Sunday, February 08, 2009

Who Are The Greatest Athletes of All-Time?

My hometown newspaper, The Port Huron Times Herald, is going to be doing a series on the top 50 athletes to ever come out of St. Clair County, Michigan - the county in which I grew up. Although there haven't been very many notable athletes to come out of that part of Michigan, there have been several people that have played at the professional level. I'm interested to see which people I competed against or was able to see play that will make the list.

But the thought of this type of ranking got me thinking - just who are the greatest athletes ever? I've done a little research and have come up with my top 10 athletes of all-time. I chose athletes that not only dominated in their primary sport, but also had demonstrated ability in at least one other sport at a high level. Here they are in descending order:

10. Vincent (Bo) Jackson - Although his baseball and football careers were cut short due to a hip injury, Bo Jackson exhibited his vast athletic abilities during his relatively short pro career. The first person to play in the All-Star games in two different major sports, Jackson was a punishing running back for the Raiders and possessed a devastating combination of power and speed for the Royals and White Sox.

9. Rafer Johnson - Johnson excelled in the decathlon during the late 1950's and took home the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. His athleticism spread to the football field where he was offered a football scholarship to UCLA (which he eventually declined) and the basketball court, where he was a starter on the UCLA basketball team. Johnson was also a student leader with Campus Crusade for Christ at UCLA in the early days of the ministry there.

8. Dave Winfield - Most well-known for his versatility on the baseball field, Winfield demonstrated a graceful mix of power and speed during his Hall of Fame career for such teams as the Padres, Yankees and Twins. But Winfield also started for the Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball team in college and, because of his obvious athletic talents, was drafted by the Vikings in the NFL draft -- even though he never played football in college. No other athlete has ever been drafted in all three major professional sports.

7. Jackie Joyner-Kersee - Arguably the greatest female track and field athlete in U.S. history, Joyner-Kersee's top event was the heptathlon where she won an Olympic silver in 1984 and golds in 1988 and 1992. She also excelled at the long jump and won a total of six Olympic medals - the most ever by a female U.S. track and field athlete. In addition to her dominance in track and field, she also was a member of the basketball team at UCLA.

6. Jackie Robinson - Everyone knows Robinson as the trailblazer who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier with the Dodgers in 1947, but few know that his athletic pursuits extended to several other sports. In fact, some felt baseball, in which he enjoyed a Hall of Fame career, was his weakest sport. Robinson also earned varsity letters in college in basketball, football and track and field.

5. Michael Jordan - Jordan redefined basketball success with the Chicago Bulls during the 1980's and '90's. Possessing the skill and competitiveness needed to succeed in what is arguably the most athletic sport in existence, Jordan dominated the NBA by winning ten scoring titles and six NBA titles (including six NBA Finals MVP's.) During his first retirement from basketball, he played professional baseball for a short time.

4. Babe Didrikson Zaharias - Considered by many to be the greatest female athlete ever, Zaharias outshone her competitors on the golf course, basketball court, baseball diamond and on the track and field. She won three medals (two gold, one silver) at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic games and was an All-American basketball player. She achieved her greatest success on the golf course where she won a total of 82 tournaments, including 17 straight wins at one point.

3. Wilt Chamberlain - It could be argued that Wilt "The Stilt" is the most dominating presence to have ever played professional basketball. He averaged 50 points/game over the course of a full NBA season and famously scored 100 points in a single game. He averaged nearly 23 rebounds a game over his career. As a college student at Kansas, Chamberlain shone in track & field and, after his basketball career was over, he played professional volleyball.

2. Jim Brown - Remembered for his Hall of Fame career as a running back for the Cleveland Browns, Brown was a punishing runner who led the NFL in rushing all but one of his nine seasons in the league. While at Syracuse, Brown was an All-American in lacrosse and earned letters in basketball and track & field. If that wasn't enough, he was given the opportunity to play for the New York Yankees and became a movie star after retiring from the NFL.

1. Jim Thorpe - In an era when Native Americans were all but dismissed by mainstream society, Jim Thorpe became a legend due to his athletic dominance. His abilities almost seem unbelievable in this day and age. He was an Olympic gold medalist in the pentathlon and decathlon. He had a Hall of Fame career as a football player and helped to found the NFL. He played professional baseball and also played on a barnstorming basketball team. Considering the challenges that he must have encountered, his accomplishments are all the more impressive.

So that's my list. Who would you include?

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