Every once in a while someone talks about how great LeBron would be in the NFL or how Cam Newton would make a killing in esports. But few of these pundits ever mention how rare the true crossover athlete is. If you were to say that good crossover athletes are like female nominees for the Oscar for Best Cinematography, you’d only be slightly wrong (there are a handful more than zero).
Right now you’re probably shaking your head and mumbling to yourself about how Jimmy Graham used to play basketball and how Tiger Woods can bench press a lot, but we’re talking about crossover professionals here. And not just any professionals–only those who competed at the highest level of competition in two or more sports. No Olympics, no unpaid football, no development leagues. You could be the greatest of all time in one sport and not make this list if your second sport was minor league baseball (here’s lookin’ at you, Tebow).
8. Mark Hendrickson
A lot of people have never heard of this guy. Subscribers to The Quickie know that most of the players who flicker in and out of the NBA end up as forgotten as Hootie and the Blowfish’s sophomore album, but Hendrickson bucked the trend by making a go of it in the MLB as a control pitcher. He pitched for nine seasons and had a 58-74 win-loss record…not too shabby for a basketball guy. A good one to start off our list.
7. Brian Jordan
The lesser-known BJ on this list played three seasons as a safety in the NFL while toiling in the MLB’s minor league system. Eventually the Cardinals offered him millions of dollars to focus on baseball, and he accepted. He went on to a 14-season MLB career as an outfielder, even making the All-Star game in ’99.
6. Gene Conley
This Okie from Muskogee was one of only two people to have won a championship in two of America’s biggest pro sports leagues: the MLB (with the ’57 Milwaukee Braves) and the NBA (with the Celtics in ’59-’61). That’s pretty impressive. We’d probably rank him higher if we hadn’t been kids during the ’90s.
5. Lionel Conacher
If you think winning the CFL’s Grey Cup in ’26 with the Toronto Argonauts isn’t impressive, then perhaps you’ll be swayed by Lionel’s dual Stanley Cup victories and spots in five different sports Halls of Fame. If not, you’re probably just racist against Canadians.
4. Deion Sanders
A lot’s been said about the only person to have played in both a Super Bowl and a World Series, so we’ll keep it brief. We think that Deion is the last of his kind, and we’re willing to bet a Michael Jordan-esque hand of blackjack that a crossover athlete of Deion’s success won’t happen until some pimply-faced millennial wins the whole shebang in both Call of Duty 10 and Halo 7.
3. Babe Didrickson Zaharias
Some of you might be crying foul about how Zaharias was only professional in one sport (golf), and that her prodigious achievements in basketball and track and field don’t count, but there’s little doubt that if people had paid to watch women play basketball in the ’30’s that Babe would’ve been a star.
2. Bo Jackson
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Bo Jackson is that his achievements put him near the top of lists like this one, going head to head with athletes from bygone eras before the days of hyper-specialization…and if he hadn’t ended his career(s) early due to injury, he might’ve been number one. Really makes you think, doesn’t it?
1. Jim Thorpe
A star professional in football, baseball, and basketball (and an Olympic legend, not that that counts for this list), Jim Thorpe came the closest anyone has ever come to doing everything. Thorpe was the Citizen Kane of athletes–universally recognized as the best, even by younger generations who still don’t quite understand why he’s the best. It’s pretty much a given that his level of crossover success isn’t going to happen again. But hey, let us know if you disagree. Send your complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org.