football but Thorpe played pro football, pro baseball and professional basketball as well. Thorpe was a true competitor and he never gVe an inch or ever showed anything less than excellence in the orts that he participated in.

4. Jim Brown (Football) Brown is a legendary running back for the Browns in the NFL. He played for nine years and set many individual and team records. He is a member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame and in the College Football Hall of Fame for his accomplishments at Syracuse. Brown was a dominate athlete but he was a team leader also who help elevate his team by leading by example. Brown has played while being hurt and bruised but he still excelled with his skills and determination.

5. Michael Phelps (Swimming) This Olympic swimmer holds several records including having won 18 Gold medals which is a record. He specializes in several swimming events including: Butterfly, freestyle, medley and the backstroke. Phelps holds several speed records and they can be attributed to his work ethic. Michael Phelps is widely considered the best Olympian in sports history because of the way he wins in the Aqua area of the Olympic Games.

6. Wayne Gretzky (Hockey) He is called The Great One and with good reason. The Canadian born Gretzky took over the NHL with flair, skills and toughness that were admired by his peers and opponents alike. Gretzky holds the record for the most points scored ons career and he has won Four Stanley Cup Championships during his 20 year career on the Ice. Gretzky was a master of the ice and he could play smash mouth in your face or glide seamlessly across the ice with elegant like grace scoring points with ease.

7. John McEnroe (Tennis) John McEnroe was a great professional tennis player during his prime and he is still a mainstream sports celebrity till this day. McEnroe has won 77 singles titles and 71 doubles championships during his illustrious and controversial career. He had a very bad temper and would often throw tantrums on the court and fight or argue with the officials which to be honest was highly entertaining. He really gave his all on the tennis court and his left handed serves and volleys were unique and remain a standard for tennis pro's.

8. Jerry Rice (Football) Rice who played his career with the San Francisco 49ers and with the Oakland Raiders is easily hands down the best wide receiver in NFL history and he holds many records including scoring the most touchdowns in NFL history, the most receptions in history and the most offensive yards ever. Rice won three Super Bowl rings and a Super Bowl MVP with the 49ers and he went to the Super Bowl late in his career with the Raiders. Rice left the sport with 208 touchdowns scored to his credit and he is known for his amazing one handed catches and tip toeing down the sidelines to catch an impossible catch.

9. Babe Ruth (Baseball) Bambino is the most famous baseball player of all time without a doubt but his stats support his greatness. He was a tremendous pitcher and of course a slugging out fielder who posted 724 career home runs. Ruth is a seven time World Series Champion and his .690 career slugging % remains a record. He remained a cocky baseball player and an even more cocky and self aware celebrity after the sale of the Baby Ruth candy bar started.

10. Pele (Soccer) Pele was a tremendously talented Soccer player and he is one of the most admired and respected athletes in all of sports. This Brazilian Footballer has the league record for goals in Soccer with 541 and he is an attacking Midfielder with miraculous looking kicks and flip kicks with the ball not to mention A+ footwork. Pele has won three FIFA World Cups and he is a pioneer in Soccer because he took the sport to another level and set a higher standard for an athlete in football.

Who is The Best?

Who is the best athlete in the history of sports?

See results

Five More Outstanding Athletes

11. Bo Jackson- Bo Jackson played Football in the NFL and Baseball in the MLB and had success in both sports.

12. Usain Bolt- Bolt is a track and field legend who won six Gold medals in Sprinting during the Olympic Games.

13. Sugar Ray Robinson- Most boxing historians rank Sugar Ray as boxing best boxer in history because of his blend of speed, power, chin, skills, and will.

14. Tiger Woods- Tiger Woods has been a top golfer since he turned pro and he has won numerous titles and his fame worldwide is undeniable.

15. Deion Sanders- Prime Time was a star on offense and defense in the NFL and he was a baseball player in the MLB too.

Boxing Immortal: Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali's Best Victories

George Foreman
Joe Frazier (Twice)
Sonny Liston (Twice)
Floyd Patterson (Twice)
Leon Spinks
Earnie Shavers
Archie Moore
Bob Foster
Jimmy Ellis
Jimmy Young
Ten opponents who got beat by The Greatest, some got beat twice for good measure.

What Makes an Athlete Great?

A great athlete not only wins but he has the ability to overcome adversity and stage a comeback win. Think about it: Sugar Ray Leonard the superb boxer was getting out boxed at his own game by the tall, rangy and undefeated Tommy Hearns after 11 rounds of a scheduled 15. Leonard showed greatness by turning into a brawler and changing his whole game plan with his right eye closed. In the 14th with Leonard down on the cards he scored a knockout win.

Its the intangibles that make an athlete special. Michael Jordan does thing's such as close his eyes to shoot a free throw and hit buzzer beaters and half court shots. Going above and beyond is a big part of a legend's make up.

Muhammad Ali Career Highlights

Great Female Athletes

1. Babe Didrikson Zaharias (Basketball, Golf, Hurdles, High Jump, Javelin Toss) Zaharias excelled in several sports most of her success came from track and field and Golf in which she was inducted to the Hall of Fame for.

2. Jackie Joyner Kersee (Long Jump, Heptathlon) Kersee was a fierce competitor who was a total of 3 Gold medals, 1 Silver and 2 Bronze for her Long Jumping and Heptathlon skills.

3. Billie Jean King (Tennis) This tennis legend won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles. King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.

4. Mia Hamm (Soccer) Hamm won a Gold Medal in the Olympics and two FIFA World Cup Championships during her distinguished Soccer career.

5. Laila Ali (Boxing) She Be Stinging as she was called is the daughter of Muhammad Ali and she possessed speed and reflexes. She retired undefeated and she never came close to defeat during her professional career.

1987 Dunk Contest: Air Jordan's Dunks

Birthplace of Muhammad Ali (Louisville, Kentucky)

© 2014 Buster Johnson


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    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Wow, these are great names in sports. I'd put Ali at the top of my list.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 years ago from Texas

      Very nice list Leslie, although in my opinion Jessie Owens & Florence Griffith should be on there somewhere.