Sports have produced many of the world’s most famous and iconic personalities in history. These athletes were not only admired by millions of people across the globe but have also served as idols and sources of inspiration due to their innate talents, impeccable hard work, and sheer determination. Some of them even transcended their fields, attaining significant accomplishments outside the sports arena. Here, let’s look at the top ten most famous athletes of all time and pay tribute to their lasting influence and legacy.
1. Roger Federer
There’s no question that Roger Federer is the most dominating player in Men’s tennis, earning him popularity across the world. He earned 20 Grand Slam titles, which include 8 Wimbledons, 6 Australian Opens, 5 U.S. Opens, and a single French Open title. While Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have tied him with the record and the latter also eclipsing him in the total number of weeks at no. 1, Federer holds the record of 237 consecutive weeks at the top of ATP rankings, proving his enduring success.
Even at an age when most players have already retired, he continued to compete at the highest levels and earn victories, this time an attestation to his impeccable skills and conditioning. Indeed, he’s one of the sport’s most influential personalities, a great force that also helped catapult tennis into immense popularity in the modern era.
2. Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, earning 28 medals, with 23 of them gold. At the age of 15, he joined his first Olympics in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney Australia. Though he didn’t win any medal at his first outing, Phelps became the most successful athlete in the next four Olympic Games. And, while people won’t be seeing him after calling it quits in the 2016 Rio Games, his fantastic achievements in the sport of swimming are one for the books and will make him well-known even in the future generations.
3. Serena Williams
Serena Williams is renowned for radically changing the landscape of women’s tennis. She has earned 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most for any woman or man in the open era. If that wasn’t enough, she also has four Olympic gold medals under her belt. A living legend, Williams’ superb athleticism, and powerful playing style are on another level, allowing her to dominate the sport. Yet, she wasn’t only a superstar on the court, as she established her image through fashion, celebrity events, and advertisements. Adding the charitable works and advocacies she has done with her global reach, Williams is truly legendary.
4. Lebron James
Starting from high school, Lebron James had already drawn attention and been surrounded with hype being compared to the likes of Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. When entered the NBA fresh from high school, he was deemed as “The Chosen One,” an athlete that would rank with or overtake the best, and Lebron didn’t disappoint and even exceeded expectations. A true icon of greatness, he has four championships, four-time Finals MVP, four-time league MVPs, and two Olympic gold medals.
One of his greatest legacies happened in 2016 when he carried the decrepit Cleveland Cavaliers team to the Finals. Down 3-1 against the dynasty of Golden State Warriors, he led the team and pulled off the biggest comeback in NBA history, also bringing the franchise its first-ever NBA title. That’s a feat that will be difficult to topple and hard to forget.
5. Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is among the most prolific and most renowned golfers in history, responsible for making the sport of gold even more popular than soccer and hockey in the United States. He has 15 major championships and became the first golfer to hold all four professional major championships at one time, establishing his legacy in the sport. Yet, Woods was not only adored for his athleticism and mastery. He was fresh, bold, had the flair and swagger, and shattered all the rules, things that made people love and follow the Tiger.
6. Lionel Messi
The Barcelona Star, Lionel Messi is among the most revered athletes in the world of football, winning six Ballon D’OrS, the most in history. An ingenious playmaker and a prolific goalscorer, watching him on the field is a true entertaining sight due to his impeccable stability, control, and accuracy. A diminutive, left-footed yet highly-skilled dribbler, he slices through the defense of the entire opposing team, scores goals, and wins victory for his team. He defies it all, no surprise that he is well-loved and serves as a major inspiration to millions of football enthusiasts across the planet.
7. Babe Ruth
Often regarded as the “Father of Baseball,” Babe Ruth’s dominance in the game revolutionized the sport forever. In his over 20-season career, he often outhomed the entire teams. One of his notable records is attaining 60 home runs in one single, a record that had been unparalleled for 38 years. Not to mention that he also previously shattered the single-season home run record three times: 29 (1919), 54 (1920), and 59 (1921). He also smashed records in most total bases in a season, a feat that still stands a century after.
With his mythical greatness, he single-handedly made the sport the nation’s primary pastime. He was a true game hero, appealing to both adults and kids during his time. Indeed, his legacy will be forever inscribed to the hearts and minds of all baseball fans across all generations.
8. Cristiano Ronaldo
Having over 300 million followers on Instagram, placing him as the most followed athlete and individual, is already a testament to Cristiano Ronaldo’s immense popularity around the world. Such fame is backed up by his tremendous mastery and achievements in the sport, leading in the number of Champions League goals (overall), Champions League goals (season), and international soccer matches goals scored. There are several other titles and accolades linked to his name, making him a true GOAT.
9. Michael Jordan
A person synonymous with basketball, Michael Jordan is perhaps the first person to come into people’s minds when thinking about the sport, even for those who didn’t even watch a basketball game. Voted as NBA’s greatest, he has joined the league in 15 seasons, won six championships, six regular-season MVPs, and six Finals MVPs. while still holding the record of the highest career scoring average in NBA history at 30.12 PPG.
A cultural icon, he helped the league catapult into worldwide popularity across the world from the 1980s to the 1990s. His high-flying leaping ability and all-around excellent basketball talent have greatly influenced many generations, serving as the barometer for new players wanting to be the “next Michael Jordan.” Though many aspire, no athlete again from the sport may surpass his popularity and or even just be his equal.
10. Muhammad Ali
Topping this list is Muhammad Al, the legendary heavyweight champion that changed the world of boxing no other athlete has ever done before or since. He brought the speed, power, mobility, and quick reflexes other players at his time didn’t possess, allowing to capture an Olympic medal and three heavyweight titles. Adding his distinct fighting style, flair, and desire to win, drawing new perception and attention to the sport.
Yet, his impact was felt not only inside the ring. Outside, he used his word to send powerful political, social, and cultural messages, such as those concerning war and racism. He also raised awareness about Parkinson’s disease, made humanitarian trips, and advocated peace and harmony, proving that athletes can break the status quo and bring positive changes.
While other famous athletes tend to veer away from interviews and from their admirers, Muhammad Ali made himself available to answer questions and reach out to as many individuals as he could. His innate charisma, openness, and comedic sense made him adored by millions. All that apart from his performances inside the arena will forever place him as the most famous and revered athlete of all time.