Maybe it is due to the sad passing of football legend Pele, but numerous sports writers have, over the New Year period, been busily compiling a mythical – mythical, yes, but highly serious and most carefully, indeed, painfully thought out – ‘Mount Rushmore’ of athletes.
Needless to say, only the absolute cream of cream, only the best of the best, only the true masters of their art have been given consideration. And it’s the same here, in this article. Sure, it’s a lot of fun, ranking the four best of all-time in the sporting field. Almost as much fun as it is reading the comments and the reactions left by the simply unavoidable critics who hate the list that only materialized after much thought (see headache-inducing), time and effort.
So here it is: this writer’s four picks for the athletic Mount Rushmore.
In no particular order:
Why? Ali, who was not only the finest, most untouchable boxer of them all, also changed the world. From humble beginnings, the young Cassius Clay won the Olympics and then went on to rule the world. And change it. Ali’s biggest fights, most of them falling into this category, were viewed by a hugely significant percentage of the planet. As much a regular on the front pages of newspapers as on the back, sports pages, Ali was for a time the most famous human being alive.
Accomplishments: Olympic gold medal winner. Three-time world heavyweight champion. Voted Athlete of the Century. And so much more.
Why? Pele was the single finest, most naturally gifted footballer ever. With his great, almost unbeatable Brazilian team, Pele won a record three World Cup trophies. Pele also made an impact on the world outside of sports; his views on the evil of racism being as powerful as they were passionate.
Accomplishments: Three-time World Cup winner. Joint-top goal scorer for Brazil with 77 goals in 92 games. Recipient of the International Peace Award. And so much more.
Why? Ruth, as huge a star as Jack Dempsey during the ‘Roaring Twenties,’ became the greatest baseball player of them all. Ruth, never looking like an athlete, his chubby physique seeing to it that he had an every-man appearance, could hit the ball like nobody else. Indeed, Ruth’s .690 slugging percentage still ranks as the highest in baseball history. Ruth was also a superb pitcher in his early career on the field. Ruth changed the sport he excelled in.
Accomplishments: The first batter to hit 30 home runs in one season. Seven-time World Series champion. 12-time AL home run champion. AL batting champion. And so much more.
Why? Jordan is, quite simply, there-is-no-room-for argument, the greatest basketball player who ever lived. “Air Jordan” was Superman on the court, his speed, athleticism, and grace transforming his sport into something akin to ballet, to art. Jordan was untouchable, his frighteningly formidable skill set capable of destroying anyone and anything in its path.
Accomplishments: Six-time NBA champion. Five-time NBA most valuable player. 10-time scoring leader. Two-time Olympic gold medallist. And so much more.