One of the most difficult questions to answer in sports is, "Who are the greatest athletes of all time?” Athletic greatness is measured in a multitude of ways: speed, agility, power, intelligence, the list goes on. The goal of this article is not to prove who the greatest of all time is or was, but to highlight the athletes who blazed a trail for their individual sport or for the world of sports. For time sake, only three will be highlighted and the remaining will receive honorable mention. The athletes who made the cut continued to prove themselves year after year, became household names, and are legends in the sports world. Here are three of them.
Pele was an icon that took soccer to a whole new level with his textbook techniques, lightning speed, and intelligence on the field. If winning three FIFA World Cups was not enough, he went above and beyond by constantly reinventing the game. Pele put fans on the edge of their seats with his killer instincts. Every touch of the ball was an expression of his extreme athleticism. He first spotted at the age of 11, he joined Santos by the age of 15, and by the time he hit 17, he made history as the youngest player ever to win the FIFA World Cup. Since his playing career ended, Pele has used his status to promote his country, and inspire children across the globe. He once said, "Every kid in the world who plays football wants to be Pele. Which means I have the responsibility of showing them how to be a footballer but also how to be a man."
The man with five championship rings, five MVP trophies, and a record ten scoring titles, he is a legend that revolutionized basketball and the sports industry. Michael Jordan, was more than a basketball player, he was a brand icon. At the height of his career he was the most well known player in the world. Jordan signed endorsements with some of the best-known names in sports. Due to his unparalleled success Nike eventually gave him his own brand division, known as Brand Jordan. There was not a kid who did not beg their parents to buy them a pair of Air Jordans.
In 1998, Fortune magazine estimated that the Jordan "brand" products; ticket, merchandising, and television revenues; Nike stuff; Falk's windfall; and Jordan's value as an endorser generated over $10 billion and counting. The Jordan effect is bigger than anyone can actually measure. Rick Welts, the NBA's executive vice president, said this about Jordan in 1998: "If Michael leaves, he leaves having changed the public's view of what role athletes can play in society, how they can be viewed, how they can be used by corporations, how they can be social icons. He also leaves [the sports business] a fundamentally different industry from the one he came into. How you figure out what he benefited from based on the industry's growth and what he contributed to the growth of the industry is a question for the ages."
Bo Jackson is the type of athlete the shocks fans. Jackson stands as the only athlete to ever be named an all-star in two major sports (MLB All-Star in 1989, NFL Pro Bowl in 1990). The New York Yankees, which tried to recruit him, noticed Bo in high school, but he chose continue his education by attending Auburn University. During his time in college, he led Auburn to a Sugar Bowl victory and won the Heisman trophy in 1985. Jackson was so quick that his college times qualified him to run track and field for the U.S. Olympic team. But he had other options and chose to pursue football and baseball instead. His strength, power, speed, quickness, reaction time, endurance, an durability to master two sports make him stand out like no other athlete. ESPN recently named Bo “The Greatest Athlete of All Time.”
While every athlete holds their own unique abilities, Pele, Michael Jordan, and Bo Jackson continued to prove themselves year after year and are household names. The following athletes were all trailblazers, but for the sake of this article there was not enough space to write about each athlete.