America has given the world a lot: actors, musicians, statesmen… The list is long and, of course, subjective. But perhaps the greatest ever export from the United States to the world has been its sporting stars. No matter where you travel around the globe, athletes like Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods are household names that are revered by many that do not call America their own.
With this in mind, who is America’s greatest ever sportsman? Is there any conclusive evidence or is it a question simply impossible to answer? Let’s have a look.
Thanks to Netflix’s new series, The Last Dance, Michael Jordan’s exploits on the basketball court have been thrust into the spotlight again. The ten-episode mini-series has given the world another chance to relive Jordan’s genius and perhaps even a greater appreciation of what he did at the Chicago Bulls. The show has been reported as sampled by 23.8 million users in its first month of availability.
So often, the greatest players are not necessarily the ones at the top of the stats list. In Jordan’s case, he is fifth on the all-time NBA leading scorers chart but that hasn’t stopped him being called the greatest of all time. It is instead the manner in which the greatest go about their business, and Jordan’s clutch mentality and an insatiable appetite for winning made him the best, to many.
There isn’t a punter out there who wouldn’t select Jordan first if they were asked to make up an NBA dream team. Sure, these days LeBron James may be the first pick and at the top of every fantasy basketball betting roster as the most valued player but, if Jordan had been playing at the same time, it wouldn’t have even been worth thinking about. You would have made him your captain every year of his career given his unmatched prowess on rebounds and assists, as well as the obvious – scoring. Indeed, he would have racked up the points in fantasy basket like it was going out of fashion had he played when it was around.
There’s no question; Jordan was great, but is he the greatest American athlete of all time? Not so fast.
The immediate question has to be, can you consider Tiger Woods without Jack Nicklaus, given that the Golden Bear has won more majors? As mentioned with regards to Jordan, the greatest haven’t necessarily won the most accolades in terms of cold, hard numbers. Woods is a handful of majors behind Nicklaus but by gosh has he entertained us over the years.
In any case, it’s not exactly like Woods has a lack of trophies to show for his efforts either. He is now tied for the most ever PGA wins after he won the Zozo Championship in Japan, taking his tally to 82. That is the same number that Sam Snead won and nine ahead of Nicklaus’ 73 PGA scalps. Woods has it all to show but his greatest ever accomplishment has to be making golf a global game and single-handedly bringing it into the household of millions of people around the world.
America may never produce another sporting icon like him, but is he the greatest?
Like Woods did in golf, Muhammad Ali transcended the sport of boxing and became a beacon of hope for millions around America and indeed the world. As for his talent in the ring, he was unquestionably the greatest boxer to have ever lived; Ali’s record reads 56 wins and five losses. If you want to start up a conversation with a stranger in the most far-flung corners of the globe, just begin by mentioning the Thrilla in Manilla or the Rumble in the Jungle. You’ll soon have plenty to talk about. These timeless events stopped the world and shook the ground we all stood on.
In later life, Ali’s greatest fight turned out to be the one against Parkinson’s, and his death at the age of 74 brought a tear to many an eye around the world. His courage in the face of a debilitating disease makes the hairs on your neck stand on end.
Could the great man be recognized as America’s greatest ever sportsman?
You’re all of a sudden about to feel slightly unfulfilled, because the verdict has to be that it is impossible to decide a winner.
All of the above’s respective contributions to sport and their communities, as well as the entertainment they have provided to their legions of fans around the world, makes them all heroes who deserve to share their place on the podium together, in our opinion.