The ten most famous African America athletes of all time are some of the most famous sports men and women ever to grace the world stage. Though basketball is the dominant sport on the list, tennis, golf, baseball, and football stars also appear.
- Muhammad Ali. Ali hit the zeitgeist by being an angry, articulate, intelligent black man at the dawn of national television and in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and anti-Vietnam protests. He was a friend to Malcolm X and a man who stood up for what he believed in. A global superstar, Ali took American braggadocio and swagger to Zaire, where he beat the crap out of George Foreman, who is seven years his junior.
- Michael Jordan. The presence of the number 23 on the back of soccer jerseys from Africa to Latin America attests to the world wide popularity of basketball’s all-time greatest player. Jordan is the founding father of the branded athlete. From his now legendary shoes to his appearance alongside cultural icon Bugs Bunny in “Space Jam,” Michael is everywhere, and one of the most famous African American athletes.
- Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods is the first African American golf superstar. The global popularity of golf makes Woods, one of the greatest all-time athletes in his sport, an international name. The sex scandal that erupted when a parade of women came forth professing to have slept with the married golfer only increased his fame.
- Williams Sisters. Like Tiger Woods, Venus and Serena Williams appeared suddenly in a predominantly white landscape and scorched a path through the sport that changed its possibilities forever. Their aggressive style of play and unparalleled marriage of power and grace made them instant superstars, and two of the most famous African American athletes.
- Willie Mays. Baseball’s Say Hey Kid went from sandlot games amidst the sweltering racism of Alabama to redefining the way the game was played through three decades. From barehanded grabs and sliding nabs to powerhouse home runs that ran screaming from stadium’s, the San Francisco star made headlines across the country in the post-war era, and is now one of the most famous of all African American athletes.
- Lebron James. Lebron is the flipside of the Kobe coin, an athlete who is gregarious and warm, loves the attention of the media, and came straight out high school to light up the NBA. James has high profile sponsorship deals practically flying out of his butt and is a solid role model for children, which increases his presence to an incalculable degree.
- OJ Simpson. OJ Simpson, the great running back. Foil to Leslie Neilson in “Naked Gun.” Murderer, maybe. Center of one of the most publicized criminal trials of al time. The guy who attempted to steal back the paraphernalia he had to hawk to pay for Johnny Cochran. And of course, one of the most famous African American athletes of all time.
- Kobe Byrant. Kobe isn’t as cuddly as Michael, but he’s certainly the most dominant athlete of the post-Jordan NBA. Cool and guarded, Bryant has countless high profile sponsors that place his striking mug everywhere from TV adverts to magazine pages. Add to that the high profile adultery case and subsequent accusations of rape, and you have yourself one of the most famous African American athletes.
- Magic Johnson. Magic helped keep the fierce Celtics-Lakers rivalry alive throughout the 80’s in his proudly contested battles against Bird and the Lakers. Johnson’s HIV diagnosis, and subsequent lack of any signs of illness some twenty years later, heightened his profile, as did his short-lived talk show, business advice books and tours, and commentating job with the NBA.
- Barry Bonds. Bonds is one of the most famous African American athletes of all time, but maybe not for the best reasons. Bonds is certainly a great ball player. He has the most single season and all time homeruns, though you’d be hard pressed to find a baseball fan doesn’t bristle at the though of the holder of these titles being a ‘roid maniac. Yet even before the performance enhancement, Bonds was a great ball player.
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