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Ultimate Dozen: The 12 Greatest Team Sport Athletes Of All Time

By Scott Engel, The Game Day

Now that Tom Brady has retired, we have to consider where he ranks among the all-time greats in the four “major’ team sports. Is he truly the all-time GOAT? 

This is one list of the Ultimate Dozen: The 12 Greatest Team Sport Athletes of All Time from the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. 

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As most lists are, this is just one rundown of viewpoints that is sure to stir great debate. Since it includes only the four major team sports and we don’t want to intentionally overlook other greats in other sports, let’s give honorable mention to those who could have made this list, such as Diana Taurasi, Muhammad Ali, Jimmie Johnson, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and others. 

The 12 all-time great athletes list, researched by Scott Engel, a sports analyst at, are based on how much they dominated their sport, the eras in which they played, how much they contributed to championship success, how they delivered in the clutch, overall impact on their sport, and other assorted factors. 

12. Barry Bonds

We are not going to fully keep Bonds off the list because of PEDs, and it is a very close call between him, Hank Aaron, and a few other MLB legends. But being the only player ever to register 500-plus home runs and steals gives him the edge. He also was a seven-time MVP and an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner. Bonds may be the greatest player in any sport to never win a championship. 

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11. Joe Montana

Having a WR like Jerry Rice certainly helped, but Montana was the most clutch passer the game has ever seen. Montana never lost in four Super Bowls and was named the Super Bowl MVP three times. Let’s have Madden football bring back the all-time teams, so we can pit Montana against Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of a tight game. 

10. Jerry Rice

 You have to consider the span of his excellence. Rice was almost always superb from 1985 to 2002. He holds several prominent NFL receiving records and turned it on when the lights were brightest, as he was a key part of three Super Bowl champion teams. 

9. Willie Mays

He is the greatest all-around player in baseball history. Mays won 12 Gold Gloves and led MLB in home runs and stolen bases four times. He was a 24-time All-Star. 

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8. Jim Brown

A three-time NFL MVP, Brown led the league in rushing eight times. He rushed for 104.3 yards per game, the best average of all time. Before Tom Brady topped the list, Brown was widely regarded as the greatest NFL player of all time. 

7. Gordie Howe

Some all-time NHL lists have him ahead of Gretzky. “Mr. Hockey” played for an incredible 26 seasons. He won six MVP awards and four Stanley Cups, in addition to four consecutive scoring crowns. You could make a good case for ranking Howe higher. 

6. Bill Russell

He was the crux of 11 NBA championship teams and a five-time NBA MVP. Russell is universally hailed as one of the greatest defensive players ever and he also led the league in rebounding four times. 

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5. LeBron James

He is not finished writing his story, and James could end up rivaling Michael Jordan in all-time accomplishments. James is a four-time NBA Finals MVP and four-time champ already. He has won the NBA MVP award four times. James is still playing at a stratospheric level at age 37.

4. Babe Ruth

No one would sneer at Ruth being at the top of this list, as he is one of the most legendary figures in any sport. He is one of the two most iconic home run hitters of all time and was also a seven-time World Series winner. Ruth was also a terrific pitcher, having set the record for consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series.  

3. Wayne Gretzky

He has more assists in his career than any other player has points, which is just one of his incredible accomplishments. Gretzky’s nine Hart Trophies are an NHL record. Gretzky held over 60 NHL records when he retired and he won four Stanley Cups, taking the Stanley Cup MVP twice. He is simply known as “The Great One.” No article with 11 other all-time greats can properly list all of his amazing career feats. 

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2. Michael Jordan

He never lost in the NBA Finals. Those who say LeBron James is better may have not fully witnessed the Jordan era in the NBA when he was simply the most difficult big game player to vanquish in any sport. Jordan also was the biggest superstar to ever play the game in terms of his popularity and influence. Most importantly, he was a six-time NBA Finals MVP. He was also a five-time NBA MVP and he led the league in scoring 10 times. He was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team nine times. Jordan also accomplished it all with one team, who he took from mediocrity to dominance. 

1. Tom Brady

His haters will toss out limp reasons why someone else may be better, which usually can be discarded. But in a sport built on parity, no one else comes close to his monumental achievements. He made the Super Bowl in half of his seasons as a regular starter and Brady won one more championship than any other franchise. Plus, he excelled deeper into his career than anyone else. You can try and argue football is a team sport and Brady should not be elevated so high, but he was the one constant on all seven of his title teams, and a great quarterback elevates a team from the most important position in the game.

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