Time Magazine unveiled its annual list of the top 100 most influential people in the world. Included, as always, were political titans, legends of the entertainment industry, and some of the greatest analytical and scientific minds the world has ever seen.
There were also five members of the sports world who made the cut. You can check out the entire list here, but we present the articles written for LeBron James, Lindsey Vonn, Li Na, Mario Balotelli and, yes, Jay-Z.
LeBron James is the biggest name in American sports right now, and with good reason. He is currently dominating the hardwood like only a very select few have before him.
Five-time World Series champion and New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter wrote the Time 100 article for Bron, and called it King of the Court:
The first thing that strikes you is his sheer size and athleticism. Another thing, he’s down to earth. Most people in LeBron’s position aren’t as grounded as he is. He hasn’t forgotten where he comes from, and he’s given back so much to Ohio and Akron, his hometown. LeBron cares deeply about these places, and that says a lot about him.
LeBron never takes a play off. His all-out effort is what stands out when you watch him. Whether his team is up 20 or down 20, LeBron is playing like it’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals. His dedication, devotion and focus have won the admiration of fans — and his athletic peers. He’s someone anyone, in any profession, can look up to. Set the bar high for yourself, like LeBron does.
Lindsey Vonn is one of the most decorated alpine skiers in American history, and she has served as a role model for girls and women across the globe.
None other than Danica Patrick, the first women to win the pole position at the Daytona 500, wrote Vonn’s Time 100 article:
I met Lindsey a few years ago at the ESPY awards, and it’s been great to see the success she has achieved: four world overall ski championships and Olympic gold. We can relate to each other because our sports are so similar, given the speed involved and the concentration level required. There’s an immediate level of respect when you meet someone who knows what you go through.
Both of our sports are amazing on television but better experienced in person. When you see what we do up close, you get a better understanding of how on the edge we are all the time. One-tenth of a second can be the difference between 20 places on the scoreboard, so every lap or downhill run, you’re as close to out of control as you can be.
Li Na was the first Asian-born tennis player to win a Grand Slam event, and she has broken boundaries both as a female and as a Chinese citizen.
Chris Evert, an 18-time Grand slam winner, explains how Na continues to push the oppressive political environment in China to the limits:
Li Na is a maverick. Who else would stand up to the centralized Chinese sports system as Li did, back in 2008, when she pushed for more control over her career? Li persuaded the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) to start the “fly alone” policy, which gives players more independence. Now they keep more of their money, giving just a fraction of their earnings to the CTA, compared with the bulk before. Rather than let the bureaucrats pick her coach, Li went with Jiang Shan, who is now her husband. Li has soared. She’s ranked fifth in the world and won the 2011 French Open, becoming the first Asian-born player to win a Grand Slam singles tournament.
Tennis has exploded in China. The country now has some 15 million tennis players; 116 million people watched Li win the French Open. That kind of exposure is crucial to our sport, and it never would have happened without Li.
Mario Balotelli is not only one of the world’s premiere soccer players, but he has managed to succeed in a racially charged atmosphere. His ability to stay calm in the face of hatred impresses, especially with his goofy mentality off the field of play.
Gianfranco Zola, former Italian star and current manager of England’s Watford F.C., explain Balotelli’s under-the-radar maturity:
Mario has all the qualities to be a top player: power and athleticism, alongside a good understanding of the game — all positive.
I worked with Mario for a short period with Italy’s under-21 side. I liked him straightaway. I liked the way he handled himself and his composure and calmness in situations. Mario could shrug off things happening around him. Only the big players have that calm. …
From afar, people may think he’s a madman, but he isn’t. Mario is a lovely guy, very humble and very funny.
Including Jay-Z on this list is really a testament to the sheer will of a man who began with nothing and is now giving up an ownership share in the Brooklyn Nets in order to run his own sports agency, Roc Nation.
Michael Bloomberg, the 108th mayor of New York City and one of the wealthiest men in America, explains how the American dream is alive and well in this rap star-turned-mogul:
Jay Z embodies so much of what makes New York New York. A kid from a tough neighborhood who grows up in public housing, overcomes lots of bad influences on the street, never lets go of his dream, makes it to the top — and then keeps going, pursuing new outlets for his creativity and ambition. When no one would sign him to a record contract, he created his own label and built a music empire — before going on to design clothing lines, open sports bars and, most recently, represent professional athletes. He’s an artist-entrepreneur who stands at the center of culture and commerce in 21st century America, and his influence stretches across races, religions and regions. He’s never forgotten his roots — “Empire State of Mind” was a love song to our city — and as a co-owner of the NBA Nets, he helped bring a major league sports team back to Brooklyn, not far from his old neighborhood. In nearly everything he’s tried, he’s found success. (He even put a ring on Beyoncé.) And in doing so, he’s proved that the American Dream is alive and well.