T Nation

So, Are They The Greatest Athletes?

Brent Mussberger and Sean Elliot are the ABC team announcing some of their televised NBA games. Sean Elliot (a former player – and a good one – for the San Antonio Spurs) always, ususally three or four times during the course of the game he’s announcing, says that NBA players are the “greatest athletes in the world”.

He states this emphatically, and you can tell he really believes it.

So, who agrees with Sean? Are NBA players better athletes than skill position NFL players, than NHL players, than professional soccer players or even professional gymnasts? How about Olympic decathletes?

While I think most NBA players are sensational athletes, I don’t think they’re the greatest athletes. For one, most lack, in my opinion, that element of tremendous strength that the “greatest” athletes should possess. Anyone beg to differ?

I do not believe that basketball players are the greatest atheletes. they are good at what they do. It would be difficult to pin point the greatest atheletes. Everyone trains hard for there specific events. I like the fact that you mentioned the decatheletes considering that they have to master 10 different events. Or how about endurance atheletes like the iron man competition or the guys who run super marathons. It’s crazy what the human body is capable of. laters pk

It’s relative. No one single athlete has all the makings of a master of all athletic comps. Shaq, with the right training, could possibly make a strong man competitor. Kobe, maybe a high jumper? Neither one could be sprinters. Too tall, too heavy. So the best athletes are in the eye of the beholder. What sport has everything you appreciate about human skill? Lately I’ve been really impressed by Olympic wrestlers, Worlds Strongest Man competitors, and any of the serious endurance athletes. I’m most impressed by that nut that crossed the North and South pole alone! This guy started at something like 220 lbs and wasted down to 174 lbs in a matter of months. He also swam, skied, and hiked his way across both poles with a sled strapped to his back. Hooo haw! Now that is something I’d never do but hell yeah, what a bad ass!

Like RS said, it’s all relative. These “greatest athletes” or “toughest sport” discussions usually go no where because you are always comparing apples with oranges.

NBA basketball players are incredible athletes, but are they the best in the world? No, they are the best at what they do: PLAY BASKETBALL. Sure some of them are strong and explosive but compared to olympic weightlifters and track and field throwers they pale by comparison (for example the 1992 Olympic champ in the shot put, Mike Stulce, had a POWER clean of 510 lbs).

Sure they are fast but not as fast as Olympic sprinters, and again not as fast as some weightlifters and throwers (that outweigh them by 50-100 lbs.) over short distances. Another example of this would former BFS posterboy Stefan Fernholm (discus thrower) who ran a 4.25 40 yard dash at 275 lbs.

Many of them have outstanding jumping ability (which you would expect considering practice is one big plyometric session), but the vertical jump numbers you see are usually inflated (i.e. estimated vertical based on a dunk in a game, one step vertical jumps, running start, and just flat out exaggeration). While some (Vince Carter comes to mind) have unbelievable jumping ability, most would again pale in comparison to the jumps done by weighlifters and throwers at much higher bodyweights. Again as an example Stefan Fernholm was reported to have a 40" Vertical at 275 lbs.

Sure basketball players have great agility and body control but would have to pale in comparison to a gymnast.

They also have to have a certain level of endurance, but the true champions in that area are your Ironman Triathletes and Ultra Distance runners.

So again I’d say that NBA players are great athletes, and many could do well in other sports if they trained for it, but they are not the “Worlds Greatest Athletes” they are only the world greatest basketball players.

p.s. If you can’t tell I tend to refer a lot to weightlifters and track and field throwers because that is what my athletic background was in.

I can speak for Ian King here because I’ve heard him respond to this exact question in person. In his opinion from his training experience, professional basketball players are the best overall conditioned athletes in the world. With the experience he has and my respect for his training and philosophies, I’ll take his word for it.

I see the logic at looking to NBA players as an excellent example of speed, agility, strength and endurance, but in the end, it’s all still relative.

They are a great mix, but others are faster, stronger, more agile, etc.

I don’t think it is a wrong opinion as you can definitely make a case for NBA players (they would be high on my list) - I just don’t think the question can actually be answered.

I think NFL wide receivers have to be thrown into the equation. They have low bf %, stregnth, speed, skill, and can get walloped. As said before, it’s all relative.
I don’t think of the Ironamn competitors as great athletes. Before I get flamed, I’ve worked at six Ironman Races, four world championships. They have great endurance, and have trained very diligently, but the average person can complete an ironman. Mayhbe not at world class speed, but it can be done. Their feats are not as difficult as the above listed sports since they involve coordination, stregnth, etc., along with endurance.

I would concur. Although it depends on what you mean by “the greatest athletes”. When I hear that I think that he or she is and can presumably be good at any physical sport if he or she chose to do so. It doesn’t have to do with just strength or agility or etc. For me it has more to do with is the person well balanced but still excels at his or her chosen sport. It is my opinion that basketball players (would have to be avg. height, not Yao Ming) fit the profile better than any other type of athlete. Coming in a close 2nd would be a running back, wide receiver, or defesnive back in football. It’s a good subject to talk about with I’m sure many differing opinions.

Sorry to bring this back up again, but I was reading through some old T-mag issues (again), and I found the following quote in the Speed Demons article:

“Well, I always say that the best athletes in the world play in the NBA. I say this because the hand-eye coordination is there, the speed, the jumping ability. They are the best conditioned athletes in the world, in my opinion… It is a fact, you look at it and it goes from somebody as small as Mugsy Bogues that plays in that league to someone as big as Shaquille O’Neil. Hakeem Olajuwon is probably 7 foot with the agility of someone that is about 6 foot. Its just a fact that blacks are better. I don’t know why, it’s maybe some genetic makeup or something, but it’s there.”

Excerpt from an interview with Andre Ware
NFL Quarterback and Heisman Trophy Winner

Jared NFS you forgot Yao Ming is far more agile then Shaq he’s also quicker then Shaq. I saw him play on tuesday night against the Knicks and the man can play bball. Even though the Knicks won Yao had a great game 25 points and I believe 6 boards.

I couldn’t believe how well a 7’5" tall played can move as well as he did.

After surfing the channels this past weekend and stopping at a women’s gymnast tournament (wife made me) I’d have to say they rank right up there.

Anyone that can balance on a wooden beam and then do a back flip and land perfectly right back on the beam, in addition to all the other amazing shit they do, has got to be an incredible athlete.

fitone- “Yao Ming is far more agile then Shaq he’s also quicker then Shaq.” I think you’re exaggerating just a bit with this statement. Shaq, even when he’s fat like he is now, is still pretty quick. Yao is already a GREAT player, so I’m not taking anything away from him. But he’s not “far more” anything besides inexperienced than Shaq in bball terms. So don’t get carried away.

I think my vote is for guys in the NHL.

I can’t believe the short shrift NHL players are getting here. These guys give and take more punishment than NFL players, because usually they’re going around 30 MPH or so upon impact. Then, when they do get hit and fall down, the surface they hit isn’t forgiving grass, but rock hard ICE, or the concrete side boards or the unmoveable seamless glass. Their conditioning has to be top notch, as you are never “standing around” out on the ice like you see with many other sports. That, and the hand-eye coordination necessary to stickhandle, make and receive passes, and take shots all while skating with maximum effort is insane. They have my vote hands down…

I’ve got to agree with irondoc and machine that NFL wide receivers, and db’s are probably the world’s top athletes. I guess it really depends on your definition of a great athlete. In my opinion, it’s the combination of strength, speed, power, agility and level of skill in the chosen sport. Most athletes in most sports might possess 2 or 3 of these qualities at most. Most NFL receivers, db’s and many running backs and linebackers possess all five of the qualities in abundance. Many sprint at world class speeds, have much better than average strength levels, and display incredible power. The skill of the these positions takes many years to become proficient at. As for agility, watch a db perform footwork cone drills in training. There is not another group of athletes in the world who could perform those drills nearly as well. Just my opinion though

i think the greatest athlete ever was babe ruth for one reason-he would have made the hall of fame as a pitcher and or as a hiter. To put him in a modern day comparison, a baseball player would have to hit like barry bonds and pitch like roger clemens to equal babe ruths feats.

Fighters.

Especially in the early UFC years, and now K1. They have it all, strength, stamina, explosiveness, footwork, mental toughness, hand eye coordination. there is no comparison.

Babe Ruth, the greatest athlete of all time? puh-lease, I am a better overall athlete than he is, granted I cant hit or pitch like he could, but I would bet 10:1 I am faster, more agile, in better cardiovascular shape, can jump higher etc…Baseball is more of and art form as far as hitting and pitching, it takes more form than athletic ability to do it right…as for my vote, NHL goalie :wink: just because I play goal (not in the nhl of coure)…hahah…I would say that it is all in the eye of the beholder.

dcb if I remember correctly didn’t Yao block Shaq twice in there first meeting? And he did score 12 points in that game and I believe he only played something like 20-25 minutes of that game. I would think that he held his own against Shaq. Yes Yes how could I forget Shaq was also not 100% but still thats beside the point.

Yao Ming is the future of Bball and Shaq will be ancient history!!!

I’d vote for olympic gymnasts. They have more muscular bodies than most of us, more flexibility than anyone else, jump as high as b-ballers, and have more body control.
Decatheletes would be a good vote too.