It’s an odd time to publish a Best-of-the-Decade list of the top athletes in all of sports. I know it. And that is what makes this list appealing. The criteria was simple: sustained greatness at their sport over the past ten years.
As with all great list making, groundwork had to be done: research compiled, numbers and statistics analyzed, and game tape watched. Weighing all the information and then asking everyone who ever had an opinion about sports was a long and hard process (but when Trivial Pursuit Sport Edition comes back I’m winning).
As was the arduous birth of The List.
Top 5 Athletes of the Last Decade
1. Roger Federer. Currently ranked No. 4 in the world, Federer has without exception ranked in the top 10 of the ATP ranking since May 2002. He will probably be considered the best tennis player of all time. Listing his records, accomplishments and winnings would take a while. You will get them but first you might find this impressive: Outside of all the stats, turns out he is just a really great guy having won the ATP Fan Favorite Award a record 11 years straight from 2003 to 2013 and voted by the players as the Sportsmanship Award winner nine times in the last ten years.
Olympic gold in 2008 and Olympic silver in 2012 showcased Federer to the non-tennis world. And with 302 combined weeks (237 consecutive weeks 2004 to 2008) overall at No. 1 in the last 11 years, 17 Grand Slam singles titles and a record at least five times reaching each Grand Slam Final which included reaching the Wimbledon final eight times it was near impossible to find another athlete to top this list when looking at the past decade. But he hasn’t stopped as he reached a record 57th consecutive Grand Slam tournament with the most recent Australian Open.
2. Michael Phelps. The most decorated Olympian of all time. It sounds very Greek mythology but Michael Phelps has reached a status that others on this list could not if they played in the next 20 Olympics. You may not know how to swim, you may not even know anybody who knows how to swim, but you and everyone else knows Michael Phelps.
Tallied he has 22 Olympic medals of which 18 are gold which is double the next closest multiple gold medal winner. Winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games he broke the record for the most first place finishes at any single Olympic games. In 2012 Phelps won four gold medals and two silver medals making him the most successful athlete of the Olympic Games for the third Olympics in the row.
You know the Olympics, right? That contest where athletes from all over the world compete against the best to be declared the best in the WORLD. Turns out he is way better than all of them at what he does. And he smashes the competition outside the Olympics as well. So no big surprise to anyone when he announced in April 2014 that he was coming out of his short lived retirement to smash some more.
3. Tom Brady. This University of Michigan quarterback was drafted by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Whenever anyone wants to make a point about not having those high draft picks in the upcoming draft they always say, “You know Tom Brady went in the sixth round and he is the most amazing being to ever touch a football,” or some derivative of that statement.
With Brady as the starting quarterback since 2000 the Patriots have gone to the Super Bowl five times, won the Super Bowl three times, two of which he was named Super Bowl MVP and played the second longest win streak in NFL history with 21 straight wins over two seasons including the first undefeated regular season since the institution of the 16 game schedule. In 2012 he became the first quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to 10 division titles , getting a record 11th division title in 2013. And I don’t know how he feels about Hawaii but the fans are always trying to send him with nine Pro Bowl selections total, eight of which were in the last decade.
4. LeBron James. Since way before he was drafted everyone knew LeBron James was a game-changer. The first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cavaliers. James dominated the league for a few years before leading Cleveland to the franchise’s first Finals appearance in 2007.
He moved to the Heat in 2010 and with his leadership they preceded to go the Finals the first year, then win the NBA Champions the next year, and then again the next year. James has won two NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, two NBA Finals MVP Awards, two Olympic gold medals, and all after receiving the NBA Rookie of the Year Award . He has also been selected to 10 NBA All-Star teams, 9 All-NBA teams, and 5 All-Defensive teams, and is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer . And he doesn’t stop, continuing to break records every season.
5. Lionel Messi. This Argentine soccer player (footballer) plays for Barcelona and while I claim to have limited knowledge of the grand schemes of world soccer, Lionel Messi I do know, and that is saying something. So here is what I know and why he is here.
In 2004 Messi hit the Barcelona field and soccer has never been the same. This forward for Barcelona and the Argentina national teams serves as captain for both. At the young age of 22 he was already winning awards like the first FIFA Ballon d’Or award (FIFA World Player of the Year merged with the Ballon d’ Or in 2010) in 2010 and then again for the next three years . By 24 he was Barcelona’s all-time top scorer and at 25 he became the youngest player to score 200 goals . Have you watched soccer? That is a lot. One game in 2012 Messi scored five goals in one match putting another first in Champions League history on his long list. And his consistent winning style is why he is commonly ranked best in the world and depending on who you ask maybe one of the greatest footballers of all time as he continues to hat-trick and score his way into record books.
With dozens of sports and only five spots it is inevitable that some of your favorites will be left off this list. You can rant and rave all you want. I just ask that you do so in the comments so everyone can see it.