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Are Basketball Players the Best Athletes?

By Elad De Piccioto
 Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
*Updated 2024
Today’s NBA boasts an unprecedented amount of athleticism. Players like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic and, above all, LeBron James, have enormous athletic abilities and are indicative of the larger talent spread all around the league. Many suggest that this generation of basketball players, especially when considering the legacy of the legendary Kobe Bryant, settles an old debate: Basketball does, indeed, have the best athletes in professional sports. (Note: track and field athletes are not part of this discussion.)
Here are three reasons that support the argument that basketball players are the best athletes and three reasons that dispute it.


Three reasons why basketball players are the best athletes


Basketball is more varied

Basketball players combine a wide range of athletic abilities. While hockey and soccer players might be faster, and NFL football players might be stronger, it can be argued that basketball players are better all-around athletes. After all, they demonstrate great endurance as they run up and down the court, playing both offense and aggressive defense. They’re strong and possess an impressive amount of speed and agility. And, of course, they possess amazing jumping ability. The wide range of their athletic abilities makes them the most versatile athletes in sports, thus the best athletes.


The air-effect

Basketball players demonstrate most of their athletic abilities while in the air. This might be stating the obvious since its basketball we`re talking about, but the more you think about it, the more you understand how being airborne makes everything harder. It’s not just their jumping ability; basketball players also need to be agile, creative and demonstrate flexibility while in mid-air, especially since, most of the time, there’s a ginormous center jumping between them and the basket. They also need to aim and score, block shots and make physical contact, all within seconds while off the ground, when they’re most vulnerable.


A new era of players

The NBA has changed in recent years. Today, the game favors speed and shooting. This change didn’t occur out of nowhere – it happened after a new era of players with greater physical and athletic abilities arrived in the league. NBA players now combine height together with shooting abilities and speed (which was considered rare only 15 years ago). Also, as basketball became faster, players needed to develop more endurance. Given that some players shoot from such a large distance away from the basket (like the late Kobe Bryant did, and today’s Stephen Curry still does) that some suggest moving the 3-point line back or even applying a 4-point line. This is an example of how basketball players’ athletic abilities have gotten significantly better, which can’t be said for athletes in any other sport.


Three reasons why basketball players aren’t the best athletes  


Football players are stronger athletes

Much like in basketball, playing professional NFL football requires a combination of strength, agility, speed and concentration. However, the level of strength needed to play football is the most important, and certainly greater than any other athletic ability needed to play basketball. Football players present an unprecedented power, strength and explosiveness. They deal with 250-300-pound titans (most of whom can bench press over 500 lbs.) in an aggressive game that involves much more physical contact and collisions than basketball. While football players are not as quick as basketball players, they`re much stronger, which puts them on another level of athleticism.


Boxers are better all-around athletes

Boxing is the most athletic sport around. In fact, boxing is used in training for NFL players to enhance their hand-eye coordination and agility.  A few years ago, a wide panel of sports experts, including sports scientists, researchers, athletes and journalists, objectively ranked the level of athleticism needed to compete in 60 sports. To determine the level of athleticism needed, each sport was broken down into 10 categories: endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, nerve, durability, hand-eye coordination and analytic aptitude. Then, the experts ranked each category for each sport. The average represents the difficulty level of each sport. According to the most scientific comparative research made in that subject, boxers are the best athletes, not basketball players.


Tennis players are more intense athletes

The one thing that makes tennis players greater athletes than basketball players is that it’s each player for himself or herself on the court. Every sport requires a level of athleticism, but tennis players have to execute their athletic abilities in every single moment of the game, while remaining at the highest level of focus. There are no substitutions, no “weak” moments when the game is played elsewhere or when a teammate takes over control of the game. The combination of the athletic features together with the intensity and mental abilities required to play it alone makes tennis players the best athletes in sports. Just take a look at Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal’s athletic abilities:


The Bottom Line: Despite their sheer variety of skills and stamina, are basketball players really the best athletes in sports compared to the strength of football players, the endurance of boxers, and the mental strength of tennis players? What do you think?

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