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The 10 Best Athletes in the World According to Themselves

Matt HaupertFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

The 10 Best Athletes in the World According to Themselves

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Nobody on earth is better at singing the praises of professional athletes than, well, the athletes themselves.

    After Nick Young (wrongly) declared himself the top shooting guard in the NBA via Twitter last week, we started wondering: What if we believed him? What if every time a player said he was the best at his position, in his sport or in all of history, we took his word for it?

    With this question in mind, we compiled a list of the 10 best athletes in the world according only to themselves.

    The list that follows is a journey through the vastly over-inflated egos of some of the best, worst and most impressively mediocre athletes of our generation.

10. Jarvis Jones

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    Ever since he burst onto the NFL scene in 2013 with an otherworldly one-sack campaign, Jarvis Jones has been the talk of fans, coaches and Hall of Fame voters alike.

    Had you talked to Jones before the season, however, his supernatural performance would have come as no surprise. According to Connor Smolensky of The Red and Black, Jones already knew he deserved a place among the greats and considered himself the top player in the draft:

    At the end of the day I think I’m the No. 1 player, that’s my opinion, that’s how I feel, and at the end of the day some team will get a great player.

    This was a particularly bold claim considering the elite prospects at the top of the 2013 draft class. These days, it’s hard to walk through the streets without seeing someone in an Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel jersey.

    Now, recording only a single sack as a rookie may seem like a red flag for a supposed "superstar" defensive lineman, but it’s worth pointing out that he only played 14 games in his first season.

    Extrapolated over a full 16 games, that’s 1.142857 sacks on the year—now that’s a statistic he’ll be able to ride all the way to Canton.

9. Nick Young

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    Over the course of the 2013-2014 NBA season, Nick Youngthe undisputed ninth-best athlete in the worldhas developed into far and away the top shooting guard in the entire league.

    Indisputably. Without a doubt. No questions asked. The class of the league, the face of the NBA and the future of American sports.

    That's according to Nick Young himselfand nobody else who watched more than 10 seconds of an NBA basketball game this year.

    Young formally announced his sovereignty via Twitter:

    "@ConnorAndrews: @NickSwagyPYoung when are you gonna be a top 5 NBA player” I think I'm top SG

    -Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung) April 15, 2014

    I mean, it's tough to disagree. After all, Young did score way more points than Kobe Bryant this season.

8. Joe Flacco

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    While Jarvis Jones may have been the top player in the 2013 draft, the eighth-greatest athlete in the world (according to himself) stands alone as the top quarterback in the entire NFL.

    In 2012, Joe Flacco joined the pantheon of legendary quarterbacks when he single-handedly lead the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory, a feat accomplished by Trent Dilfer and literally nobody else.

    Flacco was quick to take the credit that he rightfully deserved. ESPN.com reported that he proclaimed his football supremacy on WNST 1570, declaring: "I mean, I think I'm the best. I don't think I'm top five, I think I'm the best."

    The Ravens clearly believed him, offering what USA Today reported to be a six-year, $120.6 million contract, including $52 million guaranteed and averaging out to $62 million over the first three years.

    Flacco followed that up with a predictably unimpressive season: 19 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and a 73.1 passer rating. A short list of qualifying quarterbacks who finished the season with higher passer ratings: Mike Glennon, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and Chad Henne.

    Perhaps next year Henne will finally land a $120.6 million dollar contract of his own. I mean, the numbers say he earned it.

    Worth noting: Flacco earned $3,263,157 per touchdown last seasonor, perhaps more appropriately, $2,818,181 per interception. Nothin’ beats a great bargain!

7. Devin Hester

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    The only NFL player who could possibly eclipse Joe Flacco and earn recognition as the seventh-greatest athlete in the world is the multi-talented behemoth that is Devin Hester.

    Before Hester signed a three-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons, NBC Sports' Curtis Crabtree reported that the former Chicago Bears star considered himself not only a great football player but the very, very best:

    Hester spoke to Emerson Lotzia ESPN 106.3 FM in West Palm Beach, Fla. ahead of free agency and said he feels he’s the league’s best all-around player.

    “Me,” Hester stated bluntly when asked. “I can go and play corner, I can go and play receiver, I can play running back, and I can play a little bit of safety, as well as kickoff and punt returner.”

    Hester is a true triple threat on the football field: incredible return specialist, mediocre wide receiver, below-average defensive back. This is the kind of versatility that puts him on a pedestal above his seemingly amateur colleagues.

    To put his immense talent into perspective, Hester once totaled 757 receiving yards in a single season, good enough for 46th in the NFL, just behind surefire Hall of Famers Davone Bess and Pierre Garcon.

    While the NFL is filled with players who can only do one thing poorly, Hester is able to do two things poorly, while still having time to do one thing really, really well.

6. Dwight Howard

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    In a league full of superstars, being the best player in the NBA is far from easy, and accomplishing the feat was enough to establish Dwight Howard as the sixth-greatest athlete in the world. According to Ultimate Rockets' Jonathan Feigen, Howard was not afraid to place himself above LeBron, Durant and everyone else in the league.

    "I know I’m going to get a lot (criticism), but I have to believe in myself as being the best player,” Howard said. “That’s how I think everyone in this room feels. They’re not going to say that this person is better than them. We have to believe that. No matter what the stats say, you have to go on the floor with that kind of mentality. ‘I’m the best player on the floor every night.'"

    Howard truly does have the necessary resume to be the legendary player that he claims to be:

    1. Statistically, he was around the third- or fourth-best center in the NBA last season. In order to be the best player in the whole league, it's usually good to at least be in the top five or so at your own position, so Howard is (barely) off to a really great start.

    2. He's really good at picking good teams to play for. Goodbye L.A., hello Houston! Once the future started looking bleak in Los Angeles, Howard was nowhere to be found, as he darted to a team full of superstars as soon as he had the chance. Thanks for the idea, LeBron!

    For now, we'll accept Howard's claim that he's the best player in the NBA. Maybe next year, he'll even be the best player on his team.                                                                                                                             

5. Rickey Henderson

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    The confidence. The charisma. The dramatic pause. The heroic raising of his clenched fists. The roar of the crowd. 

    When it comes to epic self-glorification, Rickey Henderson might know how to do it better than anyone, a talent which was on perfect display during his victory speech (which begins at 2:48 in the video above) after breaking the all-time record for stolen bases.

    His words will ring forever in our hearts: "Lou Brock was a great base stealer. But today, I'm the greatest of all time. Thank you."

    We'll take the liberty of assuming Henderson considers himself the greatest baseball player of all time, and not simply the greatest base stealer of all time. And we will happily endorse this proclamation.

    For all of Babe Ruth's home runs and Nolan Ryan's strikeouts and Ted Williams' hits, nobody could ever quite match Rickey's dramatic bravado. That's more than enough for our purposes.

4. Allen Iverson

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    Ever since Le Bron James stormed into the NBA and began his takeover of the league, the G.O.A.T. debates have intensified: Is LeBron better than Michael Jordan? Kobe Bryant? Magic Johnson? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Who is the greatest NBA player of all time?

    In February, Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver reported that The Answer himself, Allen Iverson, had provided the world with a completely factual and unbiased response to this question: Allen Iverson.

    Iverson's former coach Larry Brown is now the head coach at Southern Methodist University, and Iverson decided to pay the team a visit. Brown shared some highlights from this experience in an interview on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, (as reported by Golliver)

    Larry Brown: “He was here about a month ago. He spoke to our team, Bryant, and it was the most unbelievable talk I’ve ever heard.  Our kids were spellbound.  And he was so open and honest with ‘em.  He talked about the good things he did and the things he’d like to change, which weren’t a lot.  But the one thing that stuck out in my mind, one of the kids said, ‘Who’s the best player to ever play?’  Who do you think he said?”

    Bryant Gumbel: “Himself.”

    Larry Brown: “Allen Iverson.  And he said, ‘I’m not disrespecting Michael [Jordan] or Magic [Johnson] or Julius Erving or any of those guys.’  He said, ‘I couldn’t have done what I did at my size if I didn’t feel that way.’”

    The little man with the big ego is often overlooked in the discussion of all-time greats, but Iverson did always pour his whole heart onto the court, during both games and practice.

    Though he currently only sits at No. 23 on the NBA All-Time Scoring List, these numbers would look much different if they took into account his small stature. At barely 6'0" tall, Iverson scored 338.4 points-per-inch-of-height over the course of his career. Compare that to the 7'2" Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's measly 446.4 points-per-inch, and all of a suddenoh...

    Well, I guess that makes it seem a little closer. And did I mention that he played with a lot of heart?

3. Mike Tyson

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    Iron Mike Tyson has never been known for his subtlety, and his announcement to the world of his own greatness was no different. In a post-fight interview with Jim Gray following a dominant victory, Tyson delivered a true speech for the ages (see video above).

    He makes his point pretty clear, and it’s tough to argue with a man who had just knocked out Lou Savarese in 30 seconds. But in case you’re still in doubt, here are a few reasons I have to take the guy at his word:

    1. He’s got an impressively academic vocabulary. Don’t bother looking up “impetuous” and “impregnable” to see if he actually used those words correctly. He did.

    2. He is apparently ready and willing to literally “eat children.” A braver version of myself would love to call his bluff and dispute his toughness. Consequently, a braver version of myself would not be sitting here alive and well today.

    3. He “dropped the mic” way before “dropping the mic” was a thing. After comparing himself to Alexander the Great and paying due respect to Allah, Tyson was gone. Go ahead and try to finish that last question, Jim. Go ahead and try.

    Call me impetuous, but I think Tyson may hold an impregnable grip on a high spot on this list for years to come.

2. Usain Bolt

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    Most people on this list would probably be perfectly content becoming the greatest athlete alive and stopping there. Usain Bolt is not most people.

    After a particularly dominant performance at the 2012 London Olympics, Bolt took it one step further, not only proclaiming his athletic greatness but apparently demanding that the entire world bow down before him in reverence and awe. 

    Sean Gregory of TIME reported on his impressively vainglorious post-race speech:

    After the race, in fact, Bolt was making Ali-like declarations. “I am now a living legend,” Bolt declared in front of at least a hundred reporters around the world. “Bask in my glory.” Earlier, Bolt even used the G-word.  He called himself “the greatest athlete to live.”

    A living legend? Bask in his glory? These are words you might expect to hear from a great world conqueror or a powerful dictator, not some guy who can move an arbitrary distance across a track super, super fast. 

    Well, to each his own, I guess. Still not quite good enough for No. 1 on our list.

1. Muhammad Ali

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    Once every few months, a player will publicly, and usually undeservedly, proclaim his own greatness.

    Perhaps a mediocre shooting guard will call himself the best in the league, and we'll all laugh. Maybe a subpar quarterback will declare supremacy, and we'll roll our eyes. Or perhaps the fastest man in the world will take his self-praise just a little too far.

    Once in a lifetime, however, an athlete will call himself The Greatest over and over again and will be absolutely, 100 percent correct. This was precisely the case with the man formerly known as Cassius Clay.

    Indeed, Muhammad Ali had it all.

    The epic speeches.

    The lyrical, poetic trash-talking.

    The results to back it all up.

    Muhammad Ali was and is truly The Greatest—not only according to himself but to sports fans across the world.

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