Sportspeople who were / are the greatest ever

How many sports are there where one individual is unquestionably regarded as the greatest of all time?

Off the top of my head I can think of
-Cricket (Sir Donald Bradman)
-Basketball (Michael Jordan)
-Soccer (Pele)
-and possibly ice hockey (Wayne Gretzky)

Any others?

Now that I think about it there are probably quite a few women who fit into this category. Steffi Graf in tennis springs to mind.

Chess: Bobby Fischer

Football: Jim Brown

Graf over Navratilova :dubious:

Football - Maradonna

Motor Racing - Michael Schumacher

Cricket (batting) - Bradman; Bowling - Dennis Lillee; All Rounder - Ian Botham.

Athletics- Ed Moses.

Tennis (women’s) - Navratelova.

Rowing - Sir Steve Redgrave.

Cricket: Sir Garfield St Aubrun Sobers

I’m looking for the catch that excludes baseball from this list.

“Babe Ruth” is the clearest answer, the defining answer, the no-brainer answer to this question, and i would have bet anything he was part of the OP, if not the first response.

I guess we’ll find out tomorrow whether to add Lance Armstrong to the list.

With track and swimming it’s kind of hard to say. Mark Spitz was dominant in swimming in his day, but I don’t think his times would compare to world class swimmers today. Michael Phelps may well dethrone him anyway.

I think it’s safe to go ahead and pencil him in.

I sort of disagree with calling Schumacher the best ever. More accurate to say the Ferrari engineers are the best ever. Besides, I would nominate someone like Andretti, Foyt or Petty.

Baseball: Ruth over Bonds by a bit, only because Ruth pitched, too.

Football: I would put Unitas ahead of Jim Brown. Johnny U made the quarterback position what it is today.

Golf: Nicklaus ahead of Woods.

Cycling: Lance Armstrong.

Pool: Willie Mosconi

Hockey: Wayne Gretzky

Jeopardy!: Ken Jennings.

I don’t think any football player could reasonably be called the “greatest ever.” There are just too many different positions: can you really say that Jim Brown is “better” than Johnny Unitas, or that either is better than Jerry Rice? One is a running back, one a QB, and one a receiver. This is true in most sports, but more prevalent in football, I think.

Nope, Wilt is the greatest basketball player ever. :wink:

BTW, Mike Schmidt is the greatest third baseman of all time, beyond argument to anyone who understands baseball. Not exactly the question you asked, but the best I could do.

THE Greatest – Muhammad Ali.

Unquestioningly the “Greatest Ever” is pretty impossible to say for any sport that has been around any length of time.
Is Ruth better than Bonds? Maybe, but a lot has changed since Ruth played. Both are unquestioninly in the top 10 of the thousands of men to have played baseball in the last 130 years. And then there are the pitchers too. A whole other ball of wax.

Even with Ice Hockey (a sport that hasn’t existed in it’s modern form for as long as many of the others mentioned) would have several contenders for “the greatest”. Gretzky was pretty fantastic, but he came along during an era of very high scoring (which he also contributed to)… some people would argue for Howe, Orr, Lemieux or even Hasek.

Greatest of a generation (20-30 year period) is somewhat easier to assess. But that wasn’t the OP. :smiley:

OP here. I didn’t include baseball mainly because I know very little about it. I do however remember reading an article by someone who concluded that Mickey Mantle was the greatest ever. If there are experts disagreeing then by definition that person is not unquestionably the greatest ever.

I thought the examples I gave were pretty clear-cut, although there seems to be some dispute over all of them (even Bradman). Basically I only wanted the list to include only those who there was no debate about.

Maybe there aren’t any.

There aren’t. There are only degrees of debatability. For one thing, everybody has some kind of bias towards athletes- bias against certain generations, certain teams, certain people, whatever. You also have to consider that “greatness” is in itself a subjective term. Somebody might point to Wilt’s scoring and rebounding records and argue that he was statistically the greatest, while someone else could bring up Jordan’s championships as proof of that player’s greatness.

That’s what makes discussions like this timeless, and makes them so much fun, but ultimately fruitless. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll argue Lawrence Taylor vs. Jerry Rice all day long, but there will never be anything approaching indisputability. If you could prove greatness objectively, there’d be no debate. If you were to accept that greatness is wholly subjective, there’d still be no debate, because everybody decides for themselves. So what most sports fans do is ignore that part of it, and pretend our personal definition of greatness is the only real one. We subjectively determine the objective meaning of “great.” Which is why I know for a fact that Ruth, Jordan, and Gretzky were the greatest ever in their sports, and why I think it’s my job to convince everybody else of that. Good times.

The greatest ever.
Watch the movie “When We Were Kings” and you truly realize why Ali is the greatest.

Bradman sure, Lillee maybe (though myself I would pick Richard Hadlee), but Botham couldn’t touch Sir Gary Sobers.

Trillionaire, baseball is probably the sport most prone to arguments - there are so many statistics and it is, compared to the other North American major sports, very old, and your average fan is probably a bit geekier. :wink: The consensus far and away is on Ruth.

You can argue that other players had more physical talent (like Willie Mays), or would have been comparable had they had better luck with health (like Mantle), but I don’t think anybody in a North American professional sport ever stood head and shoulders beyond everyone else in his time the way Ruth did. He was the first and greatest giant of his sport. Jordan was the best basketball player, but at least there were people who could compete with him. In 1919, Ruth became the first guy in baseball to hit 28 home runs in a season (he finished with 29). Doesn’t sound so impressive? The next year, he became the first guy to hit 30, 40, and 50 in a season (ended up with 54). In 1927, he was the first guy to hit 60 - more home runs than any other team in the league.

Early in his career, was the best pitcher in the game (I think he still holds the record for wins in the World Series), and he became the best slugger. He took over the all-time career home run record in 1921 with his 139th. When he retired, he’d pushed it to 714 - and the next closest guy had 378.

Granted, these days the average athlete is much better, so excelling is that much harder. But Babe Ruth is synonymous with his sport for a reason.

I’m not sure what sport you’d associate Babe Diedriksen Zaharias with (she was a champion golfer among other things). Jim Thorpe is among the all-around greats. I’d take Navratilova in women’s tennis, in men’s I’m less sure. You can make a case for Pete Sampras, and probably a better one for Rod Laver.

I agree, no rational baseball fan could argue this. The next best would probably be George Brett.