Though we’re in the midst of the MLB playoffs and another exciting NFL season, I felt like taking a moment to have one of those fun reflective debates that we sports fans have from time to time: who is the greatest?

This was triggered by a conversation that arose in my office a couple of days ago. Somebody asked me who the “greatest athlete” of all time was. We debated back and forth – more over the nature of the question than actual candidates (“When you say ‘athlete’, does that mean one sport? Multi-sport?”).

My feeling was that the question itself was too wide-ranging to get a real answer on, though I did offer a nominee – the man some consider not only the greatest performer in the history of team sports, but the most fierce competitor ever to perform – Michael Jordan. Other nominees included Jim Thorpe, Wayne Gretzky, and Bo Jackson… I personally disagreed with those.

I thought this might – and I stress “might” – spark an interesting thread here, so I pose the question, with a few qualifiers. Who do you believe is the greatest performer in the history of American team sports?

Notice this disqualifies soccer (which sucks anyway), golf (though Tiger Woods’ greatness is obvious), etc. If you want, make a list of the top 5, maybe divided by sport, or era, or some such thing.

I have a handful of nominees, but I’ll withhold those for the moment. Tell me what you think.

  1. Magic Johnson
    Mark Messier
    Ozzie Smith
    I’m at a loss for the other two.

  2. Mike Bossy
    Pat LaFontaine

  3. Willie Mays
    Jim Brown
    Jerry Rice
    Jim Thorpe

    and you can add the obligatory Ted Williams, DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson…

  4. Bill Russell
    Larry Bird
    Johnny Unitas
    Jack Johnson
    Doug Hepburn