AMONG ACTIVE SPORTSMEN AND WOMEN, THE HIERARCHY IS EQUALLY EVER-CHANGING—BUT FOR NOW, SOVEREIGNTY BELONGS TO KING JAMES
1 LEBRON JAMES
The most dynamic all-around threat in NBA history—go ahead, try to dispute that—turned 28 in December, a global icon entering his peak years as an influence-maker and endorser (Nike, McDonald's, Coca-Cola ...). His move from Cleveland to Miami in 2010 completely shifted the league's balance of power—something that could be repeated in '14, when he again becomes a free agent.
2 TIGER WOODS
He remains the singular figure in golf who can significantly boost TV ratings and tournament turnout. After a few years of scandal and less-than-Woodsian success, the 37-year-old's endorsement portfolio ($55 million) is fat again.
3 ROGER FEDERER
Never mind that he's the most decorated men's tennis player ever; is there a more likable athlete? A 2011 Reputation Institute study listed Federer, 31, as the second-most-respected man in the world—behind only Nelson Mandela. A global brand (more than $50 million per year) who speaks four languages, he still takes an interest in his sport's unceasing nitty-gritty politics, filling a leadership void.
4 LIONEL MESSI
His genius on the pitch helps Barcelona sell oodles of jerseys and maintain its status as one of the world's great soccer powers. Messi's endorsements include Adidas, PepsiCo, Dolce & Gabanna and a memorable Turkish Airlines commercial with Kobe Bryant. The scariest thing of all? The diminutive striker is only 25.
5 THE MANNINGS