Before they were G.O.A.T.s, icons or international sensations, every superstar athlete was just another young talent waiting for a shot at glory.
They were the prodigious up-and-comers of their sports, and luckily for us, some of them had their early magic caught on camera and preserved for posterity’s sake.
The following are mixtapes and film reels of some of the greatest professional athletes the world has ever known. Sure, some of the footage might've been filmed with a toaster, but that’s what happens when you’re dealing with videos that stretch back to the early 1960s.
Hold on to your jock, because we’re about to rip this time machine all around the last half-century.
Someone somewhere dug this amazing high school highlight video of Barry Sanders out of a storage shed and posted it to the Internet.
And God bless them for it.
The footage blurs a bit, but there’s no mistaking the former NFL great doing what he does best—rolling off hits, making people miss tackles and generally pioneering the modern day Shake ‘N Bake as we know it.
The game was there. The mane was there.
Diego Maradona was imposing his will on defenses from a young age, and the tape of his on-field heroics began with Argentinos Juniors.
The fiery disposition, ball control and lustrous hair was on full display for Maradona, who started his first game for the club at the age of 15.
Oh, and here’s a video of him juggling the ball as a child. Because it’s awesome.
He came into high school named Earvin, and left as “Magic.”
Magic Johnson was a McDonald’s All-American who averaged 28.8 points and 16.8 rebounds per game in high school, and he led his team to a state championship title before graduating and accepting a scholarship at Michigan State.
Also, he had an amazing afro. Don’t let that be a footnote, because it was perfection.
Then known as Cassius Clay, 18-year-old Muhammad Ali squared off against Alan Hudson in 1960 for the US Golden Gloves Light Heavyweight Championship.
Not a mixtape per se, but awesome footage of a young champ becoming a serious contender. Also, the video features some textbook Ali commentary (read: cocky trash-talking).
Turn off your phone. Lock the door. Close the blinds.
Because Shaq’s high school basketball highlights are borderline pornographic, they’re so nasty.
The McDonald’s All-American didn’t destroy teams—he ate them whole, averaging 32.1 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists per game. He went 68-1 in his two-year basketball stint at Cole High School (1987-89).
One last thing: O’Neal’s dunk at the 53-second mark of this video nearly ended life as we know it on this planet.
Ever want to watch a living myth spin pure athletic gold before your very eyes?
Well here it is—Mikey Powell, the most talented of the Powell brothers, doing work at Syracuse around the turn of the century and making lacrosse look like a game he invented.
Powell won the Jack Turnbull Award for being the best attackman in Division-I lacrosse four consecutive times at Syracuse (only player ever to do that). He also is the only player to ever win the Tewaaraton Trophy (the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy) twice.
Powell went on to play for various clubs in Major League Lacrosse before retiring from the sport to play with his band.
I’ve never listened to Powell’s songs, but if he's half as good at playing music as he was at lacrosse, he’d have won at least a half-dozen Grammys by now.
Here’s teenage Kobe, playing the caliber of basketball that made him a first-round draft pick straight out of high school.
As Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer said, “I’ve seen a lot of high school basketball, but I’ve never seen anyone as good as Kobe was.”
As you’ll see in the video, Bryant’s celebrations in high school were just a precursor to the ultra-competitive explosions we still see from him these days.
While he’s chiseled out a career as a serviceable NFL running back, Reggie Bush was a titan of the college gridiron with the USC Trojans.
And before his parents were seeing any benefits from their son’s fleet feet, Bush was embarrassing kids for Helix High School in La Mesa, Cal.
Even then, he could outrun you, spin past you and slip through your defense like a greased ferret.
By the age of 16, Cristiano Ronaldo was a rising soccer phenom who’d already worked his way up to a spot on Sporting Lisbon’s first team—a feat he managed to do all in a single season after signing with the club.
This video is essentially a montage of Ronaldo’s ascension into the public eye at Sporting, demonstrating all the ridiculous speed, control and footwork for which he would become internationally renowned at Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Warning: Soundtrack to video is NSFW.
He wasn’t a pro athlete or even a college standout, but thanks to Friday Night Lights, we all know the story of James “Boobie” Miles—the superstar running back that never was.
This is footage of the real Boobie Miles, whose bewildering moves had every college scout frothing at the mouth in the late-'80s before injury dashed his chances at a Division I scholarship.
29.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.
Fifteen minutes of King James dominating in high school before going directly into the NBA.
Just enjoy it.
Meet 14-year-old Sidney Crosby, undressing players three years his senior in Midget Triple-A hockey with his ridiculous skills.
And no, he wasn't playing against little people, that's just the name of the league.
Crosby was playing polished hockey at a young age, although it took a hell of a toll on the family dryer, it would appear. The Crosbys have to be saints to have dealt with that.
Behold an uber-young Messi, trick-sticking kids and working his way up the ladder as a member Barcelona’s youth development teams.
Messi devoured the competition as a teenager, playing with the “maturity of a 22-year-old” and racking up points all the time. He would make his La Liga debut at the green age of 17, making him the third-youngest player to ever play for Barcelona.
You have to dig back to high school, but yes, there is footage of Peyton Manning tucking the ball and heading for the end zone.
This high school highlight film shows Manning, tall, gangly and throwing missiles for Isidore Newman. Manning led the Greenies to a 34-5 record and threw for over 7,000 during his high school career.
The creators of this video have also graciously included a ridiculous country/rock soundtrack with this highlight reel, so enjoy that.
Oh, it’s everywhere! The Ronaldinho hot sauce! It’s all over me!
Ronaldinho pulled off some of the slickest, most unforgettable moves ever while playing for Barcelona, but his international career was launched by his play on the Gremio youth team in Brazil.
The goofiest highlight reel music. Ever.
Super Bowl Champion and future NFL Hall of Fame inductee Tom Brady was a highly sought-after high school quarterback at Junipero Serra High School in the early-to-mid '90s.
A two-sport stud, Brady turned down a contract with the Montreal Expos and stuck with football. He finished high school with 3,702 passing yards and 31 touchdowns, and received a scholarship to play for the Michigan Wolverines.
The rest is all supermodels, Lombardi trophies and regrettable footwear commercials.
Tiger Woods has been playing golf on television since the age of two, so there’s no shortage of film on his rise to stardom.
Six amateur US titles is hard to argue with, and if you’re a Tiger fan (or a fan of golfing prodigies), you’ll feast on this video documentary about Woods in his younger years.
333 goals in 78 games. Think about that. Think about it hard.
Gretzky was averaging 4.27 goals per game playing youth hockey, according to this video by CTV.
While it’s not a bona fide mixtape, this film of Wayne Gretzky shows the Great One executing some mind-blowing trick-stickery at an age when he couldn’t even get a learner’s permit.
And it's beautiful.
Two state titles, two All-American appearances.
Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith was a force to be reckoned with in high school football, and he closed out his career at Pensacola Escambia with high style by rushing for over 200 yards against Cardinal Newman.