Some athletes, and teams, are simply unbeatable. Whether it’s through brilliant play, mental toughness, or all of the above, these stars make and break records every time they step on the field, court, or arena. In fact, many of these legendary athletes create records that are so ironclad it seems unlikely anyone could ever break them. At Fanatics, we love to celebrate the best that sports has to offer. Read on to learn about some of the greatest athletic records of all time and why these achievements may stay safely at the top of the list.
What Makes a Record Unbreakable?
There are a few reasons a record might be unbreakable. Some athletes may be so good at their respective sports that it simply seems impossible for anyone to come close to their achievements. Other factors, like changing league rules or new play styles, can also contribute, but when someone is really good at something, it’s hard to ignore their impact.
From star athletes to team dynasties, the following records are about more than just a single good season. They’re about hard work and being the absolute best — now and in the future. Only time will tell if these records ever get a new leader list, but we think things should stay pretty stable.
1. Jerry Rice’s Receiving Yards
Jerry Rice was a wide receiver for NFL teams like the former Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. In his time with these teams, he managed to rack up 22,895 receiving yards. This came thanks to 14 seasons with 1,000 or more receiving yards. Three of those seasons had more than 1,500 receiving yards.
Part of the reason that Rice may have been so dominant is his ability to resist injury on the field, giving him more chances to get out and get open for his quarterback. And speaking of quarterbacks, it couldn’t have hurt that Rice was catching passes thrown by Hall of Famers like Joe Montana and Steve Young. Still, you don’t get that many yards without an uncanny ability to hold on to the ball even when the going gets tough.
For some perspective, the active leader in receiving yards is Julio Jones, who currently plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jones has 13,406 receiving yards. While Jones may get the chance to pad this record with some passes from quarterback Tom Brady, he and the rest of the league have a long way to go if they want to even come close to Rice.
2. Wayne Gretzky’s Assists
When it comes to unbreakable records, it’s not just about those who put the ball (or puck) in the net. In fact, Wayne Gretzky’s record of 1,963 career assists in the NHL ranks among the most impressive in sports history. There’s no goal without an assist, after all.
Throughout 20 seasons, Gretzky lent his talent to teams like the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings. He regularly achieved 98 or more assists per season, which is a feat that’s only ever been done by a few other players in the sport’s history. Today, the active leader in assists is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby with 899. Unless it suddenly becomes unfashionable to score yourself, Gretzky’s special talent for sharing the glory of a perfectly executed point is unlikely to be matched again.
3. Wilt Chamberlain’s Points Per Game
In the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game (PPG) in the NBA. To achieve this dizzying average, Chamberlain had 45 games with 50-plus points, 15 with more than 60, and three that reached over 70 PPG. He also happened to score over 100 points in one game, which is a legendary level of single-game scoring.
Today, the current active leader in PPG is James Harden, with 36.1 in the 2018-19 season. If Harden, or anyone else for that matter, wanted to ever catch up to Chamberlain’s average, they would have to start putting away buckets at a rate virtually unheard of in the sport. They might even need four-point options to try to catch up, although even that wouldn’t guarantee anything close to Chamberlain’s numbers.
4. Boston Celtics’ Titles
Not all team records go to the individual. Sometimes, teams are so dominant it seems like no one else can touch them again. For the Boston Celtics, this dominance came in the form of eight straight NBA championship titles.
Today, big-name teams like the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers have each earned three in a row. The Golden State Warriors even hold the current active title and the only chance to beat the Celtics’ record, if only they could manage to win a measly eight more championships in the next eight years. With star players distributing their talents across teams and creating playoffs with threats from all angles, this won’t be an easy feat.
Of course, it’s important to note that the Celtics had some help on the way to their record. They had a legendary player in Bill Russell, an All-Star coach in Red Auerbach, and a league with fewer than 10 teams. Even with the odds a bit more in their favor, the Boston Celtics made championship magic with this record.
5. Simone Biles’ Medals
If you’ve ever heard someone affectionately refer to American Olympic gymnast Simone Biles as the GOAT (or greatest of all time), you should know that they did so for good reason. Biles has 14 world gymnastics medals. Next in line for Biles’ throne is Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina, who has nine. Other than that, there’s no other active women’s gymnast who has even two gold medals to their name.
Part of the problem for the competition here is that they may have had the great misfortune of having to compete against Biles in her prime. It will likely be quite a while until there’s someone who does it as well as Biles. The record should reflect that for the near and distant future.
6. University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Win Streak
Unbreakable records aren’t only for the pros, either. The University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team holds the record for the longest winning streak at 111 games. The Huskies’ record is pretty unshakable, too, especially when you consider that the next longest streak (90 games) also belongs to these Connecticut ballers. Next in line are the South Carolina Gamecocks and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, with a much smaller six-win streak each. It’s hard to imagine a team coming close to double, let alone triple, digit win streaks again.
7. Michael Phelps’ Golds
Another dominant record by an Olympian is American swimmer Michael Phelps, who holds 28 Olympic medals. Not to be outdone, he also has a record in gold medals at 23 and in individual gold medals at a single Olympic event with eight at the 2008 Beijing Games. The active leader for Olympic medals is Italian short-track speed skater, Arianna Fontana, who holds 11.
With such a large variety of athletes competing in both the summer and winter versions of the fabled international games, it doesn’t seem completely impossible that someone might top Phelps’ record someday. But with increasingly tough competition and only one chance to earn medals every four years, Phelps does seem to have a substantial advantage over the field. Let’s see if he can hold his breath, and his record, well into the future.
8. Cal Ripken Jr’s Games Played
Few players have made as big of an impact on their respective teams as Cal Ripken Jr. did for his hometown MLB team, the Baltimore Orioles. While this certainly has to do with his impressive talent, it may also relate back to how much time he spent on the field. Ripken Jr. played an impressive 2,632 consecutive games for his team, which is a record by far.
The longest active streak belongs to Matt Olson of the Atlanta Braves at 296. For those doing the math, that’s about one-tenth of Ripken Jr’s record, meaning that the game of catch-up might be a little one-sided. And it will probably stay that way since teams today are more likely to rest key players to make sure they’re ready for important match-ups.
If you’re one for following records, you can jot down some of these players’ names in ink since you likely won’t be changing them. Whether through impressive scoring runs, great assists, tons of wins, or simply time out on the field, this list marks some of the most impressive sports stars who have ever played the game. We can’t wait to see others try to make these types of impacts on the sports world in the future.
If you’re excited about these players and their teams, too, be sure to check out the all-league magic that Fanatics has to offer. From officially licensed sports apparel to sports collectibles and memorabilia, Fanatics has something for every sports fan. Root for your favorite legends in style or cheer on those trying to break and set records of their own. At Fanatics, we love any athlete who tries their best to cement their name in the history books.