top of page

10 Most Impactful Athletes of 2021 (Part 2)

Last week, Emory Marketing Professor Mike Lewis identified 5 of the most impactful sports figures from 2021. And now, he concludes his countdown starting with basketball's greatest ever...

5. Michael Jordan – Connecting the Past to the Future

Jordan is timeless. We recently conducted a national survey of fandom across generations. Part of the survey asked about fandom from a group of celebrities. Michael Jordan had the highest average preference across almost all generations across the entire set of athletes, musicians, actors, social media stars, and others. His legacy continues to affect the branding efforts of players like LeBron (Space Jam 2) and the contract negotiations of Aaron Rodgers (The Last Dance legacy). Jordan is the most influential athlete of the last 30 years.

4. Tom Brady – A Traditional Sports Story

Tom Brady is a classic American sports story. His story arc even includes being a late-round draft pick that only saw the field due to injury. His Super Bowl win in 2021 and continued excellence in the following season at age 44 are unprecedented. Brady makes the list as the final example of the traditional sports star. Good looking, model wife, exceptional accomplishments, and an unblemished record (since choosing Michigan).

3. Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles - The Self-Care Stars

At the start of 2021, Naomi Osaka was viewed by many as the next star of women’s tennis. However, following a loss in the US Open, she broke down during the press conference and announced that she did not know when she would play again. This followed her dropping out of the French Open over post-match press duties earlier in the year. Simone Bials, who is generally regarded as the greatest female gymnast of all time, made headlines when she dropped out of the Olympics all-around competition. In both cases, the decisions of these two athletes to emphasize their mental health have been widely praised in the traditional media. These two athletes share the number four sport because they have become the face of self-care.

2. Jake and Logan Paul - Social Media Meets Sports

We are taping this before Jake Paul’s fight against Tommy Fury. But it doesn’t matter. Jake and Logan Paul have created a new model for sports entertainment. It’s a combination of showmanship, branding, entertainment, and novelty. It's pure spectacle. They have also shown the power of social media. Social media following was included in the tale of the tape for Paul and Mayweather. Jake and Logan Paul make the list because they are inventing the next stage of sports entertainment.

1. Enes Kanter Freedom – The Inevitable Next Step in Sports' Politicization

How can a player averaging less than 5 points a game be one of the ten most impactful athletes of 2021? Freedom has successfully made himself a media figure through activism that challenges a combination of autocratic leaders and players like LeBron and Jeremy Lin. Kanter makes the list because he, or someone like him, was an inevitable result of the current media and political environment.

We dive deeper into this list on the Fanalytics Podcast and welcome you to listen on the streaming platform of your choice here.


bottom of page