In the realm of sports, the phrase "fan favorite" is common, but certain sportsmen really seem to go above and beyond to leave an impact. A select few sportsmen develop into beloved icons that even opposition supporters can't help but respect through a mix of excellent skill and an endearing demeanor. Here are 20 of the sports' most popular athletes.
Ken Griffey Jr. was the face of clean baseball and avoided controversy during the height of baseball's steroid era. He was unbeatable in every facet of the game, four times leading the American League in home runs on his way to being elected to the Hall of Fame on the first vote. For baseball fans everywhere, his signature grin is a pleasant sight.
Shaq has accomplished so much, from being one of the greatest basketball players of all time to becoming a cherished TV pundit, movie star, and even having his own video game. The 2.16 m (7'1) superstar has made it out of the NBA and is now well-known to people who aren't basketball enthusiasts.
Tony Hawk, a skateboarder, is one of the few individuals who best embodies the 1990s. The Birdman always managed to draw in the crowds, whether it was with his successful video games or by winning the first-ever 900. Even though he continues to skate today, his trending tweets are what draw in new followers.
In addition to becoming a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and a four-time Olympic gold medalist, Hayley Wickenheiser has chosen to keep herself occupied by enrolling in medical school. It's understandable why people look forward to her as one of the most driven and successful athletes around.
When your name appears in Hollywood movie titles, you know you've succeeded. David Beckham, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, also found a way to go beyond the game by working with his wife, Victoria Beckham, a former Spice Girl, to become a fashion star and philanthropist.
Roger Federer has led what many call the Golden Age of Tennis. Federer is among the greatest tennis players in recent memory, along with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, with over two decades of dominance and 20 Grand Slam wins. Federer ranked second in a 2011 study of the most respected, admired, and trusted persons, behind Nelson Mandela. Federer retired in 2022.
Rafael Nadal must always be close behind Roger Federer. Rafa has 22 Grand Slam victories, putting him slightly ahead of Federer in their friendly rivalry. Rafa's cheery personality and bright smile have charmed millions... including Shakira.
It's impossible to hear Kurt Warner's tale without becoming his biggest admirer right away. He went from working as a shelf stocker for $5.50 an hour to playing in the Arena Football League and making such an impression that the St. Louis Rams signed him. He would win the Super Bowl MVP award some years later. Kurt Warner is a good example of how to pursue your dreams no matter what.
He played football, baseball, and appeared in his own cartoon with Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. Bo Jackson merely enjoyed success in all areas. Because Bo knows how to get the job done, he is the only professional athlete to have been selected for both the NFL and MLB all-star games.
One of the first professional sportsmen to completely transcend his sport was Arnold Palmer, who entered the industry in 1954 and played for more than 50 years before passing away in 2016. He is one of the top five most successful golfers of all time, and he even inspired the name of everyone's favorite summertime beverage.
Ichiro is not only among the best players in baseball history, but because of his domination, a flood of talented players from Japan entered the Major League Baseball. Ichiro was almost as terrifying as himself with his cool, collected demeanor. career batting average of 311. He even broke the MLB record in 2004 with 262 hits in a single season.
Breaking the color barrier, Jackie Robinson was named Rookie of the Year, MVP, and won the World Series. His No. 42 has now been retired across the entire MLB as the ultimate homage. There might not exist a player who has been more significant in baseball history. His legacy prompted the creation of numerous films to portray his incredible narrative. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first vote.
One of the all-time great MMA fighters is GSP. The French-Canadian Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu professional had a career record of 26-2 and could defeat anyone via knockout, submission, or by going to the judges. He became one of the most adored fighters in UFC history thanks to his thrilling fighting style and enthusiasm for mixed martial arts, even while rumors about a potential comeback persisted.
Mia Hamm dominated women's soccer for more than a decade. The American superstar won four NCAA National Championships, two World Cups, and two Olympic gold medals, appearing to triumph everywhere she went. She serves as a role model and champion for female athletes, appearing on the covers of Time, Sports Illustrated, and People.
Usain Bolt is one of the greatest athletes of all time, winning eight Olympic gold medals on his way to breaking the world speed record. Others believe he has the potential to develop into a star wide receiver in the NFL, and his sheer speed even led to a brief soccer career. The whole globe stops to watch when Bolt is running.
Tessa and Scott captivated the hearts of millions after their breathtaking free-dance performance at the 2018 Olympics left everyone in amazement and astonishment. The fact that the Canadian couple weren't dating each other, much to the dismay of many admirers, became international news because they were so endearing.
Not just because of his height, Yao Ming, who is 2.29 meters (7' 6") tall, is one of the most instantly recognizable NBA players of all time. The international superstar had a charismatic personality in addition to outstanding skill, and his toothy grin even inspired an online meme. Yao has worked with various foundations to help rescue endangered species and is a vocal activist.
Venus and Serena Williams have revolutionized tennis while dominating the game both separately and jointly. The two have won a combined total of 30 Grand Slam singles titles and an additional 14 in doubles. As if that weren't enough, they have each won Olympic gold four times—three in doubles and one each in the singles division. It seems sense that they serve as an inspiration to the next wave of tennis stars.
Troy Polamalu was a feared NFL defender. He was humble, pleasant, and had the best hair in sports. He was a player opponents hated to play against but couldn't help but appreciate for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL Hall of Fame recently inducted the former defensive MVP.
Without being a well-known athlete in your sport, you cannot get a moniker like Mr. Hockey. He is the reason Gretzky wore No. 9 twice and why many athletes wear it. The consummate competitor, Gordie played professional hockey for more than 50 years and even donned a WHA uniform with his sons.