Before Twitter, we never could have hoped we would ever know our favorite athletes this well.
In many ways, one social-media device—popularized by Shaq way before it was cool to sum up your thoughts in 140 characters—has brought us closer to the athletes we idolize than we ever thought possible.
It has made us privy to their every thought and emotion, for better or worse, and even though, in some cases, Twitter has resulted in the demise of their credibility (talking to you, Ocho), it has become increasingly clear that a world without Twitter would be a sad one indeed.
For those who know how to use it, Twitter has been a revelation for athletes. It has given them a platform, a voice and a fanbase that would certainly never exist otherwise.
And for those who don't know how to use it—even better for us, the fans.
We hope that the relationship between Twitter and these select few athletes continues to flourish forever.
We'll start off with a little bit of a dark horse.
Of course, Brandon Spikes is beloved in New England for being one of the linchpins of the Patriots' defense, and he is beloved in Gainesville for helping to turn the Gators into an SEC powerhouse.
In the Twitterverse, he is beloved for being completely unfiltered and utterly random.
I don't remember which tweet in particular made it clear to me that Spikes was a must-follow, but I've never regretted my decision to make him a permanent fixture of my feed. His thoughts waver between completely random:
TRANSFORMATION— brandon spikes (@BrandonSpikes55) March 1, 2013
...and completely genius:
Smfh !! Facebook needs an "Ignore all baby and wedding related posts" button. Ijs tho #PoWwWwW 💥💥💥— brandon spikes (@BrandonSpikes55) February 28, 2013
The best Twitter follows are the ones that are unexpectedly awesome, and Spikes falls into that category. Definitely one of the NFL's most retweetable.
Here, we have someone who has aptly utilized social media to turn himself into a fan favorite.
From using Reddit to air his grievances with the commissioner to using Twitter to campaign for gay marriage and a new Vikings stadium, or to troll EA Sports, or to simply express his undying passion for World of Warcraft, he definitely makes the most of very few characters.
And the great thing about Kluwe's tweets as that they're often substantive. It's not just "I had Taco Bell for lunch today." He gets into some heavy stuff:
So if AG Holder says the government is allowed to bomb U.S. citizens, doesn't that de facto make the government a terrorist organization?— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) March 7, 2013
It isn't every day that a punter becomes one of the most beloved members of an NFL team, but Kluwe has started a revolution for himself via social media.
He's already one of the most recognized names in the world of NASCAR. Now, he's one of the most recognized NASCAR names in the Twitterverse, too.
The five-time Cup Series champion and 2013 Daytona 500 champion isn't ever afraid to speak his mind in real life or on social media—and he's notorious for using his Twitter account to connect with fans and is an expert when he comes to bumping up his number of followers.
Had a great time in my last Google+ Hangout so I'm hosting another one tomorrow at 7pmET. Check jimmiejohnson.com for details.— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) February 20, 2013
And Exhibit B:
He knows how to keep his fans invested, and he knows how to give them exactly what they're looking for: an up-close-and-personal look into his life.
As one of the most recognized names internationally in the world of sports, it's only fitting that Cristiano Ronaldo has one of the highest follower counts in sports: Currently, he sits at over 16.6 million.
Of course, as one of his followers, you sometimes have to deal with the necessary drivel that includes retweet requests and mentions of those fans who tweet at him to tell him how awesome he is.
But sifting through the nonsense becomes worth it because of his frequent use of Instagram and Twitpics to offer his fans a more intimate glimpse of his life behind the scenes.
Nearly every one of his tweets includes a photo, and sometimes, he even gives his fans an extra little gift by exchanging pleasantries with the supposed enemy:
Look forward to see you too tomorrow @waynerooney— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) February 12, 2013
It's amazing that a simple tweet like that could possibly garner over 22,000 retweets, but such is the world of Cristiano.
Anyone who has ever watched an interview or a press conference involving Randy Moss is well aware of the fact that he never holds back. That's what makes the relationship between him and Twitter so rewarding: He's even more unfiltered via social media than he is in real life.
The controversial wide receiver, however, isn't simply outspoken on Twitter; he is often hilarious, intentionally or unintentionally. For example, he makes a habit of beginning every day with the same exact tweet:
Gm earthlings!!give god the praise an have a blessed day— Randy Moss (@RandyMoss) March 10, 2013
...and if he doesn't have much else to say, his feed becomes amusingly monotonous. (See March 3-March 9.)
And occasionally, something like this happens that makes this follow 100 percent worth it:
Something to start yaws weekend!!yes I gave him straight cash homies! twitter.com/DaRealOtisMoss…— Randy Moss (@RandyMoss) March 9, 2012
If you've seen The Hangover, you already know that Mike Tyson has a funny side. And if you follow him on Twitter, you are even more acutely aware of that.
The retired boxer and former undisputed heavyweight champion is a frequent Twitpic and Instagram user, and he doesn't just use the apps to document his daily life. He uses them to post awesome photos such as the one above.
Clearly, Tyson has a good eye for a good retweet, but his original thoughts are just as worthwhile—and he is a pro when it comes to keeping his fans updated on his whereabouts via Twitter. If you follow him, never again will you miss a single radio show, promotional appearance or event in which he is involved.
Just because he's no longer a part of Oklahoma City's Big Three doesn't mean that James Harden has dropped off the face of the earth. In fact, quite the opposite.
As his profile skyrocketed during the Olympics, Harden established himself as one of the NBA's must-follows, and he has lived up to his reputation.
First off, there are the photos. The people love pictures, and Harden never disappoints in that regard.
Then, there is his ... honesty. Harden is always a guy who speaks his mind, whether it's about his own performance on the court:
Couldn't throw a rock in the ocean but happy we won. Great team win for us!! #RedNation— James Harden (@JHarden13) March 9, 2013
...or about the whereabouts of his significant other:
I'm just bein frank wit ya, I mean where you think she at when she ain't wit you? Wildin!!!!!!!— James Harden (@JHarden13) March 8, 2013
Give credit where credit is due. Get him to a million followers.
Many a golf fan is familiar with Rickie Fowler because of his exceptional taste in fashion. It only makes sense, then, that his Twitter profile would be similarly flashy.
The best hashtags are the ones that are both amusing and completely unnecessary, and Fowler has certainly perfected the art of the ridiculous hashtag.
Plus, when you follow him, you also get gems like this. (Don't worry, we'll get to Bubba in a little while.)
For some reason, watching Novak Djokovic on the court offers the impression that he is a bit ... humorless.
Maybe it's his focus, or maybe it's his intensity, but he just seems all-business in the midst of an important match—as he should be. You can't win seven majors without being focused and intense.
But otherwise, he is pleasantly personable, as evidenced by his infamous impersonations and, of course, by his tweets.
Djokovic is famously a fan of the emoticon—in fact, it is rare that he sends a tweet that isn't accompanied by a totally unnecessary :) —and he is also a fan of the frequent photo.
My personal favorite? The time he poked fun at the end of the world with this:
Oh, is this the end of the world? :))) say.ly/QLl4P57— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) December 21, 2012
The New York Times recently ran a fascinating piece examining the differences between The Happy Athlete and The Unhappy Athlete.
Usain Bolt is one of the prime examples of the former—the athlete who doesn't seem to take himself too seriously when he's not competing, and it obviously doesn't adversely impact his performances.
Bolt caught some flak leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games because he was behaving like a normal 25-year-old and going out and having fun, but in London, he proved that none of that mattered. The fastest man in the world now has three more gold medals to illustrate that point.
Bolt's Twitter persona reflects that as well. He may be a fierce competitor, but you wouldn't know it from his feed, which frequently displays him doing things like performing his own version of the Harlem Shake (above).
It's refreshing when superstars of this caliber clearly don't take themselves too seriously. Especially when they can not take themselves seriously and keep winning gold medals.
Everyone always says don't drive and text. We also shouldn't drive and tweet, or drive and take photographs and then tweet.
NASCAR's Brad Keselowski once broke most of those rules—but then again, it made him a star.
The driver became something of a social-media sensation during last year's Daytona 500, when the jet dryer truck exploded and he found himself with a unique view of the commotion. Naturally, his first instinct was to snap a picture and tweet it out to his 383,000 followers:
Fire!My view twitter.com/keselowski/sta…— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) February 28, 2012
Due to the delay in the race, he then proceeded to field questions from fans and keep the world updated on the status of the fire.
He may spend most of his Twitter time retweeting others and flaunting his own position in the Sprint Cup standings, but this one momentous tweet makes him a star forever.
During the course of any given day, many of us turn to Twitter for some much-needed entertainment and amusement. That's why users like JaVale McGee are so precious to us.
McGee is a mastermind of sorts. As his Twitter profile states, he is, after all, the innovator of the finger 'stache:
And sometimes, when his thoughts are particularly significant, he feels the need to retweet himself—just in case you missed his gems first time around. For example:
RT @javalemcgee34 WHERE YOKO ONO THO?— JaVale McGee (@JaValeMcGee34) March 11, 2013
And really, where would we be without the Nuggets center to answer age-old questions like that?
He may be a newbie in the world of the NBA, but he certainly isn't when it comes to social media.
The Golden State rookie and North Carolina product is renowned for his savvy when it comes to Twitter. Actually, maybe savvy is the wrong word—it's more like entertainment value.
Like some of the others on this list, it's sometimes hard to tell whether Barnes is intentionally trying to be funny or whether it's one happy accident, but whatever the case, he gets the job done.
Barnes is good for many things, including when you need a twist on an overused cliche:
The grass isn't always greener on the other side. It's green where you water it.— Harrison Barnes (@HBarnes) March 1, 2013
Or when you want his thoughts on the infamous circus-y duo that often performs during NBA games:
I've never seen anything like the Anton brothers routine before in my life— Harrison Barnes (@HBarnes) February 18, 2013
And of course, Barnes has established time and time again that he is very much in tune with current events:
Newsweek is going strictly online? I wonder what it's going to be like if the whole industry goes that route— Harrison Barnes (@HBarnes) October 18, 2012
Chael Sonnen doesn't really think that highly of himself.
He only believes he is the "godfather of integrity" and a "master" in the fields of "dominance and modesty."
... Because there's nothing more modest than declaring yourself the master of modesty in the bio section of your Twitter page.
The MMA fighter uses Twitter to create a personal shrine to himself, but fortunately, his self-obsession is entertaining for his 286,700 followers to witness. Often, he's been known to send out a nice little 140-character jab:
I shouldn't have said "suspect." Suspects are presumed innocent. That chin is guilty and convicted. Accept my apology.— chael sonnen (@sonnench) March 2, 2013
And when you're really lucky, you'll see him embark on a multi-tweet rant that shows up even the Lost dude's Bieber hat rant. Here's an excerpt:
Way to blow another story, fake journalist.— chael sonnen (@sonnench) March 4, 2013
Don't ever let truth get in the way ofnipping at my heels, you rabid little dog.— chael sonnen (@sonnench) March 4, 2013
Don't blame me for you being stupid and get all vindictive w/fake stories and slanted, biased garbage reporting.— chael sonnen (@sonnench) March 4, 2013
... but make sure you check out the real thing.
If there's one thing we can really appreciate about our favorite athletes, it's when it's clear that they don't take themselves too seriously. There's a little bit of a fan in everyone—even in the guys who win the Masters.
When Bubba Watson skyrocketed to superstardom last April upon winning his first Green Jacket, it's not like his whole personality changed.
He was still the same old long-haired goofball who made music videos with his fellow golfing bros in his spare time and also happened to be able to win it all on one of the toughest courses around.
And just because he won one measly major, it didn't mean he considered himself to be on the same level as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson—the guys he was paired with for his next major.
Last spring, prior to the U.S. Open, Watson tweeted:
You have to love a guy who just keeps it real.
Sometimes, when you're a middling starting pitcher with a just-OK ERA who has spent most of his career hopping around from team to team, it can be hard to build a solid fan base for yourself.
It is monumentally easier, however, when you know how to use Twitter.
That's how Diamondbacks hurler Brandon McCarthy created a brand for himself. He doesn't just tweet about the dumb stuff, either; he can be funny when he wants to be, but he can also take stuff seriously.
For example, he has important things to say about Dennis Rodman's affinity for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un:
.@dennisrodman reading that North Korea is still upset. Anything you can do to help?— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) March 8, 2013
And he doesn't shy away from his true feelings about the World Baseball Classic:
Nothing says 'legitimate' like watching a reliever in the 4th RT @jonmorosi: WBC results should be accepted as legitimate. No excuses.”— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) March 7, 2013
There's nothing more refreshing than someone who isn't afraid to tell it like it is.
So there are the guys like Brandon McCarthy—who aren't afraid to speak their minds via Twitter and are funny about it—and then there are guys like J.R. Smith, who speak their minds via Twitter and incite the fury of the masses.
But hey—we're talking about it, right? It worked.
It's very obvious from a cursory look at Smith's feed that he doesn't care who's paying attention. It's not going to stop him from tweeting whatever he wants and making fun of whomever he wants.
Case in point: A picture he Instagrammed the day after Brandon Knight was notoriously victimized by a DeAndre Jordan dunk, simply accompanied by the hashtag #LMFAO.
Then, of course, there was his Guide to Dating an Athlete, which garnered quite a bit of press.
Smith's tweets and Instagrams may be offensive to some, but at the very least, they give us something to talk about. And you can never accuse him of sugarcoating anything.
In principle, someone like Ryan Lochte shouldn't have Twitter. It's asking for a disaster. The fact that Lochte isn't exactly the brightest bulb on the circuit has been well-documented, so it seems like him plus social media could only result in the perfect storm.
If anyone was going to be voted the Most Likely to be Catfished Next, it would be this guy.
As you might have guessed, America's Olympic heartthrob uses Twitter as a tool to connect with his female fans—you will never find someone who more frequently retweets others' declarations of love for him. And he, of course, sends them love in return:
Happy International Women's Day to all the ladies out there. New favorite day ;) Love you all...— Ryan Lochte (@ryanlochte) March 9, 2013
He also frequently tweets about his love for celebrities, especially the ladies:
Objectively, it seems like it might be a good idea for Lochte to back away from Twitter before disaster strikes. But for the sake of our entertainment, we hope he never does.
If LeBron James wanted to be a boring tweeter, he totally could be. So many prominent athletes these days either ignore Twitter completely or use it far too sparingly, probably out of fear of what might happen if they let themselves tweet freely.
It's nice, then, that LeBron—possibly the most famous athlete in the world at the moment—gives fans a thorough, fun-filled glimpse into his life off the court and behind the scenes.
First off, LeBron always knows what's going on in the world of sports around him, and he always offers his two cents. Whether it's DeAndre Jordan's epic dunk or the Chicago Blackhawks' epic winning streak, he always has something to say about it.
He also always has something to say about random, non-sports-related topics, such as Mila Kunis:
Mila Kunis seem like she cool as hell!— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 5, 2013
And the Grammys:
JT and Jay on that grown man sh**!— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 11, 2013
Damn J.Lo!! That's how u feel #Grammys— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 11, 2013
It's hard to hate LeBron when you follow him on Twitter, mostly because it's so clear that he doesn't care if you do.
We have to give credit where credit's due: Who knows if Twitter ever would have caught on without Shaq?
, this is the real SHAQUILLE O'NEAL— SHAQ (@SHAQ) November 18, 2008
So what if his hand was forced by an impostor who adopted his identity? So what if Shaq was dragged onto Twitter in order to set the record straight? He started a revolution. He made it cool to tweet. He made people know what it was to tweet.
Ever since familiarizing himself with the world of the little blue bird way back in 2008, the four-time NBA champion has established himself as a pro and a resource for his fellow celebs who decide to give Twitter a try (above).
And even all these years later, he's still good for a laugh:
Nice big momma legs chuck barkley— SHAQ (@SHAQ) February 22, 2013
So here's to you, Shaq. And thanks.