Paris Saint-Germain superstar Lionel Messi has rightfully taken his place on the Mount Rushmore for sporting legends ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele and Diego Maradona.
SPORTbible whittled down the shortlist to four legendary athletes who stood head and shoulders above the competition in their respective sports.
While we know some notable omissions will ruffle some people’s feathers -- we’re talking about the likes of Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Tom Brady and many more -- we were only limited to the four faces on Mount Rushmore and we had to be even more critical with our final selection.
We’ve taken into account what each person achieved in their respective sports, along with their impact on other sports stars, whether it is past, present or future.
In the essence of fairness, we decided to limit each face on SPORTbible’s Mount Rushmore to one athlete per sport. Trust us, it wasn’t an easy decision to leave out some sports, including cricket, MMA, American football and more.
Without further ado, here are the four iconic athletes featuring on our Mount Rushmore of sporting GOATs.
No 4. Roger Federer (Tennis)
Kicking off our sporting Mount Rushmore in style with none other than tennis legend Roger Federer. Federer competed on the highest level and pushed the limits on longevity, keeping himself as an ever-present figure in the GOAT conversation during an era where he faced off against the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But we feel that Federer has done more than enough to lock off this debate for the time being.
A smooth and stylish operator on the tennis court, Federer hoovered up the major honours during his legendary playing career and holds an incredible 20 Grand Slam singles titles to his name. Despite injuries and seeing a constant threat to his dominance from young, emerging talents, Federer maintained himself as a major presence in the tennis world throughout his career -- and even proved any of his detractors wrong at the same time.
The 41-year-old Switzerland legend walked away from the sport in September 2022 and signed off in style by playing alongside fellow tennis icon Nadal at the Laver Cup. “It’s been a wonderful day,” Federer said at the time. “I’m happy, not sad. It feels great to be here. I’m happy I made it through.”
No 3. Muhammad Ali (Boxing)
It would be sacrilegious to have a Mount Rushmore of sporting GOATs without the man they called the ‘Greatest.’ If it wasn’t for his slick, sophisticated style of fighting inside the squared circle, it was the aura and presence he created outside of it. Muhammad Ali might have been the complete athlete, a silver-tongued wordsmith who verbally beat his opponents in 10-8 rounds even before they stepped into the ring with him.
Ali’s trash-talking ability was equally matched by his personality and his confidence, with the boxing legend successfully transcending the sport. Inside the ring, however, Ali was a true force to be reckoned with. The Greatest was the first boxer to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions, and his face is enshrined on the WBC heavyweight title. In the modern era, where the likes of Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder have been heavily criticised for not fighting the top fighters, the same can’t be said for Ali.
Floyd Patterson? Ali fought him twice and won on both occasions. George Foreman? He knocked him out. Joe Frazier? Ali lost once, but he successfully avenged his defeat and picked up two wins over Frazier in their trilogy of fights. Sure, Ali lost inside the squared circle and ending his career with back-to-back defeats at the hands of Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick wasn’t the best way for him to sign off, but his legacy and impact on boxing overshadows any minor blemishes on his resume.
No 2. Michael Jordan (Basketball)
Michael Jordan’s name is synonymous with basketball. For even those who don’t live in the United States or watch the NBA regularly, they know the name Michael Jordan. The 59-year-old basketball legend transcended the sport, from leading the Toon Squad to victory in the cult-classic blockbuster hit Space Jam to building his own brand of clothing, footwear and fragrances.
Jordan established himself as a household name during his prolific spells with the Chicago Bulls during the 1990s. Jordan was a must-watch athlete, much like the rest of the sporting legends we’ve chosen on our Mount Rushmore. During his two separate spells with the Bulls, MJ won an incredible six NBA championships alongside his impressive six NBA Finals MVP awards. The Bulls icon was a formidable presence on the basketball court, making him an extremely difficult player to contain during a match.
Despite retiring for a second time in 1999, Jordan made a stunning U-turn on his retirement and returned for the Washington Wizards. However, the American superstar’s run with the Wizards is often forgettable, with Jordan unable to replicate what he achieved at the peak of his powers with the Bulls.
Irrespective of his spell with the Wizards, Jordan has firmly established himself as the GOAT of basketball in the eyes of many fans and pundits. Sure, some people have argued the legendary Kobe Bryant or Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James are in contention for the GOAT conversation now, but it still seems the ball is in Jordan’s court (pun intended) for who is the best basketball player of all time.
No 1. Lionel Messi (Football)
Just like Thanos uttering the words “I am inevitable” before snapping his fingers on his Infinity Gauntlet-wielding hand in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the same sensation can be felt when Lionel Messi takes to the field for a football match.
What is left for Messi to prove in football? Just when one person tries to raise question marks about any holes in his career, he fills them up tightly. For a long time, the PSG star faced growing criticism over his lack of silverware on the international stage. So, what did he do? Messi captained Argentina to the 2021 Copa America title before inspiring his nation to the World Cup trophy in Qatar in 2022.
Irrespective of his most recent success with Argentina, Messi’s legendary club playing career is enough reason in itself to establish him as the GOAT of football. Fans who have watched Messi play throughout his illustrious spell at the Camp Nou will be telling bedtime stories to their future children about the Argentine maestro. An incredible 10 La Liga title wins, seven Copa del Reys and four Champions League trophies to his name, not to mention the 35-year-old Barcelona legend’s record-holding seven Ballon d’Or wins.
We could be here for days if we listed off all of the silverware and achievements Messi has achieved in his stacked career. The frightening part is that his career isn’t even over, meaning he can only keep adding to his ever-growing legendary exploits. Simply put, Messi is inevitable.
Featured Image Credit: Alamy
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