The 10 greatest sportspeople of the decade

A decade of sport: ten years of opportunity for an athlete to leave their mark.

Players who’ve shone with the odds stacked against them, those who achieved greatness in any arena they entered. Those who have entered sporting folklore, that the children of today will go and tell their own children about.

Steve Smith, for example, and his meticulous, melodramatic technique that brings excitement to test cricket, or Roger Federer and his ability to stave off age to remain unfazed by his younger, more energetic peers.

Think Sam Kerr and her freakish goal-scoring talents that have shattered records in every league she’s featured in, or Ellyse Perry’s efforts in conquering both the world game and now cricket.

Maybe Conor McGregor’s showmanship and ballistic style in the ring makes your top 10, or King Kohli’s dominance in any cricket format.

But none of these champions made the list, a fair indication of the level of competition in this list of postup’s 10 greatest sportspeople of the decade.

Interested in more lists? Here’s our 10 greatest sporting moments of 2019.

10. Simone Biles

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Simone Biles has dominated the decade to win every all-around competition she’s entered since 2013.

25 World Championship medals – 19 of which are gold – make her the most decorated artistic gymnast ever.

Now more imposing and dominant than the Biles who won four golds in Rio 2016, the 22-year-old invented two new moves and performed them to near perfection at the latest championships in Germany. This took her tally of self-titled moves to four.

Heading into her final Olympics, Biles has no peers, past or present. Tokyo will be her chance to set the bar so high that no gymnast may ever reach it.

Benito Carbone, 21

9. Steph Curry

Conversations about Stephen Curry tend to revolve around the highlight plays and his otherworldly shooting. But Curry is far more than an entertaining highlight reel; he is one of the most influential basketball players of all time.

The two-time MVP had one of the best five year runs in NBA history with the Golden State Warriors. Three NBA Championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018, and a record-shattering 73-win season in 2015/16, where his 402 made three-pointers were more than 100 better than the next best person at the time…himself the year prior.

That same year, Curry became the only unanimous MVP in league history, where all 131 first-place votes went to him.

Curry was a scrawny shoot-first point guard when he entered the league. Everyone had already decided where his ceiling was.

Wardell “Stephen” Curry destroyed the archetype and became something that hadn’t existed before; someone who was dangerous whenever they stepped over the halfway line.

Traditional defensive structures could not handle Curry, he was the reason one of the greatest teams of all time was so effective in their spacing and scoring.

Steph Curry paved the way for a different type of NBA player, and that is the greatest accolade of his decorated resume.

Lucas Binns

8. Tom Brady

A 42-year-old ranked in the 10 greatest athletes of the decade? Only Tom Brady could manage it.

In fact, Brady was probably higher even higher on this list in the 2000s. Brady and coach Bill Belichick have set the standard for sustained sporting success over the course of the 2010s.

A Super Bowl champion in 2014, 2017 and 2018, and the Super Bowl MVP in the former two, Brady has led the New England Patriots to eight consecutive AFC Championship games since 2011.

With over 200 regular-season wins, and a postseason record of 30-10, Brady is the winningest quarterback in NFL history. His finest moment of the decade – Super Bowl LI – is arguably the most phenomenal moment in NFL history.

Trailing 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons late in the third quarter, 25 unanswered points from Brady’s Patriots sent the game to overtime, before the quarterback led his side up the field to complete the implausible comeback.

So far-fetched was the fightback, tennis star Eugenie Bouchard agreed to go on a date with a fan who had set the bet on Twitter if the Patriots won the match.

The pair were reportedly together for two years.

Benito Carbone, 21

7. Cristiano Ronaldo

It’s hard to imagine someone who is better built for football than Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s made every bit of those blessed genetics count with a dominant decade.

Four FIFA Ballon d’Or victories, four European Golden Shoe awards, four Champions League wins and the leader of Portugal’s historic 2016 Euros triumph.

Ronaldo has been the beating heart of success for any team he features in.

His evolution from tricky winger at the start of the decade to the fierce poacher on show for Juventus today is a testament to his skill and determination.

And although the Messi and Ronaldo debate dominates modern football discourse, there’s no question Ronaldo’s exploits on the pitch earn him a spot on this list.

Adam Daunt22

6. Usain Bolt

While athletics endured a decade tainted by cheats, one man was a beacon of light.

In 2012, Usain Bolt became the first man to defend both the 100m and 200m Olympic sprint titles, also taking home a 4x100m relay gold in a lazy world record time of 36.84 seconds.

His 100m time was 9.63, an Olympic record 0.05 slower than his 2009 world record.

Rio 2016 was shrouded in the controversy surrounding rival Justin Gatlin, who was considered a strong chance to dethrone Bolt. Gatlin had been caught doping 10 years prior.

With little race practice that season, Bolt roared to life in the Olympics, holding off Justin Gatlin by 0.08 milliseconds to take gold in the 100m. After Gatlin failed to reach the 200m final, Bolt blitzed the field, then winning the 4x100m relay gold soon after.

Capping off his 100 per cent win record in Olympic finals, Bolt completed a historic triple-triple – three sprinting gold medals in three consecutive Olympics.

His Beijing 2008 4x100m gold would be stripped due to a teammates disqualification for doping offences, but the legacy remains.

We’ll agree to forget his failed financial foray into Nitro Athletics and that Central Coast Mariners stint. When you’re the greatest sprinter of all time, you’re allowed some concessions.

Benito Carbone, 21

5. Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps shouldn’t have made the list for this decade. But his defiance of age, personal struggles and the changing face of the sport made it impossible not to include him.

Phelps retired from swimming after London 2012, an event he claimed four golds in to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. The man wanted nothing to do with the sport, and unwittingly became the face of edgy Facebook posts justifying marijuana use in the early parts of the decade.

In reality, Phelps was in a dark place. Contemplating suicide and self-medicating his depression with alcohol and weed, the greatest Olympian of all time was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding in 2014. This put his recently announced return for Rio 2016 in jeopardy.

He eventually qualified. The swimmer dubbed too old to win golds reeled in five more as the 31-year-old confirmed his status as both the greatest swimmer and Olympian ever.

Benito Carbone, 21

4. Novak Djokovic

Piecing together an incredible resume, Novak Djokovic was the winningest tennis player of the decade.

Djokovic plays the game at a sensational speed. Factoring in his groundstroke game, baseline play and defence – the quality of which not seen from anyone else in tennis – ‘Nole’ played in a league of his own during the 2010s.

Djokovic smashed his way to 15 grand slam titles in the decade, also achieving a “Grand Slam” by holding the Australian Open, Wimbledon, French Open and US Open titles all at once.

The Serbian made the Australian Open his watering hole, winning three-in-a-row and six for the decade, to break the all-time record of Aussie Open title wins.

He’s competed in some classic marathon matches that will also go down in history. These include his matches against Stanislas Wawrinka in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Australian Open, the six-hour 2012 Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal, and the 2019 Wimbledon final against Federer.

Daniel Renfrey, 22

3. Serena Williams

With 23 Grand Slam tournament singles titles – more than anyone in the Open Era – Serena Williams has cemented her place as one of the tennis greats.

Not all of those majors came in this decade for the 38-year-old, but winning 10 of them on the other side of 30 – as well as Olympic golds in singles and doubles at the 2012 London Olympics – may be even more impressive.

No other female tennis player has won more than three grand slam singles titles after turning 30.

As of the 2017 Australian Open, Williams became the only player, male or female, to win more than 10 grand slam singles titles in two separate decades.

Williams isn’t just the greatest tennis player in the modern era, she is perhaps the greatest athlete in the entire history of the sport.

Jesse Neill, 22

2. Lionel Messi

Longevity isn’t meant to be the strong suit of players with such flair and mesmeric ability. Captivating talent can only captivate so long, right?

Lionel Messi has shattered this narrative, dominating football throughout the 2010s.

Messi’s rivalry with Ronaldo has been cinema of unprecedented nature, reverberating across the world.

Cristiano’s blunt force against the aesthetics of Lionel is competition at its very best.

Every person – whether in Peru, Slovakia or Lesotho – has their own verdict. But Messi, with more accolades – five FIFA Ballon d’Ors this decade – a hypnotising style and constant adversity to overcome, has the edge.

Short and physically unimposing, La Pulga’s (The Flea) ability on the ball in dribbling, evading tackles and playmaking has been second-to-none in the past decade. A classical number 10, Messi has thrived in the sport he has now become the face of.

Benito Carbone, 21 

1. LeBron James

When Michael Jordan retired from basketball (for the second time), no one thought any player would have their name mentioned as regularly alongside his as LeBron James.

In the past decade, ‘King James’ has featured in every NBA All-Star Weekend, won three regular season MVP’s (2010, 2012, 2013), and all three of his NBA Championships (2012, 2013, 2016) – with Finals MVP honours to go alongside each of those rings.

LeBron reeled off eight-straight NBA Finals series in the 2010s and featured in the all-NBA First Team every year save his injury-riddled 2019.

A three-time Associated Press Athlete of the Year and two-time Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year, James’ greatest achievement also belongs to this decade.

Delivering on a promise to bring the city of Cleveland a sporting title in 2016 – their first in 52 years – made him and the Cavaliers the first-ever NBA team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in a seven-game Finals series and win.

This was made all the more incredible against a Golden State Warriors team whose regular season tally of 73-9 had just broken the Jordan-held record for regular season wins.

He averaged close to a triple double for the series and saved his best for Game 7, executing the greatest block in NBA history.

The most phenomenal part of LeBron’s achievements is the way he has accomplished them. James has played at a consistently ridiculous level over the last 10 years, averaging 26 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds while shooting more than 50% from the field.

Even as playing styles have adapted to suit the Steph Curry’s of the league, James’ ability to stamp his authority on the match remains unchanged.

At 206cm and 113kg, a 35-year-old with his dimensions shouldn’t be playing full regular seasons and playoffs at that level. But such is his supreme athletic ability and conditioning, he is.

Signing a billion-dollar contract with Nike and engineering his own move to Los Angeles to play with the Lakers, James’ presence off the field is more than just business. The creation of the ‘I Promise’ school in Akron, Ohio he also helps to support and educate hundreds of at-risk kids.

Although Messi has a case for it, LeBron James is arguably the most successful and well-known active athlete on the planet. There will be few more like him, and every second of his stellar career should be treasured as such.

Daniel Renfrey, 22

Interested in more lists? Here’s our 10 greatest sporting moments of 2019.

Image by Jarrod Pettit