Best Athletes in Sports History


April 2, 2011

*Disclaimer – Keep in mind while reading this list, that the list is composed of the best pure athletes, not the best players that were athletic. The players on this list were not picked solely on their accomplishments, though their accomplishments did help with assessing their overall talent.

10. Michael Vick – Michael Vick has achieved things in football from the quarterback position that may never be duplicated in the National Football Association. He set a NFL record in Atlanta and became the first NFL quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards. He then set a NFL record in Philadelphia by becoming the first person in NFL history to pass for 300 or more yards with four passing touchdowns, and rush for 50 yards with 2 rushing touchdowns in a single game. He has been one of the premier athletes and best winners in the National Football League for his entire career, though his acceptance as a pure passing quarterback has been in relation to his tenure with the Eagles. For most of his early career, Vick was thought to be the fastest man in the NFL, despite playing a position that was not known particularly for speed and athleticism.

9. Pele – Two of the most devastatingly quick and accurate feet in the major sports belonged to soccer legend, Edison Arantes do Nascimento or Pele as the world knows him. He controlled games with his natural speed and athleticism and began his pro career at 15 playing for local club, Santos. At just 16, he became the leading scorer in the league and went on to become the best scorer in soccer history with 1,281 goals in 1,363 games averaging .940 goals per game.

8. Michael Jordan – Michael Jordan has been absolutely transcendent as an athlete. He elevated the game of basketball from the heights that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird took it, to being one of the favorite and most watched sports in the world. Jordan combined a high basketball intelligence quotient, an immense skill set, and unparalleled physical talent to become one of the most recognizable and best basketball athletes ever to ever play the game. He regularly jumped over or around shot-blocking seven-footers to score. He bullied smaller guards and blew past bigger players. Jordan was an iconic talent and one of the best athletes ever.

7. LeBron James – Though his legacy probably will not ever equal that of Michael Jordan, LeBron James’ physical talent far exceeds even what His Airness had. LeBron is bigger, stronger, and just as fast as Michael Jordan. In fact, at 6’9″ and 260 lbs., James is the size of the average NBA power forward, but he plays small forward and runs as fast as most guards. In high school, he was an All-State player in his sophomore year in both basketball and football. He focused on basketball and won 2 state championships before he left. He was the best player in the state in basketball from his sophomore year through his senior year. LeBron James was the best player in all high school basketball in his junior and senior year, winning two consecutive player of the year awards. He skipped college to become the youngest player ever drafted and then made NBA history by becoming the third player to average 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. The NBA has never before seen a physical talent like LeBron James.

6. Herschel Walker – Walker won two state championships in high school. He was an All-American in football at the University of Georgia, and was the only man to finish in the top three in Heisman voting in every season that he played football. Walker drew All-American honors twice in track and narrowly missed the Olympic sprint team while in college. He won the Heisman in his junior season before going pro and became one of the fastest men in both of the professional football leagues that he played, the USFL and the NFL. Herschel Walker is the only man to gain 4,000 yards three different ways in the NFL, with rushing, receiving, and kickoff returns.

5. Usain Bolt – Usain Bolt is the fastest man that has ever lived. He is officially racing against himself in the record books. He holds the Olympic record in the 100 meters, and the World record in the 100 and the 200 meters with times of 9.69, 9.58, and 19.19 seconds, respectively. When breaking the Olympic record, Bolt was so much faster than the field that he preened the last few meters and accidentally ran the race with an untied shoe. If he had finished the race strongly, he could have run sub 9.6; his coach estimated his time at 9.52. Usain Bolt is a freak of nature. Normally, only smaller athletes have enough of the necessary fast-twitch muscles to move as fast as he does. Since their stride is shorter, those muscles are necessary to  compete. Bolt takes 4-6 less steps in every 100 meter race than his opponents, because of his 6’5″ frame and his 9-10 ft. stride length. The average sprinter’s stride length is 6-7 feet.

4. Deion Sanders – Deion Sanders is one of the best athletes to ever play in the National Football League. Until 2008, when Chris Johnson passed his 40 yard dash time by .05 of a second in 2007, he was officially the fastest man in NFL history. And Deion ran his 40 in his sweatpants. In high school, he was all-state in football, basketball, and track. In college, he was a 3-sport star, playing football, baseball, and running track. Sanders competed in the College World Series, a BCS championship, the World Series, and a Super Bowl. He is still the only athlete to compete in both a MLB World Series and a Super Bowl.

3. Carl Lewis – Carl Lewis is the most decorated and the best track athlete that ever lived. He was voted Track Athlete of the Century by Sporting News and helped bring track and field to a mainstream audience with his excellence in the area. He owned the Olympic competition and made track lucrative for other athletes. He is the only Olympian to defend his title in the 100 meters race and the long jump. He holds a total of 19 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze medals in the World, Olympic, and Pan American games.

2. Wilt Chamberlain – Wilt Chamberlain could have easily been number one on this list. At 7’2″ and 250 lbs., Wilt could outrun most of the guards in the NBA. He was a force of nature, extremely coordinated, brutishly powerful, and enormous. Wilt had impeccable footwork and dominated the NBA for 13 seasons, leaving with every record that you could imagine. He left as the all-time leader in points and is the only man in NBA history to score 4,000 points in a season. He is the only man to average at least 40 or 50 points in a season. He scored 100 points in a game and had 50+ rebounds in several. He played basketball and ran track in high school. In college he was a two-time All-American in basketball and he won the Big Eight conference high jump three consecutive years in track and field.

1.  Bo Jackson – Bo Jackson was an All-State selection in football, a two-time state champion in the decathlon, and set records in the 60 and 120 yard hurdles, and the long jump in track and field in high school. As a pitcher, he was 9-1 while batting .450 and setting a national record for home runs in a season with 20. He was drafted by the Yankees, but decided to attend Auburn University. There, he won two bowl MVP’s, All-American status, and a Heisman as a football player. As an outfielder, Jackson batted .401 for the Tigers, and he qualified in his freshman and sophomore years as an Olympic sprinter. Bo Jackson was the first man to ever play in an All Star game for two of the major sports. He registered a 4.12 40 yard dash at the NFL combine, which is still the highest time ever recorded, though it was hand-timed. If Bo Jackson did not suffer a hip-injury, he could have re-written the history books in two sports.

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10.  Ty Cobb- He may have been a bastard (and maybe even a racist), but Cobb was a super athlete.  He batted 0.366 for his career (over 0.400 three times) and averaged over 75 RBIs per season despite being a lead-off man and only hitting about 4 homeruns per year.  Don’t forget he played centerfield, and finished with 897 career steals.

 

9.  Pele- He scored an astonishing 1281 goals in 1363 career games.  The “beautiful game” is all about endurance, quickness, and strength, and no one had more than this man.  Pele was too poor to afford a soccer ball while growing up, so he often just used a grapefruit, or rolled up socks.  Apparently it worked, as he’s the only man to ever win 3 World Cups.

 

8.  Rickey Henderson- Bill James once said, “If you could split him in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers.”  The man who only speaks in the 3rd person is baseball’s all-time steals leader (by almost 500 steals), has the most steals in any one season (130), is baseball’s all time leader in runs scored, and has the most lead-off homers in MLB history.  What’s even more special about his batting achievements is that he was actually a born lefty.  He started batting right handed because all his friends did when he was younger, so he thought that was how one was supposed to bat.  Henderson also happened to be an All-American running back and track star in high school.

 

7.  Sergei Fedorov- This freak of nature finished his career with 1179 points in 1248 career games.  To top that off he had 176 points in 183 career playoff games.  He has tied the record for the games’ fastest skater, he is the only player to ever win fastest skater and hardest shot in the same season, and he played both center AND defenseman.  Legendary coach Scotty Bowman said Fedorov could win a Norris trophy (top defenseman) if he played defense exclusively.  How many hockey players could fathom playing at an all-star level playing both ways?

 

6.  Deion Sanders- His case for greatest athlete is very easy.  He was a 3 sport letterman in high school, a two sport professional athlete, and arguably one of the best cover corners in NFL history.  Primetime was an absolute blur on any field he was on, and was a threat to score at any moment.

 

5.  Lebron James- At 6’8, 250 lbs, James is a powerforward with the speed, vision, and handle of a point guard.  He has a career average of 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, something no other player in NBA history can say.  He is a former Rookie of the Year, 7 time all-star, and 2-time league MVP … he’s still only 26 years old.

 

 

 

4.  Usain Bolt- He’s the fastest man in the history of the world, and he stands 6’5 (very tall for a sprinter).  He ran the 100 meter sprint in a remarkable 9.58 seconds, to actually eclipse his own previously ridiculous record of 9.69 seconds.  He is the 1st sprinter ever to set record in the 100 m, 200 m, and 4×100.  It’s calculated that he runs at roughly 23 mph!

 

 

 

 

3.  Wilt Chamberlain- He was a 7’1, 275 lb monster as an NBA legend in the 1960s and 70s.  He has NBA records for averaging 50 points in a season (he’s #2 in points/game career at 30.1), 100 points in one game, total rebounds, and rebounds per game (22.9).  If he didn’t play basketball professionally, he may have been an Olympic star, as he ran track and participated in the high jump in high school.

 

 

 

 

2.  Carl Lewis- Lewis became a global icon by winning 9 Olympic gold medals and 8 World Championship gold medals competing in sprinting events and the long jump.  He set world records in the 100 m, 4 x 100 m, and 4 x 200 m, and his 8.79 m (almost 29 feet) jump has been the indoor long jump record since 1984.  If that’s not enough, Lewis was actually drafted to play basketball by the Chicago Bulls, and football by the Dallas Cowboys!

 

 

 

1.  Vincent “Bo” Jackson- Bo was the 1st athlete to be an all-star in 2 sports!  In terms of football, Jackson won the Heisman trophy in 1985, ran the 40 at the combine in 4.12 seconds, and average 5.4 yards per carry in his NFL career.  Regarding baseball, Bo hit more than 20 homeruns 5 times and was an All-Star game MVP.  If you take the 4 seasons prior to his hip injury where he played 25 games or more, he averaged 24 hr, 76 RBI, 20 steals, and almost 10 outfield assists.  If that isn’t enough, he actually qualified to participate for the 100 meter sprint for the Olympics twice while he was a college student at Auburn University.

 

 

Honorable Mention:

 

 

Teen Wolf- Any way you slice it, the Wolf was a sick athlete.  His head was routinely above the rim when he dunked, he had unmatched speed and quickness, and he could get above the square to block shots.  See him in action here.


1 comment for “Best Athletes in Sports History

  1. Tony Echavez
    May 16, 2013 at 8:22 AM

    Manny Pacquiao should be in the list of all time greatest athletes for having won 8 divisions and 8 titles.

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