May 24, 2023 - Sports

The greatest American multisport stars

In the wake of Jim Brown's death last week — and Dick Groat's last month — we were debating the greatest multisport athletes in American history. Here's our top 15.

jim thorpe
Photo: Branger/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

1. Jim Thorpe (1887-1953): Olympic gold in the pentathlon and decathlon, college and pro football Hall of Famer, six years in Major League Baseball and barnstormed as a pro basketball player.

2. Bo Jackson (1962-present): The athletic freak won the 1985 Heisman Trophy, spent four years in the National Football League (18 TD) and eight in MLB (141 HR).

3. Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1911-56): Golf Hall of Famer won 10 majors; three-time Olympic medalist in track & field; All-American basketball player; pitched in MLB spring training.

jim brown
Brown's football exploits are well-known, but he's also considered one of the best lacrosse players ever. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

4. Jim Brown (1936-2023): Three-time NFL MVP and Hall of Famer and two-time All-American lacrosse player and Hall of Famer; also lettered in basketball and track & field at Syracuse.

5. Deion Sanders (1967-present): Speedy MLB outfielder and Hall of Fame NFL cornerback; only person to play in a Super Bowl and World Series.

6. Bob Hayes (1942-2002): Former 100-meter dash world record holder and NFL Hall of Famer; only person to win a Super Bowl and Olympic gold medal.

charlie ward
Photo: Scott Halleran/Allsport/Getty Images

7. Charlie Ward (1970-present): 1993 Heisman Trophy winner and national champ spent 11 years in the National Basketball Association; also drafted by the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers despite not playing college baseball.

8. Dave Winfield (1951-present): First-ballot MLB Hall of Famer and college hoops star drafted to both the NBA and American Basketball Association; also an NFL draftee on athleticism alone (didn't play in college).

9. Dick Groat (1930-2023): 1960 NL MVP, eight-time All-Star and two-time World Series champ; college hoops Hall of Famer (two-time All-American at Duke) drafted third overall in 1952 (Detroit Pistons).

jackie robinson long jumping
Jackie was the 1940 NCAA long jump champ. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

10. Jackie Robinson (1919-72): He is still the only athlete in UCLA history to letter in four sports (baseball, basketball, football, track & field).

11. John Elway (1960-present): NFL Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl champ; Yankees' second-round pick out of Stanford in 1981 had .896 OPS in lone minor league season.

12. Tony Gwynn (1960-2014): MLB Hall of Famer was also a star point guard drafted by the San Diego Clippers in 1981; still San Diego State's all-time assist leader.

dave debusschere grabs rebound
Photo: Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

13. Dave DeBusschere (1940-2003): Two-time NBA champ and Hall of Famer first spent two years as a Chicago White Sox pitcher with a 2.90 ERA in 102 innings.

14. Danny Ainge (1959-present): Played three seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays before 14-year NBA career; only high schooler named first-team All-American in basketball, baseball and football.

15. Bob Gibson (1935-2020): The Hall of Fame pitcher was also a star college basketball player, averaging 20 and 9 in three years at Creighton and playing one season with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Honorable mentions: Bud Grant (football, basketball); Gene Conley (baseball, basketball); Wilt Chamberlain (basketball, volleyball); Hobey Baker (hockey, football); Kenny Lofton (baseball, basketball).

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