The Most Beloved Current Player in Every Major U.S. City

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

The Most Beloved Current Player in Every Major U.S. City

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    We all know there are some athletes we coin as the "Mayor of the City" after leading our hometown team to great heights.

    Brady in Foxborough.

    LeBron in Miami.

    Jeter in New York.

    But who's the absolute best in the major cities of the United States?

    We took a look at some of the top U.S. cities based on population and crowned some of them with the athlete believed to be the most beloved. 

    These athletes may never actually run for mayor, but if they were to run the city as well as they play sports, they'd be in good shape.

Cleveland: Cavs Point Guard Kyrie Irving

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    This was a tough call since we know how popular Trent Richardson's been for the Brownies this year, but seeing how valuable "Uncle Drew's" been for the Cavs, he earns the praise.

    The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year and heir-apparent as the face of the franchise after LeBron left a couple years back, Irving's proven to be one of the best young point guards in the league.

    As a Cavs fan, we just hope he gets over these little injury bugs that have popped up in his first few years.

Miami: Heat Forward LeBron James

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    He's the greatest player in the world and just earned the title as "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated, thanks in part to his winning of the league and Finals MVP while also earning championships with his Heat and Olympic teams.

    Quite frankly, there's no one that even comes close to his popularity in any city around the globe, so who can overtake him in his own city?

    If there's any question as to why it's James in Miami, you need to check your sports-loving status.

Atlanta: Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan

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    We struggled between the QB that's led the Falcons to a 12-2 record so far this season and the only guy who might overtake him, former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones.

    In the end, Ryan earns the praise for not only still being active—Jones retired at the end of the '12 season—but because he's proven himself as a top signal-caller in the NFL with a future as bright as any player in the league that's entering their prime.

Kansas City: Chiefs Running Back Jamaal Charles

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    Outside of fantasy football, Charles may not get the praise he truly deserves because he's played for some pretty terrible Chiefs teams over the past couple seasons.

    But if you walk around Arrowhead Stadium, his jersey's the one worn most by fans.

    After sustaining an unlucky knee injury just 12 carries into his 2011 season, Charles has bounced back with a solid season, showing his versatility and skill for yet another bad Chiefs team.

Oklahoma City: Thunder Forward Kevin Durant

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    At just 24-years-old, Durant's already set himself as one of the most feared ballers on the planet.

    Owning three-straight scoring titles ('09-'11) and leading his team to a Finals appearance last season, it's no wonder why Durant regularly finds himself as one of the most popular NBA jersey's sold.

    Besides all of his career accomplishments, what else is there to cheer for in OKC?

Portland: Blazers Forward LaMarcus Aldridge

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    As the second-overall player taken in the 2006 NBA Draft, the Blazers acquired the former Texas standout on draft night, and he's awarded them by becoming their main man

    It was hoped that Aldridge and 2007 No. 1 pick Greg Oden would become a dangerous combo for the Blazers, but even without Oden alongside him, LaMarcus has proven to be one of the top forwards in the game, albeit quietly.

Denver: Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning

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    Manning may have made his mark in Indy, but we'd say the former Colts QB has done a pretty good job of making fans associate him with the Broncos now.

    He's led Denver to a current No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture and tops the league in best-selling jerseys.

    There's talk about him earning his record-fifth league MVP award this year too, only making him the gold standard for NFL quarterbacks.

Washington DC: Redskins Quarterback Robert Griffin III

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    Thanks to his leadership and ability, the entire league has RG3 mania...well, except anyone on the other sideline.

    It tends to be forgotten about now, but the former Heisman trophy winner was actually a little bit of a gamble before the combine because no one knew if he'd be John Elway or Vince Young.

    So far he's shown flashes of Elway, leading the Skins to first place and currently a spot in the playoffs.

    We could go on forever about how he's impacted the league, but we're sure you've already heard all about it.

Seattle: Mariners Pitcher Felix Hernandez

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    We really wanted to put our main man Marshawn Lynch here, but even with the season—and insane run—he's had since being in the Northwest, King Felix is the choice.

    That's usually the case when you win a Cy Young award, toss a no-no, and tend to be considered the best pitcher in the American League not named Verlander before you're 26-years-old.

    Like the commercial says, dude's got an epic arm.

Boston: Pats Quarterback Tom Brady

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    Was there really any doubt?

    Brady's charming yet competitive.

    The Golden Boy with three Super Bowl rings and five title appearances has everything any guy would ever want, and he's still got some time left to separate himself from any debate as to who the best QB to ever play the game is.

    Doing it in a sports-crazed town like Boston only adds to his legend.

Baltimore: Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis

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    The heart and soul of the Ravens feared D since their 2000 Super Bowl run, Lewis is the prototypical middle linebacker in football.

    He leads by example, inspires his teammates and does whatever he needs to do for the good of the team.

    He'll go down as one of the best 'backers to ever play the game, so Ravens fans are happy to see him don their uniform.

Detroit: Lions Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson

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    Just take a look at that picture of Johnson and tell us if you'd want to go head-to-head with him for 60 minutes?

    Chances are, you'd pee your pants like a little kid at the thought of a matchup with him.

    Megatron's so popular that he got voted as the cover boy for Madden 13, and based off his stats this year—where he could break Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record—has shut everyone up about that silly little curse.

    As the hands down best wideout in the game today, we have a feeling his popularity will only continue to grow.

Charlotte: Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton

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    He's gone through a small sophomore slump this year, but Cam's still the only reason any fan in Charlotte goes to a Panthers game.

    And though the team may not be in a position to compete right now, they've already won more games with Newton under center than they did in the previous two years before him.

    For all the big play ability and potential dominance he has, we hope he turns it around.

San Francisco: Giants Third Baseman Pablo Sandoval

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    Just walk around San Francisco and take a look at how many people are wearing those Panda hats that were made to honor the man nicknamed "Kung Fu Panda," and you'll realize how much the city adores this guy.

    It doesn't hurt that he's helped the team capture two World Series in the past three seasons and took home the World Series MVP during this most recent run.

    He plays hard and visibly shows how much he enjoys the game, so fans naturally flock to that.

    Plus, our editors are based in San Fran, so we better get this one right!

Indianapolis: Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck

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    Luck had the daunting task of not only living up to the expectations of being the No. 1 pick, but he had to replace a legend in Peyton Manning, who took the city on a 13-year run like none other seen in the NFL.

    Inspired by fans and teammates in regards to his head coach's battle with cancer, Luck's led the Colts to a current playoff spot, while earning every positive superlative in regards to his skills.

    Now, even more than the Peyton days, people are on the Colts' bandwagon.

Jacksonville: Jets Backup Quarterback Tim Tebow

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    Hailing from just outside Jacksonville, Tebow oddly finds himself as the most popular player amongst a city in which he's never actually played before.

    With the phenomenon that is everything Tebow, there's always talk about if and when he'll return to play for the hometown Jags.

    We always hear how the backup QB's the most popular player on the team but to have another team's backup be the talk of the town? Well, that sums up about how well the Jags have done over the past several seasons.

Dallas: Mavs Forward Dirk Nowitzki

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    As an eighth grade Paul Pierce hater, I remember laughing when some German guy named Dirk Nowitzki was announced before the former Kansas star in the 1998 NBA Draft.

    Little did we know that this Dirk guy would be one of the best players of our generation, earning a league and Finals MVP throughout his likely-Hall of Fame career.

    After leading the Mavs to a title over the globally-hated Heat a couple years ago, Dirk's solidified himself as the soup du jour in Big D ever since.

San Diego: PGA Golfer Phil Mickelson

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    In a city with pro teams like the Chargers and Padres, Mickelson heads the list of most popular in our book, beating out guys like Philip Rivers and, well, anyone the Padres might consider putting up.

    Thanks to Phil's four-career Major titles, along with his anti-Tiger Woods reputation, he's one of the most beloved golfers on tour, not just locally.

    How popular is Lefty? Enough to steal the show during a Monday Night Football game between the Chargers and Broncos while attempting to make a 100-yard shot for charity at halftime.

San Antonio: Spurs Forward Tim Duncan

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    Coming out of college, Duncan was proclaimed the most NBA-ready player to come into the league in a long time.

    So when the Spurs nabbed the No. 1 overall pick to pair The Big Fundamental up with former center David Robinson, dominance was expected.

    If you've paid attention over the past 16 years, you know Duncan's won four NBA titles, two league MVPs and is a sure-shot Hall of Famer.

    All thanks to that damn bank shot!

Phoenix: Cardinals Wide Receiver Larry Fitzgerald

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    Fitz may be a somewhat forgotten man because he doesn't have a quarterback to throw him the ball, but if you're a NFL fan, you know how great a player he is.

    Even with all the uncertainty with who's leading the huddle, Larry's posted crazy stats since his favorite pigskin buddy Kurt Warner retired—though his numbers are down this year.

    When the guy helped lead the typically lowly Cards to a Super Bowl five years ago, he all but supplanted himself as an icon in the Valley of the Sun.

Philadelphia: Phillies Pitcher Cole Hamels

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    Four years ago, Hamels was an up-and-coming prospect for the Phillies. Now he's one of the best pitchers in the game and just now entering his prime.

    After the big lefty helped end the Philly championship drought by winning the World Series in 2008 and taking home MVP honors in the NLCS and Fall Classic, every fan has fallen in love with him.

Houston: Texans Defensive End JJ Watt

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    As an offensive coordinator, there isn't one guy you fear more than the 6'5" beast lined-up on the D-line that is Watt.

    With an ability to impact the game even when he doesn't even touch the passer, Watt has earned praise as a perennial Hall of Famer—though it came from his own D-Coordinator—and talks trash with some of the best around.

    It's tough to believe he had to walk on at Wisconsin to even get a chance.

Chicago: Bulls Guard Derrick Rose

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    When healthy, D-Rose is absolutely nasty.

    He's got killer speed, the vision to dish after blowing by you and is a natural born leader.

    His devastating ACL injury last year may have set the Bulls off their title-bound run, but it definitely earned him even more fans following the hard work it's taking him to get all the way back.

Los Angeles: Lakers Guard Kobe Bryant

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    This one was actually a little tougher than you might think.

    We know Kobe's been the King of L.A. since he officially took over the town once Shaq split, but the effect David Beckham had on the entire MLS made us stop to at least mention him here.

    In the end though, just as there's almost no one who can challenge the Mamba on the hardwood, there's no one who can knock him off as the most beloved player in Tinseltown.

New York: Yankees Shortstop Derek Jeter

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    Sure, Jeter's 2012 season may have ended prematurely due to his broken ankle, but just because the Yanks fell short of progressing past the Division Series doesn't mean he's fallen out of favor in the Big Apple.

    Even with Carmelo doing things he's never done before—statistically speaking—and that whole Jeremy Lin tease from last year, there's no debate as to who owns the town.

    We're not even sure Sinatra would stand a chance matched up against the Captain.