Famous Athletes who Starred as Musicians
Athletes are a talented bunch, no doubt about that. But these athletes took that talent to the next level by becoming (mostly) successful musicians. For every Bernie Williams or Wayman Tisdale, there are three or four Kobe Bryants.
Introducing 30 athletes that became musicians during or after their sports careers.
One-time All-Star and World Series champion, Bronson Arroyo was a successful big-league pitcher for nearly two decades. His signature move was a high leg kick and his signature style was his ever-changing hairdo. Off the mound, Arroyo is a talented musician and guitarist.
In 2005, he released his debut album, Covering the Bases, which included rock/grunge covers of bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, and more. Today, Arroyo and his band, The Bronson Arroyo Band, tour the country playing at smaller venues where his niche audience can get up close and personal with the former pitcher. Arroyo resides in Florida when he’s not on the road.
A Yankee great, Bernie Williams was one of the smoothest players in baseball. The five-time All-Star, four-time World Series champion, and 1998 AL batting champion had his number, 51, retired by the Yankees (the only team he played for) in 2015. Off the diamond, Williams is a classically trained guitarist who even studied guitar composition for one year at the State University of New York at Purchase.
Once he made music his full-time career, Williams signed with Paul McCartney’s label, MPL Communications. His second album, Moving Forward, was released in 2009 and was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award. In 2016, Williams received his bachelor’s degree in music from the Manhattan School of Music.
One of the greatest to ever do it on the hardwood, Kobe Bryant is one of only six NBA players to have two different jersey numbers retired, joining other greats like Oscar Robertson, Earl Monroe, Julius Erving, Pete Maravich, and Shaquille O’Neal. Out of that elite group, Kobe is the only one to have two numbers retired by the same team. What we’re saying is Kobe is one of the GOATs, and he’s successfully tackled every venture in life he’s taken on — except music.
Kobe dropped some bars in high school and even signed with a major record label, but in 2000, it all went downhill. Kobe’s debut single, “K.O.B.E.,” featured Tyra Banks on the hook but was considered a complete failure. Sony then dropped Kobe and his album was never released. Kobe tried starting an independent label but that too folded within a year.
A man of many nicknames (Shaqtus, The Big Aristotle, The Diesel, Shaq Daddy) and talents, Shaquille O’Neal was a one-of-a-kind player, a different breed of player the NBA had never seen before. Combining size, athleticism, and charisma, Shaq did it all — on and off the court. In the studio, Shaq has released four rap albums.
His 1993 debut album, dubbed Shaq Diesel, went platinum. In 1995, Michael Jackson featured Shaq in the song “2 Bad” from Jackson’s HIStory album. Shaq also played a prominent role in the Kazaam soundtrack. Today, O’Neal is spending more time DJing as DJ Diesel and engaging in rap battles with current NBA players such as Damian Lillard and the Ball family.
The sixth overall pick from the 2012 NBA draft is a baller. Damian Lillard has evolved into one of the game’s premier point guards. He’s a long-range specialist with a cold heart. And it’s that cold heart that has propelled Lillard to become one of the NBA’s best rappers. In 2015, Lillard, who raps under the pseudonym Dame D.O.L.L.A., released his first single, “Soldier in the Game.”
To date, Lillard has released three studio albums, with his most recent one, Big D.O.L.L.A., featuring rappers like Lil Wayne, Mozzy, and Jeremih. For more info on the undisputed best rapper in the NBA, check out this interview from XXL magazine.
Smooth in the paint, even smoother in the studio. That was Wayman Tisdale, a three-time All-American at the University of Oklahoma. Tisdale led a remarkable college career where he was a member of the 1984 gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team. One year later, the Pacers selected Wayman with the second overall pick. After a successful NBA career, Tisdale, who described music as his first true love, retired to focus exclusively on music.
A bass player specializing in smooth jazz, Tisdale recorded eight albums, with his 2001 album, Face to Face, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz ranking. In 2002, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame awarded Tisdale the Legacy Tribute Award. In 2009, Tisdale tragically passed due to complications from cancer.
Another do-it-all athlete, Deion Sanders played professional baseball and football, excelling with remarkable aplomb at both. To date, he’s the only athlete to appear in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. Besides being known for his two-sport career, Sanders was regarded as one of the cockiest and most stylish athletes on the planet, and Sanders took that swagger into the recording studio.
In 1994, Sanders released his debut album, Prime Time. The album, which was released through MC Hammer’s label, was met with negative reviews despite climbing to No. 70 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. That would be “Neon Deion’s” only album to date, excluding a remix album he released in 2005.
Bears’ ‘Super Bowl Shuffle’
The 1985 Chicago Bears are widely regarded as having the best defense in NFL history. The dominating defense and consistent offense, led by Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, finished the regular season 15-1 before embarking on a blitzkrieg through the playoffs, culminating with a Super Bowl victory over New England.
Prior to the playoffs, the Bears, who had suffered their only loss of the season to the Dolphins, recorded a song and music video, “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” The catchy tune and choreographed video climbed all the way to No. 41 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. The single sold more than half a million copies and even made it to the Grammys, where it lost to “Kiss” by the late Prince.
Oscar De La Hoya
Dubbed by the media “The Golden Boy of Boxing” thanks to his courageous performance at the 1992 Summer Olympics, Oscar De La Hoya took the boxing world by storm in 1992. As a recent graduate of high school, Oscar burst onto the scene when he stunned the world by winning the gold medal in the lightweight division. After that, De La Hoya went on to have a prolific boxing career where he was named by The Ring magazine as the Fighter of the Year in 1995.
In 1997 and ’98, he was also regarded as the world’s top pound-for-pound boxer. All of that punching prowess seemed to translate into music, too. De La Hoya, whose mom was a professional singer, had a No. 1 hit on the Latin chart, a Bee Gees cover of their song, “Run to Me.” His eponymous album, Oscar De La Hoya, was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Latin Pop Album category.
Simply put, Manny Pacquiao has established himself as one of the greatest boxers to ever step in the ring. His accolades and achievements are monumental, too grand to list here, lest we risk putting you, our readers, to sleep. When he’s not boxing, Pacquiao has his hands tied up in numerous business ventures, side careers, and even politics. In 2016, he was elected as a senator in the Philippine Senate, serving a six-year term until 2022.
The diplomatic Pacquiao also has a golden voice. In 2006, Pacquiao released his first album, Laban Nating Lahat Ito, which went platinum in the Philippines. He’s sung on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and even has his own walk-out song, dubbed in English, “I Am Going to Fight for Filipinos.”
He’s got a temper to beat the band. Tennis great John McEnroe is known, to the casual fan, for launching some impressive tirades against the refs that made calls he didn’t agree with. Adherents of the sport may know him for a bit more than that, like the seven Grand Slam singles titles he has won. And McEnroe fans may know him for even more, like his musical talents. McEnroe learned to play the guitar from his friends Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen.
How nice it must be to have friends in high places. McEnroe formed a band with his wife, rock star Patty Smyth, called The Johnny Smyth Band. The two toured through the 1990s, jamming out with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Santana, and more.
Roy Jones Jr.
One of the most decorated fighters in recent memory, Roy Jones Jr. is notable for being robbed of a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics. Despite the controversial decision, Roy continued to box and led an outstanding professional career. Nicknamed “Captain Hook,” Jones Jr. is also notable for dishing out good hooks in the studio.
The Russian-American citizen (yes, you did read that correctly) is the frontman for the hip-hop group Body Head Bangerz. The group’s most successful song was their 2004 single, “I Smoke, I Drank,” which topped out at No. 81 on the U.S. Hot 100 chart. In 2015, Jones released Body Head Bangerz – EP.
Ah, the good ol’ days, when Barry Zito was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Zito dominated while a member of the Oakland Athletics and had a late-career resurgence with the San Francisco Giants, winning his first and only World Series in 2012. In 1999, Zito began strumming a guitar to help pass the time on long road trips.
That strumming evolved into a full-fledged passion. In 2017, Zito released his first EP, No Secrets. The album sold over 1,000 copies in its first week and reached No. 18 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers Albums chart. Today, Zito casually tours and is a fan of doing acoustic sessions for intimate audiences.
Mike Reid had music in his DNA, graduating from Penn State University in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in music. Reid, who loved country music, was preoccupied with something else: football. The seventh overall pick in 1970, Reid played in the NFL for five seasons, making the Pro Bowl twice. After retiring, Reid moved to Nashville to write songs for country stars.
In 1984, he won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song for his contributions to Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger in My House.” Aside from writing, Reid has released albums for Columbia Records. His debut single, “Walk on Faith,” was the No. 1 country song on the Billboard country charts.
The pride of Natick, Massachusetts, Doug Flutie was a hero to all the short quarterbacks out there. His diminutive stature, 5-foot-10 on a great day with cleats, didn’t hold Flutie back from becoming a Heisman winner and cult-like figure in the CFL and NFL. In 1998, Flutie made the Pro Bowl. A talented drummer, Flutie and his brothers formed The Flutie Brothers Band.
In the 1990s, the band toured across the country and Canada during the football offseason. The band has also opened for major acts such as Meredith Brooks and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Flutie has played onstage with the Barenaked Ladies, too.
Three-time All-Star and 1993 American League Cy Young Award winner, Jack McDowell was a fan favorite for most teams he pitched for, except the New York Yankees. That one year in New York was disastrous, with McDowell best being remembered for flipping off booing New York fans after a horrible outing. But flipping the bird to thousands of fans was McDowell just channeling his inner rock star.
McDowell’s first band, V.I.E.W., released two albums and was most notable for touring with The Smithereens in 1992. After that band fell apart, McDowell formed his second project, Stickfigure. The band, while more successful than V.I.E.W., disbanded in 2003 after releasing four albums.
Undrafted out of Florida International University, Carlos Arroyo has played virtually everywhere, from the NBA to Europe’s top leagues to Ice Cube’s BIG3 league. While his NBA career was decidedly underwhelming, Arroyo’s performance at the 2004 Summer Olympics, where Arroyo and Team Puerto Rico destroyed Team USA, was not. In 2009, Arroyo, a reggaeton enthusiast, launched his music career.
His first single, “Se Va Conmigo,” skyrocketed to No. 26 on the Latin Billboard charts. “Reggaeton is the music of my country,” Arroyo told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I feel very fortunate that I can go to a national team game in Puerto Rico and on the way to the game I can hear myself on the radio.”
Beloved San Diego Padres second baseman Tim Flannery was never one to fill up the stat sheet or put up jaw-dropping numbers. What he was, though, was Mr. Reliable, a sound infielder and team-first kind of guy. Flannery played all over the infield for San Diego from 1979-1989, appearing in the postseason just once.
Since hanging up his cleats, Flannery has embarked on a successful bluegrass career. He and his band, Flan, have released over 12 albums. Flannery, as a solo act, has sung the national anthem with members of the legendary band Grateful Dead, even performing in the 2012 and 2014 MLB Playoffs.
Most punters prefer to fly under the radar. They are, after all, the team’s scrawniest and least-used player. But Chris Kluwe, formerly of the Vikings, wasn’t down with that punter mentality and made sure everyone knew it. The outspoken punter has fiercely defended same-sex marriage and, during the 2011 NFL lockout, famously called out the top players that were causing the impasse.
When Kluwe wasn’t booting balls, he was shredding on the guitar with his progressive-grunge band Tripping Icarus. When former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was traded to the Vikings in 2011, Kluwe arranged to give McNabb his number, 5, in exchange for the new quarterback mentioning his band in multiple press conferences.
All-Pro offensive lineman Kyle Turley was a mauler in every sense of the word. The ferocious tackle suited up for three teams during his NFL career. While Turley’s profession may have been football, his passion had always lied between the sheets. The music ones, of course. After retiring, Turley packed up and moved to Nashville to pursue a career in country music.
His first full-length album sold over 10,000 copies and ranked in the top 100 on the iTunes charts. Turley’s second album performed even better, ranking in the top 50 of Billboard’s Heatseekers charts. Turley and his country band, The Kyle Turley Band, have toured extensively across the country, opening for acts such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jake Owen, and, among many others, Kansas.
Big Baller Brand is no more. Lonzo Ball’s original shot is no more. And his career with the Lakers is also no more. But that hasn’t stopped Lonzo from pursuing his dreams of becoming an amateur rapper. In March 2018, Ball released his first album, which skyrocketed to the 13th spot on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart.
The hype appeared to be real, but then established rapper T.I. came in to give everyone a healthy dose of perspective. “Lonzo,” T.I. told TMZ, “is a ballplayer, not a rapper. He would have to establish himself and really, really put in the work as an artist, and he’d really have to dedicate himself to the arts, in order for me to take him seriously.”
Tony Parker, aka the “French Connection,” was an integral part of the San Antonio dynasty that won four NBA championships. His incredibly smooth style of play was exactly what the otherwise robotic Spurs needed to function as a cohesive unit. It was also that smooth style (he’s French, don’t forget style is king over there) that helped Parker seamlessly transition into the rap game.
In 2007, Parker released his first album, TP, which actually put two songs on the French rap charts (one even reached the top spot for a week). However, the music videos were generally panned as comical, with Parker dribbling around Paris at scenic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower.
Shump around, Shump around, Shump around, Shump up, Shump up, and get down! Those were not the lyrics to an Iman Shumpert rap song, but you get the idea. Shooting guard Iman Shumpert had a decent NBA career that saw him win the NBA Finals in 2016. However, much of Shumpert’s time in the league was spent as a backup.
Coming off the bench, however, wasn’t a problem for him, because, presumably, it gave him more time to get in the studio and record rap bangers. Shumpert studied music engineering at Georgia Tech and has taken his skills, knowledge, and passion to the next level. He’s recorded an anthem for the Knicks (when he played for them), and his songs have millions of views on YouTube.
The prototype for the All-American wrestler, John Cena is one of the sport’s most notable figures, and for good reason. In the ring, he’s a physical specimen and champion. Out of the ring, he’s very charitable and highly connected to the communities he passes through. He’s also one of the more diverse personalities in sports at large, able to sing, rap, act, and wrestle with seamless transitions between each.
In 2005, Cena released his first studio album with his cousin, Tha Trademarc. The album was released by WWE Music Group and Columbia Records. Upon release, the album reached No. 15 on the Billboard 200 charts and has since become certified platinum by the RIAA.
Longtime NBA vet Stephen Jackson was a crucial role player for the San Antonio Spurs during their 2003 run to the NBA Finals. After that run, Jackson carved out roles with the Pacers and Warriors. Although Jackson never appeared in an All-Star game, he was widely respected by players and coaches who lauded his versatility and effort.
Rapping under the nickname “Stak5,” Jackson released a scathing single regarding former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his racist tirades that were secretly recorded and leaked (which eventually led to Sterling being forced to sell the team). In 2011, Jackson also released a mixtape.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has a perfect 50-0 boxing record and millions upon millions of dollars to his name. But what he doesn’t have is credibility when it comes to reading. The rumors that Floyd can’t read have been out for decades, and he’s yet to officially disprove them. What he’s also yet to disprove is that he’s a good rapper.
Not much has been revealed about Floyd’s rap career other than the fact that he’s released a single on YouTube dubbed, “Yep.” The accompanying rap video is downright ugly and has the production level of a middle-school tech class. Can’t all that money at least buy a good production team?
Lou “Sweet Lou” Williams has won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award three times. That puts him in rare company and also puts him in the conversation of greatest bench player ever. In March 2019, Williams officially became the NBA’s all-time leader in points scored off the bench. Bench player or not, Williams is a star and an icon.
His silky-smooth game also translates to the studio, where Williams has rapped with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill. In an interview with Lakers Nation, Williams said he had “a lot of material. Some of it is on YouTube. The vast majority of it is just stuck in my laptop and will never come out.”
Placed up there with the greatest wrestlers of all time, Randy “Macho Man” Savage was a champion and larger-than-life personality. Known for his catchphrases and extravagant ring attire, Savage was the face of the sport who transcended the confines of the ring. Outside of the WWE, Savage acted and sang/rapped.
In 2003, he released his first rap album, Be a Man. Included in the album was a diss track aimed at wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan. To promote the tour and sell albums, Savage went on tour with Brian Adams, a fellow wrestler. Unfortunately, the album was met with less-than-favorable reviews.
Clint Dempsey is usually in the conversation for greatest American soccer player in the country’s less-than-illustrious soccer history. Seriously, the country can’t even figure out where it stands on the sport’s name. Dempsey was so good at soccer that even England’s esteemed Premier League wanted his service. While in England, Dempsey became the first American to score a hat trick in Premier League play.
Off the pitch, Dempsey, a Texas native, raps under the name “Deuce.” In 2006, Dempsey’s song “Don’t Tread” was featured in a Nike advertisement leading up to the 2006 World Cup. According to an interview with XXL mag, Dempsey’s favorite rap is the style that originated in Texas.