37 Most Successful Athletes of the 21st Century

June 11, 2019 by Grant Suneson

Every professional athlete’s ultimate goal each season is to bring home the championship. Some players work tirelessly every year of their career but are never able to raise a trophy. Others, meanwhile, are able to rise above the competition and win multiple championships over the course of their career.

Since the turn of the century, sports fans have been lucky enough to witness several great dynasties. Players like Sidney Crosby, LeBron James, and Tom Brady have taken their team to the top of their sport again and again. Others, like Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and Jimmie Johnson, have established their place as some of the most dominant individual athletes of all time.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed championship winners, using the Sports Reference family of sites and other sports databases, to determine the most successful athletes of the 21st century.

Many of the players on this list began to dominate their sports in the 1990s or even the 1980s and continued their dominance and success into the 2000s. Tim Duncan won his first of five NBA championships in 1999. Tiger Woods burst onto the golf scene in 1997, winning his first Masters Tournament less than a year after turning professional.

Since the year 2000, there have been many changes to the sports world. Massive TV contracts with national channels made it possible for sports fans, coast to coast and across the world, to catch more sporting events than ever before. The reach of sports became even greater with the advent of online streaming. Now, practically any sport can be viewed from any part of the globe. This increased exposure both raised the scrutiny on athletes and allowed their triumphs to reach a wider audience.

Many sports fans believe that championships are the ultimate measure of excellence in athletics. To these people, and anyone who retires without a ring can never be considered truly great. Dan Marino was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history, putting up record breaking statistics. But he never won a Super Bowl and his legacy suffers for it. LeBron James and Michael Jordan are compared ad nauseum, and many fans give Jordan the edge because of his six championships to James’ three.

In order to determine the most successful athletes of the 21st century, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the careers of top athletes from popular sports across the world. Athletes in team sports were only considered if they won multiple championships since the year 2000. Athletes in individual sports were considered if they won multiple major championships, either as a professional or an Olympian.

Click here to see the 37 most successful athletes of the 21st century.

Source: Dennis Grombkowski / Getty Images

Abby Wambach
> Sport: Soccer
> Championships: 2x gold medal, 1x World Cup
> Team or country: United States Women’s National Team
> Career length: 2001-2015
> Other accomplishments: 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year

No soccer player — male or female — has ever scored more goals in international competitions than Abby Wambach. The U.S. forward helped her team win two Olympic gold medals and one FIFA World Cup.

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Source: Nick Laham / Getty Images

Annika Sorenstam
> Sport: Golf
> Championships: 10x Major champion
> Team or country: Sweden
> Career length: 1994-2008
> Other accomplishments: 72 tour wins

Annika Sorenstam dominated women’s golf for almost her entire career. She won 10 major championships and was named the LPGA Tour Player of the Year eight times.

Source: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

Bob Burnquist
> Sport: Skateboarding
> Championships: 14x X Games gold medal
> Team or country: Brazil
> Career length: 1995-2017
> Other accomplishments: 30 total X Games medals

Bob Burnquist is a Brazilian-born pioneer who helped make skateboarding an international sensation. Burnquist, who competed at the first ever X Games, won 30 medals, including 14 golds.

Source: Harry How / Getty Images

Buster Posey
> Sport: Baseball
> Championships: 3x World Series
> Team or country: San Francisco Giants
> Career length: 2009-present
> Other accomplishments: 6x All-Star, 1x Gold Glove, 1x MVP

Buster Posey’s MLB career got off to a dream start. The San Francisco Giants catcher was named Rookie of the Year the same year he won his first World Series in 2010. Two years later, he won National League MVP and another championship. He added a third ring in 2014.

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Source: Michael Regan / Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo
> Sport: Soccer
> Championships: 5x UEFA Champions league, 6x national league
> Team or country: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus
> Career length: 2002-present
> Other accomplishments: 5x Ballon d’Or

Cristiano Ronaldo will certainly go down as one of the most prolific goal scorers in soccer history. The Portuguese striker has led Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Juventus to numerous national and continental championships.

Source: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

David Ortiz
> Sport: Baseball
> Championships: 3x World Series
> Team or country: Boston Red Sox
> Career length: 1997-2016
> Other accomplishments: 10x All-Star

David Ortiz helped break an 86-year-old curse on the Boston Red Sox and established himself as one of the most beloved athletes in Boston sports history. The powerful slugger won World Series with the Sox in 2004, 2007, and 2013.

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Source: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

Derek Fisher
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 5x NBA Championship
> Team or country: Los Angeles Lakers
> Career length: 1996-2014
> Other accomplishments: n/a

Derek Fisher was a significant contributor to all five Los Angeles Lakers championships in the 21st century. He played point guard for the Lakers in 13 of his 18 NBA seasons.

Source: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images

Dwyane Wade
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 3x NBA Championship, 1x gold medal
> Team or country: Miami Heat
> Career length: 2003-present
> Other accomplishments: 13x All-Star, 2x All-NBA

Dwyane Wade has cemented his legacy as the greatest player in Miami Heat history by helping the franchise win three championships. Wade is also the Heat’s all-time leader in scoring, minutes played, steals, and assists.

Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Evgeni Malkin
> Sport: Hockey
> Championships: 3x Stanley Cup
> Team or country: Pittsburgh Penguins
> Career length: 2006-present
> Other accomplishments: 3x All-Star, 1x Hart Trophy

Though Sidney Crosby gets most of the attention on the Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin is an outstanding player in his own right. Malkin helped the Pens win three Stanley Cups and picked up a Hart Trophy in 2012 as the most valuable player in the NHL.

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Source: Al Bello / Getty Images

Floyd Mayweather
> Sport: Boxing
> Championships: 9x world champion, 22x world title defense
> Team or country: United States
> Career length: 1996-2017
> Other accomplishments: 50-0 record, 3x Fighter of the Year

Floyd Mayweather amassed an amazing 50-0 record as a professional boxer, claiming championships in five different weight classes. He defended his world titles 22 times. After his August 2017 fight with Conor McGregor, it is estimated that Mayweather has made over $1 billion in his career.

Source: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson
> Sport: NASCAR
> Championships: 7x NASCAR Cup Series
> Team or country: Hendrick Motorsports
> Career length: 2001-present
> Other accomplishments: 83 races won

Jimmie Johnson had a streak of dominance unprecedented in NASCAR history. Johnson won seven championships in 11 years, including five straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series from 2006-2010.

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Source: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Kevin Durant
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 2x NBA Champion, 2x gold medal
> Team or country: Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors
> Career length: 2009-present
> Other accomplishments: 1x MVP, 10x All-star

Kevin Durant’s rare blend of size and skill have made him one of the greatest scorers in NBA history. He has led the league in scoring four times. Durant left Oklahoma City to team up with Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, winning two titles and consecutive Finals MVP awards.

Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Kobe Bryant
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 5x NBA Champion, 2x gold medal
> Team or country: Los Angeles Lakers
> Career length: 1996-2016
> Other accomplishments: 18x All-Star, 11x All-NBA, 1x MVP

Kobe Bryant helped continue the Los Angeles Lakers’ victorious ways, winning three straight titles in the early 2000s and two more in 2009 and 2010. Since retiring, he won an Oscar for his animated short film “Dear Basketball”.

Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

LeBron James
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 3x NBA Champion, 2x gold medal
> Team or country: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers
> Career length: 2003-present
> Other accomplishments: 15x All-Star, 12x All-NBA, 4x MVP

LeBron James won two NBA Championships in Miami with the Heat before returning to his original team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and winning a championship there in 2016. He also holds two Olympic gold medals and four NBA MVP awards. He now plays in L.A. for the Lakers.

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Source: Alex Caparros / Getty Images

Lionel Messi
> Sport: Soccer
> Championships: 4x UEFA Champions league, 10x domestic league
> Team or country: Barcelona
> Career length: 2003-present
> Other accomplishments: 5 Ballons d’Or

Lionel Messi has dominated world soccer in the past decade, winning five Ballon d’Or awards as the world’s best player. He’s guided Barcelona to 10 Spanish championships and four UEFA Champions League titles.

Source: Denis Poroy / Getty Images

Madison Bumgarner
> Sport: Baseball
> Championships: 3x World Series
> Team or country: San Francisco Giants
> Career length: 2009-present
> Other accomplishments: 4x All-Star

Pitcher Madison Bumgarner takes his game to the next level in the World Series. Bumgarner has never lost a start in the World Series, going 4-0 in the three Fall Classics in which he pitched. He was named the 2014 World Series MVP.

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Source: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Manu Ginobili
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 4x NBA Champion, 1x gold medal
> Team or country: San Antonio Spurs
> Career length: 2002-2018
> Other accomplishments: 2x All-Star

As one of the best bench players in NBA history, Manu Ginobili helped the San Antonio Spurs win four of the franchise’s five titles. He also won an Olympic gold medal with Argentina in 2004.

Source: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Marit Bjørgen
> Sport: Olympic skiing
> Championships: 8x gold medal
> Team or country: Norway
> Career length: 2002-2018
> Other accomplishments: 15 total medals in five Olympics

Though she may not be a household name, Marit Bjørgen has established herself as one of the greatest Olympic athletes ever. The Norwegian skier has won 15 medals, eight of which are gold, during five Olympics.

Source: Elsa / Getty Images

Martin Brodeur
> Sport: Hockey
> Championships: 3x Stanley Cup, 2x gold medal
> Team or country: New Jersey Devils
> Career length: 1991-2015
> Other accomplishments: 7x All-Star, 4x Vezina Trophy

Martin Brodeur was the centerpiece of the New Jersey Devils dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Brodeur played goalie for three Stanley Cup championship teams, won four Vezina Trophies as the NHL’s best goalie, and took home two Olympic gold medals for team Canada.

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Source: Adam Pretty / Getty Images

Michael Phelps
> Sport: Olympic swimming
> Championships: 23x gold medal
> Team or country: United States
> Career length: 2000-2016
> Other accomplishments: 28 total medals in five Olympics

American swimmer Michael Phelps is by far the most decorated Olympian of all time. He’s won 28 medals, 23 of them gold, at five different Olympic games.

Source: Julian Finney / Getty Images

Novak Djokovic
> Sport: Tennis
> Championships: 15x Grand slam
> Team or country: Serbia
> Career length: 2003-present
> Other accomplishments: 255 weeks as #1

In 2016, Novak Djokovic became the first man in nearly five decades to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once. He’s won a total of 15 majors in his career. As of 2019, he is still the top-ranked tennis player in the world.

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Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Patrick Kane
> Sport: Hockey
> Championships: 3x Stanley Cup
> Team or country: Chicago Blackhawks
> Career length: 2007-present
> Other accomplishments: 3x All-star, 1x Hart, 1x Conn Smythe

Patrick Kane has more than lived up to expectations as the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft. By the time he was 26, Kane had three Stanley Cups and a Ross Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. At 30, he is playing some of the best hockey of his career.

Source: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

Peyton Manning
> Sport: Football
> Championships: 2x Super Bowl
> Team or country: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos
> Career length: 1998-2015
> Other accomplishments: 14x Pro Bowl, 7x All-Pro, 5x MVP

Peyton Manning more than lived up to the hype of being a top overall pick in the NFL Draft. Manning won five MVP awards and two Super Bowls, one with the Indianapolis Colts and the other with the Denver Broncos.

Source: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

Rafael Nadal
> Sport: Tennis
> Championships: 18x Grand Slam, 1x gold medal
> Team or country: Spain
> Career length: 2001-present
> Other accomplishments: 196 weeks as #1

Rafael Nadal is the King of Clay, winning 10 French Open championships, which are played on a clay surface. Despite facing stiff competition from Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, Nadal holds 18 Grand Slam titles. He’s won each of the four Grand Slam tournaments at least once, and he took home the Olympic gold medal in 2008.

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Source: Al Bello / Getty Images

Ray Lewis
> Sport: Football
> Championships: 2x Super Bowl
> Team or country: Baltimore Ravens
> Career length: 1996-2012
> Other accomplishments: 13x Pro Bowl, 7x All-Pro, 2x Defensive Player of the Year

Ray Lewis established himself as one of the most fearsome defensive players in NFL history, winning two Super Bowls and two Defensive Player of the Year awards as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.

Source: Harry How / Getty Images

Richard Seymour
> Sport: Football
> Championships: 3x Super Bowl
> Team or country: New England Patriots
> Career length: 2001-2012
> Other accomplishments: 7x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro

Richard Seymour became a linchpin of the New England Patriots defense as the team won three titles in four years. He was an All-Pro pass rusher during two of those years.

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Source: Michael Dodge / Getty Images

Roger Federer
> Sport: Tennis
> Championships: 20x Grand Slam
> Team or country: Switzerland
> Career length: 1998-present
> Other accomplishments: 310 weeks as #1

Roger Federer has staked his claim as the greatest male tennis player of all time. He has won 20 Grand Slam titles and spent over 300 weeks ranked as the No. 1 player in the world — and counting. He is the only man to accomplish either feat.

Source: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

Serena Williams
> Sport: Tennis
> Championships: 23x Grand Slam, 1x gold medal
> Team or country: United States
> Career length: 1995-present
> Other accomplishments: 319 weeks as #1

Serena Williams sits just one title behind Margaret Court for the most singles Grand Slam titles in tennis history, winning all four major tournaments at least three times.

Source: Michael Tullberg / Getty Images

Shaquille O’Neal
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 4x NBA Champion, 1x gold medal
> Team or country: Los Angeles Lakers
> Career length: 1992-2011
> Other accomplishments: 15x All-Star, 8x All-NBA, 1x MVP

As one of the most dominant centers in NBA history, Shaquille O’Neal helped three Los Angeles Lakers teams win a ring before winning another with the Miami Heat.

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Source: Laurent Salino/Agence Zoom / Getty Images

Shaun White
> Sport: Skateboarding, snowboarding
> Championships: 15x X Games gold medal, 3x Olympic gold medal
> Team or country: United States
> Career length: 2000-present
> Other accomplishments: 23 total X Games medals

Shaun White is one of the most successful two-sport athletes of all time. White is a skateboarding and snowboarding legend, having won 23 X Games medals, 15 of them gold, as well as three Olympic golds for halfpipe snowboarding.

Source: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Sidney Crosby
> Sport: Hockey
> Championships: 3x Stanley Cup, 2x gold medal
> Team or country: Pittsburgh Penguins
> Career length: 2005-present
> Other accomplishments: 7x All-Star, 2x Hart Trophy

After entering the NHL as one of the most exciting prospects ever, Sidney Crosby has managed to live up to the hype. Crosby won three Stanley Cups before his 30th birthday and his Pittsburgh Penguins seem poised to keep winning.

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Source: Flickr / Keith Allison

Stephen Curry
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 3x NBA Champion
> Team or country: Golden State Warriors
> Career length: 2009-present
> Other accomplishments: 2x MVP, 6x All-star

Steph Curry is one of the greatest pure shooters of all time, shattering multiple NBA 3-pointer records on his way to consecutive NBA MVPs in 2015 and 2016. Curry is the leader of the Warriors dynasty, which won three titles and made it to five consecutive NBA Finals — and counting.

Source: Flickr / Keith Allison

Tiger Woods
> Sport: Golf
> Championships: 15x Major champion
> Team or country: United States
> Career length: 1996-present
> Other accomplishments: 81 career tour wins

Tiger Woods enjoyed a decade of pro golf dominance starting in 1997, winning 14 majors. Facing injuries and personal struggles, his golf game suffered for a decade. But Tiger earned redemption, winning the 2019 Masters Tournament, his 81st tournament win and 15th major championship.

Source: Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Tim Duncan
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 5x NBA Champion
> Team or country: San Antonio Spurs
> Career length: 1997-2016
> Other accomplishments: 15x All-Star, 10x All-NBA, 2x MVP

After being drafted first overall in 1997, Tim Duncan proved his worth almost immediately, winning his first of five NBA championships in 1999.

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Source: Jim Rogash / Getty Images

Tom Brady
> Sport: Football
> Championships: 6x Super Bowl
> Team or country: New England Patriots
> Career length: 2000-present
> Other accomplishments: 14x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, 3x MVP

Tom Brady has taken the New England Patriots to nine Super Bowls, winning six of them — more than any other player in the Super Bowl era. Even into his 40s, Brady shows no signs of slowing down.

Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Tony Parker
> Sport: Basketball
> Championships: 4x NBA Champion
> Team or country: San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets
> Career length: 2001-2019
> Other accomplishments: 6x All-Star

After starting in the NBA as a teenager, Tony Parker became one of the league’s top point guards, winning four championships and one finals MVP award.

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Usain Bolt
> Sport: Track
> Championships: 8x gold medal
> Team or country: Jamaica
> Career length: 2004-2016
> Other accomplishments: 8 total medals in four Olympics

Usain Bolt has proven time and time again that he is the fastest man on earth. The Jamaican sprinter competed in four Olympics and won gold in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay three times. One of his relay gold medals was stripped after a teammate was caught doping.