Is one the greatest of all time in his/her sport if s/he had the least benefit from scientific training while dominating his sport? Or do we simply accept that science created athletes beyond compare?
Nowadays there are hyperbaric chambers, electrotherapy, core training, proprioception training and even unusual boosts such as Regenokine (joint) Therapy, GyroStim and even Stem Cell therapy which were all non-existent during the beginning of sports. During the 50s, 60s thru the 80s many athletes didn’t even weight-train therefore their dominance was from raw athletic talent. Shouldn’t they be considered GOATS too?
It is impossible to name just one GOAT athlete per sport as different generations had different resources and standards. These debates make for great conversations over beer & chips so what this writer decided to do was compile the GOATS of each sport across generations IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER. To wit:
- Jack Nicklaus – He won 73 tournaments, 18 majors including 6 Masters, 5 PGA championships, 4 US Open titles and 3 British Open Titles. From 1962 thru 1986 he was the undisputed king of his sport being its money leader, PGA player of the year leader and fan leader.
- Tiger Woods – Considered by some as the greatest golfer already despite not retiring yet, Tiger Woods took the golfing world by storm ever since he turned pro in 1996. From 1999 to 2004 he was the no. 1 ranked golfer in the world holding that record for the longest time in the history of the sport. He has won 15 majors & may well overtake Jack Nicklaus before he retires but the reason why many consider him the greatest is the effect he had on his sport. Largely ignored by the masses before, Tiger made golfing cool. His African-American and Thai mix races helped his popularity no doubt but Tiger is a player that brings instant TV Ratings (and money) to the sport and his incredible game contributed to the legend that he is today.
- Arnold Palmer – If Tiger Woods is todays Golfing Pied Piper, Arnold Palmer was his equivalent in the 50’s thru the 80’s. He had “Arnold’s Army” of fans, the Arnold Palmer drink and he won a total of 61 tournaments throughout his career including 7 majors and is a member of the Golf Hall of Fame. Obviously one of the most charismatic golfers, Arnold Palmers legend to this day remains unforgettable.
Honorable mention: Bobby Jones – He won 13 Majors and is still the only golfer ever to have won a grand slam in a single year. Bobby Jones had the potential to be the greatest golfer but never turned professional in his career thus never earning any prize money. He played for fun and retired at 28 depriving the golfing community of one of its true legends & spawning a lot of “what if…” discussions.
- Roger Federer – The winner of 20 grand slams (a record) is also the only player to win 5 consecutive US Open titles. From 2004 – 2006 Roger won an astounding 90% of his matches with a career total of 846 match wins. He held the no. 1 ranking for a record 310 weeks and has held his top 10 ranking for 14 years straight now. Born in Switzerland, Federer’s tournament winnings are an incredible $130 Million. His career record is 1242-271 which not only speaks of his prowess but of his longevity.
- Rafael Nadal – The King of the Clay court has won 19 Grand Slams and is currently the no. 2 ranked player in the world. He was also an Olympian in 2008 at Beijing and at Rio de Jainero in 2016. A very forceful player, Nadal brings intensity & spunk to his game as one of the greatest to ever do it. Born in Spain, Nadal has earned over $120Million in prize money.
- Novak Djokovic – Djoko as he is fondly called is a Serbian who turned pro in 2003 and has won 17 Grand Slam tournaments and is currently the world no. 1 having won 5 Wimbledon titles, 8 Australian Opens among others for a total of 77 singles titles. He may not be as popular as Federer or Nadal but his game speaks for itself.
Honorable mentions: Pete Sampras and Rod Laver
- The world’s most popular sport has no shortage of stars but the lone inter-galactic superstar is Pele from Brazil – Hands down the most awarded athlete of our time, he was named Athlete of the Century in 1999 by the National Olympic Committee and was the top goal scorer for Brazil and ALL the leagues he played in. Born as Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele’s superstar legend exploded in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden when he showed the “feet of the gods” by scoring 3 out of 5 goals to win over the host country. In total for his career, he had 1281 goals in 1363 games which needless to say was a record that still stands. When Pele played, the world stopped to watch.
- Diego Maradona – The pocket rocket was just 5 foot 5 inches and was dubbed the Golden Boy of Futbol. Maradona was known for his incredible skills as a playmaker & scorer. His 1986 World Cup goal from 60 meters going past 5 English players was voted the “Goal of the Century” by Fifa. The Houston Chronicle once wrote of Maradona, “To understand the gargantuan shadow Maradona casts over his futbol-mad homeland, one has to conjure up the athleticism of Michael Jordan, the power of Babe Ruth and the human fallibility of Mike Tyson. Lump them together in a single barrel-chested man with shaggy black hair and you have El Diego, idol to millions who call him D10S, a mashup of his playing number and the Spanish word for god.”
- Lionel Messi – Another Argentinian with accomplishments so long – won 5 La Ligas, 2 Copa Del Rays, 3 champions leagues, 2 super cups, 2 world cups, Olympic gold medalist…the list goes on and on. Luis Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini was a phenom the minute he touched a futbol. At 13 he was already playing in Spain helping his club win more than 2 dozen league titles. At 5’7’ he is compared to Diego Maradona and is the youngest player ever to score a goal for FC Barcelona at 16. His one big disappointment in his career is his inability to bring the Argentinian national team a World Cup Championship. Otherwise this futbol wizard just keeps attacking record after record and is a legend & superstar in Argentina.
- Unlike the previous sports above, I had to put a 4th Futbol player – Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal to be considered as one of the Futbol GOATS. He holds records having won 4 Eurpoean Golden Shoes awards & 5 Ballons d’ORO both of which are Eurpoean player records. He holds the record for most goals scored in the UEFA Champions league with 128 and is often considered the best player today. It literally is a debate between Messi & Ronaldo although in popularity, the good-looking Ronaldo has Messi beat by a mile.
- Jerry Rice – This 3-time Super Bowl Champion & Super Bowl MVP holds the NFL record for most touchdowns, total receptions, total touchdown receptions and receiving yards. He’s the only player in NFL history with more than 20,000 receiving yards making him the greatest Wide Receiver & player in the NFL. Together with Joe Montana, the San Francisco 49ers dominated and together they formed the most lethal and likeable tandem in football. Rice was fast, quick, strong & in college was called “world” in reference to his other-worldly ability to catch all sorts of thrown footballs in whatever postion he was in.
- Tom Brady – Proving life indeed is unfair, this good-looking athlete is also the winningest NFL player having won 6 Super Bowl crowns as a quarterback for the New England Patriots. Blessed with great vision & passing abilities, Brady was always a clutch performer having won 4 Super Bowl MVP’s. Although involved in a ball-deflating controversy, his star power remains. To add insult to everyone’s injury, his wife is supermodel Giselle Bundchen.
- Lawrence Taylor – ESPN wrote the following about Lawrence Taylor: “Taylor created the outside linebacker position in his own image. He was 6’4” and 240lbs of athletic fury, a Butkus with wheels. Fast enough to cover receivers, strong enough to bully offensive linemen, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. And heaven help any quarterback who got in his way”. To put it mildly, Taylor was wild and mean and stronger than strong such that we don’t need to talk about all his awards, mvp’s & individual records. One look at him & you see why he sowed fear in the NFL during his playing years. A physical specimen like no other, Taylor made it his mission to destroy opponents on a daily basis.
Honorable mentions: Jim Brown and Walter Payton
- Michael Phelps – It’s hard not to call this man the GOAT of swimming when his medals speak for themselves. He had an incredible 28, count ‘em, 28 Olympic medals to his name – 23 Gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals making him the most bemedaled and decorated athlete ever. In 2008 in Beijing, he won 8 golds by setting 7 new world records. He initially retired after his 4th Olympics but came back to compete in Rio in 2016 and proceeded to win 5 more golds and a silver to cap his career. He’s been called the greatest athlete ever and it’s tough to argue against that.
- Mark Spitz – Prior to Michael Phelps in 2008, the record of Mark Spitz was thought to be unbreakable. Mark had 7 straight gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics. That’s a record he held for 36 years. He was dubbed “Mark the Shark” as he swept all the swimming events in 1972. In total he has 11 Olympic medals capped by those transcendent performances in Munich, Germany.
- Matt Biondi – This Olympic Legend and Hall of Famer blazed his trail in the 1988 Seoul Olympics with 7 medals, 5 of which were gold while setting 4 new world records. The “California Condor” was given the monicker because he owned a wingspan of a seven-footer which certainly helped his legendary exploits.
- Ian Thorpe – “The Thorpedo” made his mark in his hometown of Australia in the 2000 Olympics. He certainly is Australia’s most decorated athlete, Thorpe showed blinding speed aided by his flippers – size 17 feet. His specialty was freestyle swimming and he captured a total of 9 Olympic medals in his career.
- Muhammad Ali – He called himself the greatest and rightfully so. After winning the 1960 Olympics gold medal, he went on to be the 1st heavyweight to win the title three times. His infamous rope-a-dope strategy was akin to a Baranggay Ginebra comeback where he would exhaust the opponent by making him think he’s about to win only to have Ali take command after taking a beating. A very scary strategy which is not only proof of his athletic stamina but his crazy mentality. Famous worldwide, this charismatic & opinionated boxer was not ashamed to declare his political beliefs and had such a worldwide influence that his biggest fights were outside the US. The “Thrilla in Manila” and the “Rumble in the Jungle” (Zaire) captivated the fans & the worldwide audience proving that just like Michael Jordan and Pele, his greatness transcended sports. Oftentimes considered THE greatest Athlete ever, Ali sadly passed away due to Parkinson’s disease.
- Sugar Ray Robinson – How great was Robinson? As an amateur his record was 85-0. In those 85 fights 40 were knockouts in the 1st His professional record was 128-1-2 with 84 knockouts. He was the middleweight champion of the world from 1946-1951, retired in 1952 and made a comeback in 1955 to regain the same title. It was Robinson who was responsible for the creation of a pound-for-pound boxers rankings where fighters were compared regardless of weight class. He was also the 1st known athlete with a flamboyant lifestyle that started having his own entourage or groupie. Twice named fighter of the year, he died a sad death due to Alzheimer’s disease & diabetes.
- Mike Tyson – Sure, Iron Mike was controversial. He was jailed for a supposed rape of a black beauty contestant. He was also probably the most exploited boxer ever by his former manager, Don King. He owned exotic animals, partied like there was no tomorrow and at one point was probably the most undisciplined athlete ever. But anyone who saw Iron Mike perform automatically saw the fear he instilled in opponents & the extreme hurt he inflicted every time one of his punches were thrown. Still to this day the youngest boxer ever to become the heavyweight champion of the world, when Tyson stepped into the ring, the entire world watched and normally watched him destroy his opponents, often in the 1st Experts guessed that had he been focused on his career, there would’ve been no doubt about his status as the greatest fighter ever. The lack of proper education & guidance surely contributed to the distractions. Today, Tyson has straightened his life & is in the entertainment business doing movies & comedy.
Honorable mentions – Manny Pacquiao, Joe Luis, Rocky Marciano
And finally…. Basketball
- Dear Filipino sports fans, sorry but this is the only category with a specific answer. Michael Jordan is the G.O.A.T. I’ll say that again – Michael Jeffrey Jordan is the Greatest of All Time basketball player. Younger fans may disagree with this statement, especially with the recent passing of Kobe Bryant and the accomplishments of Lebron James and for older fans, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. There is however, no doubt of the wild, universal impact that Jordan had at all corners of the world. We can talk about his athleticism never seen during his time, his legendary drive & competitiveness & everything else the whole world knows – yes, the whole WORLD young & old know about Michael Jordan. We can talk about 6 finals MVP’s and 2 threepeats and 5 regular season MVP’s but we all know that. We can recall all his winning shots, the fact that he always rose to the occasion and that he did all that while getting very minimal sleep every night. The man was a maniac with a ball. In 1993 he retires, takes 18 months off, comes back and leads a 2nd threepeat. How is that even done? He himself, alone equaled the Beatles where everyone, everywhere wanted a piece of Michael. His sneaker sales, despite being retired for 17 years now, continue to be no. 1 worldwide. The game changed because of MJ. People as far as Tibet, Iceland, Sweden and Sri Lanka wear his jersey despite not being basketball-loving countries. NBA players’ salaries are monumental now because of him. There is no single athlete worldwide that continues to have the impact that he has. His net worth is now $2.1Billion making him the richest athlete/businessman in the world. You don’t achieve that if you aren’t the greatest ever. Lastly, even when he briefly played baseball, he sold out all the arenas despite not being too good because fans wanted to see the GOAT.
- Lebron James – This was tough. I originally had Kareem Abdul Jabbar at no. 2 but changed my mind because of the sheer dominance Lebron currently has as the best player in the NBA. He’s been that since maybe 2008 or 2009. At 22 years old he brought Cleveland to the finals with a bunch of teammates no one remembers. In their 1st meeting vs Golden State, he took the series to 6 games without help – no Kyrie Irving, no Kevin Love via an insane series of games where he led the Cavs in ALL statistical categories. The 1-3 comeback in 2016 is self-explanatory. In game 1 of the 2018 NBA finals vs Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson & Draymond Green, he had 51points, 8 rebounds & 8 assists & could’ve won if not for the bonehead play of J.R. Smith. I can go on and on about the great games & immoveable force that is Lebron but he does stay at no. 2 because earlier in his career (2010 & 2011) he actually choked & quit in the NBA playoffs & finals. He has since learned to overcome that & has been to the finals 9 straight times, a feat that if you think about it is UNBELIEVABLE. Lebron is still writing his story but it’s clear that he will be 1st ballot Hall-of-Fame once his playing days are over. And despite being an equally loved & hated athlete, people will miss him once he’s done because there has not been any other athlete with his combination of speed, strength, height, heft & IQ.
- Kareem Abdul Jabbar – They changed the rules for him in college. A six-time MVP, a 19-time all-star, 6-time Champion, award upon award upon award. A 71-game winning streak in highschool, in college his team racked up an 88-2 record under John Wooden, in the NBA he destroyed teams with his patented skyhook winning championships in Milwaukee & LA. However, he was also averse to the media and alienated himself from society in general. This more than anything else affected his status with the general basketball fans. It shouldn’t though. The numbers speak for themselves.