What happens when you apply a scientific, analytical method for measuring fame in order to create a list of the most famous athletes on the planet? ESPN did this and it led to a list that we can all debate anyway because who cares about the science? Let’s argue about the rankings!
Two of the top 10 and three of the top 11 names on the list are either NBA stars or a recently retired NBA star — LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. The methodology to the ranking is based on a lot of things, including endorsement deals and Instagram followers.
We started off with Forbes‘ list of the 100 highest-paid athletes, then sought input from ESPN journalists to add other notable athletes. ESPN director of sports analytics Ben Alamar created a formula that combined athletes’ salary/winnings and endorsements with their social media following — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — along with Google search popularity to create a comparative ranking system.
Nothing says science like, “sought input from ESPN journalists.” Asking Stephen A. Smith to discuss the worldwide popularity of an NBA star in relation to tennis, soccer and cricket athletes must have been an amazing conversation that I hope someone documented and will eventually share.
There’s actually a fourth NBA player — Carmelo Anthony — at No. 29 before the first NFL player — Cam Newton — appears at No. 32. Dwyane Wade and Steph Curry are No. 33 and 34, respectively, and Chris Paul is ranked No. 39.
The highest ranked hockey player is Alex Ovechkin at No. 65; the top baseball player is Mike Trout at No. 73.
The most popular woman athlete is Maria Sharapova at No. 18 with Ronda Rousey next at No. 23.
It’s a fun list, but be sure to get really salty because your favorite player on your favorite team is behind a guy who plays cricket.