10 of the Greatest 2-Sport Athletes Ever

  • LeBron James

    In high school, LeBron was a standout wide receiver for three years and was so good that as a sophomore got named first team all-state. At his size, with his coordination and speed, James would’ve been a monster at the next level and there have been countless instances of analysts and experts wondering whether James could’ve played in the NFL. LeBron ended up focusing on basketball as a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary. Good decision.

    Before that, ‘Bron had narrowed his decision down to Miami, USC, Ohio State, and Michigan in football.

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  • Dave DeBusschere

    This New York legend gets the nod over other similar athletes like Danny Ainge mainly because he excelled so much at one sport in particular. Ainge, for example, was a longtime NBA player who also played three seasons of Major League Baseball. Yet as a basketball player, he didn’t come close to reaching DeBusschere. The 6-6 forward won two titles, made eight All-Star teams, and was a six-time member of the All-Defensive First Team. The Knicks ended up retiring his jersey.

    The big fella also pitched one season for the Chicago White Sox, where he shut out the Cleveland Indians in one game.

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  • Charlie Ward

    Pretty much everyone remembers Ward for his days playing with the New York Knicks. They’ll call him mediocre, considering he averaged 6.3 points and 4.0 assists for his career. Instead, I’ll praise the 6-2 point guard for lasting 10 years in the NBA through his defensive skills and leadership from the lead guard spot. It’s not easy playing for that long — until he was 34 years old. Ward even started 285 games throughout his career.

    Ward was also pretty good at football. At Florida State, he won the Heisman Trophy in 1993, but a number of factors came together that kept him from ever playing in the NFL. First, he was considered small as a quarterback, a player who came around probably 10-15 years too early. Nowadays? You can get away with being only 6-2 if you have skills. Ward also stated he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to play football or basketball, and then said he wouldn’t bother playing in the NFL if he wasn’t a first-round pick…and then because of that, no one wanted to roll the dice with a first pick. Everything turned out okay, though. Ward was drafted by the Knicks in the first round of the 1994 NBA Draft instead.

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  • Babe Didrikson Zaharias

    The lone female on this list, she was also probably the greatest female athlete ever. In basketball, she was just an All-American. I say “just” because in everything else she tried, she was even better.

    At the 1932 Olympics, the Babe went for gold in both the 80-meter hurdles and javelin while grabbing silver in the high jump. Then 15 years later she decided she wanted to be a golfer and went on to win 10 majors and at one point won 17 straight women’s amateur victories. Think about how difficult that is. It’s no wonder no one else has ever done it. Tragically, Babe Didrikson Zaharias passed away from cancer while still in her prime, or who knows what else she could’ve done?

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  • Dave Winfield

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    Dave Winfield

    Winfield was a 6-6 beast on the baseball diamond, hitting for 465 home runs and over 3,000 hits during a career that saw him make 12 All-Star Games, win seven Gold Gloves, and win one World Series.

    But Winfield could also hoop, doing so in impressive fashion for Minnesota. He was good enough to get drafted by pro basketball teams twice: for the NBA (Atlanta Hawks) and the ABA (Utah Stars). But to top it all off, Winfield was also drafted by the Vikings…despite never playing college football. That’s some serious respect right there.

    Winfield is the only athlete to be drafted by four leagues.

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  • Bob Hayes

    The only man to ever win Olympic gold and the Super Bowl, Hayes changed football forever with his mind-bending speed. On the track, he once held world records in the 60-yard, 100-yard, 220-yard, and 100-meter dashes. Insane.

    As a football player, Hayes was a 6-0 speedy wideout with Dallas who was so good he forced defensive coordinators to adopt bump-n-run coverage and zone defenses. During his first seven seasons in the NFL, the Florida A&M product put up 67 touchdowns and made three Pro Bowls, turning in First Team All-Pro seasons twice.

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  • Jim Brown

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    Jim Brown

    Brown might be the best running back to ever suit up in the NFL with a career rushing average of 5.2 yards per carry, finishing with 126 touchdowns.

    But the amazing thing about this 6-2 stud was that while in college at Syracuse, he starred in four sports. He led the basketball team in points. He ran track. He did his thing on the gridiron. AND he was an incredible lacrosse player, an All-American who scored over 40 goals as a senior in just 10 games.

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  • Deion Sanders

    Prime Time was never a special baseball player, merely a decent one during nine years in the Bigs. (He did steal 38 bases in only 92 games in 1994.) But he gets extra points here for, firstly, being one of the most electrifying speed demons ever. We THINK Bo ran a 4.12 hand-timed 40. But we KNOW Prime ran a 4.21 at the NFL Combine.

    Most importantly, no one was ever better at what they did than Prime. As a cornerback, he dominated entire games. Quarterbacks wouldn’t even use his side of the field. There was no use. He was so good he never even had to learn how to tackle.

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  • Bo Jackson

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    Bo Jackson

    In terms of overall athletic ability, Jackson was probably the best ever. He could outrun anyone as a running back in both college — where he made defenses look silly — and in the NFL — where his short-lived prime was intoxicating. And yet he was still stronger than anyone — when people talk about his arm strength, they do so as if he’s some type of living legend.

    Jackson supposedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.12 seconds and with the Raiders in the NFL averaged a ridiculous 5.4 yards per carry. He never reached 1,000 yards in a season, however, because he never suited up until the baseball season was over. (He also had to contend with Marcus Allen, another incredible running back.)

    With the Kansas City Royals, Jackson hit at least 20 home runs in four consecutive seasons and even won the All-Star Game MVP in 1989.

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  • Jim Thorpe

    Could we put anyone else at No. 1? Thorpe was 24 years old when he won Olympic gold in both the pentathlon and decathlon. At 6-1 and weighing right around 200 pounds, Thorpe also went pro in football, baseball, AND basketball. His top sport was football, where he was later inducted into the Hall of Fames for both college and pro ball, but all of that pales in comparison to his dominance in several Olympic events.

    Best 2-sport athlete ever? Thorpe was more like a 4-sport athlete.

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  • LeBron James
  • Charlie Ward
  • Babe Didrikson Zaharias
  • Dave Winfield
  • Bob Hayes
  • Jim Brown
  • Deion Sanders
  • Bo Jackson
  • Jim Thorpe

Every kid who grows up playing sports knows about the weeding-out process. When you first start playing as a elementary school kid, normally, everyone makes it. Everyone plays. By middle school, the cats without much athletic ability stop playing. They get cut or they quit or they lose interest or they just straight give up and don’t feel like dealing with it anymore. Then a few years later, it happens again. Of the kids you grew up playing in the backyard with, only the best of them play jayvee sports in high school, and perhaps only the handful of the very best move on to varsity.

Once there, that’s normally where it ends even for some of the talented ones, the standouts. Only the truly special move on to college and from there, only the top one or two percent of those ever play for money.

It’s almost exhausting to think about, and isn’t at all what you think about as a kid, when it seems like your entire world revolves around one classroom, one street, one field. When you’re 13 years old, everyone is going pro. Everyone is that good. Eventually, the world gives you a reminder that life just isn’t fair.

That’s why seeing a two-sport athlete who is head and shoulders above the rest in both sports is so incredible. In this day and age, when kids are playing the same thing year-round, it’s almost unheard of.

Michael Jordan is special. But so is Charlie Ward. Here are 10 of the Greatest 2-Sport Athletes Ever.

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