The 50 Greatest Athletes of All Time

(Last Updated On: September 29, 2022)

In any sport, there are always great athletes. Those who dominate their competition and make it look easy. Here are 25 of the best athletes in history, regardless of sport.

They come from all different backgrounds and have achieved incredible things. Whether you’re a fan of athletics or not, these stories are sure to entertain and amaze you. Without further ado, let’s get started!

 

The 50 Greatest Athletes of All Time

The greatest athletes in history. This list is based on individual sports, overall athletic ability, professional accomplishments, and other factors.

#50 Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

Arguably one of the greatest soccer players of all time, Zidane was a French midfielder who played for several top clubs, including Juventus and Real Madrid. He was known for his superb technical skills and elegant style of play. Zidane was a part of the French national team that won the World Cup in 1998, and he was named the FIFA World Player of the Year three times.

 

#49 Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw is a retired New Zealand rugby union player. He captained the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, for more than 10 years. He is the most capped rugby union player of all time, with 148 caps. McCaw was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2018.

 

#48 Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is an Argentine soccer player. He plays for FC Barcelona and the Argentine national team. Messi is considered to be one of the best soccer players of all time. He has won the FIFA Ballon d’Or a record six times.

Fun Fact: Messi had a deficiency in a growth hormone, which was stopping his normal growth rate at the young age of 11.

 

#47 Sir Don Bradman

Most Americans know nothing about the sport of Cricket so i am sure you have never heard of him but Sir Don Bradman was an Australian cricketer who is widely regarded as the greatest batsman of all time. He played for Australia in Test matches from 1928 to 1948 and compiled a batting average of 99.94, which is still a world record.




 

#46 Tony Hawk

Tony Hawk is a professional skateboarder who is considered one of the greatest of all time and nothing less than a legend. He is best known for his innovations in the sport, including the first successful 900-degree spin on a skateboard. Hawk has won multiple championships and X-Games medals and has his own line of successful skateboarding products.

Fun Fact: Tony Hawk’s net worth is around $140 million. Not too shabby.

 

#45 Barry Sanders

Barry sanders

Barry is my favorite running back of all time. He was shifty and could make people miss and change directions like no one before him or since. He played for the Detroit Lions and is considered one of the greatest running backs of all time (many people, including me think he was the best ever). He was a ten-time Pro Bowler and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. Just imagine what he would have done if he weren’t stuck on the Lions his entire career.

 

#43 Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a retired American track and field athlete who specializes in the heptathlon and the long jump. She is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time, and she holds the world record in the heptathlon. Joyner-Kersee won three Olympic gold medals and four World Championships, and she was named the USA Track & Field Athlete of the Year multiple times.




 

#42 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a retired American basketball player. He played for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers, winning six NBA championships. Abdul-Jabbar was a prolific scorer and an excellent rebounder, and he was named the NBA MVP six times. He also has the NBA record for the most points scored in a career with 38,387.

 

Related: The 50 Greatest Basketball Players of All Time

 

#41 Mia Hamm

Mia Hamm

Mia Hamm is a retired American soccer player. She played for the United States women’s national team from 1987 to 2004, winning two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal. Hamm was a prolific scorer and an excellent dribbler, and she is widely considered one of the greatest players in the history of women’s soccer.

Fun fact: Mia is married to professional baseball player Nomar Garciaparra.

 

#40 Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is an American boxer who is considered one of the greatest ever. He has won multiple world championships and has a perfect professional record of 49-0. Mayweather is known for his speed, accuracy, and defense, and he has been named “Fighter of the Year” multiple times. Many people don’t like him personally, and his style of fighting was not the most exciting, but he was never beaten, and his greatness can’t be denied.

 

#39 Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a retired American track and field athlete who specializes in the 400-meter dash and the 200-meter dash. He is the only man to hold both world records at the same time, and he also won four Olympic gold medals. Johnson was a dominant force in his events, and he was named “World Athlete of the Year” four times.

 

#38 Nadia Comăneci

Nadia Comăneci

Nadia Comăneci is a retired Romanian gymnast. She was the first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10 at the Olympic Games, and she went on to win three gold medals. Comăneci was a pioneering athlete in her sport, and she helped popularize gymnastics around the world.

 

# 37 Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play Major League Baseball, and he did so with grace and dignity. He was an excellent player, and he was named the Rookie of the Year in 1947. Robinson faced immense racism and adversity throughout his career, but he persevered and became a symbol of hope for millions of people. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

 

#36 Dan Gable

Dan Gable

Dan Gable is a retired American wrestler. He won Olympic gold in 1972 without having a single point scored against him at the entire Olympics. He also went 117-1 in his college career. Gable was also head wrestling coach at the University of Iowa from 1976 to 1997, His teams won 21 Big Ten Conference championships and 15 NCAA Division I titles, along with countless All-Americans and individual champions. He also coached 3 Olympic teams and 6 World teams.

 




 

#35 Joe Montana

Joe Montana is a retired American football player. He played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers from 1979 to 1992 and for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1993 to 1994. Montana helped lead the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

 

#34 Ted Williams

greatest athletes

Ted Williams was an American baseball player. He played his entire 19-year career for the Boston Red Sox, and he is considered one of the greatest hitters of all time and is the last player to hit over .400 for a season back in1941. Williams had a batting average of .344 and hit 521 home runs. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.

Fun Fact: Ted Williams was so good that his family had his head cryogenically frozen when he died, hoping that someday science could bring him back to life.

 

#33 Walter Payton

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Walter Payton was an American football player. He played for the Chicago Bears from 1975 to 1987, and he is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards. Payton was a bruising runner who was also known for his exceptional ability as a receiver and blocker. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

 

#32 Bill Russell

Bill Russell is a retired American basketball player. He played for the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969, and he is widely considered one of the greatest players in National Basketball Association history. Russell was an excellent defensive player, and he helped lead the Celtics to an incredible 11 NBA championships. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.

 

#31 Christiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo

Christiano Ronaldo is a Portuguese soccer player. He currently plays for the Spanish club Real Madrid, and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest players in the world. Ronaldo has an incredible scoring record, and he has won numerous individual awards. He was named the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2008.

 

#30 Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice is a retired American football player. He played wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers from 1985 to 2000, then with Oakland and Seattle before retiring in 2004. He is widely considered to be the greatest receiver to ever play the game. Rice was incredibly productive, and he holds numerous NFL records. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

 

#29 Micheal Vick

best athletes ever

Micheal Vick is a retired American football player. He played quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons from 2001 to 2006, then with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2009 to 2013. Vick was a dynamic and elusive runner and the first quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He also holds the record for the most career rushing yards by a quarterback. Vick was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

Fun Fact: The Colorado Rockies selected Micheal Vick in the 30th round of the 2000 MLB draft.

 

#28 Roger Federer

Roger Federer is a Swiss tennis player. He is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, and he has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles, which is the most in history for a male player. Federer is widely considered to be one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He has won numerous awards and he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016.




 

#27 Bobby Orr

Bobby Orr is a retired Canadian hockey player. He played for the Boston Bruins from 1966 to 1976 and is widely considered one of the greatest defensemen ever. Orr revolutionized his position, and he was an exceptional offensive player as well. He helped lead the Bruins to two Stanley Cup championships in the National Hockey League and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.

 

#26 Wilt Chamberlin

Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlin was an American basketball player. He played for the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. Chamberlin scored over 100 points in a game, and he holds numerous NBA records. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. Wilt had legendary athletic prowess and legendary prowess in other areas.

 

#25 Willie Mays

Willie Mays was an American baseball player. He played for the New York/San Francisco Giants from 1951 to 1972. Mays was an exceptional all-around player and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. He won 12 Gold Glove Awards in center field. He led the league in home runs four times, stolen bases four times, slugging percentage five times, total bases three times and triples three times. Not too shabby.

 

#24 Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods is an American golfer. He has been one of the most successful and popular golfers of all time. Woods has won 14 major championships, which is second only to Jack Nicklaus. He has also won numerous other awards and accolades. He has also made news off the golf course when he crashed his car in 2009 after a highly publicized affair.

Fun Fact: Tiger’s current girlfriend is Erica Herman. They met when she was managing one of Tiger’s restaurants. They have been together since 2017.

 

#23 Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson is a retired American basketball player. He played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1979 to 1991. Johnson was a 6’9″ tall point guard, which was very rare at the time. He helped lead the Lakers to five NBA championships and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

 

#22 Mike Tyson

Iron Mike was an absolute beast in the ring in the 1990s. His punching power was terrifying, and he was a knockout machine. Tyson was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world at one point, and he will always be remembered as one of the greatest. He will also be remembered for biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a fight. Ouch.

 

#21 Babe Didrikson Zaharias

You likely have never heard of Bade Didrikson Zaharias, but she was an incredible athlete in the early 1900s. She competed in track and field, basketball, and golf. She won two gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Olympics, and she is considered one of the greatest golfers of all time. Zaharias was inducted into several Halls of Fame, including the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Museum and the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

 

#20 Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova is a retired Czech tennis player. Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major women’s doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 major mixed doubles titles. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.




 

#19 Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth was an American baseball player. He played for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Boston Braves. He was an outstanding home run hitter as well as a great pitcher who had 23 Wins and 170 Strikeouts, with a 1.75 ERA, 9 Shutouts and 23 Complete Games. Ruth is considered to be one of the best baseball players of all time. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.

 

#18 Carl Lewis

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Carl Lewis is a retired American track and field athlete. He won nine Olympic gold medals, eight of which were in individual events. He is one of only three Olympians to win four gold medals in a single Olympic Games (the other two are Jesse Owens and Michael Phelps). Lewis was inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2012.

Fun Fact: Carl Lewis was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys as a wide receiver in the 12th round.

 

#17 Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus is a retired American golfer. He won 18 major championships, which is more than any other golfer in history. Nicklaus is considered to be one of the best golfers of all time, if not the best. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

 

#16 Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona was an Argentine soccer player. He was known for his ability to control the ball and create scoring opportunities for himself and his teamates. He led club teams to championships in Argentina, Italy, and Spain, and he starred on the Argentine national team that won the 1986 World Cup.

 

#15 Tom Brady

Tom Brady is an American football player. He played quarterback for the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady has led the Patriots and Bucs to seven Super Bowl victories (6 for the Patriots and 1 for the Bucs). He has also been named the Super Bowl MVP five times. He is regarded as the best quarterback to ever play the game.

 

#14 Aleksandr Karelin

There’s no way we could leave the Russian Bear off of this list. He was a Russian Greco-Roman wrestler who competed in the heavyweight division. He won three Olympic gold medals and nine World Championships, and he went undefeated for 13 years. Karelin is widely considered the greatest wrestler of all time.

 

#13 Lebron James

Lebron James is an American basketball player. He has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers. He is a three-time NBA Finals MVP and a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player. He also has the second highest point total for a career behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. James is widely considered to be one of the best basketball players of all time.




 

#12 Venus Williams

Venus Williams is an American tennis player. She has won seven Grand Slam singles titles and 14 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles (an all-time record). She has also been ranked World No. 1 in singles and doubles. Williams was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016.

 

#11 Jesse Owens

Jessie Owens

Jesse Owens is an American track and field athlete who specializes in sprints and the long jump. He won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, which was an incredible feat considering the racial tensions at the time. Owens set multiple world records and was considered one of the greatest athletes of his generation.

 

#10 Jim Brown

Jim Brown is a retired American football player. He played running back for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965. Brown was a superb all-around athlete who excelled in track and field as well as football. He is considered to be one of the best football players of all time. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

 

#9 Pele

Pele is a retired Brazilian soccer player. He is considered to be the greatest soccer player of all time. Pele scored 1,283 first-class goals, including 77 for Brazil. He is the only soccer player to have won three World Cups.

 

#8 Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe was an American track and field athlete. He was an Olympic gold medalist in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. Thorpe was also a talented football player, baseball player, and golfer. He is considered to be one of the best all-around athletes of all time.

 

#7 Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is a retired Jamaican track and field athlete. He is considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time. He won nine Olympic gold medals, including three in the 100-meter dash, three in the 200-meter dash, and two in the 4×100-meter relay. He is the world record holder in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the 4×100-meter relay.

Fun Fact: Usain Bolt estimated he ate around 1000 chicken nuggets during the Beijing Olympics.

 

#6 Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky is a retired Canadian hockey player. He played for the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, and New York Rangers. Gretzky is widely considered to be the best hockey player of all time. He holds or shares 61 NHL records, including most goals (894), most assists (1,963), and most points (2,857). He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.

 

Related: The 13 Sports Require the Most Athleticism

Related: Top 15 Sports With The Fittest Athletes

Related: The Most Jacked Track Athletes of All Time

 

#5 Muhamid Ali

Muhamid Ali was an American boxer. He was the world heavyweight boxing champion three times. He is considered to be one of the best boxers of all time. He was also known for his political and social activism, including his opposition to the Vietnam War.

 

#4 Michael Phelps

fit swimmer

 

Micheal Phelps is someone I considered for the top spot on this list. He is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time with a mind-blowing 28 Olympic medals, 23 gold. The second place person isn’t even close and that’s Larisa Latynina, a Russian Gymnast from the 1960’s you have likely never heard of. Phelps is a true legend and will go down as one of the best athletes ever.

 

#3 Michael Jordan

greatest athlete

Many of these lists have Michael Jordan at the top, which I can’t argue with at all. He is the greatest basketball player of all time in my opinion. He was a 6-time NBA Champion and had 6 Finals MVPs, 10-time All-NBA First Team, Defensive Player of the Year, 14-time NBA All-Star, and many more. He also has some impressive business ventures like the Jordan Brand (which is worth over $3 billion) and is the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets.




 

#2 Deion Sanders

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It’s pretty hard for me to believe that most of these lists don’t even include “Neon” Deion Sanders. He is one of the best athletes of all time, hands down. Not only was he an incredible NFL player (8-time Pro Bowler, 6-time All-Pro), but he was also a tremendous Major League Baseball player. In fact, he is the only person to ever play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series! He was also a track star in college. Oh, and he also played basketball in high school. The guy was just a true athlete, and no one else was like him.

 

#1 Bo Jackson

greatest athlete ever

Bo Jackson is the best athlete of all time. He was an All-Star in both Major League Baseball and the National Football League. He is the only person to be named an All-Star in two different professional sports. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1985 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Jackson was also a talented track and field athlete. And who can’t remember him snapping baseball bats over his knee like toothpicks when he would strike out. God knows what he would have accomplished if his career hadn’t been cut short by injury. Bo Jackson is the best athlete of in sports history, period.

(Sorry it’s just baseball highlights, the NFL doesn’t let you share their Youtube videos)

Conclusion

So, there you have it. Our take on the 50 greatest athletes of all time. It was no easy task narrowing it down to just 50, and we’re sure that many of you will disagree with our picks. But that’s what makes sports so great – everyone has their own opinion and can argue until they’re blue in the face about who should or shouldn’t be on this list. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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John
John
September 6, 2022 1:12 am

How do you have Mike Vick in the list but no Peyton Manning? Peyton was 100% a much better QB than Vick ever was and ever could be.

Ssgtjmcook
Ssgtjmcook
August 25, 2022 5:31 pm

1st and 2nd should be Bo Jackson and Jim Thorpe (he won the gold medals in the Decathlon “The world’s greatest athlete” and Pentathlon in the same Olympics then plated pro football and pro baseball at the same time.

Snake
Snake
August 18, 2022 4:53 pm

What a joke! Alexander Karelin, a Russian greco roman wrestler only lost 2 matches out of 887!
No other athlete in any sport comes close to that kind of record!