The seventh decade of the twentieth century produced some of the greatest stars in sports history, so finding 10 famous athletes of the 1960s is an easy task. The hard part is narrowing it down to just ten, but the names on the following list clearly show that the ‘60s was a decade to remember.
- Muhammad Ali Perhaps the best known athlete in the world, Muhammad Ali’s boxing dominance in the ‘60s ended only when he was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing induction into the Army at the height of the Viet Nam War. Following years away from the sport, the greatest boxer of all time—and number one on our list of the ten most famous athletes of the 1960s—was reinstated and won back the heavyweight title.
- Willie Mays The greatest centerfielder of all time belted 350 home runs during the decade, including 52 in 1965. Willie Mays also led the San Francisco Giants to the ’62 World Series and won an MVP award in ’65. As great a hitter as he was, the “Say Hey Kid” was just as great defensively, winning nine Gold Gloves in the ‘60s.
- Wilt Chamberlain When you score 100 points in a single basketball game, your name becomes a household word. Not that the 7-foot-tall Wilt Chamberlain—a height that at that time was considered freakish—wasn’t already one of the most famous athletes of the 1960s, but the 100-point game transformed the NBA center from star to sports legend.
- Johnny Unitas One of the greatest quarterbacks in football history was also among the ten most famous athletes of the 1960s. Johnny Unitas threw 182 of his 290 career touchdown passes while leading the Baltimore Colts throughout the decade on his way to the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame.
- Jim Brown Perhaps the most dominant runner in NFL history, Jim Brown played just six seasons in the ‘60s before retiring at 29 while still at his peak. He won five rushing titles in the decade including a then-record 1,863 yards with a 6.4 average in 1963. Far less successful as an actor, Brown nevertheless maintains his spot on our list of ten famous athletes of the 1960s.
- Bill Russell In one of the greatest matchups in sports history, Bill Russell went head-to-head against Wilt Chamberlain throughout the ‘60s. Much smaller than “Wilt the Stilt,” the great Boston Celtics center held his own against the 7-footer while enjoying far more team success with nine NBA titles in the decade making him one of the most famous athletes of the 1960s.
- Bobby Hull Blessed with great skating speed and the hardest slap shot in the NHL, the Chicago Black Hawks’ Bobby Hull scored 50 or more goals four times while totaling 441 goals for the decade. Known as the “Golden Jet,” Hull’s dominance on the ice makes him one of the top ten famous athletes of the 1960s.
- Sandy Koufax He retired due to arm problems after leading the league with 27 wins and the Los Angeles Dodgers to the 1966 World Series. Despite the early exit, Sandy Koufax had a 137-70 record and won three Cy Young awards in just seven seasons of the decade making him one of the greatest pitchers of all time and one of the most famous athletes of the 1960s.
- Wilma Rudolph After winning three gold medals in the 1960 Summer Olympics, the sprinter gained fame as the greatest female track-and-field star of all time. She never competed in another Olympics, but decades later Wilma Rudolph still ranks as one of the most famous athletes of the 1960s.
- Rod Laver This Australian lefty won seventeen major tennis titles in the ‘60s and closed out the decade with seventeen singles titles in 1969 alone. Still considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Rod “The Rocket” Laver is also one of the ten most famous athletes of the 1960s.