When one incredible athlete sets a standard for the rest of the world, upcoming athletes look to hone their skills and blaze a new path. But sometimes, athletes accomplish feats so surreal they can never be surpassed.
Changes in a sport and different rules across eras help legendary athletes retain records decades after they are set. The most unbreakable records in sports feel mythical and deserve to be celebrated.
1. Boston Celtics Winning Eight Straight NBA Championships
The Boston Celtics won every NBA title from 1959 through 1966. Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Red Auerbach headed the dynastic team that unleashed unfathomable devastation on the rest of the NBA during the 1960s. With free agency and a significant increase in the number of teams right now, there is no chance another NBA team will maintain a roster to challenge this record.
2. Cy Young’s 511 Wins
Cy Young pitched with such proficiency during the late 19th century and early 20th century that the award given to the best pitcher in the world is named after him.
Young played during an era in which teams allowed pitchers to take the mound more often. These two factors make his 511 wins a record that won’t ever be sniffed. For reference, Justin Verlander is the active leader with 257, about half as many as Young.
3. Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963 Assists
Wayne Gretzky’s numbers look imaginary. His 1,963 assists are about 700 more than second-place finisher Ron Francis. The greatest hockey player of all time manipulated the ice with unfathomable skill and a penchant for maintaining the puck in his possession at nearly all times.
4. Tom Brady’s Seven Super Bowl Rings as a Starting Quarterback
Tom Brady owns one of the most recent records on this list. He won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and added one more with the Buccaneers in 2020. Brady’s seven rings as a starting quarterback are nearly double the second-place people, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
5. Wilt Chamberlain’s 50 Points per Game
Wilt Chamberlain unleashed a physical presence on the NBA during the 1960s that only Bill Russell came close to matching. Statistically speaking, nobody in basketball could do what Wilt could. His 100-point game may be more famous, but Kobe Bryant came close with 81 points. Nobody has come within 10 points of Wilt’s 50.4 scoring average in 1962, though.
6. Cal Ripkin Jr.’s 2,632 Consecutive Games Played
Cal Ripkin Jr.’s longevity and durability led to him playing every game for 16 straight seasons. Load management in sports, which is essentially increased attention given to the medical and health benefits of rest, makes Ripkin Jr. the ultimate king of consecutive games played.
7. Michael Phelps’ 28 Olympic Medals
Michael Phelps became synonymous with success in the swimming pool during the 2000s and 2010s. Phelps's aquatic amazement sent chills down the spine and inspired millions on the way to 28 medals in the Olympics. With so many events to participate in, Phelps stacked accolades at a level never before seen.
8. Jerry Rice’s 22,895 Receiving Yards
Jerry Rice is nearly 10,000 receiving yards clear of Julio Jones, the active leader in yards. Rice benefited from playing with Joe Montana and took advantage of his elite ball-catching skills and athleticism to become the best-receiving threat in NFL history.
9. Wilt Chamberlain’s 48.5 Minutes per Game
Wilt Chamberlain gets a second appearance on the list of unbreakable records because his penchant for stuffing the record book simply can’t be ignored. Chamberlain played every second of every game he appeared in during the 1962 NBA season. No team doctor would ever allow an athlete to play this many minutes again.
10. Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 Strikeouts
Nolan Ryan focused on one thing when he got on the mound: striking out the batter on the other side of the plate. Ryan’s 5,714 strikeouts represent his insane fastball and ferocious intensity every time he made a start in Major League Baseball.
11. Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes Win of 31 Lengths
Are horses considered athletes? It’s a controversial discussion, but Secretariat’s 1973 win at the Belmont Stakes can be appreciated no matter what side of the argument you agree with. The Triple-Crown winner defeated his next-best competitor by 31 lengths during the iconic victory, but numbers don’t do the record justice. Watching Secretariat pull away brings goosebumps to arms and tears to eyes worldwide.
12. Connecticut Huskies Women’s Basketball Team 111 Wins in a Row
The Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team took control of the NCAA during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Incredible players such as Breanna Stewart led the team to 111 consecutive wins throughout the 2014 through 2017 seasons. The more success UConn had, the greater influence they built in recruiting players.
13. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-Game Hitting Streak
Joe DiMaggio became as iconic to New York as morning bagels and New Year’s Eve celebrations after hitting a baseball in 56 straight games during the 1941 season. DiMaggio’s confidence and the lack of media scrutiny back in his era most likely helped him keep level-headed during the streak.
14. Ricky Henderson’s 1,406 Stolen Bases
Ricky Henderson prided himself on beating a catcher’s throw to the base every time he took off for a stolen bag. Players in today’s baseball atmosphere don’t attempt to steal as often, as evidenced by the current leader, Elvis Andrus, accumulating only 347 stolen bases. With over 1,000 stolen bases needed to break Henderson’s mark, it seems the record is one of the safest ever.
15. Brett Favre’s 305 Interceptions
Brett Favre had no filter when throwing the football. He launched with reckless abandon, and while most times the football was caught by his receivers, other times the pass was picked off by a defensive back. Quarterbacks today would probably be benched if they threw interceptions like Favre.
16. Lance Armstrong’s Seven Straight Tour de France Titles
Lance Armstrong, through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, won seven straight Tour de France titles. Armstrong inspired kids and adults alike during his run, but his cheating scandals ruined his reputation. It’s hard to imagine someone beating his consecutive titles streak unless they are also doping.
17. Miami Dolphins 1972 Perfect Season
The New England Patriots came so close to surpassing the Miami Dolphins when they started the 2007 season with 18 straight wins. After an upset defeat at the hands of the New York Giants, Miami remained the only team to win the Super Bowl and never lose a game throughout an entire year.
18. Los Angeles Lakers 33-Game Winning Streak
In 1972, the Los Angeles Lakers won an astounding 33 games in a row with Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West at the helm. Even the greatest regular season team of all time, the 2016 Golden State Warriors, only won 24 games in a row. The Lakers somehow always found a way to win nightly for almost half of an entire season.
19. Longest Tennis Match: John Isner-Nicolas Mahut 2010 Wimbledon Championships
A first-round Wimbledon tennis match in 2010 between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut took over 11 hours to complete. The final scoreline reading was 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.
This record can’t be broken under current Wimbledon rules because all matches go to a tiebreak when the final set is knotted at 12 games each.
20. Rafael Nadal 14 French Open Championships
Rafa Nadal has won more majors at the French Open than anybody else has won at all majors, excluding Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Pete Sampras. With Nadal coming back in 2024 for a possible retirement send-off, he can streak across the clay for a 15th title and make the record even grander.
21. Jack Nicklaus's 18 Major Golf Championships
Jack Nicklaus won golf majors across a 24-year stretch, finishing with 18 when he retired. Nicklaus golfed with a steady hand and unmatched consistency. These qualities are impossible to find in 2024, with many of golf’s current stars performing like a roller coaster.
22. Bill Russell’s 11 NBA Championship Rings
Bill Russell’s 11 titles in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics feel like a perfect amalgamation of elements. The lack of free agency during the 1960s allowed basketball teams like the Celtics to keep all of their best players for an extended period of time. This means that inferior teams also had to keep the same players each season.
Boston ran up against the Lakers nearly every year, and they won every single time during the decade. These patterns made Russell the player with the most wins in basketball lore.