Whether you like them or not, most famous athletes in the world today are often treated like royalty. They’re recognized everywhere they go, they’re on every billboard, ad, and/or commercial you see, and they have millions upon millions of followers on social media – they’re basically half-athlete, half-celebrity.
While this is nothing new in sports – famous athletes have always garnered a lot of media attention – it appears to be happening at an all-time rate with the sudden rise of social media, which allows famous athletes to display their unique personality and interact with their fanbase on a much more personal level.
As a result, famous athletes today are given a much bigger platform than ever before and a majority of them use their platform to grow their personal brand – increasing their exposure and, ultimately, growing their fanbase. The more popular they get, the more they get treated like a celebrity – not just an athlete.
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Famous Athletes Who Are Larger Than Life (and Sports)
Every year, fans get to witness thousands of professional athletes display their talent for the world to see, but only a select few of them will reach celebrity status. Some athletes can credit their performance in sport for their rise to fame, while others credit their unique persona – of course, some athletes credit both.
Either way, the most famous athletes in the world have an opportunity to cash in on their popularity and fame in ways that other athletes can’t. While there’s a lot of money in sports and athletes can make a fortune (if they’re good enough), famous athletes today make most of their money outside of sports.
With that said, it’s no secret that some athletes are more famous than others. Think about it this way – you could ask 100 people to list some of the most famous athletes in the world and, chances are, you would receive a lot of the same answers. Let’s break down some of those names that may come to mind.
25. Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers is a quarterback for the New York Jets and is widely regarded as one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game. He has thrown for 59,055 yards, 475 touchdowns, and just 105 interceptions over his 18-year career. He’s a 10-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, four-time MVP, one-time Super Bowl champion, and one-time Super Bowl MVP. He has a way of maintaining relevance, but does it rather quietly.
24. Serena Williams
Serena Williams is an American tennis player who turned professional in October 1995 and recently retired in September 2022. She has a career 858-156 singles record with 73 singles titles and 23 Grand Slam singles titles, and a career 192-35 doubles record with 23 doubles titles and 14 Grand Slam doubles titles. She’s easily one of the most influential, legendary, and iconic female athletes of all-time.
23. Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan is an American professional soccer player who currently plays for the San Diego Wave of the NWSL and the United States women’s national team. She has scored 115 goals for the US national team, which currently ranks No. 5 all-time, and has won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 – she also helped lead the US to two FIFA Women’s World Cup titles. She’s one of the most popular female soccer players today.
22. Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr. is a wide receiver who currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens. He rose to fame as a member of the New York Giants between 2014 and 2018, recording 390 catches for 5,476 yards and 44 touchdowns during that time. He has dealt with various injuries over the past three seasons, but is making a comeback in 2023. With his larger-than-life persona and luxury lifestyle, he garners a lot of attention.
21. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant doesn’t necessarily like being the center of attention and does his best to limit the amount of media surrounding him on a daily basis, but don’t let that fool you – he’s an international superstar who can’t go anywhere without being noticed. Between his stellar play on the court, his endorsements on and off the court, and various business ventures away from sports, Durant knows how to stay relevant.
20. Erling Haaland
Erling Haaland has emerged as one of the most popular and talented soccer players over the past couple of years. At 22 years old, many are pegging him as the next best thing in soccer – having already taken the sport by storm. As a result of his excellence on the field, Haaland is finally starting to receive the sponsorships and endorsements that come with fame – and you’ll only see more of him in the future.
19. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most beloved basketball players of this generation – it’s hard to hate on him, even if you’re not a fan of his. He’s humble and has a personality that many can relate to, but has also earned his right as one of the greatest players of his generation. He’s always making jokes, always has a smile on his face, believes in the power of positivity, and hasn’t let fame change him one bit.
18. Patrick Mahomes
You can’t talk about the NFL – or football, in general – without mentioning what Patrick Mahomes has done since entering the league. He has emerged as the face of the NFL and is already being compared to some of the greats – such as Tom Brady. Along with his wife, Brittany Mahomes, the couple make headlines anytime they step out of the house and can’t go anywhere without a sea of cameras following them.
17. Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy is an international superstar and one of the PGA Tour’s greatest ambassadors. His impact goes far beyond the golf community and is a household name – even in households that have no interest in golf. He has 36 professional wins under his belt since 2007 and has won four majors thus far – the PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014, the U.S. Open in 2011, and The Open Championship in 2014.
16. Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic rose to stardom as a teenager playing for Real Madrid in the EuroLeague, but his success overseas was overlooked by Americans – that is, until he was drafted into the NBA. At that point, he became an international superstar and is now one of the league’s greatest players. At just 24 years old, he still has another 10+ years in the league and will continue adding to his legacy in the years to come.
15. Neymar Jr.
Neymar Jr. is a Brazilian soccer player who is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of his generation. He has scored at least 100 goals with three different clubs – something that has only been done by three other players in the history of the game – and has scored 77 goals for the Brazilian national team. He has a whopping 208 million followers on Instagram and another 62 million followers on Twitter.
14. Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor was, at one point in his career, THE money fight in the UFC – the five highest-selling Pay-Per-View fights in UFC history were McGregor fights. He was also the first UFC fighter to ever hold a title in two weight classes at the same time. While he hasn’t had much success in the octagon over the past few years, he remains relevant with his luxurious lifestyle, erratic behavior, and unique personality.
13. Aaron Judge
Being one of the greatest New York Yankees’ players of this generation comes with a lot of media attention – and not just from the NYC area. Aaron Judge is that guy right now, especially after signing a nine-year, $360 million contract this past offseason – not long after setting an AL record for most home runs in a single season with 62 homers in 2022. He’s the current King of New York and they treat him like it.
12. Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby has a lot of haters, but that’s what happens when you’re one of the greatest hockey players of all-time. With that said, he’s hard not to like because he doesn’t involve himself in drama, he’s an overall good guy, and is dedicated to his family and community. The 35-year-old is still producing at a high rate on the ice, but his success has never changed him and there’s a lot of people who respect that.
11. Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton is an international icon and is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most dominant athletes of all-time. What he has done in Formula 1 is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before – winning seven World Drivers’ Championship titles (tied for the record) and holding numerous other records in the sport. He’s also dedicated to activism and philanthropy, which makes it very hard not to respect him.
10. Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka is a Japanese tennis player who rose to stardom after joining the WTA Tour in 2013 at just 15 years old. Since then, she has accumulated a 265-148 singles record, seven singles titles, and four major championships – including the US Open twice and the Australian Open twice. She’s known for her down-to-earth personality and has used her platform to raise awareness for a variety of social issues.
9. Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani is one of the most well-known and most-talked about athletes today. He was already an international sensation for his stellar play in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) before joining the MLB in 2018. He’s widely known as one of the greatest two-way players in MLB history, turning heads with both his batting and pitching. He has since won Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a Silver Slugger award.
8. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry rose to fame during the 2008 March Madness tournament, when he led Davidson to their first win since 1969 and took them all the way to the Elite 8. He became even more famous as he entered the NBA in 2009, leading them to four NBA titles over the past eight seasons. He has an impressive investment portfolio, owns a production company, and is dedicated to philanthropy and volunteering.
7. Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli is an Indian cricketer who is widely regarded as one of the best batsmen of all-time. He currently plays for Royal Challengers Bangalore of the Indian Premier League and also plays for Delhi in the Indian domestic league. He has helped his country win the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy. He has quite the following online, including 249 million followers on Instagram and 56 million on Twitter.
6. Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is the greatest and most dominant golfer of all-time. Injuries have plagued his career in recent years, but that won’t damage the legacy he left in the golf community. He has 82 wins on the PGA Tour and 15 major championship wins in his career, and was the No. 1 player in the world for a record 683 weeks. No one will ever be able to duplicate the type of career he had – he’s a one-of-a-kind legend.
5. Canelo Alvarez
Canelo Alvarez is a Mexican professional boxer who has been the unquestioned ‘King of Boxing’ over the past few years. He’s the current undisputed champion at super middleweight, but he also has multiple titles in three other weight classes. He has a 59-2-2 record and has proven to be unstoppable on most nights. He’s the most prized money fight in boxing right now and has the entire world watching his every move.
4. Tom Brady
Tom Brady is one of the greatest football players and certainly the greatest quarterback of all-time. He threw for 89,214 yards, 649 touchdowns, and just 212 interceptions over his 23-year career, winning seven Super Bowl titles in the process – more than any franchise in the league. He’s the ultimate celebrity and receives a whirlwind of attention every single time he moves a muscle – when he moves, cameras follow.
3. LeBron James
LeBron James has had one of, if not the greatest careers the NBA has ever seen. His ability to remain in peak form throughout his 30s is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before – he looks just as good now as he did 10 years ago and even 20 years ago. He has had a much bigger impact on his community than any other athlete we’ve ever seen – when he speaks, everyone puts down what they’re doing to listen.
2. Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all-time and continues to defy father time as he continues to score at a rapid rate at 35 years old. He’s a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, a six-time European Golden Shoe winner, and most recently helped lead his country to a gold medal at the 2022 World Cup. He has 462 million followers on Instagram, which is second-most on the platform.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo, like Messi, is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all-time – the two are certainly the greatest players of their generation. He has won five Ballon d’Or awards and four European Golden Shoes, as well as 32 trophies throughout his career. He’s the most-followed person on Instagram with 583 million followers and is someone who can’t go somewhere without being recognized.
Famous Athletes With the Most Social Media Followers
Social media plays an important role in any athlete’s career – more-so now than ever before. Not only can it be a money-maker when used properly, but it gives famous athletes an opportunity to show fans a side of them they don’t normally get to see and allows athletes to further connect with their growing fanbase.
That’s why it should come as no surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo (583 million followers) and Lionel Messi (462 million followers) are the two most-followed people on Instagram – not just among athletes, but everyone. For reference, Selena Gomez is the most-followed non-athlete at 416 million followers.
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Other athletes with enormous social media followings include Virat Kohli, LeBron James, Neymar Jr., Kylian Mbappe, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kylian Mbappe, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Shohei Ohtani. These athletes are considered to be some of the most famous athletes in the world today.
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