In the big wide world of professional sports, there are hundreds of athletes who could lay claim to the coveted ‘Greatest of All Time’ title. But amongst that legion of household names, there are even fewer who transcend their chosen games to become icons. 

These athletes aren’t just synonymous with their game – they’re representative of the sport itself as a cultural phenomenon. Who are these GOATs, these champions of pitch, ring and field? The entries in this list are always going to be up for debate, but we’d like to submit our picks for your reading pleasure.

Our Top 5 Greatest Athletes of All Time

5 – Wayne Gretzky

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Wayne Gretzky (Or Michael Scott)

There aren’t many hockey players with the accolades Gretzky earned in his 20-season career. Referred to as ‘The Great One’ and called the greatest hockey player of all time by the sport’s passionate community, he went beyond his humble Canadian hometown origins by miles. 

Gretzky is the only NHL player to score over 200 points in a single season (which he managed to do a total of four times throughout his career) and has more assists to his name than any other player had total points. Gretzky seemed to have a supernatural understanding of where the puck was going to be at all times; which helped him overcome his average size and strength to earn his legendary reputation.

Wayne Gretzky playing hockey back in the day

4 – Usain Bolt

Kill them with success and bury them with a smile.

Usain Bolt

Jamaica’s finest – despite what that ginger cake wrapper may tell you – is definitely Usain Bolt, a man who’s been completely dedicated to sports his entire life. He’s been in retirement since 2017 after quitting at just age 30, but he still holds the world records for the 100 and 200 metres sprints and the 4 x 100 metres relay.

Alongside those world records, Bolt is an eight-time Olympic gold medallist, an eleven-time World Champion, and was breaking world records even as a junior athlete. As an outsider looking in, it definitely looks like Usain decided to retire once he started slowing down.

His retirement came following a third-place finish in his final solo 100m sprint. He subsequently pulled out of the following 200m – Usain was the greatest runner in the world, and he probably wanted to be remembered that way.

3 – Babe Ruth

I didn’t mean to hit the umpire with the dirt, but I did mean to hit that bastard in the stands.

Babe Ruth

And now for something completely different – Babe Ruth was a one-of-a-kind athlete of his time. Hell, you’d be hard-pressed to call him an athlete in comparison to those we have today, but he forged his own path at a period in time when it was hard to become a household name by playing baseball for two of the biggest franchise, the Red Sox and the Yankees.

It’s fair to say that besides certain names like Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali, there aren’t many athletes as synonymous with their sport as Ruth. His path to greatness was walked in a time when there wasn’t really a clear path. In fact, his talent for baseball was originally noticed by a monk named Brother Matthias at the Catholic school Ruth attended.

He drank, he womanised, he cursed, and he had a beer belly. He wasn’t a polished social media product, he was an average-looking guy who played baseball better than anyone else. Nobody scored a home run like Babe Ruth, and nobody has since.

Babe Ruth in Red Sox Jersey before his move to the New York Yankees

2 – Michael Jordan

The key to success is failure.

Michael Jordan

No athlete does business on this list like Michael Jordan did. He’s also the only one who’s actually friends with Bugs Bunny, which – technically – should put him at number one. But whatever. 

If you visit the NBA website, MJ’s official biography states ‘By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time’. He won the Chicago Bulls a total of six NBA championships, playing a total of fifteen seasons, and earned his timeless reputation thanks to his incredible talent as a defensive player.

It wasn’t just basketball, though – MJ knew how to play the game outside, too. He has to be one of the most effectively publicised athletes of all time, promoting a shed-load of products at the height of his fame. Nike’s Air Jordans are still popular today after being promoted by him over thirty years ago. 

As long as we’re not talking about his baseball career, MJ is truly the basketball GOAT. And starred in arguably the best possible version of Space Jam that could have ever existed.

1 – Muhammad Ali

It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali tops this list of the greatest athletes every time. The man’s presence and ability were undeniable. He was, arguably, the first big ‘heel’ in the sporting world. He knew how to aggravate his opponent and work up a crowd before he ever set foot in a ring. 

Ali built up an incredible persona. Mercilessly arrogant and 100% capable of backing it up, inspired by the professional wrestlers of his time, Ali was the first boxer to do what has just become the norm for the sport these days. McGregor, Mayweather – all of them are just following in his footsteps. 

His big-mouthed attitude worked both ways. Half the crowd wanted to see him win as he’d promised, and half the crowd wanted to see him taken down a peg. He was a world champion heavyweight boxer, a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam – paying the price in fines and practically exiled from the sport for years. He was one of the greatest boxers the world has ever seen, but he was more than that – he was a cultural icon who’s gone down in history as, simply, ‘The Greatest’.

Muhammad Ali standing above his opponent

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