Like Mike: Six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, basketball GOAT, and now? Most-named childhood hero in ESPN The Magazine’s not-so-scientific survey of professional athletes. 

Everyone’s got a favorite athlete growing up — the one whose jerseys we buy, whose highlights we replay over and over, who we imagine ourselves being while we practice on the court or in the backyard. And, it turns out, those athletes who are idols in their own right at this very moment had their own guiding stars when they were growing up. So we asked more than 100 of today’s biggest pro athletes who they looked up to when they were youngsters.


“I loved that Lisa Leslie was really tall and skinny like me. I played basketball as a kid, and I loved how she carried herself. She had this great feminine quality, but she was also so fierce as an athlete and very competitive, and I loved that about her. So thank you, Lisa Leslie, for being so awesome.”

–Monica Abbott (Team USA softball pitcher)


Davante Adams (Green Bay Packers wide receiver)


“My foster mom was a personal trainer at Sitiveni Sivivatu‘s gym. For my birthday she got his rugby shorts for me, which was nice. And he signed them. So I figured these were new. I, like, put ’em to my face, bro. And she was like, ‘Bro, those are dirty,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, is that what that is? It f—ing smells, man.’ It was pretty bad.”

Steven Adams (Oklahoma City Thunder center)


LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs forward/center)


Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills quarterback)


Efra Alvarez (LA Galaxy midfielder)


Henry Anderson (New York Jets defensive end)


Bianca Andreescu (Canadian player)

Ben Askren (UFC welterweight)


Zaila Avant-garde (Spelling bee/viral basketballdribbling prodigy)


Conrad Bassett-Bouchard (U.S. Scrabble champion)


Kiki Bertens (Dutch player)


Eric Bledsoe (Milwaukee Bucks guard)


“When I was 8, I sent out 150 cards to athletes to try to get autographs. And two people wrote me back — Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki. I still have the card and the letter. Carter probably sent one to everyone, but he signed mine back, and like two of 150 did that, so I always appreciated that.”

Cameron Brate (Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end)


Antonio Brown (Oakland Raiders wide receiver)


Steve Brown (English darts pro)


Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco Giants pitcher)


Artie Burns (Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback)


Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas defender)


Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins defenseman)


Mark McGwire was a beast. He brought baseball back in my eyes. They’d interrupt shows for his home runs. … One of his at-bats against Randy Johnson, I think Johnson threw a 101 mph fastball and McGwire just launched it. The ball was demolished.”

–Joey Chestnut World record pro eater


Darrin Christenberry (Archery pro)


Karima Christmas-Kelly (Minnesota Lynx forward)


Adam Cianciarulo (Motocross pro)


Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx forward)


Michael Conlan (Irish featherweight boxer)


Courtney Conlogue (American pro surfer)


Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs catcher)


Jared Cook (New Orleans Saints tight end)


Brandon Crawford (San Francisco Giants shortstop)


Mason Crosby (Green Bay Packers kicker)


Vinny Curry (Philadelphia Eagles defensive end)


“I loved how Muhammad Ali represented more than the sport and used his platform to create changes during a difficult time for minorities in America. He was my favorite athlete as a kid because he was trying to use his spotlight to create change in the world.”

Cris Cyborg (UFC featherweight)


Marcell Dareus (Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle)


Sasha DiGiulian (Professional rock climber)


Cal Ripken Jr. changed his stance like every month, so playing in the backyard, you did all his different stances. I remember being allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch him break the streak. Our baby sitter was under instructions to let us watch until that happened, and then we had to go to bed.”

Sean Doolittle (Washington Nationals pitcher)


Brandon Drury (Toronto Blue Jays third baseman)


Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos coach)


Steffi Graf had a tournament in Brighton, England, which was very near where I grew up, and she was across the street shopping with her mom and I was standing thinking, ‘Should I get an autograph and have a chat with her? No, she probably doesn’t want to be pestered by people like me.’ To this day I kick myself about that.”

–Allison Fisher (English pool pro)


John Force (NHRA drag racer)


Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx center)


Clayton Geathers (Indianapolis Colts safety)


Danny Green (Toronto Raptors guard)


Randal Grichuk (Toronto Blue Jays outfielder)


Vlad Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays third baseman)


Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams running back)


Simona Halep (n player)


Shelby Harris (Denver Broncos defensive tackle)


Jerald Hawkins (Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle)


Jacori Hayes (FC Dallas midfielder)

Kyle Hendricks ( pitcher)


Tayler Hill (Dallas Wings guard)


Holton Hill (Minnesota Vikings cornerback)


Derek Holland (San Francisco Giants pitcher)


Ryan Hollingshead (FC Dallas midfielder)


“I always liked that John Elway was clutch when it was down to the wire. I was inspired by that. When it came down to that, he would rise above rather than crumble. I went to his last regular-season game, actually. My mom and I drove from Albuquerque. I was still in high school. That was a super awesome game to be at.”

Holly Holm (UFC bantamweight)


Will Holt (U.S. field hockey striker)


embodied what it meant to be a professional athlete, and everybody tried to build a template based off the platform he built for himself, which was very powerful. Jordan’s a different beast. Because I’ve read so much about him, I know how he is. He’ll kill you even now. Cutthroat.”

Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors guard/forward)


Mark Ingram (Baltimore Ravens running back)


Heather Jackson (U.S. Ironman competitor)


Danny Jansen (Toronto Blue Jays catcher)


“When I was young, maybe 11 or 12, Sheryl Swoopes signed a pair of my basketball shoes, and I told her it was my first year playing basketball. I wore the shoes for two years until I couldn’t wear them anymore — they were worn out, the bottoms were pretty much gone and they smelled terrible.”

–Glory Johnson (Dallas Wings forward)


James Johnson (Miami Heat forward)


“When I was a kid we went to a race in Oklahoma with my parents and my brother. We were driving across the country and we pulled up to a Hardee’s — Cale Yarborough‘s sponsor in that awesome orange car. I was so pumped. But I had no idea it was a hamburger stand. I really thought I was walking into Cale Yarborough’s race shop. I was so bummed. I had my hamburger and left with a lesson in how sponsorship works.”

–Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR driver)


Devon Kennard (Detroit Lions linebacker)


Brooks Koepka (PGA golfer)


Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers forward)


Kelvin Leerdam (Seattle Sounders defender)


Jourdan Lewis (Dallas Cowboys cornerback)


Evan Longoria (San Francisco Giants third baseman)


“I watch the 81-point game all the time. That showed a lot of his personality, his determination. I was probably in middle school. All my friends were big Kobe Bryant fans and Lakers fans. So we’d all talk about his game. Also, everyone thinks about his scoring, but he played a lot of great defense in that game and had some really good assists as well.”

–Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm guard)


Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (Bellator flyweight)


Matt Male (Mini-golf pro)


Trey Mancini (Baltimore Orioles first baseman/outfielder)


Zack Martin (Dallas Cowboys offensive guard)


Jimmy Maurer (FC Dallas goalkeeper)


LeSean McCoy (Buffalo Bills running back)

Rowan McDonnell (Ultimate Frisbee pro)


Mike McGlinchey (San Francisco 49ers offensvie tackle)


Billy McKinney (Toronto Blue Jays outfielder)


Terry McLaurin (Washington Redskins wide receiver)


Steve McLendon ( Jets offensive tackle)


Rodney McLeod (Philadelphia Eagles safety)


Ryan McNamara (Major League Lacrosse)


Phillis Meti (World Long Drive golf)


Ty Montgomery ( Jets running back)


Olivia Moultrie (American soccer pro)


Francis Ngannou (Cameroonian UFC fighter)


James O’Shaughnessy (Jacksonville Jaguars tight end)


Ryan O’Reilly (St. Louis Blues center)


Barry Odom (Missouri football coach)


“The first time I met Serena was really cool. In Stanford, I just ran into her a lot in the locker rooms. I was kind of surprised — I mean, I’m sure I met her when I was a kid, but I don’t remember those times. She was always really cool.”

Naomi Osaka (Japanese player)


Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks center)


Kevin Pillar (San Francisco Giants center fielder)


Theresa Plaisance (Dallas Wings forward)


Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants catcher)


Norman Powell (Toronto Raptors guard/forward)


David Price (Boston Red Sox pitcher)


“I was able to have an opportunity to play against Julio Franco when he was in Atlanta toward the end of his career. He was pretty much my guy. As a little kid, every time I used to go to Estadio Quisqueya and watch him play. Even later on, the guy was in unbelievable shape. I heard that last year he was still playing independent ball in New Jersey. It’s pretty amazing.”

Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels first baseman)


Jerry Rice (Former NFL wide receiver)


“The first time I met was playing a round on a Sunday at Edgewood Tahoe, and it was he, me and Jerry Rice. I then ended up playing golf with him for three days. He’s a really nice guy-I’m thankful he didn’t bet with me on the course because he would’ve taken all my money.”

Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers quarterback)


Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Washington Redskins cornerback)


Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders midfielder)


“I watch a ton of the Vegas games. I think Marc-Andre Fleury‘s an overall great player and has fun with the game. He waves to fans between plays and he talks to his posts. I like to consider him my goaltending idol.”

–Maddie Rooney (Team USA hockey goaltender)


D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn Nets guard)


Kyle Schwarber ( outfielder)


Zack Steffen (Manchester City goalkeeper)


David Sills V (Buffalo Bills wide receiver)


Justin Smoak (Toronto Blue Jays first baseman)


Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm forward/center)


Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders midfielder)


Solomon Thomas (San Francisco 49ers defensive end)


Chris Thompson (Washington Redskins running back)


Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greek player)


Caitlin Van Sickle (U.S. field hockey player)


Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors guard)


Eric Weddle (Los Angeles Rams safety)


Keyshawn Whitehorse (Bullriding pro)


Deontay Wilder (Heavyweight boxer)


K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks LB)


Jackie Young (Las Vegas Aces guard)


Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks guard)


Reporting by Malika Andrews, Todd Archer, Susie Arth, Katie Barnes, Simon Cambers, Rich Cimini, Anna Katherine Clemmons, Courtney Cronin, Michael DiRocco, Andres Ferrari, Jeremy Fowler, Nick Friedell, Hallie Grossman, Paul Gutierrez, Ariel Helwani, Brady Henderson, Jamison Hensley, Ryan Hockensmith, John Keim, Jenna Laine, Jeff Legwold, Eddie Matz, Vaughn McClure, Ryan McGee, Tim McManus, Dave McMenamin, Brett Okamoto, Anthony Olivieri, Kevin Pelton, Chris Peters, Stacey Pressman, Marc Raimondi, Marly Rivera, Mike Rodak, Jesse Rogers, Michael Rothstein, Lane Strauss, Lindsey Thiry, Mike Triplett, Jake Trotter, Nick Wagoner, Mike Wells, Cameron Wolfe, Michael C. Wright, , Royce Young

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