I don't have just one favorite athlete, and, indeed, I see most people are going with several choices. Right now it strikes me that my tastes vary as my media exposure varies. For instance, when I was younger and sports only viewed on TV when local teams or the Olympics were on, my favorite athletes were either those or the ones I READ about. So for instance for boxers my list would have been:
1. Joe Louis
2. Muhammad Ali
3. George Foreman
4. Larry Holmes
5. Mike Tyson
Now? With exposure coming largely online and what can be gleaned from that, Ali may actually have the top spot, and George Foreman 2nd. I've gotten to know more about Ali and Foreman, though, and am beginning to FORGET what I read about Louis. It's a primacy/decency function of exposure.
That's just boxing. The World Heavyweight champ used to be THE most recognized name in the sporting world, and hence the one that got the most exposure. Now in the age of the Internet, however, it's possible to learn and be exposed to a LOT of different athlete's and people, and thus get a chance to develop a liking for them, too.
For instance, one character my young eyes would never have seen growing up, but who has garnered attention for her participation in the American Gladiators and the WWE ( World Wrestling Entertainment) forums in recent years ...
Quite a number have actually said Kobe. Why? Because Kobe is our MJ of this generation...or the last...whatever i don't know if it's considered the new generation yet with all the oldies still around kicking ass in several sports.