The world of sport can produce the most wonderful rollercoaster journey of emotions.
Supporters build core memories from watching their team hoist trophies high above their heads, kiss medals, and get showered in champagne.
But what really fuels the passion is the athletes themselves. Their engagement with supporters and love for their sport is just as important as their performances on the field.
Sports Direct, the UK’s number one sportswear retailer, conducted a study to reveal the world’s most loved sportspeople.
Taking into account online search volumes and ‘love’ reactions online, the top 10 most loved athletes have been determined.
10. Rafael Nadal — Tennis
In at number 10 is tennis legend Rafael Nadal with a combined 382,068 searches and ‘love’ reactions. The 21-time Grand Slam champion continues to be one of the sport’s leading names, even with the impressive new crop of talent pushing through.
9. Alex Morgan — Football
Following Nadal is football star Alex Morgan, who has been heavily searched for online.
The US international has been a popular figure for many years now and her ranking of ninth in this list shows she is still going strong in the search engines with a total of 533,000 worldwide hits.
But despite her high search volume, she received the lowest amount of ‘love’ reactions on this list with 528.
8. Raheem Sterling — Football
Another heavily Googled athlete is Raheem Sterling, who takes the eighth spot.
The Manchester City and England forward is not just a trailblazer on the pitch but a prominent figure in tackling racial abuse in football. He also runs his own charity that aims to educate and inspire young people to become better prepared for the future.
Sterling received 591,000 search hits and 96,492 ‘love’ responses.
7. Naomi Osaka — Tennis
Naomi Osaka is another athlete who is influential both on and off the pitch. Despite only making sporadic appearances on the court as of late, the four-time Grand Slam winner has been prominent in raising awareness around mental health.
Osaka has received more ‘love’ reactions than any other sportsperson on this list with a whopping 1,064,000. She is ranked seventh overall due to her low search volume (185,000) but the social media responses speak for themselves — Osaka is a highly thought of and admired individual.
6. Robert Lewandowski — Football
After winning his seventh consecutive Bundesliga title, along with being crowned the Ballon d’Or Striker of the Year and the Best FIFA Men’s Player for the second year running, there’s no surprise Robert Lewandowski is sixth on this list.
With more than 123,000 ‘love’ reactions, he is certainly a popular football figure. The Poland international has also been linked to a move away from Bayern Munich, which will have undoubtedly helped bring in his impressive 1.2 million search volume.
5. Patrick Mahomes — American Football
As well as a trailblazing quarterback, Patrick Mahomes is a known philanthropist and was listed in Time 100’s most influential people of 2020.
Mahomes’ success on the field and his influence off it makes him one of the most loved sportspeople.
The NFL icon may have received just 1,404 ‘love’ reactions, but his name was searched a huge 1.6 million times, and that’s down to his already decorated career and his determination to help make the world a better place.
4. Tyson Fury — Boxing
The two-time heavyweight champion is always being discussed in some way or another. Tyson Fury is one of boxing’s biggest names, both for his success in the ring and for his antics in the public eye.
The man who once showed up to a press conference in a Batman costume has since broken away from his erratic behaviour and is now an ambassador for Frank Bruno’s mental health charity, The Frank Bruno Foundation.
Fury ranks fourth in this list after pulling in 364,000 ‘love’ reactions and almost two million worldwide searches. He’s not known as The People’s Champion for nothing.
3. Lewis Hamilton — Formula 1
Lewis Hamilton’s achievements on the track make him one of the most discussed sportspeople in the world. But the controversy surrounding last season’s Formula 1 finale will have undoubtedly boosted traffic around the British racer.
His work away from racing also makes him a popular sports personality as he consistently promotes equality.
Coming in at three, Hamilton registered a whopping 2.8 million searches and 629,000 ‘love’ reactions.
2. Simone Biles — Gymnastics
Simone Biles made headlines during the Tokyo Olympics after she withdrew from several gymnastics events due to mental health reasons.
She made an inspiring comeback by clinching a bronze medal and she was extremely vocal in discussing her mental health and encouraging others to speak out.
Biles was searched more than 2.9 million times and pulled in 19,880 ‘love’ responses.
1. LeBron James — Basketball
Topping the list of ‘most loved sportspeople’ is the one and only LeBron James.
Highly debated as the best basketball player of all time, King James soared above the rest with a whopping 5.1 million searches and more than 59,000 ‘love’ reactions on social media.
During the 2021/22 season, James became the oldest player in NBA history to record at least 25 points in ten straight games, as well as becoming only the second ever player, after Michael Jordan, to post 40 points and zero turnovers at age 35 or older.
Because of the legacy he has built, there is no doubt LeBron James will continue to be one of the world’s most loved and talked about athletes.