Its logo may be a cute little bird, but Twitter is actually a monster in the social networking world. Today, among its more than 554 million users are athletes who utilize the microblogging service to connect with their multitudes of fans and keep them updated on the latest goings-on in their professional and private lives. Not surprisingly, sportsmen-owned accounts are among those with the highest number of Twitter followers, as their admirers continue to seek ways of finding a personal connection with their idols.
On several occasions, however, the tweets of athletes have become fodder for the news-hungry press. For example, during the 2013 NBA playoffs between the Lakers and the Spurs, Kobe Bryant's tweets criticizing the Lakers' play caused his coach Mike D'Antoni to roll his eyes as he described Kobe as "a fan". Eventually, Bryant would decide to stop tweeting commentaries on Lakers games.
Even more significantly, tweets can severely affect an athlete's performance. In the 2012 London Olympics, Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was banned from participating in the Games after she posted this racially charged tweet:
While Twitter hasn't always been beneficial for athletes, keeping the public in the loop through regular tweets has become almost necessary to keep fans happy. And if the number of Twitter followers these sportsmen have amassed is any indication, athletes are likely to continue to use the medium to maintain and grow their fan base.
Here are the 10 athletes who have been able to attract the most Twitter followers in order of their wealth:
10 Neymar Junior (Football Player) / Net Worth: $13 Million
It's always interesting whenever celebrities tweet each other, and this is exactly what Twitter users enjoyed when Brazilian football standout Neymar engaged in a 'tweeted' conversation with co-superstars Dilma and Ronaldo before the 2014 World Cup draw.
Dilma actually started the exchange by tweeting, "The eyes of the world are on Brazil," followed by a tweet directed at Neymar, "So is there a difference if you meet opponents considered as weaker at the start or do you prefer to meet the best at the outset?"
Neymar then responded by tagging another player, "Ah, in a World Cup, there is no such thing as a weak opponent, isn't that so Ronaldo?"
The scorer of the goals that sealed the win over Germany in the 2002 final answered, "In the games considered as easier, there is more pressure to win."
When asked by Dilma about whether or not playing with Brazilian fans made a difference, Neymar emphatically replied, "Without a doubt! You only have to look at the support we got at the Confederations Cup."
And with two South American Footballer of the Year Awards, a FIFA Puskas Awards, and being Sporstpro's 2012 and 2013 most marketable athlete in the world at just 21 years of age, it's safe to expect that Neymar is going to win many more supporters. And Twitter followers.
9 Wayne Rooney (Football Player) / Net Worth: $67.5 Million
Wayne Rooney, forward for Premier League club Manchester United and England's national team, has a temper problem. In fact, to this day, the five-time Premier League champion still resorts to boxing to release his excess steam. Well, it seems that "Wazza" has found yet another way to vent his emotions: Twitter.
After Sky Sports commentators Martin Tyler and Graeme Souness criticized Rooney for kicking Cardiff City's Jordon Mutch during Manchester United's match in late November of 2013, the 2009-2010 FWA Footballer of the Year posted a series of biting tweets that he has since erased:
Controversial. But those are exactly the types of tweets that Twitter users relish and have allowed Rooney to amass more than 7.7 million followers.
8 Dwayne Johnson (Sports Entertainer) / Net Worth: $70 Million
The popularity of semi-retired WWE wrestler Dwayne Johnson, better known as "The Rock", has undoubtedly been helped by his acting ventures. Movies like "The Mummy Returns" (for which the $5.5 million he received is a record for first-time movie actors) and "The Game Plan" have allowed him to become known to an even wider audience, and in turn have resulted in him gaining even more Twitter followers.
In fact, Johnson's tweeting made news in December of 2013 due to his association with recently deceased Paul Walker, a co-actor in "Fast Five" of the "Fast and the Furious" movie franchise. The Rock heart-wrenchingly tweeted:
On regular days, however, Johnson often tweets about his workout routines and developments in his career. Seemingly in recognition of his role-model status, the first third-generation wrestler of the WWE also posts motivational messages through his account.
However, true to his professional wrestling persona, The Rock doesn't follow anyone - even on Twitter.
7 Andres Iniesta (Football Player) / Net Worth: $78 Million
Despite having posted his first tweet in October of 2009, Andres Iniesta has, as of this writing, posted only 654 tweets, the fewest number of posts among all athletes in this list. And yet, the Spanish footballer has amassed an amazing 7.6 million followers. But perhaps it's only fitting that Andres has such such a strong following on Twitter, despite his relative tweeting silence. After all, his football career has progressed in a very similar way.
Iniesta received his foundational training from the Barcelona youth academy before quietly working his way up to a spot on Barcelona B in 2011, then a year later the main Barcelona team, where he still plays. His achievements, however, have been anything but silent.
Andres was part of the 2009 Barcelona team that gathered 6 titles in one season, a feat still unparalleled by any club today. Furthermore, Iniesta was a member of the Spanish squad that won the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where he scored the winning goal in the finals. As a result of these accomplishments, among many others, Iniesta is considered one of the greatest midfielders of all time and one of the best footballers of his generation.
6 Ronaldinho Gaucho (Football Player) / Net Worth: $90 Million
Because of his stunning skills and tricks, Ronaldinho is another candidate for the best footballer of his generation. And he is so recognized with good reason. Throughout his storied career, the 33-year-old attacking midfielder and forward has played in 97 matches, scoring 33 goals for the Brazilian national squad, and was an important member of the 2002 FIFA World Cup championship team.
His real name, by the way, is actually "Ronaldo", but he was given the nickname "Ronaldinho" because he was often the smallest and youngest player in youth club matches. Now neither small nor young at 6-feet-tall and 33 years of age, the native Brazilian is a legend. It seems Ronaldinho knows his status and is appreciative of it, with tweets showing such gratefulness to his fans as this one does:
5 Kaka Leite (Football Player) / Net Worth: $100 Million
Despite other athletes having since overtaken him with larger numbers of followers, Kaka is the first sportsperson to have amassed 10 million followers on Twitter. He even acknowledged the accomplishment on his account:
This feat firmly established him as one of the most popular athletes in the world, although that fact had already long been known.
In fact, When Kaka joined Milan in 2003, he was paid only €8.5 million (just over $11.6 million), but Kaka would prove that he was worth much more than that when he won the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 2007. As a result, when he moved to Real Madrid in 2009, his transfer fee was €65 million (more than $88.8 million). That amount was the second-highest transfer fee ever, bested only by the €75 million (more than $102.5 million) paid to Zinedine Zidane.
4 Lebron James (Basketball Player) / Net Worth: $120 Million
After winning two consecutive NBA championships with the Miami Heat (2012, 2013) and having received the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award four separate times (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013), Lebron James finds himself in the midst of conversations about who is the best to have ever played basketball. Well, after dubbing himself "King James", there's little doubt that Lebron believes he ought to be considered for the distinction.
That doesn't mean, however, that James takes himself all too seriously. This is evident in the types of tweets his followers have the pleasure of receiving from today's biggest basketball superstar. Here's one:
With such candid and humorous tweets, it's not surprising that King James has amassed an amazing 10.7 million Twitter followers.
3 Cristiano Ronaldo (Football Player) / Net Worth: $150 Million
Cristiano Ronaldo is currently the athlete with the most Twitter followers, as he has convinced more than 23.3 million Twitter users to give his account a follow. With such a staggering number of subscribers, most people would expect the Portuguese footballer (and highest-paid footballer in the world) to be quite judicious in the use of his account. However, in October of 2013, Ronaldo posted some presumably innocent but easily misinterpreted tweets concerning a boys' underwear competition connected to his underwear line.
The series of tweets began innocently enough with an announcement:
Then after the entries had come in arrived Ronaldo's tweet of gratitude:
That was followed by:
It's probably safe to assume that Ronaldo won't be tweeting about boys' underwear again anytime soon.
2 Gerard Pique (Football Player) / Net Worth: $245 Million
Athletes are understandably very passionate about the sports they play and the competition they face. Well, FC Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique probably underestimated the sensitivity of rival Alvaro Arbeloa of Real Madrid when a tweet by Pique sparked a small Twitter war in September of 2013.
The barbed tweets began after Pique posted a charged comment about Barcelona's less-than-convincing win over newly promoted Elche through a 95th-minute penalty:
On October 26, 2013, Pique's Barcelona edged Arbeloa's Real Madrid 2-1.
1 Shaquille O'Neal (Basketball Player) / Net Worth: $250 Million
Shaquille O'Neal certainly made waves on the court as a player, winning 4 NBA championships (200, 2001, 2002, 2006) and being named MVP in 2000. However, Shaq has also been very successful when he has chosen to wear other hats, including that of a rapper and an actor.
In fact, ever since Shaq joined the Turner Network Television (TNT) team as a basketball analyst, he has certainly attracted a lot of attention whenever he pokes fun at active players. One of his unfortunate victims was former Celtics teammate, now OKC Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.
Then quickly added:
Well, if Perkins wanted to get Shaq's attention, he certainly did. The next day, O'Neal tweeted about Kendrick's performance:
Maybe Kendrick ought to be advised to find someone else to post critiques about. After all, Shaq's Twitter header doesn't read "VERY QUOTATIOUS" for nothing.
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