TIME Magazine released its yearly list of most influential people, and the sports world was well-represented, with the likes of LeBron James and Lindsey Vonn rounding out the mammoth list of 100 inspiring figures who helped shape the modern world.
According to TIME 100, a site dedicated to the issue that hits newsstands Friday, there will be seven covers, one featuring the hip-hop mogul who is in the midst of growing his very own sports agency, Jay-Z.
For our purposes, the sports world included figures such as Mario Balotelli and Li Na.
You can view the entire list here.
TIME honors one of the best players in the NBA and an athlete who continues to carve an amazing legacy in a sport he dominates nightly.
Yankees legend Derek Jeter wrote an article aptly subtitled, "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.
Watching the Heat star's reception from fans has been just as remarkable as the King's production on the court.
Miami flirted with a record-breaking win streak and owns the best record in the league headed into the playoffs. The man who was once vilified for leaving Cleveland was even greeted by a Cavaliers fan who ran onto the court this season with a message, "Come back."
You can close the book on James the NBA villain.
The fact that we can fit Jay-Z into a list of sports figures illustrates how this rapper has continued to push himself to conquer far more endeavors outside of music, widening the reach of his ever-growing empire.
Michael Bloomberg writes his article and explains what makes this icon so special.
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.
As a reminder, Jay-Z is leaving his stake in the Nets on the table to further his reach into the sports world.
His Roc Nation Sports agency recently signed Yankees star Robinson Cano and plans to make a move on NBA players just as soon as the hip-hop star divests his share of the Brooklyn franchise.
Simply, he is never content with his past success, and that helps his incessant push to grow his brand.
The alpine skier faces a long battle after a brutal injury sustained back in February. There is no doubt Lindsey Vonn can bounce back and be just as dominant as she ever was.
Danica Patrick writes on the remarkable similarities between the two and the sports they compete in.
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.
Watch just one of Vonn's runs and you will notice how on edge she can be. As Patrick notes, she has "four world overall ski championships and Olympic gold," reminding fans that she can maneuver on the precipice of disaster most of the time.
Unfortunately, her sport can deliver dire results with the slightest mistake. Still, she continues to inspire just as much rehabilitating her knee injury as she does standing atop a hill.
Li Na continues to build a fantastic legacy and serves as a beacon for a growing number of Chinese athletes playing the sport.
Chris Evert writes on Li and the way she has revolutionized how athletes from her country are treated in their respective sports.
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.
But it's not all about Li and her own personal accolades. Evert is careful to point out that tennis has exploded in China, with 15 million people now taking up the sport.
It stands to reason when you have a superstar as charismatic and talented as the 31-year-old.
You might be shocked to see a name like Balotelli featured on such a list. As has been covered ad nauseum, Balotelli has had his fair share of confrontations and wild antics.
As former Italian footballer Gianfranco Zola writes, much of that's been over-publicized. Mad Mario is actually just a sweet guy who has the mental fortitude of a superstar.
Mario has all the qualities to be a top player: power and athleticism, alongside a good understanding of the game — all positive...I liked the way he handled himself and his composure and calmness in situations...
From afar, people may think he’s a madman, but he isn’t. Mario is a lovely guy, very humble and very funny. I can assure people he has always been a pleasure to deal with.
As The Mirror reported back in February, Balotelli handled a horrible situation—alleged racial taunts during a Milan derby match—with great cool and calm.
There are far more inspirational figures listed in TIME, from all industries and enterprises. As with any list, there are bound to be some exclusions that demand credit, and we encourage you to suggest them in the comments section below.
The sports world just wouldn't be the same without these marvelous influential icons who continue to influence, motivate and above all else, inspire.
Hit me up on Twitter: Follow @gabezal