Every few years an athlete will dominate their sport, transcend the sports world and become more than just an elite player, they become a household name and pop culture icon.
When you mention the greatest of all time in any given sport there are names that always make the top of the list. Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Babe Ruth, Jim Brown, Arnold Palmer, Pelé are all some of those names and the list goes on and on. These athletes not only made a name for themselves on the court, ice, diamond or turf, they became celebrities outside of the game.
The current greats get compared to their monumental legacies. The debate rages year-in and year-out whether this guy is the greatest of all time or makes it on the Mount Rushmore of their sport.
Let’s take a look at the top 5 current athletes that stand out in their sport and naturally raise questions about whether or not they can they surpass the legends before them.
1. LeBron James
With the NBA Finals in full swing and some stellar performances by King James he’s only adding to his resume. Turn on the radio and listen to sports talk across the country and everyone is comparing him to Magic, Jordan and all the greats. He’s 30 years old and still has plenty of basketball ahead of him. LeBron has been to 11 All-Star games with 2 ASG MVPs, 4-time NBA MVP, was the scoring leader in 07-08 and the list goes on and on, capped off with 2 NBA Championship rings with Miami and he’s going for his 3rd with his home team in Cleveland.
2. Lionel Messi
The FC Barcelona captain plays midfield/forward like nobody else in the game. His skill is undeniable and he’s a walking highlight reel. Don’t believe it? Just go to YouTube and type in his name. There’s a reason Messi is the highest paid Fútbol player in the world. He has lead Barcelona to the top of La Liga each year. He doesn’t bring any bad press with him either which has endorsers just throwing money his way to the tune of $31 million.
3. Rory McIlroy
At just 26 years old, McIlroy has risen to the top of the golf world while Tiger Woods has plummeted over the last few years. He swept the PGA Tour awards in 2012 and 2014 winning the Arnold Palmer Award, PGA Player of the Year, PGA Tour Player of the Year, Vardon Trophy, and Byron Nelson Award. He is rated as among the most marketable athletes in the world (SportsPro) and even had his name replace Tigers for the Rory McIlroy PGA Tour video game by EA Sprots. He’s got some stiff competition from other rising young golfers but he’s always keeping his name at or near the top of the leaderboards.
4. J. J. Watt
Any guy that has won the the AP Defensive Player of the Year award twice in 3 years (2013, 2015) has to be viewed as consistently one of the best. The Houston Texans may not be the top team in the American Football Conference but J.J. is always recognized and respected by opposing offenses. He plays a hybrid outside linebacker and defensive end roll on the line and has the size and speed to be the best at both. He’s a leader on the field and a humanitarian off. He’s been nominated for the NFL’s Salute to Service Award and his foundation, Justin J. Watt Foundation, raises money and gets kids involved in sports in a safe setting.
5. Mike Trout
Ok so this one is up for serious debate but even though he didn’t have a great year in 2014 defensively or offensively (.275 BA), he was still voted the American League MVP. This came after he finished second in voting the two previous years for AL MVP and winning Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger in 2012. He’s just 23 years old and with a little more experience under his belt he can probably lower his strikeouts and up his average. He’s a base stealing threat as well as being able to go deep. He’s been called the best young player in baseball history by Bleacher Report and the Baseball-Reference has some stats that support it.