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Starstruck: Who was your childhood sports hero?

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. Steve Freeman/NBAE/Getty Images

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)

  • Lisa Leslie (Eight-time WNBA All-Star)


Davante Adams (Green Bay Packers wide receiver)

  • Michael Vick (Four-time Pro Bowl quarterback)


"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)

  • Sitiveni Sivivatu (New Zealand rugby winger)


LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs forward/center)


Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills quarterback)

  • Brett Favre (Three-time MVP quarterback)


Efra Alvarez (LA Galaxy midfielder)


Henry Anderson (New York Jets defensive end)


Bianca Andreescu (Canadian tennis player)

Ben Askren (UFC welterweight)

  • Muhammad Ali (Heavyweight boxing champion)


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


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

  • Ichiro Suzuki (Baseball world hits leader)


Kiki Bertens (Dutch tennis player)

  • Kim Clijsters (Belgian tennis 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)

  • Deion Sanders (Hall of Fame cornerback, returner)


Steve Brown (English darts pro)

  • Ken Brown (Darts pro, Steve's dad)


Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco Giants pitcher)

  • Jake Barnes (Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer)


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

  • Mark McGwire 12-time MLB All-Star


Darrin Christenberry (Archery pro)


Karima Christmas-Kelly (Minnesota Lynx forward)

  • Cynthia Cooper (Four-time WNBA champion)


Adam Cianciarulo (Motocross pro)


Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx forward)

  • Kobe Bryant (Five-time NBA champion)


Michael Conlan (Irish featherweight boxer)

  • Roy Keane (Irish former Manchester United midfielder)


Courtney Conlogue (American pro surfer)

  • Billie Jean King (12-time Grand Slam winner)


Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs catcher)


Jared Cook (New Orleans Saints tight end)


Brandon Crawford (San Francisco Giants shortstop)

  • Royce Clayton (Former Giants shortstop)


Mason Crosby (Green Bay Packers kicker)

  • Joe Montana (Hall of Fame quarterback)


Vinny Curry (Philadelphia Eagles defensive end)

  • Larry Johnson (Two-time NBA All-Star)


"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)

  • Muhammad Ali ("The Greatest")


Marcell Dareus (Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle)

  • Warren Sapp (Seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle)


Sasha DiGiulian (Professional rock climber)

  • Billie Jean King (Battle of the Sexes champion)


"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)

  • Cal Ripken Jr. (19-time MLB All-Star shortstop)


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)

  • Steffi Graf (22-time Grand Slam winner)


John Force (NHRA drag racer)

  • Brett Favre (11-time Pro Bowl quarterback)


Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx center)

  • Shaquille O'Neal (Four-time NBA champion)


Clayton Geathers (Indianapolis Colts safety)

  • Clinton Portis (Two-time Pro Bowl running back)


Danny Green (Toronto Raptors guard)

  • Michael Jordan (Five-time NBA MVP)


Randal Grichuk (Toronto Blue Jays outfielder)

  • Jeff Bagwell (Four-time MLB All-Star first baseman)


Vlad Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays third baseman)

  • Vlad Guerrero Sr. (MLB Hall of Famer, dad)


Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams running back)

  • Carmelo Anthony (10-time NBA All-Star forward)


Simona Halep (Romanian tennis player)

  • Gheorghe Hagi (Romanian former soccer midfielder)


Shelby Harris (Denver Broncos defensive tackle)

  • Reggie White (NFL Hall of Fame defensive end)


Jerald Hawkins (Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle)

  • Ryan Howard (2006 National League MVP)


Jacori Hayes (FC Dallas midfielder)

  • Allen Iverson (Crossover maestro)

Kyle Hendricks (Chicago Cubs pitcher)

  • Michael Jordan ("Space Jam" star)


Tayler Hill (Dallas Wings guard)

  • Diana Taurasi (Three-time WNBA champion)


Holton Hill (Minnesota Vikings cornerback)

  • Deion Sanders (Eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback)


Derek Holland (San Francisco Giants pitcher)

  • Chipper Jones (1999 National League MVP)


Ryan Hollingshead (FC Dallas midfielder)

  • Michael Jordan (14-time NBA All-Star)


"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)

  • John Elway (Nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback)


Will Holt (U.S. field hockey striker)

  • Kobe Bryant (Mamba mentality inventor)


"Michael Jordan 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)

  • Michael Jordan (Underwear spokesman)


Mark Ingram (Baltimore Ravens running back)

  • Michael Jordan (Six-time NBA Finals MVP)


Heather Jackson (U.S. Ironman competitor)

  • Mia Hamm (U.S. World Cup champion)


Danny Jansen (Toronto Blue Jays catcher)

  • Brian Urlacher (Eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker)


"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)

  • Sheryl Swoopes (Four-time WNBA champion)


James Johnson (Miami Heat forward)

  • Junior Seau (NFL Hall of Fame linebacker)


"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)

  • Cale Yarborough (Four-time Daytona winner)


Devon Kennard (Detroit Lions linebacker)


Brooks Koepka (PGA golfer)

  • Ken Griffey Jr. (13-time MLB All-Star center fielder)


Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers forward)

  • Kobe Bryant (Oscar winner)


Kelvin Leerdam (Seattle Sounders defender)


Jourdan Lewis (Dallas Cowboys cornerback)

  • Barry Sanders (10-time Pro Bowl running back)


Evan Longoria (San Francisco Giants third baseman)

  • Michael Jordan (Scottie Pippen teammate)


"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)

  • Kobe Bryant (Has two retired jerseys)


Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (Bellator flyweight)


Matt Male (Mini-golf pro)


Trey Mancini (Baltimore Orioles first baseman/outfielder)

  • Tim Tebow (2007 Heisman winner)


Zack Martin (Dallas Cowboys offensive guard)

  • Peyton Manning (Super Bowl XLI MVP)


Jimmy Maurer (FC Dallas goalkeeper)

  • Michael Phelps (Olympic swimmer)


LeSean McCoy (Buffalo Bills running back)

  • Barry Sanders (1997 NFL MVP)

Rowan McDonnell (Ultimate Frisbee pro)

  • Tiger Woods (2019 Masters champion)


Mike McGlinchey (San Francisco 49ers offensvie tackle)


Billy McKinney (Toronto Blue Jays outfielder)


Terry McLaurin (Washington Redskins wide receiver)

  • Marvin Harrison (Eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver)


Steve McLendon (New York Jets offensive tackle)

  • Muhammad Ali (Floated like a butterfly ...)


Rodney McLeod (Philadelphia Eagles safety)

  • Deion Sanders (Two-sport superstar)


Ryan McNamara (Major League Lacrosse)


Phillis Meti (World Long Drive golf)

  • Tiger Woods (81-time PGA Tour winner)


Ty Montgomery (New York Jets running back)

  • Jim Brown (Nine-time Pro Bowl running back)


Olivia Moultrie (American soccer pro)

  • Mia Hamm (USWNT assists leader)


Francis Ngannou (Cameroonian UFC fighter)

  • Roger Milla (Cameroonian soccer forward)


James O'Shaughnessy (Jacksonville Jaguars tight end)


Ryan O'Reilly (St. Louis Blues center)

  • Wayne Gretzky (NHL all-time leading scorer)


Barry Odom (Missouri football coach)

  • Brian Bosworth (Two-time All-America linebacker)


"The first time I met Serena Williams 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 tennis player)


Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks center)


Kevin Pillar (San Francisco Giants center fielder)

  • Kobe Bryant (18-time NBA All-Star guard)


Theresa Plaisance (Dallas Wings forward)

  • Courtney Paris (Seattle Storm center)


Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants catcher)

  • Bobby Cox (MLB Hall of Fame manager)


Norman Powell (Toronto Raptors guard/forward)


David Price (Boston Red Sox pitcher)

  • David Justice (Three-time MLB All-Star)


"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)

  • Julio Franco (Three-time MLB All-Star)


Jerry Rice (Former NFL wide receiver)

  • Michael Jordan (Birmingham Barons outfielder)


"The first time I met Michael Jordan 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)

  • Michael Jordan (Underrated golfer)


Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Washington Redskins cornerback)

  • Merton Hanks (Four-time Pro Bowl safety)


Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders midfielder)

  • Kobe Bryant (Venture capitalist)


"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)

  • Muhammad Ali (... stung like a bee)


Kyle Schwarber (Chicago Cubs outfielder)

  • Ken Griffey Jr. (1997 American League MVP)


Zack Steffen (Manchester City goalkeeper)


David Sills V (Buffalo Bills wide receiver)

  • Peyton Manning (Five-time NFL MVP)


Justin Smoak (Toronto Blue Jays first baseman)

  • Chipper Jones (MLB Hall of Fame third baseman/left fielder)


Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm forward/center)

  • Rebecca Lobo
 (1995 NCAA women's basketball champ, UConn)


Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders midfielder)

  • Bjorn Borg (11-time Grand Slam winner)


Solomon Thomas (San Francisco 49ers defensive end)

  • Shaquille O'Neal (15-time NBA All-Star)


Chris Thompson (Washington Redskins running back)

  • LaDainian Tomlinson (Five-time Pro Bowl running back)


Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greek tennis player)


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

  • Michael Jordan (His Airness)


Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors guard)

  • Kobe Bryant (2007-08 NBA MVP)


Eric Weddle (Los Angeles Rams safety)

  • Emmitt Smith (All-time No. 1 NFL rusher)


Keyshawn Whitehorse (Bullriding pro)

  • Michael Jordan (Retired three times)


Deontay Wilder (Heavyweight boxer)

  • Michael Jordan (Says he can still dunk)


K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks LB)

  • Kobe Bryant (Squashed beef with Shaq)


Jackie Young (Las Vegas Aces guard)

  • Candace Parker (Two-time WNBA MVP)


Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks guard)

  • Chauncey Billups (Five-time NBA All-Star)


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, Greg Wyshynski, Royce Young