These Are The Most Successful Athletes of All Time
There are tons of different sports around the globe, ranging from soccer to cricket to lacrosse to cheerleading and chess. There are some that have a deeper history than others, though, and those are often thought to be baseball, football, golf, and basketball. Each sport has its own league – the MLB (Major League Baseball), NFL (National Football League), USGA (United States Golf Association), and NBA (National Basketball Association, respectively. From each league, certain players have emerged as the “best” and “most successful” of their sports, though those spots can sometimes be very widely contested. Some are no-brainers, but the others… you decide! Here are the most successful athletes in their fields:
1. Babe Ruth (baseball)
The Sultan of Swat! The King of Crash! The Colossus of Clout! The Great Bambino… Babe Ruth! He’s undoubtedly one of the most recognizable players of all time. Even if you know nothing about baseball or sports in general, you probably know who this colossal baseball player is.
Babe Ruth played the game from 1914 to 1935 and became the first person to hit 60 home runs in a single season (1927), which remained unbroken until 1961 (Roger Maris hit 61). He will go down in history as one of the greatest pitchers and outfielders for the Boston Red Sox!
2. Jack Nicklaus (golf)
While the question of “Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus” has been widely contested, Jack Nicklaus holds the record of major championship wins with 18! He’s the guy that everyone else wants to be like when it comes to golf.
Jack Nicklaus, or “The Golden Bear,” is second in terms of all-time wins, with a whopping 73 victories. He won the Masters 6 times and has completed the career grand slam 4 times! Can anyone beat those records?
3. Joe Montana (football)
Joe Montana is known as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – quarterback ever. He was always calm under pressure and has won many a game because of that.
Montana spent most of his NFL time with the San Fransisco 49ers and was named Most Valuable Player 3 times! He’s won 4 Lombardi trophies, and his jersey, #16, is now retired because nobody could ever replace Joe Montana!
4. LeBron James (basketball)
While LeBron James is considered overrated by some, he is undoubtedly one of the best players to ever set foot on a basketball court.
When he was a teenager, LeBron was annointed “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated and he’s managed to actually fulfill that! He averages 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 steals per game and has consistently been a great player for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat.
5. Willie Mays (baseball)
Willie Mays is another one of the great baseball legends, who could could hit, catch, throw, and run the ball like no other position player could!
Mays finished his career with an amazing 660 homers, though he probably could’ve gotten more had he not been drafted to the military at the peak of his career. He has the most Golden Gloves for an outfielder and was named Player of the Decade in the 1960’s!
6. Michael Jordan (basketball)
Literally everyone knows who Michael Jordan is – he’s the most famous basketball player of all time! Jordan wanted to be legendary and oh boy is he!
During his career, he won 6 championships, 5 MVP awards, made an All-Star appearance in every season he played, and averaged 30.1 points per game – the NBA’s highest average. He’s probably one of the best defenders ever, and even made it to the big screen in Space Jam! Bet the Chicago Bulls were happy about that.
7. Tiger Woods (golf)
Tiger Woods has had his ups and his downs, but there’s absolutely no denying that he’s a phenomenal golfer who almost – just almost – made it to the top of this list!
Tiger Woods is a once-in-a-generation talent who got everyone to root for him and provided for many a year. He’s won 14 professional major golf championships and 79 PGA tour events. He’s also the youngest player ever to achieve the career Grand Slam!
8. Jerry Rice (football)
Ask us who the best wide receiver of all time is and we’ll give you an answer: Jerry Rice! This “San Francisco treat” rewrote the books not just for the 49ers, but for the NFL.
He holds several whopping records: most receptions at 1,549, most receiving yards at 22,895, and most total touchdowns at 208! He played in the NFL Pro Bowl for 13 seasons and was guaranteed to be a gigantic force on the field every time.
9. Hank Aaron (baseball)
“Hammering” Hank Aaron is one of the greatest hitters of all time and was an amazing right fielder for his sport. There’s no denying he’s one of the greats!
Aaron averaged 40 home runs a year for 15 years that he played and then averaged 35 home runs for another 5 years of his 22-year career, topping even Babe Ruth for the all-time home run record!
10. Magic Johnson (basketball)
During the 1980’s, there was no other player quite like Magic Johnson. He charmed the entire league and showed the world that the “Showtime” L.A. Lakers were here to stay.
During his 13 years with the team, Johnson won 5 championships and had the highest assists-per-game (11.2) in the entire NBA’s history. Outside of the court, Johnson has done tremendous work to help fund AIDS research and aid poverty-stricken areas around the country!
11. Jim Brown (football)
Jim Brown was a tremendous force in the world of football and could’ve truly been on top had he not retired from the NFL during his prime, at only 29 years old.
Jim Brown may have only played 9 seasons in the NFL, but during those seasons, he got an astounding 12,312 rushing yards and 106 touchdowns locked. He also has a 6.4 yard-per-carry average that no other player can touch!
12. Walter Hagen (golf)
Walter Hagen is one of the greatest golfers of the 20th century, though he played mostly during the first half of the century!
He won 11 major championships over the course of his career and became a national hero when he became the first American ever to win the British Open Championship – just one of his 4 Open titles! If only he would have won a Masters, he would have gotten a career Grand Slam!
13. Wilt Chamberlain (basketball)
Wilt Chamberlain was one the men who defined the game of basketball back when the game was still trying to find its footing on the court.
Chamberlain holds the 4 highest all-time NBA single-season scoring averages, all of which he got in his first 4 professional seasons! In one 1962 game, he shook the game when he scored 100 points! That’s a record that’s likely never to be surpassed.
14. Ted Williams (baseball)
Ted Williams could have easily been way higher up on this list had he not enlisted in the Air Force as a fighter pilot for 6 years during the prime of his career.
Ted Williams was one of the best field players ever with 621 career homers, plus he was a natural when it came to stealing bases. He built SafeCo Field and remained loyal to the Seattle Mariners, even though he could’ve made more money elsewhere!
15. Arnold Palmer (golf)
Not only is Arnold Palmer a really tasty drink, it’s also the name of one of the greatest golfers of all time – and probably the most famous, after Tiger Woods.
People used to say that Arnold Palmer had an ugly swing, but it was an extremely powerful one that gained him a legion of fans, “Arnie’s Army.” He won 7 majors over the course of his career and became one of the most popular golfers of all-time. He also won 4 Masters, but never made it to a PGA Championship! If it weren’t for that, he would have completed his career grand slam. Too bad!
16. Lawrence Taylor (football)
Lawrence Taylor was a huge power house on the football field, full of pure explosive energy! As a linebacker, Taylor was the biggest defensive weapon the sport of football could afford – and he was worth it. Taylor was incredibly powerful and could change the outcome of any game and definitely put fear into the hearts of his opponents!
Taylor was so good, he could strip a fellow player of the ball in one short swoop within two counts. Over his 13-year career, Taylor got a grand total of 132.5 quarterback sacks. That’s the 10th all-time number in the NFL! We owe him several important moves, namely the HBack, singleback formations, double tight ends, and unbalanced lines. They wouldn’t be around without Taylor!
17. Shaquille O’Neal (basketball)
Shaquille O’Neal would be much higher on this list if we were naming most famous players of all time, because he is definitely one of the best known basketball players to have ever graced the earth! Shaq wasn’t the prettiest guy on the field, but his sheer bulk could often get him to the basket and a score.
Shaq was a humongous 7’1″ tall and 315 pounds light, so his force on the basketball court was not one to scoff at. He was known for his bounding dunks – dunks which put Shaq at the top of the NBA when it came to field-goal percentage a total of 10 times in his career. He was a great player all in all!
18. Lou Gehrig (baseball)
Henry Louis Gehrig, better known as “Lou” Gehrig or “Buster” Gehrig, played an amazing 17 seasons for Major League Baseball for America’s favorite team, the New York Yankees! He’s made his name as one of the best hitters of all time, so intense and hard-working that he was nicknamed “The Iron Horse.”
Lou Gehrig was named All-Star 7 consecutive times and even won the Triple Crown once! He was the Most Valuable Player for the American League twice and won 6 World Series. He hit 439 home runs throughout the course of his career… wow, aren’t you getting tired reading all of these amazing things that Lou Gehrig did? If Gehrig would have continued playing longer for the New York Yankees, it’s likely that he would have made it even higher on this list!
19. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (basketball)
Given that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the leading scorer in the NBA history, you might find it a little hard to believe that he only made it to #19 on the list, but there are just so many great players that it’s hard to compete for the top spots! Also, we do have to remember that Kareem did a great job in Airplane!
During all of his days with the NBA, Kareem scored a whopping 38,387 points. That’s a whole lot of scoring for just a couple of years (okay, more like 20 years) of playing! This great player had a lot of help from his fellow players, though, which helped him lead to the nearly 40,000 points. Most of his career passes would come from career greats like Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, which certainly made his job easier!
20. Gary Player (golf)
Gary Player is a great golfer, though you may have heard of him going by his nickname “The Black Knight.” Player typically wears an ensemble consisting of all black attire on the course, but that’s not the only reason he’s famous! He’s the most successful – and most famous – non-American golfer in history!
Back in his heyday, Player was a contemporary of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and the three would often engage in legendary battles on the golf course. In the end, Player won a fantastic 9 major victories, including 3 Masters and 3 Open Championships. He also has the big honor of being the only non-American to have completed the career Grand Slam! Player is also great off of the course, though, and has designed 300 of his own courses and written several books!
21. Jackie Robinson (baseball)
Jackie Robinson was – objectively – a great baseball player during his time, but he also was an incredibly historic player. Jackie Robinson would become the first black baseball player to play for Major League Baseball, breaking the MLB color line when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him on in 1947. In 1962 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame!
During his 10 year career, Robinson did more than plenty to show that he was deserving of the accolades he was getting. In 1947, Robinson won MLB Rookie of the Year, then would win All-Star for 6 consecutive seasons during the years 1949 to 1954! In 1949, he became the first black player to be named Most Valuable Player. He played in 6 World Series throughout his career and won one – 1955 for the Dodgers!
22. Walter Payton (football)
Walter Payton was one of the hardest workers in the NFL and made his way among the greats because of all of that hard work! He was 5’10” tall and 200 pounds light, which – for a football player – isn’t particularly tall or imposing, but on the field Walter Payton became known for his iron will.
Payton eventually earned the nickname “Sweetness,” but it’s not because he was sweet to the other players! Sweetness was known for finishing off his runs with determination like no other player. In his 13 years with the Chicago Bears, Payton clobbered the rushing book records with 16,726 total rushing yards and 110 touchdowns. He led the NFL in carries for 4 consecutive seasons and 5.5 yards per! He sure was one tough guy!
23. Oscar Robertson (basketball)
Most of us are too young to have ever seen Oscar Robertson play, but we imagine that it would have been amazing to see this talented all-star in action. Nicknamed “The Big O,” Robertson played for both the Cincinnati Royals and the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, are you ready for his stats? Because they’re quite impressive!
Robertson was named NBA All-Star 12 times, made the All-NBA Team 11 times, and won the MVP award once in the 14 professional seasons that he played. There was one season that he averaged a triple-double, making him the only player in NBA history to do so. He was partially responsible for leading the Bucks to their only NBA title. He’s been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame twice and played for the men’s Olympic basketball team. Shall we go on?
24. Ben Hogan (golf)
So many golfers are great for various different reasons, but none of the others can say that they are thought of as having the most perfect swing in the entire history of golf… but Ben Hogan can certainly say that! He’s been incredibly successful – and there’s no doubt he’s very talented – but he practiced more than any other player to get to where he did.
Ben Hogan was a technical player and would spend loads of time working on his swing mechanics and golf technique, and because of this, he is regarded as the greatest striker in history with the most perfect swing to ever grace the courses. In 1953, he also completed what is now regarded as the “Hogan Slam,” which included winning 5 of the 6 tournaments he entered – 3 of which were major championships! In the end, he had 9 major wins under his belt. What a guy!
Who do you think is the best player of all time? SHARE this article if you love one of these great sportsmen!
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