When Tiger Woods emerged into the golfing world in the 90’s, the game changed forever. He was strong, powerful and brilliant, beating the best players in the world with ease. He changed the way the game was played forever, with athleticism and strength being major factors rather than skill alone. In addition to this, he changed the people that watched golf, the image of golf was white, middle class and middle aged. Tiger’s impact began to reverse this image and brought golf into the lives of many people that simply never engaged in the sport before. Without Tiger golf just is not the same. When Tiger Woods is in contention for a tournament the viewing figures and excitement around competition is wild. The tournament is not the event, Tiger Woods is the event.
No one has achieved this kind of dominance and influence over a sport since Woods apart from one man, Lebron James. During this article I will discuss why this is the case, what similarities Lebron shares with Woods and other athletes that have been close, but have not been able to accomplish what James and Woods have done throughout their careers.
Longevity and consistency is key to this argument. Both Tiger Woods and Lebron James were child prodigies and destine for greatness at an early age. Not only did they exceed any kind of expectations which they were labelled with, but they have gone on to both compete to be considered as the greatest of all time in their respective fields.
In his prime Woods was unstoppable, a player so good that in some tournaments the question was not ‘who would win?’ Rather ‘who would give Tiger the best challenge?’ His spell of dominance was relentless, Tiger has won 77 PGA Tour events and 14 Major victories at the highest level. Even when he was not winning events he was still competing at an extremely high level; Woods still holds the record for the longest streak of events without missing a cut. An unbelievable run of 142 cuts made which equated to 8 years of golf, a truly staggering feat which may never be beaten. This relentless run of quality and consistency illustrates how far ahead Woods was away from his competition at this time.
Lebron is building a similar run of incredible statistics. Lebron has made it to the NBA finals eight years in a row, is a 14-time NBA all-star and has won three NBA championships, winning the MVP in each of these winning series. His individual stats are incredible as well, in all time standings he has the most points in the play offs and is rapidly rising in regular season totals as well. In addition, once his career is finished he will most likely have surpassed the infamous Michael Jordan in almost every personal statistic. His consistency also matches that of Woods. Lebron James, despite being in his 15th season, has played in every single game in this year’s regular and play off season dragging one of the weakest teams he has played in to another NBA playoff final against all odds. Former Manchester United Manager once stated Sir Alex Ferguson once exclaimed, ‘give me Zidane and 10 pieces of wood and I’ll will win you the champions league’, I am sure many NBA coaches would say the same about Lebron James.
A huge argument for LeBron being top of the tree in terms of influential male athletes to rival Tiger is TV numbers. When Tiger Woods and Lebron James play, the numbers of viewers go through the roof compared to when they are not featuring. A brilliant article by Greg Guglielmo released this year on Tigers impact of TV numbers for ‘The Masters’ Tournament and uses the Nielsen rating to demonstrate how important he is to golf. The Nielsen rating system is primarily used by advertisers and rates a show or event on TV by how much a show is viewed/engaged with and rates them accordingly, helping companies decide where and when best to advertise their product.
As shown by the graph above, not only is Tiger above the average line on this scale of Masters wins, he is by far and away the biggest draw in golf in the last 60 years and shows that no golfer pushes the needle more than Woods. Guglielmo goes on to state that “since Tiger burst onto the scene in 1997, the five lowest-rated final rounds have coincided with his three Masters absences and two worst finishes.” This clearly illustrates how interest in the sport drops when he does not feature His domination over Golf is undeniable, especially with evidence this strong to back up the argument. The super popular Phil Mickleson cannot come even close to the rating of Woods and while young players such as Spieth, McIlroy and Thomas are popular, they cannot bring excitement to golf like Tiger can.
Lebron James sits at a similar level in Basketball. Brian Lowry wrote a fantastic article back in 2016 which identified the increase in viewing figures when Lebron is involved. He writes “Over the last five years, the Finals have averaged roughly 17.4 million viewers, per Nielsen data. That reflects a substantial increase from 13.7 million over the eight previous years, despite the fact that James’ teams faced San Antonio or Oklahoma City — two of the smaller TV markets in the NBA — three times during that span”. This supports the narrative that he has the power to influence the sport so much that it is massively more popular with him than without him. Lowry also states
“Ratings-wise, the star’s nickname, King James, fits”
Lebron has to be considered the most influential athlete since Tiger. Not only is he the best basketball player in the world but he is an incredible role model. Coming from a poor background and being thrust into the spotlight at an early age, you would think the fame and fortune would have some point gone to his head. However, James has been a perfect example to athletes all over the world with his charitable donations and professional attitude on and off the court.
There are some very noteworthy competitors for the title of most dominant male sportsman since Tiger Woods, chief of which is Tom Brady. Brady has been fantastic, arguably the best NFL Quarterback of all time with an outstanding record. The only reason Lebron is above him is that, as great as Brady is, the NFL would be just as popular without him in it. I know Golf would not be anywhere near as popular without Woods and I am sure the NBA would be seriously hindered if Lebron James retired. With enormous NFL franchises all over the country and in a sport so blessed with superstars such as Ray Lewis, Chad Johnson, Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr and many more, the NFL is not beholden to Tom Brady like the NBA is with Lebron James. As a result, James has to be considered more influential than Brady.
Another is Roger Federer, undeniably an incredible tennis player and is still showing his dominance since 2004 when he was first crowned World No.1 and he is still competing for this spot in 2018, an incredible achievement in such a global and physically draining sport. However, he is a victim of circumstance as with Nadal, Murray and Djokovic around him during his era, he hasn’t been able to fully dominate the sport in his time, despite having an incredible record over such a long number of years.
The last male athlete that is in the argument for the most dominant sports star since Tiger burst on to the scene in 1997 is Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather. The 50 and 0 record Mayweather holds is truly remarkable and is highly regarded as one of the greatest of all time in Boxing. He is brash, bold and undeniably brilliant, a fact even his harshest critics find difficult to argue against. Mayweather fights are massive undeniably but most of the time this is because the eager fans are desperate to him knocked out, rather than watch him succeed. As well as this boxing is an incredibly popular sport and while Mayweather has been a star of this for the last two decades, there have been other great champions during his era. Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Manny Pacquiao, Bernard Hopkins and many more have attracted massive amounts of fans from their fights so while Mayweather has been a shining star in boxing, overall it would still be just as popular without him. In contrast, Lebron and Woods have been shown to be the undeniable figure heads of their sports for numerous years.
Obviously not in this list as this is male only, but who certainly deserves a mention is tennis legend Serena Williams. If I was to do a female version of this list, the gap between Serena and her nearest competitor would be so vast it would be almost impossible to make a counter argument. Not only has Serena been the most influential female athlete of her generation, she has been an astoundingly successful tennis player winning major after major with no consistent and regular rival over her entire career. In terms of dominating a sport there is no doubt that Serena has done it all, inspiring millions of young girls to take up tennis. Therefore, she certainly deserves to be ranked among the best sporting athletes of all time.
While the sports stars above are truly unbelievable sportsman that have achieved incredible accomplishments, no male athlete has done it better than Lebron James since Tiger Woods. In a team sport, Lebron James continues to shine brighter than any other star in the NBA and does not look like stopping soon. In any game he features in he is one of the best players on the court and performing like this against various teams over multiple years, shows how dominant he is over basketball. Because of this and many other factors mentioned above he must be classed as the most influential male athlete since Tiger Woods.
Do you think Lebron James is the most dominant and influential athlete since Tiger Woods? If not, who do you think should have this accolade? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below!