30 Athletes Every Fan Should See Live

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2013

30 Athletes Every Fan Should See Live

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    When watching sports, we get our fair share of moments that literally make us all stand up and scream with amazement.

    But while it's cool to see them on TV or during the highlight reels later in the night, there's nothing quite like being there in person to describe the feeling.

    That's why I'm giving you the athletes that you must absolutely see play in person before you bite the big one. You may not be a huge fan of these players, but trust me, they're definitely worth the price of admission.

30. Ed Reed, Houston Texans

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    There aren't too many safeties who can do the things the former Defensive Player of the Year and new Houston Texan can do.

    He's one of the best center fielders the NFL has ever seen, adding a bit of hesitation for any QB who might consider throwing his way.

    With time running out on his career, who knows when we'll see another one like him?

29. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    The dude may have lost out on the AL MVP to Miguel Cabrera last season, but the Angels center fielder earns a spot on the list because he's just so damn exciting, combining incredible speed, agility and plate presence that's rare for someone his age.

    He still has a lot to prove out there on the diamond, but if his rookie year was any indication, we'll be treated to some incredible plays for the next 20 years.

28. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina Football

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    Admittedly, Clowney's hit on Michigan RB Vincent Smith got all of our attention, but even before that, because he was pegged as the top recruit in the country a couple years ago, we were hoping for big things.

    He may actually still have two years of eligibility left at South Carolina, but we should all fully anticipate Clowney jumping to the pros and being the next dominant pass-rusher in the NFL after this season.

27. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

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    Go ahead and admit that women's basketball isn't really your cup of tea, but I'll tell you what, Brittney Griner earns respect because she's unlike any women's player of the past 25 years.

    This year's WNBA No. 1 pick impacts a game in so many different ways and puts anyone in their place who might want to come into the paint.

    With her skills, expect her to be the face of women's hoops for awhile.

26. Phil Mickelson, PGA Tour

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    The SoCal lefty is a regular crowd-pleaser, so it's probably not too shocking to see him on here.

    If you ever get a chance to see Phil Mickelson in a tourney, go watch the love affair the entire gallery has for him. If it's on a Sunday with him around the leader, I guarantee you won't be able to help jumping on the bandwagon.

25. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    After a 2011 season in which he became just one of 20 guys in NHL history to surpass 60 goals in one season, Lightning star Steven Stamkos has suddenly pushed himself into the "best players in the league" conversation.

    Tampa Bay may not come to mind as a hockey-crazed town, but they have one of the greatest shows on ice to catch day in and day out.

24. Blake Griffin & Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    I grouped these two Lob City residents together because, when apart, they aren't quite as exciting.

    When Blake Griffin's accepting feeds from Chris Paul though, you're not only seeing some of today's best brand of basketball, but also could easily see the best dunk of the past ten years.

    Thank God the Clips got it right and were able to lock-up CP3 before letting him run off in free agency.

23. Maria Sharapova, Tennis

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    Besides being, well, really nice to look at, the four-time Grand Slam champ is still one of the best in the biz when on the court.

    If there's one player in women's tennis I don't mind watching on TV, it's the tall Russian, so I'd happily take the leap into actually sitting in the stands and seeing her play.

22. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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    If you saw what this rookie signal-caller was able to do as the leader in the huddle for the 'Hawks this past season, you know he's a pretty special player.

    He makes a very ordinary play extraordinary with his "escapability" and agility, turning a negative play into a 15-yard gain, and receiving plenty of "How the hell did he do that?" questions from spectators.

    Wilson's not the prototypical quarterback, but that's what makes him so successful and exciting.

21. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

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    As one of the NHL's best all-around players, Claude Giroux is a name that catches my attention when looking at the potential games to see in person.

    Though his Flyers team didn't have the year they typically enjoy—i.e. missing the playoffs—Giroux plays with plenty of solid teammates who make the games that much more fun to watch.

20. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    You might not think of Andrew McCutchen when putting together your favorite players, but over the past year or so, plenty of fans have taken notice of the Pirates center fielder, declaring him one of the most dynamic in the game.

    He hits for average and is a Gold Glove outfielder, so who wouldn't want to see someone who can do it all when he's on the field?

19. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M Football

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    There are very few college football players who can capture the sports world quite like Johnny Manziel did during his Heisman trophy-winning season—and he was only a freshman!

    Providing memorable plays with both his feet and arm, "Johnny Football" gave us plenty of moments that made me really wish I had been in the stadium instead of watching him on TV.

18. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Call me a Cleveland homer if you want, but putting last year's Rookie of the Year this high isn't as far-fetched as you might think.

    Irving's team might not be as great as some of the other squads of guys on this list, but on any given night, "Uncle Drew" can take over and prove why he's even in the discussion as a top-5 point guard at this stage in his career.

17. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    After a 2013 season that saw Sidney Crosby bounce back from all of his previous injuries, the Penguins captain has put himself ahead of everyone else in his sport.

    He's already lead his team to a Stanley Cup title in his young career, and playing alongside another stud in Evgeni Malkin only makes the Penguins more of a must-see team.

16. Rory McIlroy, PGA Tour

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    McIlroy's game on the course matches his partying off it.

    He's one of the smoothest players on tour and has already garnered the attention of the younger generation as a fanbase.

    Locking up a mega-deal with Nike was a pretty good career move, too, meaning he'll have plenty of resources to take over the game of golf over for the next 20 years, a la Tiger Woods.

15. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    The right-hander got an unreal contract from his M's before the season, meaning he'll be earning $25 million over the next seven years—which is just nuts!

    And though Seattle might not have the appeal or success of a team like the Yankees or Red Sox (though not last year), if they're in town and he's on the hill, do what you can to see what happens, because the guy's just unreal.

14. Novak Djokovic, Tennis

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    Novak Djokovic is a little bit on the weird side, but if you're looking for a straight-up baller who holds a racket, he's your dude.

    On top of Djoko's career success—he's won seven Grand Slams—he actually looks like he's having a lot of fun out there on the court, playing to the crowd and yelling like a mad man.

    Oh yeah, and he also gave us this little gem from his time off the court, which only makes us want to see him play even more.

13. Lionel Messi, Barcelona and Argentina's National Team

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    Pound for pound, there might not be a more talented player in the world than Messi.

    Standing a mere 5'7", the pint-size Argentine national scores at will against any team that tries to slow him down.

    In fact, his 2012 campaign was the best combined goal-scoring year ever, when he pounded in 91 goals between his two teams.

    That's just insanely efficient.

12. Shaun White, Action Sports

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    When any fan thinks of action sports, Shaun White's name is most likely in the forefront on any conversation that follows. That's how much of an impact this red-headed dude has had on the entire industry.

    No matter if he's skateboarding or on the pipe snowboarding, I'd want to see him have one of the cleanest runs of any athlete who's crazy enough to do the things he does.

11. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

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    Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is absolutely electrifying when out on a football field.

    Unlike many scrambling QBs who have come before him, the former Heisman trophy winner exudes great touch on his passes and is lethal once he gets outside the pocket.

    We're hoping he recovers from his ACL tear and doesn't miss a beat once he gets back, because there's a lot of football left in this kid and we want to see it.

10. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    You may be a little surprised that I have Evgeni Malkin higher than his "hockey savior" teammate Sidney Crosby—especially since it was Malkin who was injured most of this season—but even with Crosby having a redemption season, Evgeni is the guy I'd rather see in person.

    Hockey's coined as the fastest sport in the world, and the Penguins center just happens to be one of the best at keeping up in it.

9. Usain Bolt, Track

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    As the fastest man on the planet, why wouldn't you want to try and see this guy while he's still in the prime of his career? Assuming your eyes can even keep up with him, of course.

    In a sport that can end so abruptlya matter of seconds could be the downfall of a runnerI highly suggest seeing him while he's still burning up the track.

8. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid and Portugal's National Team

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    Regardless of how you feel about the guy's antics, he's one hell of a talent who is a top-notch world player.

    Watching him attempt a free kick within scoring range is one of the prettiest sights in all of sports, combining perfect pace and touch—unless you're an opposing goalie, of course.

7. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

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    Want to see in person what it's like to win the genetic lottery? Go check out the wideout from the Lions.

    Most people who stand 6'5" can't even sniff a 4.5 40-yard dash, but Calvin Johnson's such a freak that he actually galloped to a 4.35 at the combine a couple years ago.

    Oh yeah, and "Megatron" happened to break Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yards record in 2012 after being voted to the cover of Madden '13.

    So much for that whole cover jinx thing, huh?

6. LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    Even as a diehard Cavs fan, I've still dropped serious coin (and traveled three hours) to watch LeBron James and his Heat teammates.

    Bottom line: he's a four-time league MVP and just proved himself to be clutch by leading Miami to their second-straight NBA title.

    Finally realizing that he's a man amongst boys out on the court, yet still only 28 and in the prime of his career, James is probably only getting better.

    In the words of Kanye, "That sh*t cray!"

5. Tom Brady & Peyton Manning, New England Patriots & Denver Broncos

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    As good as these two future Hall of Famers are individually, I just had to put them together here because they're even better when pitted against each other.

    Who knows how many more times they'll have a chance to go head-to-head, but if it's on the NFL schedule, do what you can to witness the finest quarterback play you'll ever see.

    It's seriously like watching an artist paint a masterpiece.

4. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

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    Guys who tear their ACL aren't supposed to the things that Adrian Peterson did during the 2012 season.

    Just ten months after suffering a brutal knee injury, "AD" was back on the field running past linebackers and over defensive backs.

    Coming within 10 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, I hope Peterson can keep going for a very long time, because dude is a freak.

3. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    At this point in Justin Verlander's career, should we even doubt there's anyone better?

    He's thrown his fair share of no-hitters.

    He has dominated on the biggest stage.

    Hell, at one point, he even landed one of the sexiest ladies on the planet thanks to his wicked right arm.

    Verlander may be struggling this season, but whenever he takes the bump, it's still actually more of a shock if he gives up three runs than if he fans 15 batters.

2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Kobe Bryant sits at No. 2 for one reason only: because time's running out to see him—and he's pretty damn good.

    I've seen "The Mamba" play one time in person before and, let me tell you, I didn't leave disappointed.

    Dude dropped 47, barely dripping a sweat while doing it.

    If you regret never seeing Jordan while still on the Bulls, don't let yourself get tricked twice by missing out on the closest thing to his Airness before Kobe hangs it up.

1. The Oklahoma City Thunder

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    I'll be the first to admit that this is a cop-out, but when it comes to dropping serious dime on a court side seat, there isn't a more exciting duo than Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

    On any given night, the two Olympians might do something that is just insane.

    Whether it's one of them taking over to lead the Thunder, or both of them just going completely off, I'd happily waste a couple hours seeing them play in person.

    Here's to hoping Russ gets himself back to the dynamic star he was before busting up his leg in this year's playoffs.