Sporting greatness is hard to quantify, particularly across disciplines. But here at The Sportsman, we like a tough task. That is why we've compiled this top ten of the greatest sportspeople of the 21st century. Whether you agree with our ranking or not, what cannot be disputed is the excellence on show. Ten true greats of their respective sports vie for the title. But who comes out on top? Read on and find out.
10) LeBron James
Double Olympic gold medalist, four-time NBA champions, four-time MVP and 19 appearances at the NBA all-star game. LeBron James has put his name up with the greats of American sport and although he may not have passed Michael Jordan or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the wider greatest ever basketball player conversation yet, he is the best of this century.
9) Lewis Hamilton
The seven-time world champion has done something few thought was possible this century and equalled Michael Schumacher's title haul. His name must now go down as one of the all-time greats, and we hope he resumes his battle with two-time champ Max Verstappen in 2023.
8) Ronnie O’Sullivan
The Rocket is the greatest snooker player of his generation. Seven times he has won the World Championship, a joint-record alongside Stephen Hendry. However, he has won 39 titles in total, surpassing the great Hendry, and stands alone as the greatest. After 22 years at the top, he is still going strong.
7) Claressa Shields
Women’s boxing has arguably been the one sport that has flown into the spotlight over the last 23 years. Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano have both been exceptional, but our choice is American icon Claressa Shields. This century, she has held two Olympic gold medals, multiple world titles in three weight divisions and remains unbeaten as a professional. An icon in her field.
6) Novak Djokovic
What else needs to be said about Novak? He keeps on getting better and better and by the time he is finished, he could climb even higher on this list.
5) Tiger Woods
He may have won his first Masters in 1997, but the 21st century has seen Tiger Woods become an all-time great. He’s added four more green jackets to his collection since, including that remarkable comeback success in 2019. He now sits alongside Jack Nicklaus as the best golfer of all time.
4) Floyd Mayweather
One of the greatest boxers of all time was at his peak in the 21st century. He had already won 22 fights by the turn of the millennium, which is what costs him his place in the top three, but he extended his unblemished record with seismic victories over Ricky Hatton, Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao. He went 50-0 with a win over Conor McGregor, and has been making a shed load of money from exhibition fights ever since.
3) Serena Williams
Anybody else won a major title on this list while pregnant? Thought not. Serena Williams has put herself head and shoulders above any other player, male or female, of the modern era with an absolutely bonkers 23 Grand Slams. Djokovic might equal her this year, but he’s never done it in the same circumstances.
2) Usain Bolt
The fastest man of all-time and eight-time Olympic gold medalist? Nobody gripped the world of athletics quite like Usain Bolt did. He defined his sport, brought a level of personality not often seen on the track and the whole world stopped to watch him run. And he produced - again and again and again.
1) Lionel Messi
The greatest player in the most popular sport on the planet. Nobody comes close to Lionel Messi. His World Cup win in December elevates him far above anybody else from his era, while he joins Diego Maradona as one of the great immortals to deliver Argentina a World Cup.