Kobe Bryant and the 10 Most Clutch Athletes in Sports

Sammy SucuSenior Analyst IApril 17, 2012

Kobe Bryant and the 10 Most Clutch Athletes in Sports

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    Clutch is a word that has been thrown around in sports ever since the beginning of time. Clutch is a word that has different meanings to most people, but at its core it only means one thing. 

    Being clutch is not only having the ability to bring your team back when they are down—clutch is when you are there for your team when they need you the most. 

    Just because you hit one or two game-winning shots or throw one or two game-winning touchdowns does not make you clutch. Deferring from throwing a pass or shooting a shot or not swinging at a ball is worse than trying and failing. The most clutch athletes are the ones that have tried and failed numerous times. 

    However, when the chips are down, these 10 athletes know how to either put their team in a position to win, or keep their team ahead when the other team is so close to winning.

    Here are the 10 most clutch athletes in our current world of sports. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Some athletes did not make this list, and here are their names.

     

    Tim Tebow

    Tebow has had plenty of clutch performances, including one in the playoffs, but he would never make it over the three other quarterbacks in this list. He may join this list one day, but he needs to find a way to consistently start. 

     

    Marshawn Lynch

    Lynch defeated the New Orleans Saints with his power and speed in the playoffs in 2010. His run was made famous by a very funny clip on the Internet.

    Lynch also ran for more than a hundred yards and scored a touchdown on the San Francisco 49ers this season. No one had done either prior to Lynch, but he did it anyway.

     

    Carmelo Anthony

    Anthony has hit plenty of clutch shots, but none are memorable enough to put him in this list. 

     

    David Ortiz

    "Big Papi" has had plenty of clutch hits in his career, but not enough to put him in the top 10.

     

    Tony Romo and LeBron James

    Now that we made a quick joke, let's get to the top 10. 

10. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Starting off the list is Dirk Nowitzki, who finally won the ring in 2011 to legitimize his legacy. 

    Nowitzki won the ring by putting his team on his back when they needed him the most. In the third and fourth quarters of the NBA finals matches against the Miami Heat, Nowitzki was on fire. It almost seemed like he would not miss.

    He was not only clutch in that match, but he was very clutch in the way he brought the team to the playoffs. Nowitkzi helped his team get past the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder with his dominant play and clutch performance in the fourth quarters of games. 

    Nowitzki was always known to be clutch. Now that his clutch play earned him a championship ring, he will always be known for being reliable in the final minutes of a game. 

9. Ben Roethlisberger

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    When you lead a game-winning drive after your defense gave up a touchdown late in the game, you define clutch for a quarterback. 

    Big Ben has not only helped his team win two Super Bowls, albeit he was not as influential in his first appearance, but he has also helped his team to playoffs in almost every year he has started for the team. When it seems like the Steelers are down and out, Roethlisberger steps right in and delivers a knock out punch to the opposing defense. 

    His throw to Santonio Holmes in the final minutes of the Super Bowl against the Arizona Cardinals is enough to put him on this list, but he has done so much more than that. 

    The only reason he is not higher on this list is because his defense carries him a lot, and he is in no way, shape or form the most clutch quarterback in the NFL. 

8. Adam Vinateri

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    Adam Vinateri made a name for himself whenever he hit the game-winning field goal against the Oakland Raiders in 2005. That game will always be remembered for the "tuck rule." However, Vinateri's game winning kick in the snow is one of the greatest moments in football history.

    Vinateri also hit other game winners when the Patriots needed it. The difference between Vinateri and the rest is that he does not miss field goals in crunch time. 

    For his performance in the "tuck rule" game, the game-winning field goal against the St. Louis Rams and the Carolina Panthers and the 18 game-winning field goals he hit as a Patriot, Vinateri comes in eighth on the list. 

    Some may argue that he should be higher, but the problem with him is that he is a kicker and he is supposed to be hitting game-winning field goals.

    However, he is the most clutch field-goal kicker of all time because nothing ever phases him. Vinateri does his job effectively and has always received praise, unlike many other kickers. 

7. Derek Fisher

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    It would be a slap to the face to any sports fan if Fisher was not included on a list of clutch players.

    There is a reason he is a five-time NBA champion.

    In recent memory, Fisher helped the Lakers defeat the Boston Celtics in a crucial Game 3 in the 2010 NBA finals. Fisher drove the ball in and scored a miraculous layup over four Celtic defenders.

    In 2009, Fisher helped the Lakers come back against the Orlando Magic in Game 4 when they were down. He hit a couple of clutch three-pointers that helped put the team over. 

    Also, no one will ever forget how he hit the miraculous game winner against the Spurs with 0.4 seconds left on the clock. 

    Even at age 37, Fisher still hit a game winner against the Dallas Mavericks while he was still a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    Fisher may not light up the stat sheet, but when his team is down, he will come up big and lead his team to victory. 

6. Novak Djokovic

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    It's very hard to be clutch when you play an individual sport, but Djokovic has made a great case for himself. 

    Djokovic knows how to put himself in a position to win a match. Whenever he wins the first set in a match, he has a 95 percent winning percentage. Not only is he virtually automatic when he wins his first set, he does not get phased by his competition.

    Instead of fearing Rafael Nadal, he rose up above him and came out the victor. Djokovic was the clear underdog, but if you watched the match between the two you would not say that. 

    Djokovic is the definition of being down but not out. When he lost the first two sets in the 2011 U.S. Open, Djokovic did not give up. Instead of staring defeat in the eyes, he stared down Federer and defeated him. 

    That is definitely clutch. 

5. Derek Jeter

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    Is there any other current hitter you would rather rely on in October other than Derek Jeter?

    Jeter's clutch performances are behind him now, but when he was younger, nothing would get in the way of his bat. Jeter would consistently put his team in a position to win with the swing of his bat.

    To see Jeter's top-10 clutch performances of his career, read this article by Sports Illustrated

    One of the performances on this list, Game 3 in the 2003 World Series, is exactly what Jeter was great at doing. When the rest of his team was down and out, Jeter put life into the team. Pitchers knew that their job was not done until they got through Jeter. 

    Jeter has .309 batting average in the playoffs and .351 in the World Series. The numbers do not lie. 

    Sure, Reggie Jackson owns the nickname of Mr. October, but in this day and age, that name belongs to Jeter. 

4. Mariano Rivera

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    In baseball, a closer is brought into the game when their team is winning. The closer's job is to close out the game by not allowing the other team to score a run. Many closers mess up when they are given this task, but some do not mess up often.

    When you talk about closers, Rivera is the first name that comes up. 

    He is notorious for closing out huge games for the New York Yankees. Whenever the Yankees are winning and Rivera comes in, the other team knows their chances of winning are slim to none. 

    Rivera has blown some saves here and there, but when October rolls around, Rivera is automatic. In the postseason Rivera has a 0.7 ERA and a 8-1 record. In 2003, Rivera won the ALCS MVP award, and in 1999 he won the World Series MVP award. 

    There has not been one closer in baseball history that has been as consistent and effective as Rivera. 

3. Tom Brady

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    Tom "Terrific" Brady is third on this list for plenty of reasons. 

    First, Brady led his team, the New England Patriots, to five Super Bowls. In his first three attempts, Brady put the team on his back and played the best football of his life.

    Against the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers, Brady led late drives with his precision passing. He never threw the game-winning touchdown, but he put his kicker in prime position to hit the game winning field goal. 

    Whenever the team needs a spark of life, they look to Brady and his clutch arm. Not much phases Brady, other than Eli Manning.

    Brady would be No. 1 on this list, but his non-clutch performances in two Super Bowls hurt his case. An argument could be made that his receivers dropped plenty of passes in the last Super Bowl, but he was still outplayed by the opposing team's quarterback.

    Still, there are plenty of NFL fans that would hand the ball over to Brady in the last drive of any game. 

2. Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant is one of the most clutch athletes in sports history. However, there have been plenty of statistics to show otherwise. 

    Unfortunately for the critics, stats do not tell the whole story. There have been some times where Kobe takes inadvertent shots that cause his team to lose. Other times, Kobe takes matters into his own hands and single-handedly wins the game for his team.

    Kobe had a really tough time shooting in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics, but he made up for it in another category by grabbing 16 rebounds. When he shot 2-for-20 this season in a game against New Orleans, he made a third shot for a game winner. Kobe does a lot of bad, but all the good he has done has made up for all the bad. 

    Not only has Kobe done it in the NBA, but he did it overseas in Beijing. In the 2008 Olympic finals match against Spain, Kobe put his country on his back and helped U.S.A. win a gold medal. Kobe hit some tough shots, including a four-point play that pretty much iced the game for America. 

    Kobe has ice in his veins when the game is on the line. Even though statistics may sometimes disprove his crunch-time ability, Kobe has proven time and time again that he is the best option on the court when the game is on the line. If you don't believe that, then take a look at the five championship rings he has on his fingers. 

1. Eli Manning

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    How do you win two Super Bowl rings as an underdog and make two spectacular throws in each game and not be considered the most clutch athlete in our current world of sports?

    Eli Manning tops this list because when the chips are down, he steps up to the plate and takes advantage of another team's defense. No one though he would be able to top the play he made against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2008, but he did just that. 

    The pass Manning threw to Mario Manningham in the last Super Bowl was one of the cleanest passes in Super Bowl history. That pass put the Giants in a position to score the go-ahead touchdown. Manning looked calm, cool and collected in both Super Bowls and never let anything phase him.

    Manning is the most clutch athlete now, but he still has time to make a case for the most clutch athlete of all time. 

     

    Sammy Sucu is a Featured Columnist for the WWE. Sammy also writes for the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Lakers. You can also follow him on Twitter.