Decade's outsized personalities
Shaquille O'Neal has been a ubiquitous presence on and off the court in the '00s
Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco have no trouble drawing attention to themselves
Mike Tyson remains a compelling figure long after his heavyweight-title days
1. Shaquille O'Neal
He's a platinum-record-making rapper (Shaq Diesel), a genie trapped in a magical boombox (Kazaam) and a sheriff and an honorary deputy U.S. Marshal in his free time. He's a business school graduate (University of Phoenix online, Class of 2005), a martial artist in an eponymous video game (Shaq Fu) and a freestyle rapper who burns bridges with former teammates. What else? He's a reality television star ("Shaq Vs."), a four-time NBA champion, and the most popular athlete on Twitter. He has approximately 15 nicknames (Wilt Chamberneezy is, arguably, the best) and quietly, anonymously, donates truckloads of money to philanthropic causes. When he's inducted into the Hall of Fame next decade, let's just hope his plaque has enough space for it all.
2. Charles Barkley
Admit it: If you lived in the state of Alabama, you'd think long and hard about voting for Barkley as your governor in 2014. Of course, there is a virtually endless list of reasons not to as well. Start with his actual political affiliation being ambiguous at best; over the past 15 years, he went from self-identifying as a Republican, to supporting Barack Obama, and then, most recently, to being an Independent. Then there's his DUI, in December of last year, wherein Barkley explained that he was rushing to pick up a female passenger for a sex act. (On second thought, that doesn't disqualify him from politics at all.) But he's also the most entertaining retired athlete on earth. And selfishly, you think, maybe that's reason enough.
3. Ron Artest
There is no match more perfect than Artest and Hollywood. The man has a record label (Tru Warier Records) and compulsively interacts with fans via three (count 'em, three) Twitter accounts (@96TruWarierQB, @ThugRaider37 and the black sheep of them all, @Basketball_Ron) with no immediately discernible differences. When SI.com recently approached him for a normal, run-of-the-mill interview, he unilaterally staged an elaborate, impromptu photo shoot complete with a camera crew and a 23-year-old Turkish model he had recently met in a hotel lobby. And, despite being otherwise good-natured, he started arguably the most infamous brawl in sports history, the Pacers-Pistons melee in 2004.
4. Dana White
If you're reading this list and you don't know who White is, I'm afraid you're sitting on the wrong end of the demographic curve. You may not like White's product (mixed martial arts) and you may not like the man himself, but you should be acutely aware of him for the simple reason that his UFC has become mainstream. White stands at the fore as an active general, someone who is as brilliant at marketing his sport as he is abrasive. He curses. He picks fights. He launches over the line, as when he employed YouTube to go off on a sportswriter he didn't like by using homophobic slurs. (He later apologized, sort of.) It's impressive that White's and the UFC's success comes in spite of that -- or, perhaps, partially because of it, these days.
5. Jose Canseco
No one believed him, predictably. Who would? Here was the guy who had a string of embarrassingly public problems throughout his life, financial and domestic. In October 2008, he'd be detained by immigration officials at the San Diego border for attempting to bring in a fertility drug from Mexico. In the span of one year, he would step into the ring against the likes of Danny Bonaduce (it was a majority draw) and 7-foot-2 MMA fighter Hong Man Choi (Canseco lost by submission). But in the end, it turns out, Canseco really did know drugs. He said the baseball star who didn't use PEDs was the exception, not the rule. He named Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, among others, as users. And so Canseco became baseball's Oracle of Delphi. The truth works in mysterious ways.
6. John Daly
He is at once the common man and completely unrelatable. He is thrice-divorced. He has named Jack Daniels as his biggest demon. He is a victim of his own addiction to gambling (to the tune of $50 million to $60 million over 12 years, he has guessed). He once teed off of a Bud Light tall boy at a pro-am tournament. He shot a 74 the day after his wife left scratch marks up and down his face. He was once discovered by police while passed out at Hooters, which incidentally once sponsored him (they no longer sponsor him). He is literally a background vocalist on a Kid Rock song.
7. Terrell Owens
Overexposure is an understatement. Whether it was spiking the ball off of the star in Texas Stadium (as a Niner), or lifting weights before the media on his front yard in New Jersey, or starring in an eponymous VH1 reality show, or playing for the Adirondack Wildcats of the U.S. Basketball League, or being hospitalized after ingesting pills as a Cowboy (he said it was an allergic reaction), or pulling a Sharpie out of his sneaker to celebrate a touchdown, or weeping at a press conference to defend the honor of Tony Romo, Owens seems to know exactly what we want: far, far, less of T.O. And thus we only get more.
8. Curt Schilling
You may not like Schilling: He's loud, he's blunt and he has mastered the Internet and the powers of his own celebrity as well as any other athlete this decade. His oft-updated personal Web site, 38Pitches.com, is a prime example of an athlete cutting out the middle man (read: journalists and flacks). Indeed, contrary to all P.R. conventional wisdom, he posts to the Sons of Sam Horn Red Sox message board. He is openly political and has campaigned for George W. Bush and John McCain. He was a hell of a postseason pitcher who, with his bloody sock, dramatically helped end the Red Sox's lifetime of futility. He is obsessed with online computer games like World of Warcraft and EverQuest. There is something, in other words, for most everyone to dislike.
9. Gilbert Arenas
Before the Twitter craze, before Yardbarker.com, before athletes and the Internet became synonymous, there was Arenas and his blog in October 2006. Sure, he's plenty good on the court -- when healthy -- but his Web site is what enabled fans worldwide to sample a taste of what former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan dubbed Gilbertology. That's the only term, really, to describe the man who once showered in shoes and full uniform during halftime of a game against the Warriors; who once dreamed up a commercial that involved a girl getting clotheslined by a kid in a wheelchair; who often prefers sleeping on a couch to a bed; who used to yell "Hibachi!" while shooting; who randomly joined a layup line of Elvis impersonators dunking off a trampoline during the 2007 All-Star Game (Shaq dared him, naturally).
10. Mike Tyson