LeBron James and the 12 Greatest Pure Athletes of All Time
Having been the beneficiary of an inter-disciplinary athletic career, enjoying success in baseball, basketball, hockey, football and rugby, I find it safe to say that I have the ability to truly narrow down and denote 12 of the world's most spectacular athletic specimens.
In this list, you will read about 12 athletes from varying sports who utilize a lethal combination of strength, speed and skill to dominate their respective games.
Gianluigi Buffon: Keeper, Italy and Juventus
Gigi Buffon provided that last layer on an all-century Italian defense in the 2006 World Cup of football. Buffon used his height to make jaw-dropping top-shelf saves, including one on a Zidane header that could have sealed it for the French.
He shows surprising lateral quickness for his age and height, and has some of the surest hands in the game. His absence in the 2010 Cup was enough for an absolute embarrassment for Italy.
Alexander Ovechkin: Left Wing, Russia and Washington Capitals
I guess I scorned hockey here. Ovechkin has the skills of a complete forward, offensively and defensively. He has a dynamic wrist shot that darts and dodges its way to close- and mid-range goals, and a slap shot that breaks the sound barrier. He also hits as hard as any forward—just ask Jaromir Jagr.
Ken Griffey, Jr.: Outfielder, Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox
Injuries derailed what could have been the greatest career of all time.
Regardless of what he did or did not do for the Cincinnati Reds, he has 10 Gold Gloves, 13 All-Star appearances and over 600 home runs. He did all this in an era where the juice seemed to dilute the capillaries of every slugger. Can you imagine what he could have done if he cheated?
Not that I am advocating any sort of drug use, but he was a complete monster, and drug free. "The Kid" is a true testament to the incredible feats a young athlete can accomplish with nothing more than hard work, determination and whey protein.
12. Babe Ruth
It is hard to envision a man as gluttonous as George Herman Ruth becoming quite possibly the greatest baseball player of all time. Remember when Barry Bonds was approaching the home run record? Those signs that said, "Babe did it on hot dogs and beer" were all too common.
When one reads about the Babe's almost mythical meal time, and his incredible desire to consume alcohol and tobacco by the case, the reader surely has trouble inferring just how a man like him could do it.
What is even more incredible, is that before the Babe settled in the outfield, where he was an adept defender, he was the best LHP in the major leagues, guiding the Boston Red Sox to their final World Series title before the lifting of his curse in 2004.
He somehow smacked 60 home runs in an era where the ball was more akin to a stone covered in tobacco spittle than a leather-bound baseball.
He has more nicknames than any athlete ever, (remember The Sandlot?) has remained a cultural icon long after his death and is just about as versatile on the field as he was in his dining room.
11. Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis may not be known in particular for his blinding speed, but he is absolutely ageless. Since his beginning at the University of Miami, Lewis was a true definition of the swagger so often used in reference to the championship years at the university.
A family man off the field, he creates a new persona on, playing through gratuitous pain in certain situations.
Meeting him in person is staggering. I ran into him actually buying an Ed Reed jersey in Boca Raton, Florida in 2005. He was nice as can be, but he had the eyes of a raven. Lewis is a monster in and out of pads, and even at his age, he seems to still be one of the best linebackers, if not the best, in football.
Add to his speed, strength and fearsome tackling ability his excellence in leadership and the skill to pep-talk his defense into a frenzy. His impassioned vocal style has earned him commercial spots in deodorant advertisements that look like a bad dose of a psychedelic drug.
Nevertheless, the only drugs one will need after an encounter between the tackles with Ray Lewis is ibuprofen and lots of it.
10. Randy Moss
Let me be clear: I absolutely hate Randy Moss. If he spent more time catching passes and less time running his mouth, he may be clear of all receiving records by now.
Moss has height, blinding speed and a vertical leap to envy. Combining these three gifts has endeared him to the nation. School kids use the term "mossed" to describe someone who has been beaten in a jump-ball situation.
Moss had the ability to grab a deep ball at full flight and stop on a dime with enough footwork to tip-toe his way into glory.
Moss may be controversial, but in no way will he ever be doubted in his first ballot, straight to Canton.
9. Mike Tyson
Anyone who has seen ESPN classic air Mike Tyson's Greatest Hits will realize just what I am talking about. I am neglecting to add a UFC fighter to this list because honestly I would rather spend 15 minutes with Brock Lesnar than an hour with Mike Tyson.
Despite his hilarious high-pitched voice and exorbitant criminal record, when Tyson stepped into the ring in his prime, he knew he was hunting another head to mount on his proverbial trophy wall.
Often a boxer would let forth a shocking flurry on Tyson, impressing even themselves, before with one swift, compact, cobra-like strike, the opposition lay left for dead.
In his prime, he was the most fearsome man ever to use his fists (and teeth) for sport. Tyson in his prime could very easily rip your heart out and eat your children.
8. Mauro Bergamasco
For those of you unfamiliar with rugby, Mauro Bergamasco is an Italian flanker, much akin to a linebacker in that their key cog to their niche in the game is to rack up as many brutish hits as possible.
While Bergamasco plays for the usual last-place Italians in the RBS 6 Nations, this is not about wins and losses, but about athleticism.
Bergamasco weighs in at about 220 but runs like a speed back and hits like Ray Lewis, without pads. Rugby is sport where all 15 players play offense and defense, and the possession could change immediately.
Bergamasco has the awareness to be omnipresent in defense, making massive tackles on superstar-caliber players but can also carry the ball into contact with fearsome vigor. Bergamasco also has breakaway speed that is extremely rare for a player at his position.
His brother, Mirco, is not so bad either.
7. Cameron Newton
Sure, he could go down as one of the greatest busts of all time a la Ryan Leaf, but this is about raw athleticism, not wins and losses nor stats.
Newton boasts an above-average arm, with the ability to create throws by changing his arm slots once drawn into contact. He is bigger than Tim Tebow—the other hard-running QB to recently be drafted—has a better arm and is faster.
Does anyone remember that incredible run against LSU where he dipped and dodged a top defensive unit before putting on the burners to scorch Patrick Peterson?
I am not sold on Cam Newton, but the fact of the matter is his speed, arm strength, size and hard running make him a dual threat to watch for in the years to come.
6. Michael Vick
Wow, was I tempted to put Michael Vick higher.
His reliance to run early and his absolute incompetence in the passing game during his Falcons tenure changed things for me when I laid out my 12. His injury concerns also limit his ascension to the top of this list, as fitness and durability are also facets of athleticism paid little heed to.
I am not sure what prison did to Vick but he came out of prison a patient, disciplined passer who still bore the same incredibly elusive footwork and stellar pace, but his cannon for an arm finally started hitting targets.
After last year's clash with the Redskins, there was an outcry to dub Vick the best quarterback in the game. With a skill set like his current one and two desirable targets in Maclin and Jackson, Vick has put his woes behind him and created quite the redemption story for himself.
5. Magic Johnson
Magic was a fast, tall, strong, point guard. At 6'9", he still stands as the tallest PG ever to play the position primarily.
His ability to distribute the ball with ease made him the focal point of attack in his Showtime Lakers years. His rivalry with the less athletic but equally talented Larry Bird stems back to their collegiate days.
Aside from his passing, shooting and size, what stands out most about Magic is his versatility. How many point guards can say they played center?
When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went down with an ankle injury in Game 5 of the 1980 NBA Finals, the rookie Johnson was started at center. With no experience and the game's best-ever center sidelined, Johnson put up videogame-like numbers.
Later, in their numerous battles with the Celtics, Johnson again showed his versatility hitting a clutch hook shot in the final seconds of Game 4. He hit that shot over two future Hall of Famers. I cannot think of the last time I saw a point guard even attempt to hit a hook shot in the paint.
Living with HIV, Johnson continued his legacy into charity work. Let us hope for a long life and a lot more memories of Magic.
4. Joost Van Der Westhuizen
For those of you who have seen the film Invictus, it is a touching feature about how Nelson Mandela used rugby to bring together a nation at war. On the pitch, it was always warfare, with Joost the spearhead of the attack.
Much like Magic Johnson, Joost is known for his versatility. He played scrum-half, a position of distribution usually reserved for the smallest member of the side. Joost was uncharacteristically large for his position, and played like it.
Scrum-halves are not known extensively for their defense, with many comedic videos showing just how afraid they can be. Joost never stood down, and would take on the wrath of Zeus if he carried a rugby ball.
Also surprising is Joost's incredible scoring total. With 12 of the first 13 all-time rugby union try scorers positioned in the outside backs, a spot with many easy scoring opportunities, only Joost and Brian O'Driscoll lie in the top 14 at a different position.
Never void of heart or muscle, Joost is one of the strongest rugby players ever to grace the pitch.
Upon researching more about him for this list, it has come to my knowledge that among the many athletic similarities to Magic comes one more.
He has ALS, making them both akin in their fatal afflictions. Joost will likely live no more than five more years, but his legacy and fight will never go forgotten.
3. Michael Jordan
As a diehard Heat fan, let me make this clear: Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time. In a one-on-one with LeBron, I may give the edge to King James, but in terms of his pedigree on the court, nobody comes close.
Michael could score at will, and would do it on his terms. Whether that involved his lightning-quick jab-step to a pull-up mid-range jumper, or a flash of speed and a poster print later, MJ scored whenever he wanted to. Adding to that was his incredible defense and highly developed three-point shooting.
MJ had one of the most extraordinary vertical leaping abilities in all of sports history. His image is so iconic, that his silhouette graces your Nikes.
MJ had a game so diverse that it was impossible to plan for. It was not who was going to stop Jordan, but how would the entire team collapse on him to slow him down. Even a high fever could not slow him, as on that night he put up another monster evening.
MJ's comments were not exactly appreciated by Heat fans, as he stated he would not do what LeBron, Wade and Bosh did. He did not have to. The team was there for him.
MJ made Space Jam look like a documentary. Regardless of the debate, Michael Jordan had the most complete skill set ever to step foot on the floor.
2. LeBron James
Love him or hate him, LeBron James is the best active athlete in the world today and the greatest athlete ever to play basketball. Contrary to what one may believe, Michael Jordan was not a two-sport athlete.
His most memorable baseball moments were in Space Jam where he quipped back and forth with a catcher tipping pitches for his kid's birthday gift. LeBron stands at a colossal 6'8", almost 260 lbs and has the speed to nearly outrun most cornerbacks.
What does this mean? LeBron was a superstar in high school football, recruited by several perennial contenders, before choosing the NBA draft and uprooting everything we thought we knew about basketball.
A man at that size, with that speed and the incredible quickness to change direction while in midair would essentially mean that LeBron could quite possibly have been a top-five pick in the NFL draft following what projected to be a decorated football career.
Despite his lack of rings and the nation's love for picking on my Heat, LeBron possesses the most raw athleticism in today's sporting world and will have a few fingers draped in gold before he knows it.
1. Jonah Lomu
Jonah Lomu might be the most horrifying person ever to play a recreational game. That picture is Lomu years after retirement following multiple kidney surgeries. I would feel threatened if I was bowling next to Lomu three lanes down.
Lomu revolutionized the game of rugby, standing in at 6'5", 275 lbs and running a 100 meter that many NFL receivers would be jealous of, Jonah Lomu was the closest thing a man could have to getting hit by a bus and surviving.
Adding to his terrifying size and speed were his complementary tree trunk legs that resemble the torso of Treebeard from the The Lord of the Rings, and the kind of killer instinct that would make a hunting lodge for Great White's envious.
At one point, numerous NFL teams offered Lomu large contracts to play in the States, as he possessed the speed of a halfback and the size of a defensive end.
He also had the responsibility each rugby player has in playing on both sides of the ball at any given moment, making Jonah a lock starter at almost any position should he have made the jump to American football.
Lomu played on the wing, and after his emergence as the best athlete of all time, many teams at every level of rugby started experimenting with big wingers.
In one rampage for the try zone, Lomu could sidestep one defender, smash another and sprint away from the next fastest guy before anyone had a chance to muster the courage to face him.
One of the great players of all time, Australian scrum-half George Gregan will always be remembered for simply tackling Lomu by himself. Along with his incredible running skills was an equally aggressive defensive game and a light offensive kicking game with which he often employed in numerous occasions.
Lomu lost out to the South African Springboks in the fabled 1995 post-Apartheid cup with which Invictus was based off of. Kidney issues sidelined him for years.
He has represented the state of Florida as a high school All-Star, having scored on many teams across the state. I find it safe to say that even at my level of rugby. I feel that Jonah Lomu could legitimately kill me with ball in hand.
Was that poof ball haircut satirical? Lomu would be the scariest man to walk into a bar if he wore a wedding dress.
Never heard of him? Here are a few choice cuts from a career in mayhem.