20. Hank Aaron
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The Alabama native was elected to an eye-popping 25 All-Star games. In the post Ruth-era, Aaron was the unquestioned top slugger for a nearly 30-year period. Aaron was transcendent for his time. In the current climate of baseball, players look for the perfect ‘launch angle’ when popping home runs over the fence. In Aaron’s case, his sweet upper-cut stroke worked perfectly in making him an all-time great.
19. Jim Brown
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Brown is one of the few players of his time period that could have fared well during any era of football. An explosive tailback with true breakaway speed, Brown was a nightmare to bring down. The lifetime Cleveland Brown led the league in rushing eight times, and became the first-ever player to rush for 10,000 yards before his 30th birthday. It would’ve been a blast to see Brown in his prime play versus the talent of today’s NFL.
18. Lionel Messi
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The diminutive Argentinean has a wand-like left foot – which manipulates the ball similarly to how da Vinci could manipulate brush strokes on a canvas. The ending result includes sheer beauty and a world-class product. Messi literally is akin to an artist in terms of how seamlessly he plays the sport. Whether it’s passing to teammates — or scoring for himself — Messi is among the best to ever play.
17. Magic Johnson
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After winning a National Championship at Michigan State, Johnson was drafted first overall in the ensuing NBA Draft. The Lakers made the NBA Finals in Johnson’s first year. As a rookie, Johnson averaged 21.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, and 8.7 APG to help capture the first of his eventual five NBA Championships. His rivalry with Celtics legend Larry Bird helped carry the sport through its resurgence.
16. Willie Mays
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A prime example of what it means to be a two-way player, Mays patrolled center field as gracefully as can be. Mays is most known for making basket-catches on any fly ball hit to the outfield. This even happened when chasing a ball hit over his head. Mays would display the uncanny ability to still catch the ball in his unorthodox way. His ability to impact the game both offensively and defensively was simply spectacular. Few in today’s game possess elite traits in both categories. It furthers the notion as to how good Mays truly was.
15. Tom Brady
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A former sixth-round pick from Michigan, Brady never looked back after being inserted into the starting role following a Drew Bledsoe injury. He has since led the New England Patriots to eight Super Bowls, including five victories. His four Super Bowl MVPs are the most in league history, and is still looking to add upon that total into his 40’s.
14. Usain Bolt
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There has not been an athlete with a more apt surname. The Jamaican sprinter smashed multiple world records en route to becoming the world’s fastest athlete. Bolt’s ability to ‘make it look easy’ truly enhances his greatness even further. Though Michael Phelps has the most Olympic medals of all-time, we don’t think there’s been a more dominant Olympic athlete than Bolt.
13. Jesse Owens
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Owens became an instant legend during a 45-minute span on May 25, 1935. On that day, Owens tied the world record for the 100-yard dash, and set new records in the long jump, 220-yard sprint, and 220-yard hurdles. Although his times don’t stack up to athletes today, there’s no diminishing his overall greatness as a well-rounded track-and-field athlete.
12. Jim Thorpe
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The gold medal-winning Olympian is the true definition of a multi-faceted athlete. In addition to Thorpe’s exploits in the Olympic Games, he was also a two-sport star in both professional baseball and football (which included developing into a Hall of Fame NFL player). Thorpe’s physical prowess in multiple sports aids in the notion that he is an all-time elite athlete.
11. Wayne Gretzky
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Hockey’s premier playmaker, Gretzky dazzled fans with his precise puck handling and penchant for setting up teammates. The NHL has only seen four 200-point seasons by a single player – Gretzky did it all four times. In fact, “The Great One” has nine of the top 11 scoring seasons in NHL history. Accompanied with his four Stanley Cup victories, Gretzky is clearly the most accomplished player in league history.
10. Jerry Rice
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Though not the biggest nor fastest player at his position, Rice was simply the best. His will to win – coupled with an immense dedication to the game – has him regarded as the best pro football player of all-time. Rice ran flawless routes, and had the exact wherewithal in knowing when to break his route off in search of the football. He’s a player whom maximized every single ounce of ability out of his body.
9. Serena Williams
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Williams has won an astonishing 85 percent of her singles matches. She defeats opponents with a thunderous serve and unrelenting offensive attack. Despite losing time due to illness and injury, Williams has persevered to cultivate one of the greatest careers (man or woman) in tennis history. Serena should also be commended for being at the top of her game for a rather lengthy period of time. Most athletes suffer a large fall-off upon hitting 30 years of age. However, Williams is one of those exceptions.
8. Muhammad Ali
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He floated like a butterfly, and stung like a bee. Equally as brilliant with his words as he was with his fists (and feet), Ali will forever go down as one of the most popular athletes the world has ever known. He was a terrific boxer — particularly when moving around the ring. However, the persona of Ali is what lasts with all of us. An advocate for racial equality, Ali wasn’t shy about publicly voicing his opinions on otherwise untouchable topics. This made him both popular and highly respected.
7. Roger Federer
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After turning pro in 1998 at the age of 17, Federer wasted no time making his name known throughout tennis circles. By 2004, Federer was ATP’s No. 1 ranked player. He’s held that distinction on five different occasions, for a total of 309 weeks. The Swiss native has won over $116 million in prize money alone throughout his career. Even at 36, he’s competing and beating the best in the world. It won’t be long before he adds to his record 20 Grand Slam Singles Titles.
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A true icon in the sport, Pelé cultivated both excitement and creativity when on the pitch. In a sport that’s revered by billions across the world, Pelé developed into the first global star. He not only helped in putting his home country (Brazil) on the map as a world power, but he also helped raise the profile of the sport as a whole. Never has the sport seen such a dynamic goal-scoring threat. He played the game akin to how Steph Curry effortlessly launches threes.
5. LeBron James
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No player in the last 50 years of sports has had more pressure to succeed than James. Entering the league as the “Chosen One,” James was expected to light the league on fire with his enormous body and freakish athleticism. He’s fulfilled those expectations, and then some. The four-time MVP is well on his way to breaking the league’s all-time scoring record, and remains the NBA’s top player 15 years into his career. With no signs of slowing down, the longevity James has sustained is unprecedented.
4. Babe Ruth
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Ruth’s prolific nature as a slugger had him teetering between half-man/half-myth. He truly is a larger-than-life figure in the annals of baseball. Ruth pitched for the vast majority of his career. He also slugged home runs out with relative regularity. His massive frame only added to the lore of his brilliance. Though we can’t unequivocally compare Ruth’s era with the current one, we have a feeling he’d fare just fine in today’s MLB.
3. Tiger Woods
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Woods holds a number of near-unbreakable records, including being ranked No. 1 in the world for a preposterous 683 weeks. With an endless catalog of impossible putts and jaw-dropping drives, Woods is often considered the greatest golfer of all-time. Aside from being a sublime talent, Woods also became a marketing machine. He single-handedly revolutionized marketing campaigns emanating from Nike. In fact, he’s got his own parking spot at the Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
2. Michael Phelps
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The Maryland native is the winningest Olympian of all-time. Aside from setting 39 world records, Phelps has won 28 Olympic medals (including 23 of the Gold variety). There’s really not much else to be said about Phelps’s brilliance in the pool. Powerfully built with freakishly long arms, he glided in the pool with the greatest of ease. In the process, Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in the history of the world.
1. Michael Jordan
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Technically, he was nearly flawless. Jordan was a highly intelligent player that worked diligently at his craft, developing pristine footwork and the most deadly fade-away jump-shot in the game’s history. His list of accolades is nearly unparalleled. A five-time MVP, six-time NBA Champion, 14-time All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year, and Slam Dunk Champion, Jordan was an unstoppable force on the hardwood. Simply put, he is the G.O.A.T.