We have reached the end of our top 20 male athletes of the last 20 years list. If you missed the first three parts, check out part one here, part two here and part three here. Today we are unveiling numbers five through one.
5. Michael Phelps, Swimming (136 points)
The most decorated Olympic athlete of all-time, Michael Phelps' 28 medals are more than 161 entire countries have. Phelps holds the record for most gold medals with 23, gold medals in an individual event with 13 and overall olympic medals in individual events with 16. At one point he held the world record times in four different events and currently holds not just the record but the top eight fastest times in the 400 meter individual medley. And while he might not hold the record anymore, Phelps has the 2nd and 3rd fastest times in the 200 meter freestyle, 2nd, 4th and 8th fastest times in the 100 meter butterfly and the 2nd to 9th fastest times in the 200 meter butterfly. He has 82 total international medals - 65 of which are gold - to go along with being named world swimmer of the year eight times and American swimmer of the year 11 times. However, the most amazing thing about Michael Phelps is that his body looks as if it was designed in a lab to be a swimmer. According to an article on biography.com, Phelps, who stands six-foot-four, has the wingspan and torso of someone who is four inches taller, the legs of someone who is four inches shorter, double jointed size 14 feet that bend 15 degrees farther than normal that act like flippers and more than double the lung capacity of an average human allowing him to hold his breath longer float better and deliver more oxygen to his muscles. On top of all of that - as if it wasn't enough - he also produces less lactic acid than other athletes in the same sport, allowing him to recover faster and train harder. Long story short, if you were to literally build a swimmer in a lab, you still probably wouldn't end up with a better swimmer than Michael Phelps.
4. Tom Brady, Football (138 points)
Twenty years and counting for the NFL's GOAT. He's a six-time Super Bowl champ, four-time Super Bowl MVP, three-time MVP and two-time offensive player of the year. If that isn't enough just take a look at where he lands on the all-time passing lists: second all-time in completions, first in passing touchdowns, second in passing yards, first in attempts, third in game winning drives and second in 4th quarter comebacks. And then there's the records: Most Super Bowl wins as a player, most Super Bowl touchdown passes with 18, most passing yards in the Super Bowl with 2838 and most consecutive completions in a single Super Bowl with 16. He also holds the record for most games won by a QB with 207, most touchdown passes with 73 and the most passing attempts and completions with 392 and 256, respectively. No one can deny his talent but critics will still point to the fact he had the greatest coach of all-time for 95 percent of his career as the reason why he ranks so highly in most categories. While that is true, nobody can be the greatest on their own, even the best of the best need help. Being in a good situation shouldn't be held against Brady as he still led his team to those wins and completed all those passes. And if everything above wasn't enough, here is the icing on the cake; Tom Brady has more than twice as many game winning drives in the playoffs than anyone else. He may not be the most skilled QB of all-time but his results speak for themselves and Tom Brady is the greatest player the NFL has ever seen.
3. Usain Bolt, Track and Field (139 points)
This one will be brief as there isn't much else to say about the fastest man alive. With 42 career medals, 35 being gold, the dude's trophy room is often confused with the foyer to El Dorado. In three Olympic Games, Usain Bolt's record is immaculate with eight gold medals in eight races across three events. However, the most incredible thing about Usain Bolt's career is, of the 29 fastest 100m times, Usain bolt holds nine of them including the top three. And he's the only guy on the list who hasn't been caught using performance enhancing drugs. Now, this means one of two things. It either means that Bolt has been using PEDs just like essentially everyone else in his sport and was lucky enough to never get caught, or he truly is the greatest runner in history. Personally, I like to hope that it's the latter.
2. Tiger Woods, Golf (146 points)
Eldrick Tont Woods (literally just learning his real name now) also known as Tiger, finishes as our runner-up. Woods is tied with Sam Snead for the most PGA tour wins of all-time with 82 and is second all-time in Major Championships with 15 - only three behind Jack Nicklaus. He's also the only player to ever win four consecutive majors, has the lowest scoring average in PGA tour history and has been named PGA Tour player of the year a record 10 times. He was utterly dominant for the first 11 years of his career from 1997 until 2008 where he won 14 of his 15 Majors. And just when it looked like his career was over due to his lingering injuries, Tiger miraculously came back in 2019 and won his 15th. But it isn't just the winning that makes Tiger great, it's how he won. The best example of Tiger's dominance comes in the form of his first ever Major win in 1997. Tiger started the weekend four over par and then turned it on and never looked back. He ended up winning the tournament with a record 18 under par with a 12 shot margin of victory over 2nd place Tom Kite. The craziest thing about that victory is Tom Kite's six under would have been good enough to win 17 different masters tournaments, but instead he lost by the largest margin of victory in PGA history. Even if Tiger never catches Nicklaus' 18 Major wins - which he probably won't at this point but never say never - he'll still go down as the greatest golfer of all-time.
1. Lebron James, Basketball (172 points)
Finally, the moment we've all been waiting for, the top athlete of the past 20 years. And really, who else could it possibly be? LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time - ya, I said it - and he is one of the best athletes we've ever seen across all sports. He's a four-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, three-time league MVP, he is currently third on the all-time points list and win share list and is on pace to finish his career as the NBA's scoring leader. And as crazy as it might seem, he might be even better in the playoffs. In 14 playoff appearances, LeBron has never lost in the first round and has made it to the finals 10 times including eight years in a row. James is first in all-time playoff points and steals and second in all-time playoff assists. He has finished a single playoff with 500 points, 150 assists and 150 rebounds six times - Larry Bird is the only other player to ever do it, accomplishing the feat just once. He was his team's outright leader in points, assists and rebounds in the finals seven times, a feat that has only been achieved three other times in history, once by Magic Johnson, once by Tim Duncan and once by Jimmy Butler. He has the most playoff buzzer beaters of all-time, averages 34.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists in elimination games and has 11 triple doubles in the finals - more than all active players combined. But, much like what made Peyton Manning so great, LeBron is also a genius at his sport. Story after story has come out over the years about LeBron's amazing ability to recall plays, scores and systems from years in the past and use that knowledge to help his team in the moment. Heading into his 18th year in the league, James is still considered the best player in the NBA, showing a longevity that is unmatched by any other NBA great in history. At the very worst, there is no reasonable argument for LeBron being any lower than second on the all-time list, but with most of the stats already pointing in his favor, chances are LeBron James finishes atop the NBA hierarchy by the time he retires.
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