The greatest athlete ever?

Discussed over many cold beers, and sometimes settled over a few fists is a debate that may never be settled.

Who is the greatest athlete of all time?

But before I can name who I think it is, I ought to define the question of 'what is an athlete?'

Strong, fast, and agile, an athlete should have endurance, be able to play defensively, and also be able to dominate offensively.

A top athlete can take over a game as an individual but also be the perfect teammate as the sport dictates. A top athlete is physically imposing and has a mental toughness that gives him or her an edge on the opponent before the game clocks ticks a second.

And a top athlete is one who leaves a legacy behind them of stories that are passed down from generation to generation.

Here are my picks of the top contenders:

Muhammad Ali
A 190.5cm boxing heavyweight champion of the world fought in some of the most memorable fights in the history of the sport. He was strong yet graceful and took down brilliant champions and tough contenders, when boxing was truly a sport. He fought his personal causes up to the US Supreme Court, and amazing battles in the boxing ring from the US to Africa to The Philippines. If not the greatest athlete, Muhammad Ali is certainly the most memorable sportsman of all-time.

The greatest player in the world's most popular sport certainly deserves to be right at the top. He is the king of soccer and a national hero in Brazil. Pele is the top scorer in the world, with 1,281 goals in 1,363 games. With superb dribbling, passing, and scoring skills he is the only player to have three World Cup winning medals.

Roger Federer
Holding the No. 1 position in tennis for 237 consecutive weeks, Fed plays with a gentle angriness that has awarded him 16 Grand Slams. With his quick yet effortless style, he would have dominated any era of the sport.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias
One of the greatest female athletes of all-time, Babe won two gold medals and one silver medal in track and field, 48 professional golf tournaments, and was a heralded US basketball player.

Wayne Gretzky
The greatest ice hockey player of all-time must be up at the top of the list. The sport is quick, tough, and requires hand eye coordination like no other sporting endeavour, and it's all done on ice. Playing 20 seasons, he tallied over 100 points in 16 of them. Nobody has ever passed and scored with such grace and ability like Wayne Gretzky.

Jesse Owens
In 1936, Jesse Owens won four track and field gold medals in the long jump, 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100 relay team at the Berlin Olympics and was known as one of the greatest in his sport.

Kelly Slater
An 11-time World Surf Champion that is still underappreciated by mainstream sports media deserves to be on this list.

But there are so many other names you could throw into the ring like Jim Brown, Martina Navratilova, Nadia Comaneci, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Craig Alexander, George St. Pierre, Jim Thorpe, Jonah Lomu, Lance Armstrong, Maradona, Michael Schumacher, Roman Šebrle, Rod Laver, Sir Donald Bradman, and Babe Ruth.

But one more name remains, who in my opinion is the greatest athlete of all-time.

When I was 12, my father said: "Boys, I got us season tickets to the Chicago Bulls."

Little did we know that in just a month, they would draft 21 year old Michael Jordan, from the University of North Carolina.

Michael Jordan was lightning quick, strong, and blessed with a soft touch around the basket. At 198cm and 100kgs, he was a mountain of a man. He defied gravity, could float through defences and dunk on anybody of any size, or pull-up and shoot a fade away jump shot with amazing precision.

He was tenacious on defence, and he did things on offence that nobody in the NBA had ever seen. As an individual he provided highlight reels for the ages, and as a teammate he made everybody around him better. He mentally scared and intimidated opponents before tip-off, and then he took the court and dominated the sport of basketball for years with a style not seen by any athlete in any other sport.

Michael Jordan won six championships, five of the league's Most Valuable Player, and made 14 trips to the NBA All-Star game.

And most importantly, in the last few seconds of any game of any magnitude – he performed and succeeded, and created memories that will be passed on to future generations.

When speaking about Michael Jordan, you run out of adjectives and superlatives – and in my view he is simply the best athlete in the history of sport.

So who do you think is the greatest athlete of all-time?

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