Top 20 Multi-Sport Athletes of All-Time
Best Multi-Sport Athletes of All Time
There are countless athletes who compete in multiple sports in their youth and even at the high school level, but not many play more than one in college and there are a select few who did it professionally. Although you can pretty much count those on one hand (at least when it comes to the four major American sports), we're here to take a look at the greatest multi-sport athletes of all time.
Now most of these are older players, dating back to the early 1900s (some of you already know who we're talking about now), while most are from the 1980s and '90s. There are lots of big names, but there are plenty of surprises as well.
On a similar note, there are several current athletes on the list that absolutely excelled in another sport other than the one for which they're now famous. Indeed, this list is truly about the athletes who were the best in multiple sports, not just played or suited up for two or more teams. So don't be surprised by those athletes on the list.
Let's dive right in, shall we? These are the best multi-sport athletes of all time. Let us know what we missed or what you would have done differently by leaving a comment below when you're done!
The greatest player ever to touch a basketball retired prematurely from the NBA in 1993 to play minor-league baseball like his late father, James Jordan, Sr. Many often mock Jordan's brief baseball career, but the fact he just left basketball as the greatest player on the planet and walked onto a professional baseball diamond and batted .202 with three home runs, 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases is pretty remarkable.
He didn't quite make the list, but Donovan McNabb played both football and basketball at Syracuse before a solid career with the NFL's Eagles. He wasn't considered an NBA-level talent, but the Orange doesn't exactly accept scrubs on their team. In addition, McNabb played volleyball in high school, which is certainly not an easy game to just pick up randomly as a junior.
Terrell Owens is widely considered the second-best NFL receiver of all time, but he was also a superb college basketball player and he thinks he could have played professionally if he had pursued it. In addition, he starred on his high school baseball team.
Chad Johnson (Ochocinco) was a decent NFL receiver, but he also briefly played professional soccer for Sporting Kansas City during the NFL Lockout in 2011.
You probably know Julius Peppers as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, but he was also a superstar basketball player as well. Peppers was recruited by Duke and North Carolina before ultimately choosing to play football and basketball for the Tar Heels. A former No. 2 overall pick, Peppers is 18th on the NFL's all-time sack list.
Steve McNair was a superb NFL quarterback after a stellar career at Alcorn State. He turned down a full ride to Florida as a defensive back because he wanted to throw the ball and he did that very well throughout his career at Alcorn State and with the NFL's Oilers/Titans. However, McNair was drafted by MLB's Mariners out of high school in 1991, but elected to pursue a future in football.
Tony Gonzalez was a solid basketball player at Cal, playing alongside Jason Kidd, before turning pro in football. That turned out well; Gonzalez holds virtually every receiving record for tight ends and uses post-up moves he learned on the hardwood to get open downfield to catch passes.
Before he even touched a basketball in high school, Tim Duncan was a world-class swimmer. Yes, we're talking Michael Phelps-level swimming. Duncan's sister, Tricia, was an Olympic-level swimmer and Duncan was set to swim for the United States in the 1992 Games until Hurricane Hugo destroyed the only Olympic-sized pool on Duncan's home island, Saint Croix, in the Virgin Islands. Legend suggests that Duncan then lost his passion for swimming because he had to swim in the ocean and he was afraid of sharks. Considering he's arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history, it turned out okay.
Before he became the ace pitcher for the MLB's Cubs, Jeff Samardzija was a superb receiver for Notre Dame's football team. After being selected as a finalist for the Fred Beletnikoff Award in each of his final two seasons, Samardzija planned on playing in both professional football and baseball, but withdrew his name from the 2006 NFL Draft after being selected by the Cubs in the MLB draft.
Kenny Lofton may have played for over a third of MLB teams in his career, but he was one of the best in history at stealing bases. He was the ideal leadoff man, but he was also a superb point guard at Arizona and likely would have chose the NBA over baseball had Steve Kerr not been ahead of him on the depth chart in 1988 when the Wildcats advanced to the Final Four.
Everyone knows Jackie Robinson as the man who changed the nature of professional baseball as the first prominent black player in MLB history, but his talents went far beyond the diamond. Robinson was starred in football, basketball and track in addition to baseball at UCLA and could have went pro in either sport. Considering we now honor him once per year in baseball, it's safe to say he made the right decision.
Although he's considered one of the greatest NBA players in history, Hakeem Olajuwon was a soccer goalie as a child and a young teen before playing basketball at the University of Houston. It's been said the Hall of Fame center could have eventually played on the Nigerian national team had he stuck with soccer and not emigrated to the United States to play basketball. It worked out well.
Steve Nash is a superb NBA point guard who won back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and 2006 and will likely be inducted into the Hall of Fame. However, Nash could have played professional soccer after playing it in his youth, along with basketball, hockey and rugby. Nash didn't play basketball until he was 12 years old, but quickly caught on with the sport and ultimately chose to pursue a future on the hardwood rather than the soccer field. Nash helped bring Major League Soccer to Vancouver as a part owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Dave Winfield was definitely a baseball player first -- he recorded over 3,000 hits to go along with 465 home runs in his MLB career. However, he could have been a star on the hardwood after being drafted by the NBA's Hawk and the ABA's Stars. It's tough to play the "what if?" game when you're a Hall of Famer, though.
Babe Didrikson is the only female to make the list, but she certainly belongs. Didrikson was an All-American basketball player, an Olympic gold medalist and a Hall of Fame golfer. She won gold in the 80-meter hurderls and javelin throw as well as a sliver in the high jump at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Didrikson also won the U.S. Open three times and led the LPGA in earnings twice in the early 1950s.
Tony Gwynn was the man in San Diego, where he batted .338 for his career with the Padres and broke assist records as a point guard at San Diego State. Mr. Padre was drafted by both NBA and MLB teams, but ultimately chose baseball. It's safe to say that turned out okay.
How is it possible to win a national championship and the Heisman Trophy and not play in the NFL? Well, Charlie Ward was a superb quarterback at Florida State, who literally did it all, yet he would not play in the NFL because he was not a first-round pick. He elected to play for the NBA's Knicks instead after they used their first-round pick on him the same year. In addition, Ward was drafted by MLB's Brewers in 1993 and the Yankees in 1994 although he did play baseball in college.
Bob Gibson is a Hall of Fame baseball player who now coaches the St. Louis Cardinals, but the nine-time All-Star and two-time World Series champ was also a star basketball player at Creighton and even played for the Globetrotters! Creighton averaged 22 points per game at Creighton and won two Cy Young Awards in the majors.
No one will ever know what could have been had Bo Jackson's NFL career not been cut short due to injury. He was a dominant running back for the Raiders, but ended up playing mostly baseball for MLB's Royals. Specifically as a pro in both, Jackson is arguably the athlete who was the best at multiple spots in history.
"Bullet" Bob Hayes is the only athlete ever to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. Hayes was once the world's fastest man and was also a Hall of Fame receiver for the NFL's Cowboys. Hayes once held the world records in the 60-yard, 100-yard and 220-yard dashes and then again in the 100-meter dash when the race's official distance was switched to the metric length. Hayes scored 71 touchdowns in his NFL career, which included a win in Super Bowl VI.
John Elway is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but he could have been one of the best pitchers in MLB history. Elway was drafted by the Royals straight out of high school, but chose to play football and baseball at Stanford. Elway was drafted again by the Yankees and played two years of minor-league baseball when he wasn't quarterbacking the Cardinal football team. He was ultimately drafted by the NFL's Colts and then traded to the Broncos. The rest is history.
As one of the fastest athletes in the world in his day, Deion Sanders was a star on both the football field and the baseball diamond. He literally showed up to both and had instant success. In fact, he played in a game for the NFL's Falcons and suited up for a playoff game for the MLB's Braves on the same day in 1992. Sanders was superb at intercepting passes and stealing bases and is considered arguably the best ever at each. He was also an All-State basketball player in high school and likely could have played professional basketball had he focused on it. In addition, Sanders ran a 10.26 in the 100-meter dash, a 20.76 in the 200-meter dash and holds the record for the fastest 40-yard dash on a football field at 4.17.
Jim Brown is considered by many to be the best running back in NFL history and he certainly can be considered the most dominant. However, he was a four-sport athlete at Syracuse, starring on the track, basketball and lacrosse teams in addition to playing football, at which he excelled. When he retired, Brown was the all-time career rushing leader and is the only NFL player in history to average more than 100 yards per game for his career.
The man of both Native American and European descent did everything in the early 1900s. Thorpe was an Olympic gold medalist (pentathlon and decathlon), a Hall of Fame NFL player, and played pro baseball and basketball. There are pictures of Thorpe in just about every type of sports uniform there is and rightfully so -- he's the most multi-talented athlete of all time.