The 2010’s was a decade filled with a plethora of incredible athletes—some of the greatest of all time. These athletes provided us with breathtaking highlights, competed and won at the highest level of their sports and utilized their impacts to be more than athletes off the playing field.
In baseball, Mike Trout dominated the sport by winning three Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards and getting runner-up four other seasons.
In football, Tom Brady lead the Patriots to five Super Bowls in the decade, winning three for a total of six career Lombardi trophies.
Men’s tennis was all about the big three, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic winning 28 of the 40 total Grand Slam tournaments. Federer became the first man to win 20 Grand Slam titles, and Nadal the first to win 10 titles at a single event—the French Open.
In soccer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi went head-to-head in a quest for football immortality. The two won a combined nine Ballon d’Ors in the decade (four for Ronaldo, five for Messi), along with a multitude of other individual and team awards.
The Olympics had no shortage of impressive athletes and moments. While their record setting Olympic performances were in the 2008 Beijing Games, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps cemented their legacies in this decade, with Bolt winning six more gold medals in sprinting and Phelps winning nine gold medals of his own in swimming. Katie Ledecky was the most dominant female swimmer, winning her first gold at the age of 15 in 2012, four more golds in 2016 and setting 14 world records. Simone Biles lapped the field in gymnastics, winning four Olympic golds and an astounding 19 golds in World Championship competitions.
Undoubtedly the top female athlete of the decade, Serena Williams dominated the tennis world and was arguably the top athlete in the sport, regardless of gender. She won a total of 37 singles titles, 13 of them Grand Slam Titles. In addition, she also added six doubles titles with her sister Venus.
While each of these athletes have convincing cases for being the best of the decade, I think that the performance of Lebron James makes him the greatest athlete of the 2010’s.
For the decade, LeBron carried his teams to the Finals for eight consecutive years, winning the championship in three of those seasons. Along with winning Finals MVP with each of those championships, LeBron collected 3 MVPs for his work in the regular season. He also received five defensive team honors, including a second-place finish in 2013 for Defensive Player of the Year, showing his dominance on both sides of the court.
In the 2010’s, LeBron has been an All-Star every year (in fact he has been one every year since 2005), took the late Kobe Bryant’s 3rd place spot in career points and took home Olympic Gold in 2012.
LeBron also brought the Cleveland Cavaliers their first ever championship in 2016, and he did this against the 73-win Warriors who had the best regular season of all time, beating Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 72-win Chicago Bulls.
For his efforts, LeBron is now compared directly to Michael Jordan, known as the consensus greatest basketball player—and arguably the greatest athlete—of all time. While he may never be greater than or equal to Jordan, the fact that he is now in the conversation shows the level LeBron reached in the 2010s.
The NBA is an international league, currently hosting top players like Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece, Luka Doncic from Slovenia, Joel Embiid from Cameroon, Nikola Jokic from Serbia, Rudy Gobert from France, Ricky Rubio from Spain and more players from more countries as basketball gains popularity oversees. So, players in national sports like American football or baseball should not be considered.
Basketball is also a highly athletic sport, and the best athlete of the decade should come from a sport where the player must be excellent in all ways and do more than just run or throw or swim.
Not to take credit away from her, but Serena Williams was successful in a sport that at the time did not have very strong competition. Conversely, LeBron has now had to face the best three point shooters the NBA has ever seen and a more athletic and fast paced game, yet he continues to put up the same level of scoring in his 17th season as he did when he was a decade younger while increasing his assists per game and throwing up more three pointers to adapt to the modern style.
Finally, unlike the other sports where the greatest is heavily contested, such as in soccer and tennis, LeBron is undeniably the greatest player currently playing and the best of this decade. He alone has such an incredible impact on the game when he steps onto the court due to his unmatched skillset, thus in a decade of sporting highlights, LeBron James was the best athlete.