What His Sports Idol Says About Him
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Mickey Mantle2 of 15
By Brett Smiley
Mantle didn’t necessarily want to be the all-American boy, but that’s how he was cast. A native of Oklahoma, he was a country boy in the big city, a rock and a natural athlete who boozed awfully hard off the field, a habit that eventually caught up to him. Mantle’s faithfuls are throwbacks, many of them New Yorkers.
Muhammad Ali3 of 15
Born Cassius Clay, Ali is an icon not only for his supreme talent and poetic banter, but also for his resistance to an unpopular war, which cost him his boxing license when he refused to enter the draft. Although some vicious fights took away his health, Ali is a symbol of great character and resolve, and his fans will never forget that about him. His admirers are either supremely confident or wish they were.
Michael Phelps4 of 15
After only two Olympic games, Phelps is the second-most-decorated Olympic athlete ever and will compete in at least one more in 2012. In addition to a long, lanky frame — part of what has made Phelps a record-breaking swimmer — he also had big ears and a lisp growing up, for which he was teased. Phelps is a champion for bullied kids and grown-ups; just as much, he’s a hero for those who push themselves to achieve their best.
Joe Montana5 of 15
Montana was Joe Cool: smooth, calm under pressure, the ultimate champion. His worshipers loved that graceful confidence, no matter the score or time of game. During Super Bowl XVI, before leading a 92-yard touchdown drive — maybe to set 49ers teammate Harris Barton at ease — Montana said to Barton in the huddle, “Hey, check it out, there's John Candy.” Montana fans value, above all, that fearless presence.
Pete Sampras6 of 15
Unlike less-decorated and more recognizable tennis great Andre Agassi, the “King of Swing” was a quiet champion. But he was all business on the court and highly consistent: Sampras won 14 Grand Slam singles titles and held the year-end world number-one ranking five consecutive years. Sampras’s admirers are likely competitive and quiet, preferring to speak with their actions.
Tiger Woods7 of 15
No athlete has suffered a greater and more public fall from grace — all by his own doing — transforming from a likable, highly competitive kid prodigy-turned-father and husband, to a reckless, sex-obsessed, self-absorbed philanderer. However, his supreme talent remains, and his faithful fans can either compartmentalize the athlete and the person or callously disregard the way he treated his (now ex-) wife.
Lance Armstrong8 of 15
Armstrong represents the iconic comeback story: triumph over adversity (cancer), winning the Tour de France an unprecedented seven consecutive times. His charitable efforts rival and, to some, exceed his athletic accomplishments. While he has come under scrutiny for alleged performance-enhancing drug use, given the good Armstrong has done with his stardom, his more ardent supporters probably don’t care either way, and maybe rightly so.
Dale Earnhardt9 of 15
The “Intimidator” was the ultimate tough guy. He was rough, feared, respected and didn't take nonsense from anyone. His fans loved this about him, and if they couldn’t match the style, probably wished they had those qualities. With so many second-place finishes in the Daytona 500, Earnhardt was always the Daytona bridesmaid, but he finally broke through in 1998, only three years before his tragic death on the same track.
Michael Jordan10 of 15
Jordan remains a one-of-a-kind athlete and brand because there’s simply none other like him. He was an astonishingly fierce competitor at everything. Incredibly, he was cut from his middle school team, a slight he used as fuel. Between endorsements and shoes, still in production, he was and still is a major commercial success. His worshipers come in all kinds, but if they have one thing in common, it’s probably intense competitiveness.
Deion Sanders11 of 15
Flashy, talkative and incredibly talented, “Neon” Deion Sanders was the rare showboat with the talent to completely back it up. The multisport professional athlete, who once hit a home run and scored a touchdown in the same week, dressed in colors to fit his nickname. Like the icon, many “Prime Time” fans are loud and showy too.
Wayne Gretzky12 of 15
“The Great One” completely revolutionized a sport. He was baby-faced but a silent assassin, undersized but an overachiever. Gretzky also had his heart broken when traded away from home team, the Edmonton Oilers, to the flash of the Los Angeles Kings. Gretzky is the hero for those of under-impressive physical abilities who rely on wits to succeed.
Larry Bird13 of 15
The “Hick from French Lick [Indiana]” was a plain Jane from a poverty-stricken family. He was a fearless and smart player, and although he appeared like a modest guy, actually talked a lot of trash on the court. But off of it, the big Celtic seemed like that country boy, a stark contrast to rival Magic Johnson of the “Showtime” Lakers. Bird fans value intelligence and the push from a worthy opponent.
Landon Donovan14 of 15
Small in stature but huge in talent, this fierce American forward/midfielder excels in the world's most popular game that’s still overlooked by the masses in the United States. Only 29 years old, Donovan has already scored the greatest goal in American soccer history, a late winner in the 2010 World Cup against Algeria. Many Donovan devotees are high-energy and probably care more about their own interests than popular ones.
Lawrence Taylor15 of 15
“LT” revolutionized the game of football; he’s the reason that the “blind side” matters. LT was a terrifying, wild, instinctual athlete who, sadly, had and still has his demons off the field. His fans know that he’s had his struggles, but what they love about him is the ferocity and ruthlessness he brought to his craft. Many of his admirers are aggressive and passionate people.