The 15 Athletes With The Most Swag
Top 15 Swag Rankings
Swag is a funny thing. We know who has it and who doesn’t, but it is nearly impossible to describe in one single definition. There are varying styles of swagger, some blatant and obvious, while others are a bit more subtle but still very much a part of the athlete. Manny Ramirez is a prime example of all things swagger related, and holds the unofficial highest decade total in SWAG (Swagger Wins Above his Generation) for his run at the beginning of the millennium. He was a great player who knew it, but he was also more than quirky enough to relate to the fans. Ramirez was a breath of fresh air to baseball fans that love the game but get tired of cookie-cutter players that conform to the thousands of “rules” that the game of baseball includes. He was like nothing we had ever seen (or possibly will ever see) in baseball, and to some extent, the top 15 swag-filled athletes all have that same quality.
But few players can be as unique as Manny while producing at a Hall-of-Fame level. As you’ll notice, most of the athletes that made the cut are either elite players that are aware of their spot in history, or interesting characters that believe they are elite players. Confidence is required to succeed in sports, but a few of these players ooze confidence, and you can see it with every step they take.
In my rankings, a bonus is awarded for walking the talk. Brandon Jennings isn’t making the cut for his “in six games” prediction, because well ... that’s stupid, not swagger. On the other hand, greatness on its own is not enough to make the cut either (sorry Mariano Rivera). These 15 athletes have all shown a flair for the dramatic, an eye for the spot light and at least a reasonable level of success.
Who are your top five athletes when it comes to total swag? Shoot me a list @unSOPable23.
15. Carlos Gomez
He’s got the physical tools to be a great center fielder in a franchise that is going to need a little re-branding after the Ryan Braun debacle, and if he can add a Milwaukee centerpiece to his brash attitude, Carlos Gomez could easily lead the MLB in swag.
As things stand now, Gomez is an excitable five-tool player in the middle of the Brewers' batting order. He made national headlines after crushing a home run off of Paul Maholm and then proceeding to chirp his way around the bases until running into the brick wall that is Brian McCann on his way to touching home. A bench-clearing brawl ensued, thus launching the legend of Gomez. His unwillingness to back down plays well with fans, especially in a city that loves its football. This whole event put Gomez on the swagger radar, and while the home run and brawl earn bonus points, it was the first swing of that at-bat that earned him this ranking.
He and Maholm have had past incidents (mainly Maholm plunking him and then giving up a laser in the following at-bat), and Gomez came to the plate with the intention to show up the Atlanta Braves starter. On the first pitch, Gomez swung from his heels and while he whiffed, he starred down Maholm and dug back in. Sure, the home run came on the next pitch, but you just don’t see this type of thing in baseball. Gomez felt disrespected and took things into his own hands, something that takes a lot of confidence to do for a hitter who fails 71.9 percent of the time.
The 27-year old has a nice nickname (“Go-Go”) and a very solid follower to following ratio on Twitter (351.4:1). The Milwaukee Bucks and Green Bay Packers made the playoffs last season, but Gomez leads the state in swag.
14. Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick’s play on the field has exceeded all expectations, and his marketability has taken off as a result. He filled in for the injured Alex Smith last season after a 6-2 start, a nearly impossible spot for any young quarterback. Kaepernick not only continued the forward momentum, but he nearly won a Super Bowl.
In addition to contributing to a new brand of quarterbacking in the NFL, Kaep’s bicep-kissing upped his swagger level. In the current age of self-promoting or opponent-embarrassing touchdown celebrations, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback sets himself apart by acknowledging a tattoo that reads “to God the glory”. I’m not saying that combining religion and sports is a good idea (no, Tim Tebow is not in the coming slides), but it allows Kaepernick to be himself, and thus makes him comfortable.
As the success has grown, the confidence in his ability has followed, thus highlighting his natural swagger. He is now part of a Super Bowl favorite, a McDonald’s spokesman, an EA Sports icon and an arm candy for a few female athletes/celebrities, proving that the statement by his tackle Joe Staley is 100 percent accurate: “No moment is too big for him”.
13. Jason Terry
Jason Terry has started only 20.1% of the games over the past six seasons, yet his swag has remained on high alert. The “Jet” celebration is an all-time classic and always seems to appear when his team needs it most. He’s been a professional bucket for more than a decade, a role that, by definition, requires a level of confidence that is borderline line arrogant.
While his career is littered with nice swagger stories, nothing matches “the tattoo”. Heading into the 2010-11 season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, Terry made headlines by getting the Larry O’Brian Trophy tattooed on his right bicep. The originality and long-lasting nature of this informal guarantee moves him up the charts as opposed to a radical statement. Even better? Terry had himself a very nice season 15.8 points and 31.3 minutes per game and was holding the real Trophy in his right arm when all was said and done.
The word “swagger” is a relatively new term, but the 36-year old Terry is proving that it is a lifestyle that simply never goes away. The newest member of the Brooklyn Nets will be getting “BK All Day” inked on his body this offseason, despite having no ties to the state of New York prior to this season.
12. Richard Sherman
It’s a longstanding stereotype that NFL wide receivers are divas, and while there are exceptions to every rule, most of the outspoken players in the league tend to be pass catchers. These receivers talk a lot in the media and off the field, but you have to assume that the chatter on the field that much greater, which is why it is surprising to me that it took this long for a shutdown corner to acknowledge his own greatness.
Richard Sherman is the best player on the best defense in the NFL, and he’ll be the first to tell you. “I’m better at life than you,” he told Skip Bayless on First Take, words that he would never back off of. Attacking diva receivers is one thing, but going after a TV analyst? That’s a revolutionary advancement in the field of swag, earning Sherman big-time bonus points. It is also easy to label the brash confidence as swag as opposed to mindless nonsense when it is coming from a player who was selected behind 153 players just three years ago.
The media hasn’t really given him a nickname, so he naturally gave himself one when opposing Calvin Johnson: Optimus Prime. If he keeps backing up the big mouth with big plays, he’ll keep moving up the swagger charts.
11. Alex Ovechkin
Hockey players are a unique breed of athlete, but Alex Ovechkin has a charm about him that allows the average sports fan to relate to him. The Great 8 is a goofy 28-year old who simply happens to be an all-world NHL player.
He’s featured in the best hockey SportsCenter commercial of all time, has carried the torch in the Olympics, and gets more highlights for his goal celebrations than the actual goals. He faces a tough obstacle in playing a sport that has generally been slow to catch on in the United States, but his individual swagger has made him a star. He plays the game of hockey the same way in the NHL as he did on the streets when he was a youngster, having an insane amount of fun while he works. His willingness to get his nose dirty is another positive trait, as he does not rely on “goons” like some of the game’s stars do.
10. Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig’s swag level is based on his rawness. His raw ability, his raw personality, his raw celebrity; we love all of it and he loves that we love it. He can hardly speak English, so his actions need to work twice as hard to display his full level of swagger.
He’s an emotional player that refuses to hide how he feels, something that baseball frowns upon … unless you hit .436 in your first month in the big leagues. He respects the game by displaying 110 percent effort on plays that require it, and annoys purists by displaying 30 percent effort on routine plays.
Puig hit a walk-off homer against the Cincinnati Reds in late July, and his reaction served as an accurate symbol of his swagger. Immediately after making contact, he flipped the bat, raised both hands, and began a slow trot to first base. As he rounded the bases, he grin stretched from ear to ear, and when he approached a crowded home plate, he slid home for the winning run. Does it make any sense to do? Not really. But it was something that popped into his head, so he did it. The lack of a filter for a fun-loving athlete plays favorably into these ranks, as the unpredictability makes him must-see television.
9. Kyrie Irving
Talk about getting exactly what the doctor ordered. After “The Decision”, the Cleveland Cavaliers were once again a faceless franchise positioned to fail, much like the pre-LeBron era. But when management decided to roll the dice on a Duke point guard who had played all of 11 collegiate games with the first overall pick in 2011, they hit it big again.
Kyrie Irving was exactly what the city of Cleveland needed. His fun-loving attitude gave the city a reason to like basketball again, and his swag alone has kept the Cavs relevant while they rebuild. His “Uncle Drew” Pepsi commercials allow us to see the real Irving, an athlete who loves life. For most everyone, basketball is a game that starts on the streets in pick-up games, where swag is just as important as your ability to play. During last season’s “Rising Stars Challenge”, Irving proved that all the money and fame in the world can’t take the inner baller out of him. He and Brandon Knight were locked in a classic three-possession one-on-one showdown, with Irving emerging the unanimous victor. He’s a great player and has developed into a showman quite quickly, leaving plenty of swagger upside should the Cavs once again become contenders.
8. DeSean Jackson
Where to start with this guy? DeSean Jackson is a 5-foot-10 wide receiver who weighs 175 soaking wet that has never had a truly elite statistical season. He hates contact (and is somehow a football player), yet after hauling in a pass and running out of bounds, he makes time to tell the defense just how good he is. He doesn’t score a ton of touchdowns, but when he does, he enjoys every second of it.
So where does all of this swag originate from? The only rationale I’ve got is that he plays receiver, a position that requires you to feel like you’re always the quarterback's best option. He’s hardly caught 50 percent of the passes thrown his way over his career, but always believes that the next play is six points. Has he deserved the right to feel this way? Probably not as he averages less than four catches per game and scores once a month for his career, but I’m not going to be the one to tell him that.
Off the field ,@Jaccpot10 has become an Instagram sensation and is trying to create brand as a rapper (although losing $10,000 in a rap battle that was “officiated” by teammate Mike Vick is probably a rough start). He made a cameo in Snoop Dogg/Lion’s “Diamonds On My Neck” video, thus aligning himself with the swag-filled superstar. A little more on-field success, and DJax could easily lead the NFL in swag.
7. J.R. Smith
Much like Jackson, J.R. Smith truly believes that running the offense through him isn’t only the best option -- it is the only option. He can get extremely hot (made 11 3-pointers in a single game as a member of the Denver Nuggets), but ask any New York Knicks fan and they will tell you that it can go in the other direction just as quickly. He doesn’t think passing is cool, so he simply doesn’t do it. Smith is that guy we all know from open gym that nobody likes playing with, but they hate playing against even more. Watch him play, and you’d think that he didn't miss a single shot: that’s swag, especially for a player who rarely starts and is shooting under 43 percent from the field for his career.
Smith lives by his own rules off the court, much like he does on it. He bought an armored truck this offseason (retail price: $450,000) to fend off the haters. Before that, he managed to get 27 points tacked onto his license in less than nine months and had many a social media gaffe. If you’re going to be an average NBA player and rank this high on the list, a lack of a filter and/or common sense is vital, an area in which Smith excels. Swag isn’t always a good thing, but living life the way you want to is part of the definition, and no one can deny that Smith does just that.
6. Tom Brady
Tom Brady is a unique case, as his swag has developed with success, whereas most of these athletes had swag all along and happened to succeed. He has the greatest statistical regular season of all time (2007), three Super Bowl Rings (and five AFC Championships) and a supermodel wife -- yeah, I’d say he has every right to be happy about where he’s at in life.
Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation, and he knows it and assumes you do too. He’s been accused of celebrating scores a bit too much and has often been caught talking trash to opponents, but he feels that he has earned that right -- his swag. His “we are only going score 17 points [against the Giants in the Super Bowl]?” interview doesn’t count against him (they lost the game and their perfect season, by a score of 17-14) because he truly believed what he was saying. Some of today’s athletes say things just to get press, but I think Brady’s swag stems from falling so far in the draft (199th overall selection) and is 100 percent genuine. He also gets a little bit of help from his head coach in Bill Belichick, as any player would appear to have massive amounts of swagger at a news conference after following the standard Belichick interview.
5. LeBron James
Hate LeBron James all you want, but we as a society have fed into his confidence. He was the Sports Illustrated cover boy at 16 years old and we tuned in to watch his high school team on ESPN. We generated the hype about “The Decision” and we made him a villain once he was in Miami. We also then praised him for his success and began labeling him as potentially the best player the world has ever seen. Over the years, James has grown up before our eyes and now has an identity, a swagger, all his own.
At a young age, he had “Chosen One” inked across his back, a tattoo that indicated he believed the hype. From that point forward, James has developed into a showman, a role that has rubbed many people the wrong way over the years. But without that sort of self confidence, would he have been able to lead the Cavs to the NBA Finals?
His swagger has reached another level over the past few years as he finally appears comfortable in his own skin. He talks about getting better every offseason, and while he acknowledges that the media doesn’t believe he can possibly get any better, his drive is real. The fact that his post-game wardrobe has become national news (and the standard in which most star players hold themselves to) is simply another example of LeBron being LeBron. He’s been in the spot light for more than a decade and has mastered the art of swag while entering the prime of his career, a rare combination.
4. Allen Iverson
Yeah, I get it. He’s retired. He hasn’t been a relevant athlete for half a decade. He’s allegedly broke. But you know what? The NBA is what it is today because of AI. No professional league has more swagger than the NBA, a transformation that would have never happened without 10 great years from Allen Iverson.
His lightning-quick crossover brought showmanship into sport, something that had never really been done before. He would not only score, he would do in the most visually appealing way. His crossover victims include all-time greats like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, but it was his crossover of Tyronn Lue and following step-over in the 2001 NBA Finals that will forever be remembered. He also made wearing an arm sleeve cool (not sure how that happened, but it did), and gave every little skinny kid hope that he could one day make it. No swagger list is complete without the Answer, and he earns the top spot for ballers as he opened the door for today’s set of confident players.
3. Johnny Manziel
Can a college athlete really make this list? Johnny Manziel knows the NCAA hates him, and embraces every single second it. He lives life under his own rules and continues to perform at an elite level. He won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and while he’s said he hates the attention he gets at campus, I’m not buying that for one second. Johnny Football has been pictured with beautiful women, handfuls of money and with famous athletes, a funny way to avoid the spotlight that he hates.
He’s only 20-years old (and he’ll make sure you know that), so there is the potential that he grows out of this swag-filled state, but it’s not going to happen while he is killing collegiate defenses. No one can stop him right now, and though that might change at the next level, his confidence isn’t going anywhere. He has no respect for his opponents, something that might be frowned upon everywhere else; but for in a swagger ranking, that only helps. He wants to not only beat you -- he wants to embarrass you and make sure you know what just happened. His tumultuous offseason only fed his ego that is Johnny Football, a persona that seems to thrive on hate and disapproval.
Manziel is a lot of things, but a conformist he is not. Regardless of how you feel about Manziel or even college football, you are forced to tune in, and he knows that. He’s the big man at College Station for now, but he and his swag are coming to a NFL team near you soon.
2. Usain Bolt
Like Puig, Usain Bolt doesn’t waste more effort than he needs to. He’s famous for going into cruise control at the end of the race, something that is hard to do in a 100 meter sprint. Bolt is a dominating talent with an over-sized ego, and the fact that we aren’t exposed to him on a daily basis only helps him.
Before Bolt, when was the last time you planed your day around watching a 10-second foot race? He has made sprinting cool, and with the elite American runners testing positive for drugs, he is the only name we can associate with the sport. What separates Bolt from the pack is that he allows us to create his legend. He doesn’t go out of his way to rank himself among the all-time greats or seek national interviews; he simply runs fast in a straight line and has a ball in doing so. This controlled confidence ranks high for me, as it adds to his legacy instead of becoming his legacy.
1. Floyd Mayweather
Was there any doubt that Floyd Mayweather would be atop this list? He is everything that Usain Bolt is (the lone recognizable name in his sport and potentially the greatest of all time) and has the persona that appeals to the masses. He calls himself the greatest and has backed it up 45 straight times (26 knockouts). Boxing is a dying sport, but we all want to see how Money Mayweather does. The ability to draw attention to a less than popular sport is a difficult responsibility, but Money has thrived in the spotlight.
As entertaining as it is to watch Mayweather toying with “elite” boxers in the ring, his out-of-the-ring antics have been equally as entertaining. He is famous for making insane wagers on big-time sporting events, living up to his nickname. Money is an open book and will speak his mind, never hesitating to give a nice sound bite. But what makes Mayweather different from the rest of these brash athletes? He is not only the center of a reviving sport, a true entertainer and an elite athlete, he also seems to have the ability to step back and look at the big picture.
“Boxing is real easy. Life is much harder.”
Congrats Pretty Boy, you’ve topped the 2013 Swag Index. Not that your ego needs the help, but this is another area in which you are unbeaten. Can Bolt sprint past you? Will Johnny Football, the NFL version, be a threat when money is legally in play? Only time will tell, but for 2013, Money continues to talk.
Who are your top five athletes when it comes to total swag? Shoot me a list @unSOPable23.