Sunday, December 24, 2006

25 Greatest Athletes

This is actually an email that I sent out to friends a few years ago. Even though some things have changed over the last few years, I still feel pretty good about this list. Of note is the role that "alleged" use of performance enhancing substances has played in a number of my choices recent history. Regardless, the topic made me realize how much I enjoy writing about sports and can always be a great conversation piece for the holidays and those awkward conversations that are sure to take place. Happy Holidays!

Calling all sports fans,

In response to the list of the 25 greatest athletes of the last 25 years on ESPN.com, I have compiled my own Hall of Fame and would like to hear your thoughts. Granted, my list is somewhat biased (as they all are) due to my personal perspective and ability to guage performance, I feel that I have used a viable criteria to base my choices. I used the following criteria and weighted them accordingly:

1) Natural Ability - Genetic ability is the most important element of "athleticism" and is the building block upon which all great athletes are founded. Fundamentally, natural ability overrides all other aspects of athletics and provides the single greatest advantage in sports.

2) Competitiveness - Without competitiveness, natural ability cannot be maximized. Sheer will to win is the second-most important factor in athletics and separates the gifted from the legendary.

3) Impact on Sport/Culture - In order for an athlete to be truly great, he or she must change the way all other athletes in his or her sport are judged. The best of the best transcend their individual sport and inspire comparisons with athletes of different sports, as seen in this list. The ultimate legends have the ability to influence our culture as a whole.

4) Results - In a world of both team and individual sports, results are often a product of both ability and environment. In all sporting events there are certain elements that are beyond the control of the participants. Whether they be teammates, injury/illness or even luck, these factors often dictate results. In order to make this list one has to have had some measure of victory, but it is the least important component in my definition of a "Great Athlete."

I am pretty comfortable with the names on this list however, after number 10, I could rearrange the order forever. Here goes:

1) Michael Jordan - Quite possibly the best all-around athlete ever to walk the planet. He could have been a great professional football or baseball player as well. Competitive to a fault (read: gambling addiction) and a cultural icon. Can't touch the rings and MVP's either. Total package.

2) Lance Armstrong - Genetic freak. His heart is a third larger than the normal man and his VO2 max is roughly that of two people. Will to win and push his body to the limit is unparalleled in sports. Possibly the most inspirational human being on the planet today with regard to overcoming adversity. Changed the way people view what humans are capable of overcoming and accomplishing.

3) Wayne Gretzky - No one has ever dominated his or her team sport so completely for such a long period of time. The combination of balance, vision and instinct is off the charts. Made the NHL what it is today and is truly a cultural icon.

4) Pete Sampras - Best tennis player ever. Once again, probably could have been a professional in numerous sports. Has the whole package - size, strength, speed, skill and an absolutely killer competitive instinct. And a really impressive wife and list of former girlfriends for a weird looking guy.

5) Jerry Rice - The best football player ever. Freakish combination of speed, agility, focus, professionalism, work ethic and longevity. The records speak for themselves. We'll just forget the time with the Raiders, Seahawks and Broncos.

6) Eric Heiden - Won all 5 Olympic speed skating events at the 1980 Olympics. From 500 to 10,000 meters. Ridiculous. Will NEVER be duplicated. No one has ever been able to combine speed and endurance in such an overpowering fashion. No one has ever dominated an individual sport so completely on such a huge stage. After he quit skating, he became a professional cyclist and competed in the Tour de France. He dropped out and almost killed himself, but he got there nonetheless.

7) Magic Johnson - A 6'9" point guard. Do I need to say anything else? Quick, strong, huge. I hated the Lakers but had to admire and fear Magic. A pure leader, winner and cold blooded killer in the clutch. No one has ever been able to fill so many roles on a playing field. He then redefined how people view HIV and what the human body and mind are capable of overcoming. Cultural icon and leader.

8) Barry Bonds - With the possible exception of Willie Mays, the best combination of speed and power in the history of baseball. No one, in any sport, has ever been feared as much as Barry Bonds. His ability to completely alter the strategy of the game and capitalize on a pitchers mistakes is unparalleled. Of all the athletes in my top 10, he has the smallest margin for error and makes it look easier than anyone.

9) Dave Scott - 6 time Hawaii Ironman Triathlon winner. Placed second three times including 1994, at 40 years old. Placed fifth in '96 at 42. No sport requires as much dedication and labor as the triathlon and no one has been able to do it as well for as long as Dave Scott. There is also no event that tests the limits of human endurance and will more than the Hawaii Ironman. 2.4 mi. openwater swim, 112 mi. bike and a 26.2 mi. Marathon through scorching heat. Scott's personal bests in all three disciplines are world-class in their own right, only he did them all in the same day. Many times. Set the standard by which all other single day endurance athletes are judged.

10) Carl Lewis - The greatest track and field athlete ever. Four golds in four events in 1984. Nine Olympic golds and one silver spanning four Olympic games over twelve years. Total medals would have been even higher if the U.S. hadn't boycotted the 1980 Games. Numerous World Records. Voted World Athlete of the year in '82, '83,'84, World Athlete of the Decade ('80's) and Olympic Athlete of the Century. Completely changed the earning potential for track and field athletes around the world and set the standard for longevity in the sport. Also is responsible for the funniest moment ever on Sportscenter with his national anthem performance. I cried.

Here are the rest without detail:
11) Joe Montana
12) Martina Navratilova
13) Sugar Ray Leonard
14) Jackie Joyner Kersee
15) Greg LeMond
16) Mario Lemieux
17) Alex Rodriguez
18) John McEnroe
19) Tiger Woods
20) Michael Johnson
21) Larry Bird
22) Patrick Roy
23) Deion Sanders
24) Rickey Henderson
25) Bo Jackson

Let me know what you think.

8 comments:

mfc47 said...

"...some, like P.S.(PETE SAMPRAS)... hide their killer instinct and unshakeable self-esteem behind gentlement-exteriors."
(by N. Shekar)
-----------------------------------
i wish this will help him to COME BACK...(2007!), to RISE UP his GAME, to make his fans happy and to FLY HIGH, as only HE CAN FLY!!!
(always his fan and admirer!)
-----------------------------------

"TWenty years from now, You will regret the things You did not do, rather than the things You did. So raise your sails, aim for the sky, and your ship might yet fly"-
-Mark TWAIN.
...i am 100% ShURRRRRRRRRRRREe!

Jeremy Arnold said...

Mr. Federer may end up on here soon but Pete is still the man. You always hear people say he was boring or stiff as a personality but I disagree. The gentleman reference is good. He's like James Bond..."I'm going to kill you but I'm going to be cool about it." Even though I always root for the mellow guy over the loud guy(Pete over Andre, Lendl over McEnroe etc) it's good to have contrasting styles and personalities. It's just always cooler to be cool.

Alan Fleisig said...

I know a million people will say, but what about...

Still. Sugar Ray Leonard and no Muhammed Ali???

Otherwise, very interesting and well considered list.

Jeru said...

It was tough to decide between the two. When it comes to social impact and that certain undefineable "greatness" then Ali would surely be on the list. I had to consider Leonard a better athlete because he bounced through so many different weight classes and regularly beat up bigger guys. Unfortunately the quality of competitiveness could be argued to have made both Ali and Leonard sacrifice far too much of their health for another notch in the W column. Two of the smartest athletes that ultimately let their egos write checks that their bodies couldn't cash.

Anonymous said...

No Eddie Merckx???

J.T.A. said...

In retrospect, the list is pretty All-American - maybe too much - but I had to limit it to the last 25 years so The Cannibal didn't make the cut.

Anonymous said...

no women made the top 25? no even one!?

J.T.A. said...

Uhh...actually I put two women on the list. Martina Navratilova and Jackie Joyner Kersee are sad that you did not notice them. I was really debating Babe Didrikson as well but she would have been in my Top 30.
In time...as women's sports continue to grow, there will be more ladies on this list. Athletics are a reflection of society in that respect.