The 50 Most Essential People in Sports Today

Ed NoveloCorrespondent IIISeptember 2, 2011

The 50 Most Essential People in Sports Today

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    In sports, a lot of athletes, owners, coaches and analysts come and go, but only so many have such an impression on their respective sport that we'd call them essential.

    They're a part of the foundation that holds their sport together, and their actions inspire debate, attract both diehard and casual fans, and most importantly, they bring the ratings. 

    Should aliens show up tomorrow and take any of the following 50 people from us, their sport will suffer an enormous blow—and we could also start screaming hysterically, because that would be weird.

    Let's take a look...

Honorable Mention: Ed Hochuli

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    You might think it's weird to see a referee on this list, but Ed Hochuli isn't your typical referee.

    He has a freaking cult following! A referee...with a cult following. People must be extremely bored.

    And he can actually hold his own against the enormous players he's officiating. You don't think so? Have you seen his arms? Would somebody test this man for steroids, seriously? 

    He's been a ref in the NFL for 19 seasons, and as long as he stays in shape—and something tells me he will—expect to see him for at least another five years or so. 

    And for the record...I can take him...

50. Mario Balotelli

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    Approach Mario Balotelli with caution.

    He's foolish and arrogant, and he was recently benched for taking an ill-advised heel shot against the L.A. Galaxy.

    Disrespect! 

    Some guys just don't get it, and that's good for writers and viewers alike, as we can just sit back and wait for the next stupid thing to happen. 

    Also, be sure to check out Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Will Tidey's list of Balotelli's 10 best quotes, and Allan Jiang's five dumbest moments of Balotelli's career. 

49. John Madden

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    Boom! Tough actin' Tinactin

    I still can't tell whether John Madden's as dumb as a tree stump or crazy like a fox, but the man's a legend and respect must be paid.

    He's the man behind the wildly popular football game Madden, which just released its latest version, and it even somehow gave birth to a terrible, unspeakable curse that destroys the career of anyone on its cover.

    It's coming for you, Peyton Hillis.

    He's one of the most memorable coaches in NFL history, and as long as he's around, Frank Caliendo will continue to do flawless impressions of him

48. Michelle Beadle

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    Until Beadle came along, the sportscaster we were all talking about was Erin Andrews. 

    Then SportsNation came on the air and we all wanted to know who Michelle was and if she was single—as if we had a shot—but her sense of humor and immense knowledge of sports gave us all a new reason to tune in to ESPN. 

    She's the type of woman all male sports fans want to date—she drinks beer, isn't overly dolled up and can hold her own in an argument. 

    Perfect.

    Her star only continues to rise, and her place in the sports world looks to be cemented. 

47. Kim Kardashian

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    She's here to represent the WAGs, which are certainly essential to sports—especially on this website.

    Just like in the world of politics, when everyone's sick of arguing, we just want to focus on something trivial, like scandals and who's sleeping with who.

    This is the role of the WAG. 

    We can debate until we're blue in the face who's the better quarterback, but when we want to bring the conversation back to a happy place, we can all just shut the hell up and look at Kim Kardashian, or any other WAG for that matter.

    So let's all admire her beauty and take a moment to sing Kumbaya. 

46. Novak Djokovic

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    Since Roger Federer won his first championship in 2003, and Rafael Nadal in 2005, tennis has been a two-man race, with no consistent challenger to dethrone them.

    Then Novak Djokovic came along, appearing in five title matches since 2007 and winning three of them, one against Nadal.   

    It's great to see someone come along and challenge the two top dogs, which is always good for a major sport. And we look to be witnessing the rise of the next big tennis star.

    Perhaps some day he'll even surpass the greatness that is Roger Federer. 

45. Jose Mourinho

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    Jose Mourinho wants you to die.

    This photo was taken moments before he destroyed a reporter...in his brain.

    He's a live wire who is no stranger to controversy, with his most recent incident coming when he gouged the eye of Barcelona assistant coach Tito Villanova. 

    Crazy always equals money and ratings in sports, and the more you make the news, the more we pay attention—and in America, that's always good in the sport of soccer.

44. Bob Knight

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    That's Bob Knight explaining to some poor soul exactly how he's going to sew their ass to their face. First he's going to start by removing their pants, then...

    You know, it's not important.

    How this man hasn't died of a heart attack is beyond me, but this 70-year-old head coach has accumulated quite a bit of highlights over the years—that's right, the coach has highlights.

    He's currently retired, but there have been rumors he might return soon and college basketball would be better for it.

    Now, I don't know if the players would be better for it, but I, who can watch safely from the couch, would be better for it.

    But until then, he's ranked low. All I know is, somebody needs to come along and start throwing chairs again. They're sure as hell not going to throw themselves.

43. Erin Andrews

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    When I have a bad day, I look at a picture of Erin Andrews, and my day still sucks, but at least there's a hot chick on my computer screen.

    She was voted twice Playboy's Sexiest Sportscaster in 2008 and 2009, and, well, just look at the picture—seems about right.

    Her name really blew up after the whole peephole incident, which revealed once and for all that what we think hot women do when they're alone—stand around naked in front of a mirror—is indeed true.

    I knew it...

    That's not to say she's not great at her job, because she is, but it certainly helps with the rating. She now has a new challenger, though, in Michelle Beadle, and allegiances are split.

    Beadle can chug a beer, so I have my money on her.

42. James Harrison

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    There's really only two ways one could think of James Harrison. He's either (1) a dirty player, or (2) a guy who plays the game the right way.

    He's been fined quite a bit over the last year, and those guns he's holding aren't helping his image.

    There are those who will defend him, but seriously, stop for a second and look at this picture—this is a guy who can't be defended. 

    I know you can say, "Well, he was just playing at his image. It was supposed to be over the top because his reputation is overblown, just like the picture."

    But this is what he should have thought before agreeing to this: "I have a bad rap already, and a lot of people think I'm a dirty player. The last thing in the world I should be doing is posing shirtless with two guns in my hands."

    I'm not saying he should be holding a couple of puppies, but this is just stupid.

    The NFL is in a transitional period right now, and unfortunately for Harris, he's become the poster child for overly aggressive play and the person you either stick behind or hate.

41. Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser

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    Man, I love these guys.

    Aside from SportsNation, ESPN doesn't offer very much quality programming. Everything and everyone on First Take has become stale—especially you, Skip Bayless—and Around the Horn doesn't have the same zest as it used to.

    And I believe Jim Rome might be the worst thing to ever happen to ESPN. Also, to humanity.

    Personally, I just watch The Dan Patrick Show, because I find I'm much happier that way, but Pardon The Interruption still offers some great commentary.

    Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon (pictured in that order) complement each other perfectly, and you get intelligent comments without all the yelling—when they do it's playfully—and B.S. They're reasonable human beings who don't seem to care about the camera.

    They're just two guys talking.

    They're essential in my world, and you'll be a better person for reading Wilbon's articles

40. Rory McIlroy

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    At the moment, he looks to be the future of golf.

    He's just 22 years old, and he recently won a major by eight strokes, prompting some to wonder if he's the next Tiger Woods.

    I wouldn't go that far, but that's just the tendency of the media. He shows a lot of promise, and it's conceivable that he can win many more majors, but I don't think he'll break 10—and even that might be overblown. 

    But the point is, we'll all be watching closely as he tries. As Tiger continues to sputter, somebody has to step up and take the crown from him, and Rory is that guy.

39. Jerry Jones

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    Admittedly, there's a bias here since I'm a Cowboys fan, but Jerry Jones, in my opinion, is to the NFL what Mark Cuban is to the NBA.

    It's not enough for Jones to just be another owner. He had to go out and build a new $1.5 billion stadium, that of which has never been seen before. The jumbo screen in the middle is so big that punters sometimes hit it on kicks.

    Is this a man who's compensating for something, or is he just that grandiose?

    He'll do whatever it takes to win, which sometimes leads him to make incredibly bad decisions—Roy Williams—but he means well. 

    He's easily the most recognizable owner in the NFL, and someday I suspect he'll build an enormous statue of himself in his honor.

38. Alex Ovechkin

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    He's just so pretty.

    Ovechkin just might be a Neanderthal, but he's a prolific scorer, so it's forgiven. 

    His rivalry with Sidney Crosby has given the NHL a boost, as all rivalries do, and though he has yet to win a Stanley Cup, most expect him to someday. 

    He's one of the leading talents in the NHL right now, and that makes him essential.

37. Ron Artest

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    Every league needs a little bit of crazy to keep it interesting, and Ron Artest—or should I say, Metta World Peace—provides it and then some. 

    Artest was relatively quiet up until 2004, when he ran into the stands and began punching a man he thought had thrown a beer on him in the incident that has become infamously known as "The Malice in the Palace." 

    It's safe to say he was never the same again, both on the court and in the eyes of fans.

    He started shaving things into his head, he was labeled a dirty player, he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live in his boxers and to this day we all sit around placing bets on when he will snap. 

    He hasn't yet, but there's still time left.

36. Mark Cuban

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    Mark Cuban is the owner that every player wants. Actually, he's the owner every fan wants. He might be a loudmouth, but the guy wants to win and you can't argue with passion.

    To get some perspective on how much Cuban changed the Mavericks, just consider that the team didn't make the playoffs for 10 straight years before his arrival, and they made the playoffs the following 10 years after.

    And they, of course, even won the NBA Championship last year. 

    Cuban isn't a fan of the referees, having been fined multiple times for criticizing them, but he seems to have turned over a new leaf and hopefully that doesn't result in a boring Cuban.

    But then again, it's not like he doesn't know how to have fun.

    The league is better for him, and he gives every owner something to aspire to. You have to wonder how many players in secret have said, "Man we wouldn't suck if Cuban was our owner." 

35. Albert Pujols

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    You can say that Albert Pujols is what's good about baseball.

    He hasn't been busted for steroids, and he kicks a hell of a lot of ass—and given the whole steroids era debacle, baseball fans are looking for anyone to step up and do things right. 

    He's a nine-time All-Star, a three-time NL MVP and he won a World Series in 2006. 

    As long as he doesn't have any slip-ups, there's a good chance he can break the 700 home run mark, but he has to stay healthy. 

    And I think a lot of people would love to see him surpass A-Rod's HR mark, especially after he was caught cheating.

34. Dick Vitale

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    It's Dicky V baby.

    Next to Gilbert Gottfried, and perhaps Pauly Shore, Dick Vitale just might have the most annoying voice in sports—and for some reason, people seem to love it.

    He's a sportscaster who is known for his catchphrases, such as "diaper dandy," and he's authored numerous books, none of which explain why he sounds like that. 

    He's become a permanent part of the college basketball landscape, and things would be weird if he wasn't around shouting "baby!" at everyone.

33. Chad Ochocinco

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    That's Ochocinco minutes before he got thrown off a bull...or was it before? Doesn't matter—the fact is that he lasted just 1.5 seconds and should never have been on a freaking bull in the first place.

    These days, he seems to be doing everything but play football.

    Sure, it's good TV, and the media loves it, but it's not doing him any good in the respect department.

    His stats over the last three years have declined, and his recent trade to the Patriots looks to not be working out the way he had hoped, but it's only preseason, to be fair. 

    He's entertaining and people love it, and characters are always good for any sport.

32. Brian Wilson

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    Fear the beard. You've heard it, we've seen it and he's earned it.

    This is a guy who seems to have come from nowhere. Prior to the Giants' World Series win last year, we weren't sitting around waiting to see what Brian Wilson was going to do next. We didn't talk about his beard, and he wasn't wearing spandex tuxedo suits.

    Well, maybe he was, but nobody cared.

    Now he's considered one of the most feared pitchers in the league, everyone thinks he's hilarious, he's appearing on late-night talk shows and most importantly, he gives the game of baseball a little spice. 

    And a little extra excitement in the sport of baseball is never a bad thing.

31. Rex Ryan

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    Since Rex Ryan took over as the head coach of the New York Jets in 2009, he hasn't shut up.

    He's bad-mouthing his opponents, guaranteeing wins, he's completely given his team a new swagger and I don't even know what's going on with his wife's feet. 

    He's out of control, and we love it.

    You don't hear a lot of coaches in the NFL actually speaking their mind and being honest, but Rex tells it like it is, and though it can be annoying at times, it's certainly a breath of fresh air. 

    He's taken his team to two straight AFC title games, and I can't even imagine how crazy he'll get if his team gets to the Super Bowl, let alone win it.

    I think the media's praying for it to happen. 

30. Joe Paterno

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    He may be 84 years old, but as you can see, after 45 seasons, Joe Paterno isn't going to stop coaching until they physically remove him from the field.

    And hopefully, he's still alive when they do.

    He has a long list of awards and honors, including having won over 400 games, and the living legend is only one of three active coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame.

    It'll be a sad day when he's gone, and you can bet ESPN will run highlights of him for about a month. But there's one thing you can for certain about him—the guy loves football.

    Some would call it an unnatural obsession. 

29. Manny Pacquiao

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    He's a politician/singer/boxer/lover(?), and he's currently the one and only man who can stop Floyd Mayweather Jr. But first that fight has to happen.

    I'd say Pacquiao's arrival and rising stardom have given boxing a swift kick in the ass, but all it's led up to is a fight we've yet to see happen.

    So now what?

    We're all left to twiddle our thumbs as we wait for the mega fight, probably the only boxing match I'll ever actually purchase on pay-per-view. OK, I'll let a friend purchase it and I'll watch it there.

    But I really want to see it.

    He's essential for now, but for how much longer?

28. The Williams Sisters

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    Both have been ranked No. 1 in the world, and both have won multiple finals (Serena 13, Venus seven—and that's just singles victories).

    From the moment they started winning championships, it seemed like every tournament became about them—as well as what they were wearing.

    Some of their outfits, well...I just don't even know what to say about them. They had to have been smoking something good when they picked up a few of these.

    Check out Serena in this one, and this one, and let's not forget this one. And here's Venus in some kind of erotic...thing (that link's a two-for-one).  

    Holy crap, what were they thinking? Those outfits are so bad that it pisses me off. I don't know how else to feel about it.

    These two have left an enormous mark in the world of women's tennis, and there's more where that came from. I just hope they dress like respectable human beings.

27. Phil Mickelson

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    I'd say this photo sums up Phil Mickelson nicely.

    He's an all-American golfer who is impossible to root against. And if you try, a bald eagle will swoop by and pluck out your eyes while his children watch.

    Then they'll feast on your blood and...sometimes I think I should be writing ridiculously bad horror stories.

    Moving on.

    Some have tried to make him Tiger Woods' rival, but that hasn't really panned out considering Woods is 10 times better than he is—whoa, just dodged the eagle—and his four major wins don't even come close to Woods' 14.

    Then he won the Masters in 2010 after hearing his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, and watching him embrace her after the win made all of our hearts grow three sizes.

26. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    I had a hard time finding a picture of him with his clothes on, but I did it. 

    Cristiano Ronaldo may be arrogant—when you date nothing but beautiful women, that could happen—but he has the talent to back it up.

    Next to Lionel Messi, and perhaps David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo is the next most recognizable name in the sport of soccer here in America. 

    He's the pretty boy you love to hate, especially because he's a terrible actor, but soccer fans know the sport would be worse if he wasn't on the pitch.

25. Rafael Nadal

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    Roger Federer had won seven titles from 2003-2006, and it was looking like he'd never lose again. Then Rafael Nadal showed up to challenge him in the 2006 French Open, and suddenly Roger had his first title loss.

    Nadal would go on to beat Roger six more times, on his way to earning a total of 10 titles, making him pretty much the bane of Federer's existence.  

    He's nearly unstoppable on clay, and at the age of 25, he has plenty of time left to challenge Novak Djokovic, as Federer is getting older. 

    We can thank Nadal for making tennis exciting, sparking a rivalry that gave even the most casual tennis fan—me—a reason to tune in. 

24. Charles Barkley

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    My God, I want to have a beer with this guy so badly.

    He'll go on and on about how things are "turrible," and I can ask him if his unusual golf swing is for real, or if in reality, it's the result of some kind of demon that has inhabited his body.

    Everything that comes out of Charles' mouth is comedy gold, whether he's actually trying to be funny or not. But seriously, what would basketball commentating be without him?

    What's great is that if you can look past his "turrible" public speaking skills, he actually does have intelligent things to say. You just have to pull out the Barkley version of the Rosetta Stone and you can decipher it. 

    Frankly, I'm surprised he hasn't been fired. But that's probably only because he brings the ratings.

23. Bill Belichick

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    The hoodie.

    He doesn't say much, and when he does, it's either, "It is what it is," or "We gotta look at the tape"—and no, he's not referring to Spygate.

    He's taken the Patriots to four Super Bowls, winning three, and yes, he had the whole cheating incident, but it was overblown and completely the result of his brain becoming too smart for its own good.

    And before I get a comment about it, I'm a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan and have never been to Massachusetts, so that's not why I defend him.

    He's just a damn genius, and I appreciate that. I would be doing backflips if he become the coach of my 'Boys, and maybe we'd start winning again.

    That would be nice.

    He's set the standard for what a good coach should be—keep your locker room in order and stick to the game plan. Just "Do your job," as he says.

    He was the coach of the past decade, and he's not done adding to his legacy.

22. Mel Kiper Jr.

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    Mel Kiper Jr. hates you and everyone else in this world. It's written all over his face, though he doesn't say it in so many words, but he does say a lot of words—and angrily.

    I suspect he's waiting for the day before he retires to tell everyone off.

    Kiper is a "master" of the NFL draft, and he's known for his "big board," which lists all the top draft prospects out of college. And I swear, the NFL draft is a religion to some people. 

    There are people who put stock in this, though I'm not one of them. And if you disagree with him, he'll tell you how stupid you are. 

    Here is every Mel Kiper conversation, ever.

    If I'm not writing "The Top 1,000 Objects I Can Knock Mel Kiper Jr. Out With," then I don't want to say anymore. 

    He's essential, though I wish he weren't.

21. Alex Rodriguez

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    If there was ever a reason to hate A-Rod, it's this picture.

    He's a womanizer who may or may not have hair plugs, and it doesn't seem to matter what he does; it makes news and people hate him. 

    He's a 14-time All-Star and three-time AL MVP, but for all of his accolades, his main criticism has been that he can't pull through in the postseason. And he's kissing mirrors and acting a fool, so that doesn't help.

    He did help lead the Yankees to a World Series win in 2009, however, so it got the monkey off his back for a bit. But a second World Series title would go a long way in keeping it off his back.

    There's always that one guy in every sport that we love to hate, and our constant over-analyzing of A-Rod makes him that guy.

20. Danica Patrick

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    Racing is widely considered to be a man's sport; then in 2005 Danica Patrick showed up and we forgot all about the men. A lot of this had to do with her being hot. 

    And then she started taking her clothes off and saying that she didn't want to be known for taking her clothes off. So then put them back on, stupid!

    Stop, I take it back! I've had a stressful week.

    But there's no denying she's known more for her bikini photos and GoDaddy.com ads than anything she's done on the track. By the way, for all the publicity she's gotten, she only has one win to her name—the 2008 Indy Japan 300.

    At least she can say that's something no woman has ever done, which—don't get me wrong—is very impressive.

    And now she's set to leave the IndyCar Series and move to NASCAR. And guess what?

    We're all talking about it! And that's why she's essential. 

19. Mike Krzyzewski

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    Coach K. 

    He's the face of Duke Basketball—all of college basketball, actually—and since he took over as head coach in 1980, he's won four national championships, made 11 Final Four appearances and has amassed over 900 career victories.

    And let's just thrown in an Olympic gold medal in there, too. Why not?

    Your feelings about Duke aside—I just hate them so much!—Coach K has set a ridiculous standard, and he's done it without committing any major violations

    The world of college basketball just wouldn't be the same without him.

18. Maria Sharapova

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    They say if you listen closely, you can hear her grunting...wait, that sounded all wrong.

    Let me try again.

    She makes a lot of noise when she whacks the ball, which is unexpected coming from such a petite and beautiful woman. She's what we refer to as, "a natural beauty."

    Plus, she's great at what she does, and that's always a good thing. Being a beautiful face doesn't always cut it. 

    She's been ranked as high as No. 1, and she's won three titles, having appeared in five. 

    Face it, if it weren't for her, you wouldn't tune in to tennis, you casual male fan—and because she wins, you can tell your girlfriend/wife that you're watching because you respect what she does. 

    And then your girlfriend will hear Sharapova grunt, and she'll smack you upside the head.

    It's OK, it was worth it. 

17. Vince McMahon

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    So, what do you think? He's on steroids? 

    I used to be a huge fan of wrestling. I'm talking back when Stone Cold Steve Austin was still giving the "stunner" and nearly broke his neck on a pile driver versus Owen Hart.  

    Things have changed, and now people want to see a guy whose muscles don't look even remotely real as he runs around in jean shorts to hip-hop music—you know who I'm talking about. 

    But God bless him, Vince McMahon has done his best to hold it together. 

    Wrestling seems to have lost its bite, as far as I'm concerned anyway, but it continues to have a loyal fanbase, especially here at Bleacher Report. 

    McMahon's the man behind it all, and without him running the show, we wouldn't have the male soap opera known as professional wrestling. 

16. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

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    Boxing certainly hasn't been the same since the days of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, but Floyd Mayweather Jr. has done his best to change that, especially with his mouth.

    He's arrogant to say the least, but wouldn't you be if your record was 41-0? I'd be talkin' smack to my momma. Sorry momma, I was kidding...my apologizing doesn't count as a loss. 

    He's taken some flack as of late for seemingly avoiding a fight with the only man alive that could beat him, Manny Pacquiao, but it's not too late—it can still happen.

    He's 34 years old, and once he's gone, boxing might be in trouble. Though I'll tell you one thing: I won't miss his mouth.

15. Peyton Manning

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    If it wasn't for Tom Brady, Peyton Manning might have about four or five Super Bowl rings right now. He might be called the greatest quarterback of all time if not for this—some already do, but we can just ignore them—but instead, he has to currently settle for his one.

    The Patriots-Colts rivalry has given us some of the more memorable games of this past decade, and a talent like Manning would be put to waste if he didn't have an established rival.

    Can you imagine a world where Superman didn't have Lex Luther? You can decide which one is which.

    He's known for his intelligence and his constant audibles, which I think is personally just a lot of theatrics, but he's well respected and insanely hard to stop.

    Frankly, had his coach not benched him in the last two games of the 2009 season, he would be the second quarterback to lead his team to a 16-0 season. Then again, he would have also been the second quarterback to go 18-1, as they lost the Super Bowl.

    I can't imagine what the league will be like without him, but he and Brady are getting old, and we'll find out soon enough.

14. Derek Jeter

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    Derek Jeter's getting older, and we might soon find out just how essential he is once he's gone. But he hasn't said goodbye yet, as there's more baseball to be played and more women to sleep with.

    But I guess he can still do the latter after retirement.

    He's been the face of the Yankees for 17 seasons and is a 12-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion. Without him, the most loved/hated franchise in baseball wouldn't be the same.

    And people would just have to yell twice as much at A-Rod, but I think they'd be willing to do that. 

    Plus, his sexual escapades make for good writing, and we here at Bleacher Report appreciate Jeter for not being able to stay with one woman—more WAGs please. 

13. Roger Federer

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    Roger Federer's reign has been ridiculous.

    He's appeared in a total of 23 Grand Slam finals, winning 16 of them, with six of his seven losses coming to Rafael Nadal. Can you imagine how absurd it would be if Nadal never came along?

    Federer probably would have retired out of boredom. 

    Since he started winning title after title in 2003, the sport of tennis had a place on our television—and I mean outside of the hardcore fans. He made things exciting.

    And what else did we have to get excited about? Andy Roddick? I'd rather look at his wife in a potato sack than watch him play. 

12. David Stern

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    Doesn't David Stern just have a face that you want to punch? Well, I want to punch him, and I'm sure a lot of NBA players want to as well—and don't even get me started on these people.

    To be fair, a lot of people want to punch their boss, but he has a way about him that rubs others the wrong way. He's made a lot of enemies with his dress code, which had Allen Iverson claiming that it was discriminatory against hip-hop fashion. 

    He also doesn't allow questioning of the referees—but that's pretty much every commissioner, actually—and raise your hand if you remember that microfiber ball he introduced in 2006.

    Seriously, what the hell was that about? 

    And don't even try reacting to a bad call anymore, unless you want a technical...Rasheed Wallace. OK, maybe that was a good rule.

    He's the commissioner, so obviously he's essential, but he has without a doubt taken the NBA into a new era, for better or worse. 

11. Bud Selig

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    You can say that Bud Selig handled the steroids era badly, but that would be an understatement.

    He sat back and watched as some clearly juiced-up guys hit home run after home run, and he was perfectly fine with that—hell, weren't a lot of us?—up until Barry Bonds' head grew too large to ignore. 

    Can you imagine how that conversation went? 

    Assistant: "Sir, I believe Bonds' head has exceeded maximum capacity. We must act now."

    Selig: "...Well...maybe nobody's noticed...damnit. Is it possible he just read a lot over the summer?"

    Things have since seemed to calm down, and the sport looks to be moving on, as steroids become less and less of an issue...I guess.

    Selig says he plans on retiring in 2012, and if I were him, I would, too.  

10. Dana White

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    Thanks to Dana White, the UFC has taken off in a big way.

    He brought a lot of respect to a sport that many thought was just brutish, with some even labeling it as nothing more than "human cockfighting," calling for it to be banned.

    Now it has a loyal following, and Dana White's aggressive campaigns and verbal blows make him and the sport impossible to ignore. And UFC's fans certainly have a special place on this website. 

    He even once picked a fight with ESPN for not giving the UFC the attention he believed it deserved.

    Who does that?

9. Roger Goodell

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    In the NFL, is used to be okay to run a guy hard into the ground. Then all those studies about concussions came along and Roger Goodell cracked down, turning the NFL into, what Troy Polamalu calls "a pansy game."

    I think it's still going strong, but then again, I wasn't around to watch the days of Dick Butkus and Jack Tatum, so I don't really know what I'm missing.

    Personally, I don't think he's such a bad guy, but I wouldn't dare tell that to any players, especially James Harrison.

    The pose he's striking in the picture is usually how you'll see him, as he's constantly having to explain himself to everyone, but that'll happen when you're the commissioner of the biggest sport in America.  

8. Sidney Crosby

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    Sure, he can't grow a mustache, and he's currently suffering from an epic concussion, but Sidney Crosby is a badass—yeah I said it—and his rivalry with Alex Ovechkin has drawn in the casual fan.

    And this is something diehard hockey fans should be happy about.

    He won a Stanley Cup in 2009, he has a long list of accomplishments to his name and anyone with that kind of talent is essential to a sport.

    On a personal note, I think he looks like a wuss, and maybe someday I'll do a "Top 20 Hockey Players I Think I Can Take," because I think I can sock Crosby. But I got what they call the "Napoleon Complex."

    I'm eating my vegetables, man. And I'm coming for you Crosby! 

7. Kobe Bryant

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    Take a good look everyone—that's the man so many compare to Michael Jordan.

    But that's what's great—we have a guy in the NBA right now that can even be put in the same sentence as His Airness. Sure, comparisons gets thrown around a lot, but Bryant's as close as I think we're ever going to get.

    Though he can't touch Jordan—I just want to make that clear. It doesn't even matter if he gets a sixth ring.

    And what the hell is he wearing!?

    Many believe that Bryant's career is winding down, and should he show signs of being on his last legs, the NBA world will be a sadder place for it. 

    It hurts whenever an extraordinary talent can't perform like they did in their prime. It'll be interesting to see how he and the Lakers respond after getting swept out of the playoffs last year.

6. Lionel Messi

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    There aren't a lot of soccer fans—oh, I'm sorry, fútbol or football or whatever—here in the USA, but if you asked any sports fan around here to name a soccer player not born in America, they'd likely say Lionel Messi.

    Or "that Messi dude, who plays for that team...he's short" or some variation of that—same thing.

    Currently, he's widely considered to be the best player in the world by most, having won the FIFA Player of the Year two years in a row, or as it became called last year, the FIFA Ballon d'Or (which means "the golden ball" in case you were wondering).

    Messi has won five La Liga titles and three Champions League titles, dazzling fans and players along the way. And he can fit in your pocket...soccer fans will be coming for my head. 

5. Shaq

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    Yes, Shaq is so awesome he has to be cosmic, and that yellow glow you see around him is his natural aura. Either that or he made an attempt at conquering radiation—with his fists. 

    He's now retired but has signed a multi-year deal to be an analyst on TNT's Inside the NBA, which means he'll be sitting alongside Charles Barkley!

    I think I just wet myself.

    Shaq's never been afraid to throw a punch or two (see picture), both physically and verbally, and you just know he's going to make more than a few headlines with his words.

    We'll certainly miss seeing him on the court, but him being an analyst is the next best thing.

    He's an essential sports figure, period, who's given us countless highlights and hundreds of hours in conversation. And he gave us "Shaq Fu" and Kazaam!   

    I consider those good things.

4. Tiger Woods

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    I can't speak for everyone else, but the sport of golf meant absolutely nothing to me until Tiger Woods showed up.

    I couldn't name a single golfer—hell, I can still only name about 10—but the arrival of Woods at least got me to watch my first tournament, and that's saying a lot.

    He attracted the casual fan as he blew away the competition, even winning one major by 12 strokes—and that was when he was just 21. 

    Before you knew it, everyone was talking about him challenging Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors—which still isn't out of the question, by the way—and the question before every tournament became, "So you got Tiger, or the field?"

    Then he had to go and sleep with almost every woman in existence, he crashed into a tree, got a divorce, had various injuries and started to suck.

    I seriously haven't watched golf since, and until he becomes good again, I likely won't. Watching what everyone believed to be the greatest golfer of all time fade into obscurity will do that. 

    Plus, look at the picture! He's freaking weird, too! 

3. Tom Brady

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    That's right. Take a good look at the picture—that guy is essential.

    Who would have thought that a man picked 199th overall would turn into a three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback? And what's crazy, he still might add to that.

    Tom Brady was a skinny little wiener when he arrived—seriously though, the guy looked like he couldn't lift a box of macaroni and cheese—and somehow he managed to accomplish so much that people are debating whether or not he's in the top five quarterbacks of all time.

    And there have been a lot of quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.

    Whether you like him or not, his story is inspirational and if you can't at least respect him, you're a fool. Yes, he's got model good looks, he's a fan of goats and cologne, and he's even married to a supermodel.

    OK, I can see why some people hate him. 

    But the league wouldn't be the same without him. And I dread to think of the day that he retires. 

2. Michael Vick

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    He's easily the most polarizing figure in the NFL right now, and he's walking around with a brand new $100 million contract.

    Since his arrest for dogfighting, Vick has returned to stardom, leading the Eagles to the playoffs last year and becoming a fantasy football stud. 

    There's been a lot of talk about him "redeeming" himself, but there's been far more talk about his on-the-field activities than off it. And as far as I'm concerned, redemption has nothing to do with what you do on the field.

    Hell, he was good before he was arrested, so what's changed? It's not like he hasn't been to the playoffs before. 

    As you can see, it's pretty clear what side of the fence I'm on.

    I don't care for him, and I don't think I ever will, but the guy is exciting to watch, so I'll give him that. And his story is giving the NFL even more publicity than it already gets. 

1. LeBron James

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    This picture is LeBron James in a nutshell.

    Talcum powder hanging in the air, James with his back turned to us, larger than life, the words "Witness" hanging from a banner on the wall and a reminder that he was the league's MVP.

    It's all very dramatic, but I see everything but a championship.

    Believe me, you can rest assured—sorry haters—it will come someday. It might not be the six championships many thought they would see, but he'll walk away with at least one.

    All in all, it'll be a disappointment for the man many love to hate, but there's no denying that this is a good time to be an NBA fan. Since James arrived, things have been exciting, whether you're on his side or not. 

    And after "The Decision" and the Heat's loss in the finals, things only stand to get more entertaining.