The 10 Greatest Multi-Sport Athletes of All Time

Alex TimmonsCorrespondent INovember 2, 2008

You might love and adore those athletes who are fantastic at one sport but not many give the appreciation deserved to those who play multiple sports well. Here is my  list of the 10 greatest multi-sport athletes of all time:

10. Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon

Olajuwon was reputed to have been a top goalkeeping prospect in Nigeria before taking up basketball. He took up basketball at the age of 15 and played college basketball at the University of Houston. He was the first overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft by the Houston Rockets, where he gained his credibility as one of the greatest shot blockers, stealers, and defensive players ever known.

9. Carl Crawford

Crawford attended Jefferson Davis High School in Houston, Texas and was a letterman in football, basketball, and baseball. In baseball, he batted over .500 as a senior.Crawford was offered scholarships to play basketball as a point guard at UCLA or to play football as an option quarterback at Nebraska, USC, Oklahoma, Florida, and Tulsa. 

He had originally signed a letter of intent to play football for Nebraska, but he turned down both offers in favor of a baseball career. Also is the cousin of New York Knicks PG Jamal Crawford.

8. John Elway

Considered to be one of the greatest QBs in football history and a Hall of Famer, Elway was also a very good baseball player. I won't go into his NFL career, as he owns numerous records and won two Super Bowls.

His baseball career includes being drafted by the Royals out of high school. At Stanford he hit .361 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs in 49 games as a sophomore. After that he was the first pick of the Yankees in 1981. He hit .314 with a club-high 24 homers with the Yankees' single-A farm club.

7. Dave Winfield

With his 6'6" and 220 pound muscular body frame, Dave was a Hall of Fame slugger in baseball, but check this out: He was drafted by four professional teams in three different sports. After college (Minnesota), where he played baseball and basketball, he was drafted by the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, the ABA's Utah Stars, the NFL's Vikings, and the San Diego Padres in baseball.

6. Jackie Robinson

Robinson was great in football and track in college, but ultimately made his name in baseball as a Hall of Fame player and the one who broke the color barrier in MLB. At UCLA, he became the first athlete in UCLA history to letter in four different sports in one year. Until 1947 he was presumed to be the only person ever selected to play in the college All Star games in both basketball and football.

5. Babe Didrikson

She was the greatest female athlete of all time. She was a great golfer (won 41 LPGA events and 11 majors) and an All-American basketball player, and she won two track and field gold medals in the 1932 Olympics. Who knows what else she would have done had she not died of cancer at 42. She could have been higher on my list if she hadn't died so young.

4. Jim Brown

Brown is the greatest football player of all time, regardless of position. He is also a Hall of Fame Lacrosse player; some consider him the greatest lacrosse player of all time. In fact, he got his scholarship to Syracuse as a lacrosse player and walked onto the football team.

He led Syracuse's lacrosse team to an undefeated season in 1957, leading the country in scoring. As a football player? In only nine years he became the all-time leading rushing leader in the NFL, and currently sits third on that list.

3. Deion Sanders

Nicknamed "Prime Time" and "Neon Deion," Sanders played nine years in baseball, and will probably be a Hall of Fame football player when he becomes eligible. While he was a great football player—an eight-time Pro Bowl player who won two Super Bowls—he was also an above-average baseball player, and probably would have been better had he played the sport full-time.

Sanders is the only man ever to play in both the Super Bowl and the World Series, and he is the only man ever to hit a home run and score a touchdown in the same week.

2. Bo Jackson

He was drafted first overall in football but choose to play baseball first. He eventually came back to football before a hip injury ended his career. An All Star in baseball, he was the All Star game's MVP in 1989.

In football, he was on his way to a great career before he got hurt. What's remarkable is that he was the comeback player of the year in MLB after his injury. In terms of actual results, he probably shouldn't be ranked so high, but at his peak, he was an electric athlete who was the most popular athlete in the country at one point. Who knows what he could have accomplished had he stayed healthy.

1. Jim Thorpe

Thorpe is, hands down, the greatest multi-sport athlete of all time. He is considered one of the most versatile athletes in modern sports. He won Olympic gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon, starred in college and professional football, played Major League Baseball, had a career in basketball, and was the NFL's first ever president which now is called commissioner . What more could you ask of someone? No one will ever surpass him.

Honorable Mentions

1. Antonio Gates

Gates didn't play football in college because head coach Nick Saban wanted him to only play football, but he refused and only played basketball. He played as an undersized power forward for Kent State. Because of his size, NBA scouts didn't see an NBA future in him.

He was signed by the San Diego Chargers undrafted and is now the best TE in the league. He also led Kent State to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament in 2002. He has been to four Pro Bowls already.

2. Charlie Ward

A Heisman Trophy winning QB (won by the highest margin ever) in 1993 at Florida State, Ward is also a College Football Hall of Famer, and won a national championship, as well as numerous other awards. In college he also played point guard and led the Seminoles basketball team to the great eight and was a first round draft pick in 1994 for the Knicks.

Believed by most to be a better football player than basketball player, it was a shock when he announced he would only play football if he were drafted in the first round. He was not drafted at all in the NFL draft and subsequently chose basketball. He ended up having a very good, but not spectacular, 10-year NBA career, which was highlighted by his appearance in the '99 NBA finals.

Dishonorable Mentions

1. Michael Jordan

Jordan was one of the greatest ever in basketball and a terrible baseball player, never reaching the majors for the Chicago White Sox. He made the stupid decision to retire from the NBA to play baseball, which is the only reason he is on this list. Besides this mistake, he won six NBA titles, multiple MVP honors, and other great accomplishments.

2. Marion Jones

Jones is well-known for her multiple medals in Olympic competition, but in college she led the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team to a 92-10 record during her three years on the team, including a national championship in 1994.

An All-America point guard, she ranks fifth on UNC's all-time assists list, third in steals, and seventh in blocks, despite playing only three years. She is on this list because she had all her medals from the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia revoked because she took performance-enhancing drugs. She was subsequently sentenced to six months in prison in a check fraud case on her use of performance enhancing drugs.