At a glance, choosing the best athletes ever might seem like a mammoth task. The world has and has had great athletes. If we start exploring history we’ll find more and if we look at what’s been researched in terms of the ancients we’ll find even more. So, for the sake of economics and attention spans, we’re going to limit ourselves to certain sports only. There might be an honorary mention but essentially we’re going to stick within certain confines. So, let’s not beat around the bush any longer and move straight on to the 10 best athletes ever!
Boxing: Muhammad Ali
Okay, look, this one is a no-brainer and anyone who wants to disagree could probably face being lynched. I’m not saying that there are not better boxers or ones on par but pound for pound Ali was the best and quite simply because he was a heavyweight boxer gifted with the speed and agility of a lightweight. That’s a rare find but Ali fulfilled it. But he was so much more than a boxer. He was a beacon of courage and dissent in a system that was convinced it was going to put him in his place. He took the title twice and on both occasions under great duress. He was the best.
Basketball: Michael Jordan
Another obvious but validated choice. The name Michael Jordan is synonymous with basketball and even though there are other players equally, if not more deserving of the title of best basketball player to date, certain facts simply prevent that from happening – his record. You can wax on about the fact that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ended his career with more points or that Bill Russel finished with more rings or that LeBron James is a more dangerous player but Jordan’s record often brings the debate to a screeching halt. Six NBA Finals, six titles and six MVP’s make for a formidable number.
Tennis: John McEnroe
I’m a big fan of Johnny Mac and even though I was just a kid when he was throwing his toys out of the cot on the pristine lawns of Wimbledon, it left a lasting impression on me. I saw his outbursts as fun little interludes and something that I eventually expected. But let’s face it, you don’t get to be considered the best tennis player ever because you threw tantrums. As in the case of Michael Jordan, it’s your record that speaks for itself and the same applies to Johnny Mac. Once again, there are other tennis players out there that can be classed as better – Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Roger Federer and Wayne Ferreira all come to mind. But once again, it’s the facts that speak volumes; 7 Grand Slam singles titles, 9 Grand Slam men’s doubles titles, 19 Gran Prix Super Series titles, 3 Wimbledon titles and an accumulation of 77 singles and 78 doubles titles in total all adds up.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento started his football career at the mere age of 15 and by 17 made his debut at the 1958 World Cup. Unlike another South American great, Diego Maradona, Pelé didn’t allow hard-partying to derail his career and today ranks as the greatest football player to date. His goals exceed the 1000 mark and he is known for coining the phrase “The Beautiful Game.” Accolade after accolade has been heaped upon his name and peers and admirers have credited his improvisation skills and his genuine love of the game, seen in his upbeat attitude and constant smile, as some of his most defining player qualities. Bobby Moore, England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup captain summed Pelé up perfectly when he said “Pelé was the most complete player I’ve ever seen, he had everything.”
F-1 Racing: Ayrton Senna
Brazil has given the world truly magnificent sportsmen. For soccer they gave us Pelé and for F-1 Racing, the creme de la creme of motorsport, they gave us Ayrton Senna. Senna was a unique driving force in Formula One, excuse the pun, and was often considered a demi-god by his fans. He had the looks of a hero and his eyes spoke of depth and conflict. Senna was deeply religious and on the subject of driving was quoted to have said:
‘And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously, I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension.’
When he drove for Honda the Japanese technicians bonded greatly with him due to what they considered his samurai approach to driving. Senna was deeply philosophical and what he said about driving gave people a deeper glimpse and understanding of what drivers went through. Of the F-1 season which saw his tragic passing he said: “It’s going to be a season with lots of accidents, and I’ll risk saying that we’ll be lucky if something really serious doesn’t happen.”
Wrestling: Rick Flair
I didn’t see this one coming. I grew up during the 80s and 90s and watched WWF (World Wrestling Federation) as it was then known from the late 1980s until just a little after the mid-90s. I would have expected Brett Hart, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, The Rock or The 123 Kid to have gotten this position. Rick Flair is a 16 time world heavyweight champion and did a lot more for the sports than any of his peers. Flair was known to travel to various parts of the country (USA) and train up potential talent. When Flair was done with them, they’d be worth a lot more than what they started with. Flair was also known for establishing the template of what a cool, confident and capable champion looked like and what he or she behaved like.
Golf: Tiger Woods
Scandals aside, there’s no disputing the success enjoyed by Tiger Woods in the game of golf. In fact, Woods was the first athlete to earn over a billion dollars, making him the second richest person of colour in the United States, just after Oprah. And Woods has been good for the game of golf. A study found that golfers scored higher when competing against Woods than when he was not in the game. At this point his best games might be behind him, but he remains golf’s greatest player and it is impossible to predict whether or not there will be a comeback.
Cricket: Don Bradman
Often referred to as The Don, Don Bradman was an Australian cricketer widely professed to be the greatest batsman of all time. His test batting average of 99.94 has been proclaimed the best record established by any sportsman. Bradman’s batting capabilities are personified by the best double centuries held for the longest time up until being broken much later on. To this day Bradman holds the highest record average in test cricket history.
Table Tennis: Ma Long
Gump may have reigned supreme in the movie Forrest Gump and the online video slot game of the same name but in real life we have Ma Long, the real reigning champion of table tennis. The International Table Tennis Federation has since 2017 ranked him at no.1 for 58 months straight. The accolades are fully justified. He is the only male player to have won every single title in table tennis and 5th one to have won the World Cup, World Championships and Olympics. In the world of Table Tennis, and as it is in the Highlander video slot game, there can be only one.
Volleyball: Zhu Ting
China’ and the world’s finest volleyball player is none other than Zhu Ting, a gold medallist winner at the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2015 World Cup. At 6 ft 6, Zhu Ting has proven to be quite the Outside Hitter and currently plays in the Turkish national league as part of the Vakifbank Istanbul team. She holds 9 MVP awards including one picked up at the 2016 Rio Olympics.