Past Stars Who Would Absolutely Dominate Today
Out of even the most select group of past stars, very few had what it would take to transcend generations and dominate today.
Thanks to unparalleled emphasis and numerous advantages with concern to exercise, nutrition and more—not to mention basic evolution—current athletes are bigger, strong and faster than ever.
Still, for varying reasons, the most exceptional of legends stand the test of time.
These extraordinary stars possessed uniquely mobile skill sets, which we believe could traverse generations and overcome the inherent disadvantages of their antiquated pasts.
For example, although he hasn’t dominated in nearly 20 years, Michael Jordan’s tenacity and grit would make him a ferocious force even in today’s more athletic NBA.
In a similar vein, Bobby Orr’s unbelievable speed and amazing knack for goal scoring would be valued today every bit as much as they were in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
And defenders in the modern NFL would no doubt despise tackling Jim Brown, just as they did when the power back owned the league from 1957-65.
With these guys and others in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 10 past stars that would absolutely dominate sports today—the same way they did during their prime years.
While some athletes on our list were active more recently than others, the point remains the same for all: The greatest talents and most exceptional skills are oblivious to time and are forever relevant.
Close, But No Cigar
Though we limited our list to just 10 past stars, there are numerous others that may have had what it takes to dominate today's sports scene. The following athletes, then, are the best of the rest:
Though Dan Marino didn’t retire all that long ago—he finished his career with the Dolphins in 1999—the NFL has changed a lot in the last 15 years.
Today’s league, though, likely suits Marino even better.
With a cannon for an arm, impressive accuracy and the quickest release around, Marino finished his career as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history.
If he played today, however, he’d be even better.
There’s no doubting either Klitschko’s size or strength—they’d have considerable advantages over Ali in both height and reach.
Yet Ali was a rare heavyweight: He had enough size and strength to compete against mammoths like George Foreman but somehow also possessed the speed and skill of a lightweight.
In the current era devoid of elite heavyweights, Ali would undoubtedly stand alone at the top.
And in today’s far more liberal and less contentious political climate, he’d get his prime back, too.
Pele was one of the easier athletes to include on our list simply because soccer hasn’t changed all that much since he dominated the ‘60s ad '70s.
Sure, players are faster and more active in today’s game, but speed and endurance were hardly Pele's weaknesses.
Of course, he wasn’t the largest of men, either—he stood 5’8”, to be exact—but soccer has never been a big man’s game (just ask Lionel Messi).
In the end, Pele’s on-ball craft and brilliant flair for scoring—which were unrivaled in his time—would no doubt be just as special today, allowing him to dominate the game the same way he did more than 40 years ago.
"The Great One" was not just the best when he played, he would be the best in the NHL today as well.
Few athletes have ever dominated their sport quite like Gretzky.
And while there’s no doubt that athletes are bigger, faster and stronger in 2014, Gretzky would have both the size and athleticism to keep up.
More importantly, in his prime, Gretzky’s vision and intelligence were by far his greatest strengths. And there’s nothing that suggests today’s brand of hockey would diminish or marginalize either skill in any way.
In the case of Gretzky, once the greatest, always the greatest.
Speaking of GOATs, according to most, Michael Jordan represents that and more along the hardwood.
And because this entire discussion is framed around each athlete's ability to dominate, we are considering the 1984-1998 Michael Jordan, excluding the one that returned for two seasons in 2001.
With that said, it’s hard to believe the real MJ has been gone for nearly two full decades.
Since then, though, both the NBA athlete and game have changed considerably.
Players have transformed athletically—see the likes of LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, John Wall and Russell Westbrook for proof—while the physical basketball that was prevalent in the ‘80s and ‘90s has all but vanished.
Defensively, there's no doubt Jordan would have a tough time bodying up LeBron or staying in front of Westbrook. But considering his unrivaled competitive drive, you have to think "His Airness" would eventually figure things out.
And on the offensive end—where there are fewer rim protectors in a league nearly devoid of great centers—Jordan would thrive more than ever, especially with the changes to illegal defense.
At his best, Jordan had the athleticism and skill to at least hang with any of the NBA’s current stars.
And his legendary killer instinct and demanding need to win would be just as valuable today as they were "way back when."
When discussing a star's ability to transcend generations, his or her athleticism is of paramount concern.
For basic reasons already addressed, athletes today are on a whole other level. This fact, however, is what makes Willie Mays so extraordinary.
Playing from 1951-1973, Mays dominated baseball with one-of-a-kind athleticism.
And, according to ESPN baseball expert Tim Kurkjian, not much has changed. “Even now,” Kurkjian writes, “he remains the greatest combination of power, speed and defense in baseball history.”
Simply put, there was nothing Mays couldn’t do.
He hit 660 home runs, recorded 3,283 hits, stole 338 bases, won 12 Gold Gloves and was named to every All-Star team from 1954-72.
The skills Mays possessed in his prime would translate to today’s game because, at the end of the day, Mays possessed every skill.
In just about every sport, speed and the ability to score are considered attributes of great value.
In hockey, that’s certainly the case.
And from 1966-78, the great Bobby Orr utilized both skills with historic regularity—Orr won three consecutive Hart Trophies (given to the league MVP) thanks to his attacking style of play.
Most impressive, though, was Orr’s ability to challenge opposing defenses despite functioning as a defenseman himself.
His versatile style of play—he won a record eight consecutive Norris Trophies (given to the league’s best defenseman) while also winning two Art Ross Trophies (given to the league’s scoring leader)—revolutionized defensive hockey.
To this day, Orr remains the only defenseman to lead the league in scoring and still holds the record for the most points and assists achieved by a defender in a single season.
His ability to attack and score with outright speed from the defensive third was unrivaled for his generation. And considering our current love for everything offensive, we have little doubt that Orr's rare skills would mesmerize this one, too.
It takes no more than a minute of Magic Johnson highlights to understand why his game would so seamlessly translate to any era imaginable.
For starters, there’s always room for 6’9” point guards who can defend all five positions on the floor.
In fact, his unprecedented size would give today's players the same fits it did in the ‘80s.
Of course, Magic was more than just big.
His combination of natural court sense, unbelievable vision and an overall ability to involve others was unparalleled in his time and hasn’t been matched since. Not to mention his speed—especially in transition—was equally impressive, too.
From a pure athleticism standpoint, Magic may not hold up against some of the better, more dynamic point guards of today. But with the ball in his hands—which is where it was most often—he was as fluid an athlete as there's ever been.
And in a day and age where point guards have all but morphed into shooting guards, Magic would represent the best and truest 1 around.
Jim Brown’s spot on our list is an awfully easy one to justify.
Simply put, the guy was an absolute bulldozer.
Standing 6’2” while weighing in at a clean 232 pounds, opponents today would hate tackling him every bit as much as they did when he was tearing things up in Cleveland from 1957-65.
After all, there’s a reason his career mark of 5.2 yards per carry is the best all time among retired backs.
And he was so much more than simply a power back. Also armed with great vision, balance and agility, Brown was truly the complete player.
And not to pile on (pun intended), but today's spread-oriented brand of football would only further accentuate his skills.
Using a full arsenal of rushing prowess—combined with an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield—Brown would thrive in all the NFL’s newfound space, running over and around any and all comers.
Because our discussion has naturally focused so much on athleticism, Larry Bird could arguably be the most surprising member on our list.
But just as Magic-like size is of constant value in the NBA, so too is the ability to shoot. In fact, today's NBA values long-range shooting more than ever, and it’s not even close.
In 1987—a year that shares a ballpark with Bird’s prime—the average NBA team attempted just 6.5 three-pointers per game. In 2013, that number had risen all the way up to 19.9 three-point attempts per game.
For a man that made better than 40 percent of his three-point attempts in six different seasons, that's a scary thought.
Of course, Bird was never the best of athletes, a fact that would remain equally true today.
He, however, more than made up for such shortcomings with his size (6’9”), his tremendous basketball instinct and his already covered ability to shoot, commodities that would be just as useful in the current NBA climate.
We are quite sure Bird wouldn’t just torch today’s NBA; he’d light it up in ways never seen before.