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Daily Article for 2022-05-26

Who are the 25 Greatest Athletes of All Time? by Mark D. Hauser (part 2 of 4)

1. MICHAEL JORDAN. Believe it or not, this was my easiest decision. (After this it is fuzzy -- meaning I could change my mind tomorrow on places 2-25.) Do I really have to defend this choice? I could write a book on why he is the greatest athlete ever, methodically explaining to you how he comes through with flying colors on all 10 criteria, however, if you saw him play numerous times and did not put him number 1 on your list, then nothing I write here will convince you.

And if you never saw him play -- you missed not only the greatest athlete of all time, but also the most exciting. Yes, graceful, stylish, but extremely fundamentally sound (flash with tons of substance). He was incredibly consistent and perhaps the only athlete without a real weakness (once he hit his prime). He practiced hard, worked extremely hard on his game, and was as competitive as any athlete I ever witnessed. He was blessed with the most talent AND made the most of his abilities.

Clearly, the greatest player of all time in the world's second most popular sport. Basketball is also one of the world's most difficult sports and has some of its best athletes. Jordan had huge impacts on both basketball (he brought it to its highest level of popularity -- the television ratings still have not recovered) and the sports world via advertising and marketing.

Five MVP awards (should have won ten), six NBA titles (would have won nine straight if he had not retired twice when he did), two Olympic gold medals, the best offensive player ever, probably the second best defensive player ever (after Bill Russell), and he made his teammates way better than they actually were (admittedly not his first 3 or 4 years in the league, but once he figured it out it was over with since he was by far the most talented).

He was extremely agile, fast, quick, unbelievable balance and body control, explosiveness, a 48 inch vertical leap, and was deceptively strong (especially once he hit his mid to late twenties). Jordan put fear in all his opponents, especially at the end of a close game. Unbelievably clutch.

As for other sports, he never gave baseball enough of an effort. He played one season at age 32 after not playing for 16 years. At age 12 he was the best little leaguer in the state, but stopped playing around age 16 to concentrate on basketball. I believe he would have been a good major league baseball player if he had never given it up and just concentrated on baseball.

He would have done very well in track: long jump, high jump, and the hurdles. And is there any doubt he would have been a great NFL receiver (think Randy Moss with more height and a way better attitude and competitive spirit)? Plus, he is a pretty good golfer. Jordan was also a very intelligent athlete with great instincts. Retirements more than injuries limited some of his accomplishments.

Once last thing: whenever I watched a Chicago Bulls game I could not take my eyes off Jordan because I was afraid I would miss his next spectacular play and he never disappointed. In my opinion, the only differences between Michael Jordan and God (if he were an athlete) is that Jordan could hang in the air longer than God and Jordan was still capable of scoring even when five Detroit Pistons grabbed, clutched, fouled, tripped, and held him. What more could you ask for in an athlete?

2. JIM THORPE. He was the greatest athlete in the first half of the 20th Century, and I see no good reason to put such a great all-around (if there ever was one) athlete any lower than 2nd. Unfortunately, all we have to judge him from are some grainy football, baseball, and track highlights, some statistics, and stories -- some of which are hard to verify.

In addition to being voted by the Associated Press (400 sportswriters and sportscasters), "The Greatest Athlete of the First Half of the Century" (as mentioned above), they also voted him the "Greatest American Football Player" of the first half of the 20th Century.

A 6'1", 180 lb. brick of a man, he was a two-time football All-American at Carlisle and was considered the best football (his favorite sport) player in the country (although there was no award at the time). In 1911, he led Carlisle to a 11-1 record and then led them to the national collegiate championship in 1912, scoring 25 touchdowns and 198 points. He played four positions: running back, defensive back, placekicker, and punter.

Also, in 1912, in the Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, he easily won the gold medals (which were stripped a year later for baseball professionalism, but they were restored in 1982) in the pentathlon and decathlon, winning an amazing 8 out of the 15 individual events that were part of the two competitions. Thorpe's Olympic record of 8413 points in the decathlon stood for nearly two decades.

He also starred in track and field, was a good baseball and lacrosse player, and even won a ballroom dancing contest, all while he was at Carlisle. He also dabbled in wrestling and basketball exhibitions at various times in his life. He went on to become a star in professional football (although there was no official league until 1920), retiring at the age of 41 in 1928 and was a decent professional baseball player (batting .252 lifetime; .327 his final season in 1919).

He was voted into the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame and to the NFL's 1920's All-Decade Team. Not bad for a day's work. As is obvious from his accomplishments, he had all the qualities (and then some) of a great all-around athlete: strength, speed, quickness, endurance, agility, toughness, jumping ability, and balance. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

3. DEION SANDERS. Let the controversy begin. As I said before, everyone's list will be different, and I may change my mind on places 2-25 tomorrow. However, for sheer athletic ability, he is second only to Jordan.

Blinding speed and quickness, extreme agility, not to mention great balance and body control, instincts, and jumping ability. He was probably the best defensive player (certainly the best cover cornerback) in the history of the NFL, yet, interestingly enough, he could have been even more of an offensive force. Meaning, if he had been a full-time receiver (with end-arounds and other plays designed to get him the ball), a punt returner, and a kick-off returner.

Plus, if football were not such a physically demanding sport (with people who are getting tackled injured the most) and if he could play offense, defense, and special teams without his body breaking down, sorry, game over. Like maybe a dozen MVP titles and half a dozen Super Bowl titles. As has been said many times before, Sanders took half the field away from the quarterback whenever there was a pass play. And in the pass happy NFL, I cannot think of anything that would give a team more of an advantage.

In high school, he was a letterman in three sports (football, basketball, and baseball) and was (almost unbelievably) an All-State (Florida) honoree in all three sports (would have been four if he had been allowed to run track). In college, he starred in three sports (football, baseball, and track) for the Florida State Seminoles.

In football, he was a two time consensus first team All-American, led the nation in punt return average, and won, ironically, the Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back. He played nine seasons of professional baseball (641 games), where he batted .263 (.304 one year), .533 in 4 games of the 1992 World Series, and stole 186 bases.

In the NFL, he played in 8 pro bowls, was the 1994 Defensive Player of the Year, was voted to the 1990's All-Decade Team, and won two Super Bowl rings making him the only man to play in the Super Bowl and the World Series. Sanders amassed 7838 all-purpose yards, caught 60 passes, intercepted 53 passes, recovered 4 fumbles, and scored 22 touchdowns (9 interception returns, 6 punt returns, 3 kickoff returns, 3 receiving, and 1 fumble recovery).

He ran the 40 yard dash in 4.19 seconds forwards and 4.6 seconds backwards! I saw highlights of Sanders playing basketball (what springs!), and I have little doubt he could also have been a star in the NBA (picture Allen Iverson with a better shooting percentage and practice habits). A superstar or potential star in 4 major sports, yeah, 74th seems about right.

4. BO JACKSON. Along with Jim Brown, Jackson had the greatest combination of power and speed in recorded sports history. A tremendous college football player at Auburn University (Heisman Trophy winner, rushed for 4303 yards with 6.6 avg. yards per carry), a very good professional baseball player (All-Star, batted .250 with 141 home runs, 415 RBIs, .474 slugging percentage, and a great arm), and had a too short great professional football career (rushed for 2782 yards, avg. 5.4 yards a carry -- better than Brown's 5.22).

A hip injury ended his NFL career early and obviously affected his baseball career. He also starred on the track and field team during his freshman and sophomore years at Auburn in the 60 yard dash. I looked at criterion number 7 (how much did injury limit his accomplishments), did some extrapolating, and poof(!) -- I came up with the number 4. Since this analysis involves the most speculation, I do not know if I am right on this one, but I think I will have a lot more company at 4th place than if I placed him 72nd as the ESPN experts did (Schaap was only one of 48 voters).

5. PELE (Edson Arantes do Nascimento). So great that he needs only one name. Probably the best soccer (football) player of all-time (although Diego Maradona fans might argue with this statement). I am sure he will do quite well in a worldwide poll, since soccer is the world's most popular sport (in Brazil he will probably get almost 100% of the votes for number 1), and deservedly so.

He was explosive, fast, quick, agile, strong, had great balance, and was talented with a capital "T". Unfortunately, by the time he played in the US he was past his prime, so all I have are highlights from when he was younger to gauge his true greatness.

He scored 1281 goals in 1363 matches and won 3 World Cups (although he got injured during the 1962 World Cup and did not finish the tournament). I would be comfortable placing him on my list as high as 2nd, but definitely no lower than 8th. Hence, 5th place seems reasonable, but it is tough to know, since I never saw him play live on a regular basis in his prime.

(Next week: part 3)


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Past Articles

Should the NBA and NFL be Allowed to Exclude Players Over the Age of 21 to Play by Mark D. Hauser
The 25 Greatest Heavyweight Boxers of All Time by Mark D. Hauser
Soccer will Never be Popular in the United States by Mark D. Hauser
test by Ken Haggerty
Evaluating the Big O, West, Baylor, Malone, and Barkley: What's Fair? by Mark D. Hauser
Finally! A Possible Solution to the NBA Age Related Draft Mess by Mark D. Hauser
Who's the Greatest of All Time in a Particular Sport? by Mark D. Hauser
Fight Measures on the NHL Agenda by Hakan Lane

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