ESPN.com is celebrating its 20th year and accumulated a list of the twenty best athletes over the past twenty years. The list only counted the accomplishments during the 20 years.
20) Sidney Crosby
19) Barry Bonds
18) Mia Hamm
17) Floyd Mayweather Jr
16) Usain Bolt
15) Brett Favre
14) Tim Duncan
13) Lance Armstrong
12) Lionel Messi
11) Shaquille O’Neal
10) Derek Jeter
9) Michael Phelps
8) Kobe Bryant
7) Peyton Manning
6) Serena Williams
5) Roger Federer
4) Tom Brady
3) Tiger Woods
2) LeBron James
1) Michael Jordan
However, this list has engendered debates because of the inclusion of known cheaters and other questionable names.
20) Floyd Mayweather Jr
Over the past 20 years, there has not been a better boxer than Floyd “Money” Mayweather and his record speaks directly to his success, 47-0. However, Mayweather has avoided the second best fighter during this period Manny Pacquio, which keeps him far from the top of the list.
19) Brett Favre
The NFL has never seen a quarterback has durable or daring as Brett Favre. During his 20 year career, Favre played in over 300 games, holds many of the all-time passing records, won an MVP, and starred on a Super Bowl winning team. Before this season, Favre accumulated the most passing touchdowns, yards, attempts, completions, and interceptions.
18) Alex Ovechkin
Since being drafted number one in the 2004 NHL draft, Ovechkin has been the most dominant and consistent player in the NHL. Although he has never won Lord Stanley’s Cup, he has led the league in goals five times and won the MVP award 3 times. Crosby has experienced more success than Ovechkin in the playoffs, but Alex’s consistency and injury free career gives him the nomination.
17) Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq has been one of the most interesting and successful players over the past 20 years. Besides for his 4 championships, 3 Finals MVPs, regular season MVP, Shaq may have more nicknames than any player in the history of the NBA. Throughout his 19 year career, Shaq averaged 24 points, 11 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.3 blocks.
16) Albert Pujols
During the first 11 seasons of his career, Pujols was one of the most accomplished players in the history of MLB. Pujols finished top 3 in the MVP voting 9 times and won the award 3 times. Although he has not experienced the same success with the Angles, he recently hit his 500th home run and still is a threat to hit 30 home runs and accumulate 100 RBI per season. In addition to his individual success, Pujols has won 2 WS trophies and boasts a .323/.431/.599 split in the postseason.
15) Tim Duncan
The Big Fundamental has been one of the most underrated players due to his reticent behavior on and off the court. However, Duncan has won as many championships and more games than any other NBA player over the past 20 years. Along with his postseason success, Duncan has won 2 MVPs and averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds over the course of his career. Although Duncan is clearly on the downside of his career, he still possesses incredible efficiency and has the opportunity to add to his championship total.
14) Pedro Martinez
Pedro Martinez pitched during an era when hitting was at an all time high and he still dominated the league. From 1997-2003, Pedro led the league in ERA and WHIP five times, finished top 3 in the Cy Young voting 6 times, and won the award 3 times. Many consider Pedro’s 2000 season one of the best pitching performances of all time. Pedro’s great numbers, 1.74 ERA, 284 K, and 0.737 WHIP, are magnified considering the next closest pitcher’s ERA was 3.70 and the average ERA was nearly 5. Besides Martinez’s individual success, he helped the Red Sox win their first championship in 86 years.
13) Lionel Messi
The 27 year old forward may not be the biggest guy on the pitch, but he is the most talented. In terms of individual awards, Messi has won every important award, three Ballon d’Or, Player of the Year, and UEFA Player of the Year. In addition, he has led Barca to La Liga titles and Argentina to the World Cup final.
12) Lance Armstrong
Although Armstrong was known for his 7 victories in the Tour de France race, his influence ranged far from the bike. He raised millions of dollars for cancer research and was an inspiration for many. However, all of his victories and dignity was stripped because of doping. His accomplishments should not be diminished.
11) Alex Rodriguez
Another known cheater on this list is A-Rod. Before the recent steroid allegations, he was considered one of the best hitters of all time because of his ability to hit for average, power, and play exquisite defense. Since his first full season, in which he hit .358 with 36 home runs at age 20, Rodriguez has finished in the top 3 in MVP voting 6 times and won the award 3 times. Although Rodriguez has not experienced postseason success, .263/.369.444, he finally won a championship in 2009 with the Yankees.
10) Peyton Manning
Since entering the league in 1998, Manning has dominated the NFL regular season and became the best regular season quarterback of all time. By the time Manning retires, he will likely over take Favre’s records and throw for the most yards, completions, and touchdowns. In addition, Manning has the record for most MVPs, 4. However, Manning ranks 10 on the list because he has only won 1 Super Bowl, when many of his contemporaries have multiple titles.
9) Usain Bolt
Over the past two Olympic games, Bolt has stamped himself into the record book due to his blazing times. Bolt has won 6 gold medals, 2 in the 100 meters, 2 in the 200 meters, and 2 in the 4×100 meter relay. Bolt holds both the 100 and 200 Olympic records and was part of the 4×100 relay that set the Olympic record as well.
8) Kobe Bryant
Outside of Michael Jordan, Bryant may be the most competitive player on the list. Although he is a difficult teammate, his numbers and championships speak for themselves. Although Bryant is a high volume shooter, he shoots 45% and averages 25 points along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game. Although he has only won 1 MVP award, he owns 2 Finals MVPs and 5 rings. Unfortunately, injuries have taken their toll on Bryant, which may force Bryant into an early retirement.
7) Michael Jordan
Although Jordan is the best basketball player to ever live and one of the best athletes to compete, he did not play long enough during the time period. Although Jordan only played five seasons, he won three titles, three MVPS, three Final MVPs, three scoring titles, and 2 All Star game MVPS.
6) Roger Federer
Since his first Major Title in 2003, Federer has won 16 other Major Titles, an all time record. Federer may have won more majors if he did not have to play against the best clay court player in the history of tennis, Rafael Nadal. Along with his success in majors, Federer has won over 1000 matches and held the number one player in the world position for 237 consecutive weeks. Although Federer is 33, he still is ranked number 2 in the world and enters every tournament with a chance to win.
5) LeBron James
Since high school, everyone knew that LeBron James would be one of the best players of all time. Using his strength, size, and skill, LeBron has the ability to play any position on the floor. James has been incredible during the regular season, averaging 27 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds while shooting 50% from the floor. Although James has experienced his troubles in the playoffs, he has won two titles, two Finals MVPs, and 5 Eastern Conference titles. Unlike others in the top ten, James should continue to rise in the rankings as he wins more championships.
4) Serena Williams
While Federer has faced numerous rivals, Nadal and Djokavic, Serena has demolished every opponent in her path. Since wining her first major title at age 20, she has won 18 other single major titles and has the potential to win many more. Williams’ power and competitiveness makes her one of the most unique players of all time. Even at age 33, she is the favorite to win every major.
3) Tom Brady
Tom Brady is the highest ranked player that plays a team sport, which speaks to his dominance. Although 198 players were taken before him in the 2000 NFL Draft, he has been the best NFL player. Although he never had the best weapons, outside of his record setting 2007 season, he has won 4 Super Bowl championships, three Super Bowl MVPs, and 2 regular season MVPs. Although he will not retire with the passing records like Manning, he has achieved great success in the playoffs which makes him one of the two best quarterbacks in NFL history.
2) Michael Phelps
The Baltimore Bullet is the most decorated swimmer Olympian of all time and one of the most dominant competitors. Throughout three Olympic games, has won 22 medals, most of all time, 18 golds, nine more than any other Olympian, and holds 3 world records. During the 2008 Olympic games, Phelps won an incredible 8 gold medals, an Olympic record, and broke 7 world records in the process.
1) Tiger Woods
No player has dominated his or her sport like Tiger Woods over the past 10 years. In 1997, Woods exploded onto the scene when he won his first Masters at age 21. Over the next 17 years, Woods won 13 more Major titles and 79 PGA tour championships. Woods reached his peak in 2000-2001 when he won 4 straight major titles, the only person in PGA history to accomplish this feat. Although he has not won a major since 2008, he was named the PGA player of the year 2 times. Over the next few years, Woods can stamp his legacy as the best golfer in history, if he can pass Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships.