Athletes Who Were the Best (and Worst) Musicians
Many athletes want to be actors, and many musicians and actors want to be athletes. It's the push-pull of fame where you become so good at something, you think you can do anything. That's not always the case.
But some athletes have had big-time success with music. To get a true sense of an athlete's musical talent, we have to look at the overall quality, notoriety and recognizability of their music careers. Think of it as an athlete's Q rating as a musician.
These are the athletes who were the best (and worst) at playing music.
30. John McEnroe
Album/song/group: The Johnny Smyth Band
Bottom line: One of the truly awful athlete-musicians, former tennis champion John McEnroe tried his hand in The Johnny Smyth Band after his career was over. And the reviews were turgid.
McEnroe's taste in music can't be questioned. He married legendary singer/songwriter Patti Smyth in 1997. And it was Smyth who once told McEnroe, "One of us will be working away from home on a music tour in the future, and it ain't gonna be you."
29. Kobe Bryant
Album/song/group: K.O.B.E. (2000)
Bottom line: Kobe Bryant was looking to launch a rap career before he was in the NBA. Before Kobe was drafted, Sony signed him and his group called CHEIZAW to a record deal and kept him on the books with the hope he would one day ditch the group and become a solo act.
Once Bryant did, they finally got a glimpse of what they'd paid for — a terrible rapper. Sony had a full-length album set for release with "Visions" in the spring/summer of 2000, but once they heard his debut single "K.O.B.E.," they decided to stop the plans for an entire album.
Did they make the right decision? You be the judge.
28. Doug Flutie
Album/song/group: The Flutie Brothers Band
Bottom line: Some athletes have grand ambitions for music success, but we will give Doug Flutie credit for staying in his lane. He's the drummer of The Flutie Brothers Band, and they've mostly played at tribute shows and charity events.
We've listened, and Flutie is a more-than-serviceable drummer, which shouldn't be a big surprise because he seems to just be able to pick up things at a moment's notice. He once decided to run the Boston Marathon for charity just two days before the race and finished in 5:23:54.
27. Carl Lewis
Sport: Track and field
Album/song/group: Modern Man (1987)
Bottom line: Carl Lewis is one of the greatest Olympic champions of all time. The Alabama native won nine gold medals over four Olympics, including four consecutive gold medals in the long jump.
What Lewis could not do was sing. And that wasn't for lack of trying. His 1987 album "Modern Man" is possibly the worst album ever put out by an athlete and produced one of the most cringe-worthy videos of all time.
The nail in the coffin to Lewis' music career? No doubt it was his butchering of the national anthem before a 1993 NBA Chicago Bulls-New Jersey Nets game.
26. Chris Kluwe
Album/song/group: The Sideshow Sessions (2009), Perfect Citizen (2011)
Bottom line: FormerMinnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe was known for being outspoken during his eight-year career. Most notably, he was a vocal advocate for same-sex marriage, criticized the team he played for, and bashed top NFL players during the 2011 NFL lockout for their "greed."
Kluwe didn't just speak his mind and smash punts. He was also in a band. Kluwe released two albums with his band, Tripping Icarus, and once got newly signed quarterback Donovan McNabb to mention the band in a news conference in exchange for giving up his No. 5 jersey to McNabb.
Let's just say they weren't exactly Pearl Jam.
25. Allen Iverson
Album/song/group: 40 Bars (2000)
Bottom line: Former NBA commissioner David Stern stepped in to kill Allen Iverson's music career after he released the controversial rap single "40 Bars" under the moniker "Jewelz" following the 2000 season.
The profanity-laden lyrics, which the NAACP called "misogynistic, nihilistic, pugilistic and homophobic," were taken to task by Stern publicly, and Iverson first agreed to make an edited version before he decided to scrap the album altogether.
Iverson wasn't totally done being attached to rap music. His former girlfriend, Da Brat, was the first female rap solo artist with a platinum record.
24. Metta Sandiford-Artest
Album/song/group: My World (2006)
Bottom line: Lots of athletes try on music careers for size, but very few of them let it have a significant impact on their athletic careers because they're professional athletes who realize they're getting paid vast sums of money to play a game and that should be their priority.
Metta Sandiford-Artest was a notable exception. In 2004, the Indiana Pacers were a championship contender, and Artest asked for time off to promote an upcoming solo album, saying he was "doing a little bit too much music" and needed the break.
23. Guy Lafleur
Album/song/group: Lafleur! (1979)
Bottom line: Guy Lafleur is one of the greatest hockey players who ever lived. He has five Stanley Cup championships and was the first player in NHL history to score at least 50 goals in six consecutive seasons.
Lafleur was never more popular than after winning his fifth Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1979, and like so many athletes, he was looking for ways to cash in.
Lafleur did that with a disco album, which was just him reciting hockey rules and instructions over disco beats. He made an English version and a French version.
22. Jacques Villeneuve
Sport: Auto racing
Album/song/group: Private Paradise (2007)
Bottom line: The 1995 Indy 500 champion and son of legendary driver Gilles Villeneuve released hir acoustic rock album "Private Paradise" in 2007 with songs in both French and in English.
"Paradise'" only sold 836 albums in North America and was ripped to shreds critically, meaning the closest Villeneuve would ever come to musical success would be his short engagement to Australian pop star Dannii Minogue, the younger sister of international pop star Kylie Minogue.
21. Chris Webber
Album/song/group: 2 Much Drama (1999)
Bottom line: Chris Webber was part of the late 1990s trend of NBA superstars attempting rap careers and falling flat, joining Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson as top-line stars who didn't just stick to the rivers and lakes they were used to.
Webber was crafty enough that he found his way back into the rap game as a producer. He produced songs on two different albums for hip-hop legend Nas.
He also once rapped on a song with West Coast rap legend Kurupt.
20. Alexi Lalas
Album/song/group: Woodland (1994), Far from Close (1996), Ginger (1998), So It Goes (2010), Infinity Spaces (2014), Shots (2016), Sunshine (2018), Look at You (2019)
Bottom line: American soccer star Alexi Lalas was part of the rock band The Gypsies since his time at Rutgers University in the early 1990s. He released an album with the group in 1994 to capitalize on his fame and him playing in the World Cup in the United States in 1994.
The band actually got a pretty good gig a few years later when it opened for Hootie & The Blowfish during their European Tour in 1998. Lalas went solo after that and has released seven albums on his own over the last two decades.
19. 'Macho Man' Randy Savage
Sport: Professional wrestling
Album/song/group: Wrestlemania: The Album (1993), Be a Man (2003)
Bottom line: "Macho Man" Randy Savage is one of the most iconic, well-known professional wrestlers of all time, with 11 titles won over a 32-year career.
Macho Man had such a great voice — raspy and distinctive — that it's no surprise he ended up putting it on wax. First, he sang on "Wrestlemania: The Album" in 1993. Then, in 2003, he finally released a solo rap album, "Be a Man."
A diss track was aimed at his longtime rival Hulk Hogan.
18. Jack McDowell
Album/song/group: Extendagenda (1991), Replace the Mind (1992), Just a Thought (1995), Feedbag (2001), Ape of Kings (2002), Memento Mori (2003)
Bottom line: Former MLB pitcher Jack McDowell was known for his off-the-wall antics on the baseball diamond and for playing music off of it.
His first band, V.I.E.W., released two alt-rock albums in the early 1990s before he formed another group, Stickfigure, which made four albums and were together from 1992 to 2003.
Stickfigure's biggest accomplishment was securing a spot as the opening act for The Smithereens during their 1992 tour.
17. Clint Dempsey
Album/song/group: Don't Tread (2006)
Bottom line: If he were 10 years younger, Clint Dempsey might have been soccer's version of Damian Lillard, a game-changing player on the field and a more-than-serviceable rapper on the side.
Alas, Dempsey's one foray into rap music came just before the age of social media but was notable nonetheless.
The Texas native, rapping under the name "Deuce," teamed up with Texas rappers XO and Big Hawk for "Don't Tread" for a Nike advertising campaign ahead of the 2006 World Cup.
16. Bronson Arroyo
Album/song/group: Covering the Bases (2005)
Bottom line: Former MLB pitcher Bronson Arroyo's career as a musician may have seemed like a flyer during his career, but it's much more than that. Arroyo and his band, The Bronson Arroyo Band, are actual touring musicians who play dates all over the country.
Arroyo's band isn't selling out arenas, but they are consistently playing gigs and have a good feel for their audience. Seems like they're in it for the long haul.
15. Deion Sanders
Sports: Football and baseball
Album/song/group: Prime Time (1994), The Encore Remix (2005)
Bottom line: No athlete was ever able to point the spotlight at themselves better than Deion Sanders, who not only starred in the NFL and MLB but also found a way to make his way onto the Billboard charts with the universally panned rap album "Prime Time" in 1994.
For as awful as Sanders' album was, it had one single that eventually became a hit with "Must Be the Money." That song even scored him a musical guest appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in 1995.
14. Manny Pacquiao
Album/song/group: Laban Nating Lahat Ito (2006), Pac-Man Punch (2007), Lalaban Ako Para Sa Pilipino (2015)
Bottom line: Manny Pacquiao is one of the greatest boxers of all time. He's also one of the few musical artists from Southeast Asia to get a song in the U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, when his cover of "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill peaked at No. 19 in 2011.
Pacquiao made three albums from 2006 to 2015, and two of those albums were certified platinum in the Philippines. He officially retired from music in 2015 and has announced his plan to run for president of the Philippines in 2022.
13. Shaquille O'Neal
Album/song/group: Shaq Diesel (1993)
Bottom line: Only NBA fans from the early 1990s will remember a time when we actually thought Shaquille O'Neal could do everything — not just dominate basketball but also be a leading man at the box office and a chart-topping rapper.
For a while, he actually pulled all three off, most notably with a platinum album "Shaq Diesel" in 1993, which was the first of four steadily worse studio albums.
O'Neal still had a single off his album called "(I Know I Got) Skillz," which hit the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 35. The early 1990s were a weird time.
12. Roy Jones Jr.
Album/song/group: Round One: The Album (2002), Body Head Bangerz: Volume One (2004)
Bottom line: Roy Jones Jr. crafted a career that brought his name into the conversation as one of the greatest boxers of all time. He won titles across four different weight divisions.
Jones also eventually went broke, blowing an estimated $98 million fortune. And a large chunk of that went toward trying to fund his rap career.
Some of that money was well spent. Jones had one banger he put out with the catchy "I Smoke, I Drank" as part of the rap collective Body Head Bangerz in 2004.
11. John Daly
Album/song/group: My LIfe (2002), I Only Know One Way (2010)
Bottom line: Former U.S. Open and British Open champion John Daly sang backup vocals on a Kid Rock album in 2007 and has released two solo albums on his own — a mix of country and rock.
While Daly's musical stylings might not be for everyone and the haters are always gonna hate, he is by no means bad at the whole singing thing.
He even had a single hit The Highway: Hot 45 Countdown with "Hit it Hard" in 2014.
10. Oscar De La Hoya
Album/song/group: Oscar De La Hoya (2000)
Bottom line: Oscar De La Hoya decided to try his hand at music at the peak of his career and came out of it with a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Pop Album of the Year, losing to Shakira in February 2001.
De La Hoya's appeal was partly because he recorded songs written both in English and Spanish — obviously appealing to a much wider audience.
While De La Hoya never put out a follow-up album, we think that's smart. Go out with the Grammy nomination.
9. John Cena
Sport: Professional wrestling
Album/song/group: You Can't See Me (2005)
Bottom line: John Cena isn't just a professional wrestling legend and movie star. He also made an album that sold 1 million copies.
"You Can't See Me" debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 200 charts in May 2005, and the album, which was also known as "Basic Thuganomics" during recording, went on to sell 1.3 million copies and was certified platinum in 2010.
Rapping probably saved Cena's career. He was still struggling to find his footing in the WWE until a chance Halloween rap performance caught the eye of WWE executive Stephanie McMahon.
8. Bernie Williams
Album/song/group: The Journey Within (2003), Moving Forward (2009)
Bottom line: Bernie Williams is a true renaissance man. He won four World Series championships with the New York Yankees and made five All-Star appearances, but he also was a classically trained guitarist with specialties in jazz, classical, pop, Latin and Brazilian music.
Williams signed with Paul McCartney's record label and released his first album, "The Journey Within" toward the end of his 16-year major league career.
Then he released another album, "Moving Forward" in 2009.
7. Kyle Turley
Album/song/group: Anger Management (2010), Death Drugs & the DoubleCross (2011), Skull Shaker (2013)
Bottom line: Kyle Turley was a wild man on the football field. The former NFL offensive lineman famously ripped off the helmet of New York Jets safety Damien Robison and threw it across the field in 2001.
Once Turley stepped away from the game, he turned to music in a genre that blends country, rock and metal. He calls it "power country" and has toured extensively with The Kyle Turley Band across the U.S., opening for such notables as Hank Williams III, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Church, Jake Owen and Kansas.
6. Tim Flannery
Album/song: The Lunatic Fringe (group)
Bottom line/group: Tim Flannery spent his entire 12-year MLB career as a utility infielder with the San Diego Padres and was so popular that when he retired in 1989, despite having just a .255 career batting average and 209 career RBI, there was a vocal fan movement who wanted his number retired.
Part of Flannery's appeal was his music. He was known for traveling with his guitar during his career and eventually performed onstage with Jackson Browne and Jimmy Buffett and has sung the national anthem several times with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead.
Flannery, who has made nine albums, has a large following in Ireland in the folk music genre. He was also the San Francisco Giants' third-base coach from 2007 to 2014 — a stretch where they won three World Series championships.
5. Carlos Arroyo
Album/song/group: Oculto Secreto (2009), Se Va Conmigo (2010), Baila Reggaeton (2020)
Bottom line: Puerto Rico native and longtime NBA point guard Carlos Arroyo was ahead of the curve when it came to reggaeton's popularity in the U.S. He had a hit on the Billboard chart with the single "Se Va Conmigo" in 2010, then built on that over the next decade.
Arroyo leapt to international music stardom in 2020 with the hit "Baila Reggaeton" alongside duo Zion & Lennox. The song's video has almost 5 million views on YouTube.
4. 1985 Chicago Bears
Album/song/group: The Super Bowl Shuffle (1985)
Bottom line: There is no song made by an athlete or group of athletes that could ever surpass the sheer fame, audacity and popularity of "The Super Bowl Shuffle" from the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears in 1985.
The song made it to No. 41 on the Hot Billboard 100, but more than that, the video took over pop culture for an extended period of time and is, hands down, the most famous sports/music video of all time.
The album went gold and, believe it or not, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Performance by an R&B Duo/Group, losing to Prince for "Kiss." Thank goodness.
Also of note: The Bears made the song before they'd even made it to the Super Bowl.
3. Damian Lillard
Album/song/group: The Letter O (2016), Confirmed (2017), Big D.O.L.L.A. (2019), Different on Levels The Lord Allowed (2021)
Bottom line: There have been a lot of NBA players who thought they could be rappers, but only Damian Lillard has really shown he has the chops to make that work.
While Lillard's four-year, $176.2 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers makes certain that rap isn't his priority, it's easy to listen to him rap and realize he would be a star in that game if he was so inclined.
How good is Lillard? His first three albums all made the Top 20 on Billboard's Indie or R&B/Hip-Hop charts.
2. Wayman Tisdale
Album/song/group: Power Forward (1995), In The Zone (1996), Decisions (1998), Face to Face (2001), Hang Time (2004), Way Up! (2006), Rebound (2008)
Bottom line: Wayman Tisdale actually ended his NBA career after 12 seasons to focus on what was his true love — making music.
Tisdale was an accomplished jazz bassist who released eight albums, and his 2001 release "Face to Face" actually rose to No. 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts.
Tisdale died of cancer in 2009, at 44 years old, and fellow Oklahoma native Toby Keith dedicated his 2009 album "American Ride" to Tisdale.
1. Mike Reid
Album/song/group: Turning for Home (1991), Twilight Town (1992), New Direction Home (2012)
Bottom line: No athlete-musician (save for the late, great Wayman Tisdale) can compare to the accomplishments of former Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl defensive lineman Mike Reid.
Reid wrote 12 No. 1 country singles in the 1980s and 1990s for some of the biggest artists in the genre and won a Grammy Award For Best Country Song in 1984 for "Stranger in My House," which was recorded by Ronnie Millsap.
Reid was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.