10 Most Superstitious Athletes
From wearing golden thongs to eating chicken dinners, these pro players take their quirky beliefs to the extreme
by Ryan Murphy, Men’s Fitness
A lot goes into being a pro athlete—hard training, raw talent, the ability to perform under pressure. But for some stars, a little superstitious reasoning is the added edge they need to get into the zone.
Whether it’s drinking urine or talking to goal posts, Men’s Fitness put together a list of 10 athletes who have used weird rituals to help take their game to the next level.
10. Michael Jordan
You wouldn’t think the greatest professional basketball player of all time would rely on superstition, but even Michael Jordan himself was known for a specific quirk. While leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships during his legendary career, the five-time MVP wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform in every game. Jordan led UNC to the NCAA Championships in 1982 and believed the mesh marvels brought him luck. In order to cover his lucky pair, Jordan began wearing longer shorts, which inspired a trend in the NBA.
9. Björn Borg
Unlike the other athletes on this list, Swedish tennis legend Björn Borg had superstitions that related to one specific event—Wimbledon. Known as the Ice Man for his steely confidence on the court, Borg would always prepare for the annual tournament by growing a beard and wearing the same Fila shirt. These quirks helped him net an amazing five straight Wimbledon titles from 1976 through 1980. Surprisingly, the Stockholm native’s “lucky beard” has become one of sports most popular superstitions and has been adopted by many in the NFL and NHL, including the 2009 Detroit Red Wings and Ben Roethlisberger during the Steelers 2006 Championship season.
8. Kevin Rhomberg
While this left fielder’s 41-game stint with the 1982 Cleveland Indians was largely forgettable, his unusual quirks left behind a lasting legacy. According to a long list of pros who played with him, Rhomberg had the compulsion to touch someone if they touched him. Word of this tic quickly spread through the majors, making life a living hell for Rhomberg. Players would touch Rhomberg and run, sending him into panic. In fact, an umpire once had to halt a game between New York and Cleveland, because Yankees players refused to stop touching Rhomberg.
7. Serena Williams
While her on-court aggressiveness and competitive nature have given her a reputation as one of the greatest and most feared female tennis players of all time, Serena Williams believes much of her winning ways are the result of closely followed routines. For the 27-year-old, these quirks include bringing her shower sandals to the court, tying her shoelaces a specific way and bouncing the ball five times before her first serve and twice before her second. The three-time Wimbledon champ will even wear the same pair of socks during a tournament run. Williams is so set in her superstitions, she has chalked up major losses to not following her own routine correctly.
6. Jason Terry
Easily the most superstitious player in the NBA, Dallas Maverick shooting guard Jason Eugene Terry’s list of quirks includes eating chicken before games like Wade Boggs and wearing five pairs of socks while playing, but the 32-year-old’s most bizarre habit occurs while he’s sleeping. The night before every game, Terry goes to bed while wearing the shorts of the next day’s opposing team. This compulsion has left JET desperately tracking down the right trunks on a bad night, but a network of equipment managers and fellow players usually hook Terry up.
5. Wade Boggs
There’s a fine line between superstitious and obsessive compulsive and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs crossed it every night. The 12-time All Star attributed much of his success to a daily routine and refused to alter his habits. These everyday customs including eating chicken before each game (earning him the nickname “Chicken Man”), always taking batting practice at 5:17 and running sprints at 7:17 and drawing the word “Chai” (Hebrew for “life”) in the dirt before coming up to bat. Boggs’ undying allegiance to his superstitions helped lead him to one of the finest pro baseball careers of all time.
4. Patrick Roy
Perhaps the greatest goaltender in the history of the NHL, Patrick Roy was a firm believer in the power of superstition. Before every game, the former Montreal Canadien would skate backwards towards the net before turning around at the last second—an act he believed made the goal shrink. During the game, he would converse with the posts, thanking them when a puck was deflected and often touching them. This almost spiritual relationship with his goal earned him the nickname St. Patrick—and an unprecedented three Conn Smythe trophies.
3. Jason Giambi
While his hitting power has cooled in recent years, Colorado Rockie Jason Giambi was a pitcher’s worst nightmare in his prime. But even in his heyday the Giambino was prone to slumps. His solution for turning things around? A golden thong. That’s right. Whenever the 6-foot-3 first baseman found himself in a funk, he’d slip his 240-pound frame into a tiny pair of butt floss before playing. More often than not, Giambi’s weird superstition actually worked. In fact, his bikini bottoms became so well thought of, the five-time All-Star’s teammates would often borrow them to break out of their own slumps.
2. Lyoto Machida
It’s unclear whether UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida’s daily habit is a form of superstition or self-torture, but every morning the Brazilian Shotokan karate master drinks his own urine. Revealing that he picked up the practice from his father, himself a karate master, the 31-year-old Brazilian has said he believes urine is a natural medicine that cleanses his body. While it sounds disgusting, Machida may be onto something—The Dragon has yet to lose a round in his professional mixed martial arts career.
1. Turk Wendell
To put it bluntly, former New York Mets reliever Turk Wendell was a full-blown maniac when it came to superstition. A shortlist of the right hander’s many eccentricities includes always leaping over the baselines when walking to the mound, chewing black licorice while pitching and brushing his teeth between innings. The Massachusetts native would also wear a necklace decorated with the sharp teeth of wild animals he had hunted and killed. Wendell’s quirks extended off the field, too. In 2000, the reliever asked that the New York Mets make his contract for $9,999,999.99, in honor of his uniform number of 99.