Off Topic: Greatest Sports Person Of All Time

In one of my old jobs, a colleague once tried to argue that Don Bradman, the Australian cricket player, was the greatest sports person of all time. His central argument? Statistics. Don Bradman, statistically, was so far ahead of his peers that he was undoubtedly the greatest cricket player who ever lived. I'm not sure this is an argument that can be settled with statistics.

So how do you judge it? By what competitions they won? Iconic performances? Cultural impact?

Obviously judging the greatest sports person of all time is fairly subjective, so let's hear opinions: who do you think is the greatest?

I have a couple of people who I think are up there: Muhammad Ali is the first one who springs to mind, just in terms of his impact. Another is Maradona, who I would say is the greatest soccer player who ever lived. More recently I think Roger Federer deserves a swing at the title. As does Michael Jordan probably, even though I'm not a massive fan of basketball.

Who would you say is the best?



    that is all.

      I was going to comment that "I think Roger Federer's pretty cool", but looks like you've got that covered.

      Not sure if he's the best sportsman ever, but in full flight he's the most impressive and dominant I've witnessed in real-time (though only ever on TV, unfortunately)

      100% Federer. He was dominant for so long and not by a small measure. Literally years of unrivaled performance. He was then overshadowed by some competitors but still managed to be one of the best tennis players, now he is back playing brilliantly again and looks like he may retain number 1 in the rankings again by end of this year. All of this in an individual sport, he can only rely on himself for his results. Plus he does a ton of charity work and comes across as a genuine good guy....easily best sportsman of all time.

    Bo. He knows things...

      Bo knows this. And Bo knows that.

      But Bo don't know Jack - cause Bo can't rap.

      (thankyou A Tribe Called Quest's Phife Dawg)

        All these references from 20+ years ago are making me feel so so old... :'(

    It has to be Michael Jordan. Nobody else could have saved the planet from the Monstars.

    I sadly had to look up Maradona to see who he was. I read it as Madonna the first time and was doubly confused.

    I don't know a lot of sportspeople so they have to have made a huge impact, or have been picked up by marketing people, or have a game franchise for me to know who they are.
    Ones I have heard of from Soccer are Pelé, from Gridiron, erm... Mr Madden, I know Jordan from Nike ads and that cartoon movie. I remember a few rugby league players from my childhood, as I used to buy and sell footy cards in the playground, but I don't think any of them would qualify.
    Formula one, I used to know them all, but stopped watching years ago (around the time Nikki Lauder had his accident)
    I'm often embarrassed by my lack of sports knowledge, I actually find televised sports to intense in a way, I get too upset when my chosen team loses, and never really got into playing much in the way of team sports apart from playing ice hockey for the Macquarie Bears back in the late 80s.
    So, I'd vote for Ali, he was apparently amazing as a boxer, and was a cultural phenomenon. Most people in the world would recognise his face or name I'd reckon.

    I wonder if more than one or two female sportspersons will get mentioned.

    Senna, find me another sportsperson who's life and tragic death have changed the sport for the better.

      This is a strong argument for a question with no truly right answer

      Hell yes. Insanely talented and with the balls to match.

      Apollo Creed!!!!! Never forget Apollo Creed!!!!!!

      Last edited 07/11/14 5:58 pm

        that's gotta be close to the introduction of headgear in Amateur boxing? I think Rocky IV was a bit later though.

    Billy Bremna ( grandad says so)

      Oop, Bremner. Seems he's Scottish too

    I'm biased, but I lean towards MJ as being the greatest sports person of all time. I'm not even convinced he is the best basketball player (it all depends on how you judge that), but as a sports person, his fire burned brighter than anyone I've heard about. Countless stories of his competitive nature, insane work ethic and drive.

    He didn't even make his high school basketball team, he didn't get drafted number 1 in to the NBA, but he fought through adversity time and time again and wouldn't stop until people recognised him as the greatest.

    I could go on, but Melbourne Cup festivities are calling me.

      true he was the greatest basketballer to play the game BUT lets not forget the Bulls had a team of stars during his day. Without Scottie Pippen for example, the legend of MJ would not be as great. Great teammates allowed Jordan to be even better.

        the bulls didi not have an all-star team nor a team of stars.

        Pippen yes, but no dominant centre, point guard or power forward. The bench was mostly role players, who came in and did what needed to be done at particular times.

    BTW, I just looked up Pelé and his name is actually "Edson Arantes do Nascimento", where did the name Pelé come from?

    Me. I am the greatest sports person of all time.

      I have never seen you sports. I need proof!

        I've already proved enough!

          3. BIOLOGY an animal or plant showing abnormal or striking variation from the parent type, especially in form or colour, as a result of spontaneous mutation.
          He's an exceptional shade of mauve, has three legs and horns. Definitely the greatest sport in existence. (Or so I have to assume...)

          I nominate Lance Armstrong, for his services in promoting the importance of effective drug testing.

    Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards.

      A true inspiration to us all.

    It is Michael Jordan.

    6 winning finals, 6 MVP'z in finals etc etc

    In all seriousness, I think Rod Laver should be part of the conversation.

    Are we going to just skip the only true Aussie answer here? It's The Don

    I don't know many sportsball personalities, but I think we can all agree that the greatest of all time was that Aussie one. You all know who I'm talking about, it doesn't really need mentioning.

    Michael Jordan is "athletically" the greatest sportsman of all time.
    I think Usain Bolt should get a mention though because he is awesome.

    I can't believe no one has mentioned Don Bradman, his batting average of 99.98% is something that has never been matched and possibly never will.

    Put in a standard deviation over every sport, he has the highest average of 4.4, in front of Pele with 3.7. [Source]

    *Edit pipped at the post by Piat

    Last edited 04/11/14 12:01 pm

    Steven Bradbury without a doubt..... any who disagree are clearly wrong


    I don't know, it's hard to say really. Unfortunately, this is probably restricted to sports that are played on a pretty global level, so awesome athletes from sports like Rugby League and AFL would mostly be left out...if you asked anyone outside of Australia who Wally Lewis was for example, they'd stare at you with a blank face.

    If you believe Anthony Mundine, he's the greatest sportsperson in history. But I don't think you should believe him.

    Michael Schumacher? There's no denying he's got the greatest results in the history of F1 that may not ever be surpassed.
    David Beckham? While his skills on the field are debatable, there's no denying that he's one of, if not the most recognised sportsperson worldwide, even in countries like the US who are not big soccer playing nations. He is a huge ambassador for the sport.
    Donald Bradman? It's doubtful there will be another cricketer that gets even close to his on field accomplishments.
    Usain Bolt? Fastest sprinter to have ever lived, has smashed world records all over the place.
    Ian Thorpe? Arguably the greatest Olympic swimmer ever.
    Roger Federer? Possibly the greatest tennis player we've ever seen.

    Tough call.

    Last edited 04/11/14 12:04 pm

      And in the AFL you have Leigh Matthews and the Gary Abletts.

      Working out who is the greatest in their individual sport is difficult enough. Then trying to compare them to different sports... it gets messy. The Don has the stats, Schumacher has the results, Beckham & Jordan have the cultural impact. Who comes out in front depends solely on the metric you use.

      I was joking when I said Jordan earlier on but I do genuinely believe that he is one of the top contenders because he does very well by quite a lot of metrics.

      There are also the cyclists. A sport tainted by doping so much that the top names (Armstrong, Merckx and more) are all excluded by most. Even with the doping, what they achieved is simply amazing. Jan Ullrich could power up a mountain like a freight train along the plains, Contador dancing on his pedals is a sight to behold and Evans's descents are a thing of beauty.

        Then you have somebody like Marianne Vos
        World champion on road, track and cyclocross. Multiple world cup winner, multiple grand tour winner. Arguably the most well rounded cyclist ever.

          It's a real shame that I don't follow Women's cycling (because it's really damned hard). There's some exciting stuff going on. I hear Orica Greenedge has a genuine team at the moment too.

            I follow it a little but mostly through the connection with the greenedge mens team.
            Orica-AIS signed Emma Johansson who is the swedish national champ and UCI #1 ranked rider in 2103. They have been riding for her most of the season. I actually quite enjoy watching the ladies race some times at the teams are smaller and you can't get a sky train negating the race up the hills.
            But Vos is a great rider, was actually close to cutting a deal to allow her to ride on the mens Rabobank squad.

              Sky has single handedly dulled my interest in the grand tours. They just suck all the fun out of races.

              I forgot that there was a woman who almost got to ride with Rabobank. I heard about it at the time and thought it would be genuinely interesting (even if only as as domestic). Man... now I really want to see it happen.

              Last edited 05/11/14 3:17 pm

                Thought it was great that Orica ended above them on the UCI ranking this year.
                Just wish that Porte would hurry up and leave them so there is no reason at all to support them

    its gotta be steven bradbury.. amirite

    edit: aw someone beat me to it.

    in all seriousness though, its pretty much impossible to nail it down. also, i'm not seeing very many female athletes being mentioned.

    Last edited 04/11/14 12:24 pm

    Statistically, the greatest ever sportsman was Australia's Heather McKay.

    Playing squash at the top level, she lost her first match in 1960 and another in 1962. She retired from full-time competition in 1981. She was also a world champion in both hockey and racketball.

    No-one comes close.

    I'm going to drop a vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He took a sport where you aspire to be something more and excelled.

    Last edited 04/11/14 1:38 pm

    Wow, a lot of interesting opinions here.

    I think it's Lord Edmund Sports, who invented Sports in 1612. Before that, sports did not exist and we have him to thank for our ability to enjoy sports today.

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