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Ranking the 25 Most Influential People in Sports

Nick DimengoChief Writer IVJanuary 18, 2017

Ranking the 25 Most Influential People in Sports

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    What does it necessarily mean for someone to be "influential?"

    Though a standard response might be that the person described not only is successful in their own right, but inspires people to better themselves as well.

    With Forbes announcing earlier this week their most influential athletes, we wanted to take it just a little further and focus on the most influential people in sports, not just the people who play them.

25. William Wesley

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    Known strictly as "Worldwide Wes," William Wesley's role in the NBA's universe may have been a little unknown at first, but since becoming a consultant for high-class agency Creative Artists, people have begun to see his influence.

    With ties and connections to some of the biggest names in basketball, it's no wonder why GQ mag once asked the question of him being "the most powerful man in sports?"

24. Jeanie Buss

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    Many fans may just know Jeanie Buss as legendary coach Phil Jackson's soon-to-be wife, but dig a little deeper, and you'll find why she has a major influence on one of sports' most renowned franchises.

    After her dad, Dr. Jerry Buss, passed away earlier this year, Jeanie and her brother Jim are in control of maintaining the Lakers legacy.

    With Jeanie commanding the post of Managing Governor and Executive VP of Business Operations for the club, she'll be the one calling the shots.

23. Phil Mickelson

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    Not only is Phil Mickelson one of the best players on the PGA tour, but thanks to his personality and interaction with fans, he's one of the most revered.

    A four-time major champion, Phil gained millions of supporters through the hard luck he had to endure before getting over the hump.

    His charity work and charisma should be acknowledged by other athletes on how to do things right.

22. Mark Cuban

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    Though many associate Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as being nothing but a spoiled brat due to all of his complaining, we can say he's one of the most kind-hearted guys we've ever talked to.

    On top of being a billionaire from his numerous ventures, Cuban has taken one of the laughingstocks of the NBA and turned them into a world champion.

    With appearances on TV's "Shark Tank" and "Dancing With the Stars," Cuban leaves his mark no matter what he does.

21. Shaun White

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    In the world of action sports, there aren't too many people who are living as large as Shaun White.

    The red-headed snowboarder/skateboarder dominates both the competition in events, as well as in his overall power along the marketing ranks.

    With video games, a personalized clothing line and more years to get even bigger, there's no measuring the influence White's had on extreme sports.

20. Phil Knight

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    This is the man for making that little "Swoosh" so damn cool.

    As most of us know, Phil Knight founded Nike, meaning he's not only loaded, but he's pretty well connected within the sports world.

    Knight, an Oregon alum, has single-handedly turned the entire Ducks athletics program into a national phenomenon—as well as one of the best dressed.

19. Scott Boras

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    There's a good reason why baseball sports agent Scott Boras is smiling in this picture. Not only is he one of the few agents who have the rare ability to call the shots with both players and teams, but he represents some of the biggest (and richest) players in the game.

    For negotiating some of the craziest deals in sports history, Boras is in a class all on his own.

18. Sir Alex Ferguson

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    The legendary Manchester United skipper may have just announced his plans to retire this week, so as he leaves the pitch, it's only fair to look at the impact he left on soccer.

    Known as being stubborn in his ways—call it Belichickian if you will—it's his staying true to himself that made him so successful.

    After 26 years on the sideline, Sir Alex notched 13 English Premier League titles, among others, no doubt leaving him as one of the best all-time.

17. Danica Patrick

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    In terms of what Danica Patrick has meant to the sport of auto racing, there may no way to truly measure.

    There's one thing we do know—she's left her mark on it and seems to be getting better with each race she competes in.

    Who knows what her legacy will be when all is said and done?

    But the fact that she'll leave us talking about some of her career accomplishments is enough to impress us.

16. Kobe Bryant

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    It's Kobe Bryant. How the hell hasn't he influenced the game of basketball?

    As one of the greatest competitors to live, "The Black Mamba" does whatever it takes to help his team win, and he will single-handedly put a team on his back to do it.

    Blessed with skill and charisma, Bryant has left a major mark on the NBA since entering it as a skinny high-schooler back in 1996.

15. Sidney Crosby

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    As the lone representative from the game of hockey on our list, Sidney Crosby has taken the sport above what many probably even thought he could.

    Drafted No. 1 in the 2005 draft, Crosby had the responsibility to help the league recover from the lost season of the 2004 NHL lockout, and did so by winning a Stanley Cup in just his third year.

    With the burden of being the league's most talented and recognizable player, "Sid the Kid" will only continue to influence the game in ways that no one since Wayne Gretzky has.

14. Venus and Serena Williams

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    Known to most sports fans as simply "The Williams Sisters," these two tennis stars have taken their world-class game on the court, and have applied it to other things outside of sports.

    In addition to their combined 24 Grand Slam singles titles—and 13 as doubles partners—the two boast worldwide appeal from fashion linesinterior design firms and, more importantly, helping to popularize the game of tennis.

13. Jerry Jones

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    There are varying opinions on Jerry Jones, but one thing is most definitely true—we'd love to have him as our favorite team's owner.

    Jones is one of the most outspoken and accessible owners in all of sports, often striving to be like the late owner of the Yankees, George Steinbrenner, who accepted anything short of a title as a wasted season.

    With the construction of the new Cowboys Stadium several years ago—aptly coined "Jerry World"—Jones proved that his influence on the world of sports would be one measured in billions—$1.2 billion to be exact.

12. Derek Jeter

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    There might not be a classier baseball player than Derek Jeter.

    With five World Series rings, over 3,000 career hits and the legacy of being the captain of the New York Yankees, Jeter has done nothing but good for the game of baseball since he broke into the big leagues in 1995.

    Seeing that his hopeful return from ankle surgery is talked about more than the Yanks play these days, it's obvious he's a darling of the usually brutal New York media.

11. Michael Jordan

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    With his own "Jordan Brand" line at Nike, six NBA titles and general agreement that he's the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan could probably be higher on this list.

    But we have him outside of the top 10 because of his recent record as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Don't get us wrong: everyone wanted (and still wants) to "Be Like Mike," and the way he has influenced most athletes is immeasurable, but due to his low profile since retiring for good 10 years ago, he's since been surpassed by some other people.

10. David Stern

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    Taking over as NBA Commissioner in 1984, David Stern has turned the game into a global entity, popularizing both the sport itself, as well as individual players like aforementioned Michael Jordan and international guys Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming.

    Though Stern's had his fair share of controversies over his reign, the league is in a far better place now than it was when he took over, thanks in large part to his guidance and leadership to transform and promote it.

    It will be interesting to see how the league moves forward once he retires after next season.

9. Magic Johnson

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    If you are a child of the '80s, then you probably remember Magic Johnson as the catalyst for the Showtime Lakers.

    As we watched him retire due to HIV in the early '90s, he battled through the disease, raised awareness for it and built his brand bigger than anyone could imagine.

    With a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame, a gig as an analyst on ESPN and a part owner of the Dodgers, it's obvious that Magic completely owns L.A.

8. Peyton Manning

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    There aren't too many quarterbacks who have accomplished as much as Peyton Manning has in his illustrious, 15-year career.

    More than just the numerous NFL passing records, the two Super Bowl appearances (one win) or the 12 Pro Bowl trips, Manning shaped an entire franchise for 14 seasons, taking the Colts from perennial losers to one of the finest organizations in sports.

    His impact even helped them build a new stadium, which is pretty damn impressive.

7. David Beckham

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    Without hesitation, we can say that David Beckham has been one of the top five most popular athletes in the world since the mid-'90s. 

    Not too many people can say that.

    Though Becks continues to age (he's now 38), his play and influence on the game of soccer refuses to fade away.

    It's absolutely real to think we've watched the modern-day Pele, because he's had that much impact in the world of sports.

6. Pat Riley

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    Although Heat President Pat Riley doesn't have any effect on the actual games themselves—as he hasn't played an NBA minute since 1976—he's more than left his mark on the outcomes by his personnel strategy.

    His maneuvering to land top free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010 to pair with Dwyane Wade have made the Heat the most publicized team on the planet, while enjoying the success of having three All-Stars playing together.

    If there's one guy who can find a way to keep them all together, it's Riles.

5. Michael Phelps

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    We're not really sure how much of an impact Michael Phelps had in helping popularize the sport of swimming quite yet, but since the world got introduced to him at the 2004 Olympics, he's had his fair share of influential moments.

    None more than his record 18 career gold medals (22 medals in all), which will be a tough task for any athlete to ever break.

4. Tiger Woods

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    Regardless of what happened to Tiger Woods in the past, he still remains as one of the most popular (and greatest) athletes in the world.

    Responsible for helping take the game of golf from a perceived "old man's sport" that no one under the age of 30 played, Tiger is on the quest to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles, helping earn the support of the gallery at each of the tournaments he's at.

    Hard to believe Woods is already 37 years old, but with everything he's accomplished, he's already one of the greatest to ever play the sport.

3. Tim Tebow

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    It's a tad difficult putting a currently unemployed, backup quarterback as the No. 3 most influential person in sports, but the proof is in the pudding as they say.

    Tim Tebow's effect on the sports world is one that's rarely seen for athletes, with people following his every move and listening to everything he says.

    How influential do people find him?

    Enough that on the same day that the first active athlete admitted he was gay, Tebow's release from the Jets was just as talked about.

2. LeBron James

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    LeBron James may have seen some serious backlash following his "Decision" to leave the city of Cleveland three years ago for South Beach, but there's no denying his influence on the sports world.

    Capturing his fourth career league MVP—putting him in some historic company—"The King" doesn't look like he's slowing down any time soon.

    On the quest for his second straight title, ownership in Liverpool FC and multiple charitable events, you can believe that James will continue to be a polarizing figure in sports.

1. Roger Goodell

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    Say what you want about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but the truth is, he's one of the best leaders sports has ever seen.

    Not shy of the responsibilities it takes to lead a multi-billion dollar brand such as the NFL, Goodell has helped transform the league into becoming safer, while being responsible for globalizing the sport to other parts of the world.

    Being voted as the "Most Powerful Man in Sports" recently, he earns our top spot as the most influential as well.

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