As hard as professional athletes have to work, their careers in athletics do afford them quite a bit of downtime, especially during the offseason. In between training sessions and team activities, many pro athletes spend their free time in the same way their fans do by watching live sporting events, catching the previous night's highlights or discussing whatever sport happens to be in season.
While the majority of athletes are at least familiar with what is going on in the other professional sports leagues, there are a number athletes who have more than just a passing interest in sports other than their own. In fact, there are several athletes who devote a lot of time to following the sports that they are not getting paid to play, and sometimes the sports that pique their interest are quite unusual.
Given that soccer is widely considered the most popular sport in the world, it is not surprising to learn that many international athletes are obsessed with the sport more commonly known as football outside of the US. Of course, the sports that many pro athletes are obsessed with are quite varied and are sometimes quite unexpected, though in other cases it is not quite surprising at all.
For anyone who has every listened to former Reds first baseman Sean Casey in his role on the MLB Network, it is immediately clear that the man nicknamed “The Mayor” is a huge fan of the WWE, and many of his humorous segments on the network relate to his love of wrestling. But Casey is not the only professional athlete to have a love for a sport other than his own, and what follows are 10 athletes who are obsessed with the sports that they do not play for a living.
10 Rajon Rondo – Roller-Skating
Rondo’s superb ball-handling skills enable him to frequently put defenders on skates at will, but the Dallas Mavericks point guard is familiar with skates in the literal sense as well. The mercurial Louisville native took up roller-skating shortly after joining the NBA and, according to him, is the best skater in the NBA. It probably is not surprising that Rondo has an odd off-court athletic interest, as this is also the player who is known for regularly destroying opponents in games of Connect Four. While still with the Celtics, Rondo had to be warned by Boston GM Danny Ainge that if he got hurt skating, he would not be getting paid. Rondo wasn’t worried, however, since he was -- and evidently still is -- the best skater in the NBA.
9 Russell Wilson - Baseball
Wilson has reached two consecutive Super Bowls with the Seahawks, but that has not dampened the Seattle quarterback’s interest in the game of baseball. Drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and picked up by the Texas Rangers in the Rule 5 Draft in 2013, Wilson has participated in Spring Training with the Rangers each of the last two years. Wilson explained his reason for doing so to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, saying, “I love baseball, so any opportunity I would have to hang out with the guys and take some swings, I’ll take.”
8 Kobe Bryant - Soccer
Despite being one of the NBA’s greatest players and ranking near the top of the all-time scoring list, Bryant is a much bigger fan of soccer than he is of basketball. He has traveled all over the world for soccer matches and, as a kid growing up in Italy, played the game on a daily basis. Bryant even went so far as to tell FIFA.com that soccer “is actually my favourite sport.” He took in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and he is certainly not the last NBAer that will appear on this list due to an obsessive love of soccer.
7 Jeff Samardzija - Football
During his time at Notre Dame, Samardzija was much more well known for his exploits on the football field than on the baseball diamond, and many observers were surprised that the former Fighting Irish wide receiver opted to pursue a career in baseball rather than in football. It has worked out well for the Chicago White Sox right-hander, but Samardzija has admitted that there were several times throughout his career when he wondered if he made the right decision. After reaching the bigs for the first time at age 25, Samardzija had to be talked out of making an attempt to pursue an NFL career after he was lit up by the New York Mets in 2010. His agent told him to sleep on the decision, and he ultimately carried on with the baseball career that has proven to be quite successful after all.
6 Zack Greinke - Football
Greinke has a reputation for being brutally honest, so much so that when he was asked about the Dodgers beginning the season with a series in Australia, he said he felt “zero excitement” about the trip. While he may not have been enthused about traveling across 17 time zones to play a regular-season game, Greinke is known as an obsessive fantasy football enthusiast in the Dodgers clubhouse. Catcher A.J. Ellis once noted that Greinke is “much more excited about his fantasy football than anything he has coming up in the future,” a comment that was made just before the Dodgers were to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.
The stories about Greinke’s fantasy football obsession are many, and apparently the Dodgers starter is more trade-happy than most, perhaps to the point of distraction. For example, immediately following a close loss late in the season, Greinke took a moment to propose a fantasy football trade with the clubhouse attendant while his teammates stormed off the field and into the clubhouse, according to ESPN's Mark Saxon.
That’s not the only story about Greinke’s fantasy football obsession, as Ellis also relayed that, following a Dodgers victory that clinched the division, Greinke’s focus was not on the win, but on football: “We come up with this big win, and of course, all he wants to talk about postgame is how he won his first fantasy football game,” Ellis said. “He’s 1-4. He says he’s like the Dodgers, he gets off to a slow start and then comes on strong and makes the playoffs."
5 Magic Johnson - Baseball
Johnson is one of the NBA’s all-time greats and, along with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, is responsible for revitalizing the pro game in the 1980s and 1990s. He has maintained a prominent role in the Los Angeles sports community, as he is now the face of the ownership group that controls the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though he is still very outspoken regarding the state of the Lakers and was most recently seen at Michigan State’s NCAA tournament game, he is also quite visible at Dodger Stadium while rubbing elbows with the likes of Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers players.
4 J.J. Watt - Hockey
If J.J. Watt looks positively terrifying on the football field, imagine him slamming into opponents while on the ice and equipped with a hockey stick. Watt grew up in Wisconsin and was very interested in hockey, which he played competitively until the age of 13. Although he gave up the sport, he still remains very interested in the game, saying, "I love hockey. Any time it's on TV, I'm always watching. My goal is to one day go to the Winter Olympics to check out some Olympic hockey." Watt was so serious about the sport that he played on travel hockey teams that competed abroad in Germany. Of course, hockey and football share a number of similarities, a fact that Watt noted by saying, “You have to be tough to play hockey. You have to work hard, and I think that's why I was drawn to it."
3 Clayton Kershaw - Ping Pong
Kershaw is famously competitive, and that competitive streak extends well beyond the baseball diamond to include the realm of Ping Pong. The three-time Cy Young winner organizes a team tournament for his Dodgers teammates each spring, and he hosts a charity Ping-Pong tournament during the summer to raise money for worthy causes. It is widely known among the Dodgers that whatever team Kershaw is on is the likely favorite, and Kershaw won this year’s team doubles tournament alongside highly touted prospect Corey Seager.
2 Steve Nash - Soccer
Now that Nash has announced his retirement, he has much more time to play and follow soccer, something that he has already acknowledged while recently speaking to ESPN’s Marc Stein, saying that he watches "Every Spurs, Barcelona and [Vancouver] Whitecaps game," now that so much of his time is no longer occupied by pro basketball. A part owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps, an MLS franchise, Nash’s pro basketball career has long been influenced by soccer, from his style of play to the number he chose to wear after joining the Lakers (10, worn Glenn Hoddle and Zinedine Zidane). One of the more memorable soccer-influenced moments of his basketball career has to have been during the 2005 NBA Dunk Contest, when he assisted Amar’e Stoudemire by heading the ball to his Phoenix Suns teammate.
1 Kevin Garnett - Soccer
KG is so obsessed with soccer that he has two goals installed behind his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in order to play the game during his offseasons away from basketball. His love for the game extends beyond playing it for fun, as Garnett is also an avid fan of Chelsea and has attended games all over the world, including the Brazil-Mexico friendly that drew over 67,000 fans to Gillette Stadium in New England.
As for playing, Garnett has acknowledged that his 6’11” frame may be best suited for playing goal, but he’d have much more fun as a striker, saying, "I don't want to be a goalie. I don't have striker's skills, I just want the liberty of not only passing the ball but also the liberty of shooting the ball, or at least trying to be a striker. I know, everybody wants that. But in basketball I'm good at being a liaison between the scorer and the passer and making sure everyone is getting better. In soccer, I don't want to do that. I want to kick the ball all over the place."
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