20 Best Personalities in Sports

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2014

20 Best Personalities in Sports

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    Many professional athletes grab headlines with their onerous personalities and damaging habits, but plenty of players counter that stereotype about self-absorbed millionaires in sports by giving back to the community. These role models also use their celebrity to advance global causes and sometimes just to act generously towards fans.

    Tim Tebow failed to crack this list because he no longer plays a professional sport, but the rest of these high-profile athletes bring a mix of humility, charity and enthusiasm to earn the title of the "best personalities" across the sports world. Charitable acts receive more weight in this assessment, though a couple of players made the list just for acting cool and giving time to their adoring fans.

20. Jeff Francoeur, El Paso Chihuahuas

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    Jeff Francoeur enjoyed his best season in years back in 2011, but he hasn't been able to find consistency since then. After a turn with the San Francisco Giants last season and a brief stint in the spring with the Cleveland Indians, he landed with the San Diego Padres' Triple-A affiliate.

    However, this Chihuahua could very well be man's best friend.

    Despite never having played for the Oakland A's, the beneficent Francoeur stands as one of the most beloved visiting players. In 2011, he tossed a fan a baseball with a $100 bill wrapped around it and instructed him to buy bacon or beer with the money. In 2012, he returned to much adulation in Oakland on the heels of "Bacon Tuesday" and sent 20 personal pizzas up to the good folks in section 149.


19. Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets

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    Jeremy Lin rose to prominence in 2012, and he has used his sudden celebrity and elevated profile to give back. A devout Christian, the Harvard graduate created the Jeremy Lin Foundation in 2013 dedicated to empowering youth with leadership skills.

    He has also campaigned against domestic violence and participated in Steve Nash's 2013 charity soccer game. While he often displays his generosity, Lin has a fairly reserved personality for someone who brought the term "Linsanity" to the lexicon.

18. Josh Reddick, Oakland Athletics

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    The wrestling world recently mourned the passing of The Ultimate Warrior shortly after his induction into the Hall of Fame. Leave it to gregarious A's outfielder Josh Reddick to deliver one of the best tributes to the lost legend.

    Not only did he don a Warrior mask and t-shirt with the bicep bands to boot, he paid tribute to the Warrior's entrance routine by sprinting in from the bullpen. Reddick has married his wrestling fandom to baseball before, double-chugging beer a la Stone Cold Steve Austin after the A's won the 2012 division title. You can bet almost all wrestling fans are Reddick fans as well.

17. Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Unfortunately, the highlight of Steve Nash's career with the Los Angeles Lakers came promptly on his initial trip into town from the airport.

    An excitable group of college-aged fans spotted Nash in a taxi and did the only logical thing you can do when unexpectedly seeing a two-time NBA MVP: They passed him a cold one from their SUV while speeding down the freeway. Nash gladly accepted the brew, caught the incident on camera and subsequently tweeted, "thanks for the warm welcome."

    Clearly, Nash is a cool, down-to-earth kind of guy.  He's also a pillar of the NBA community, with the Steve Nash Foundation dedicated to initiatives for underprivileged youth and his basketball league in British Columbia serving thousands of kids.


16. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    Peyton Manning does everything big. He shattered the single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns in 2013, and he apparently takes the same overkill approach to tipping the hard-working service industry employees who keep him fed as he traverses the country.

    In 2012, Manning visited Angus Barn in North Carolina. He and his party chowed down to the tune of $739.58, which included 18 percent gratuity as clearly stamped on the check. But backup quarterbacks leave 18 percent, not Peyton, who tacked on an extra $200 tip.

    Kudos to Manning for the generosity, which is something no one other than the server and his co-workers should have known about, a word-of-mouth tale to tell about the future Hall of Famer's largess. Instead, the boneheaded server posted the receipt on the web, including part of Manning's credit card number, and promptly got fired by Angus Barn's owner.

    However, Manning loses some points on this list for trying to induce unsuspecting football fans to actually eat Papa John's pizza.

15. Roger Federer

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    Roger Federer faces stiff competition from Rafael Nadal for the title of greatest tennis player of all time, but he finds few rivals in the world of charity.

    After 17 Grand Slam titles, Federer has earned quite a bankroll, and he doles it out for good causes ranging from the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, an Australian children's charity, to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He even teamed up with the legendary Rod Laver for a charity exhibition match in January.

14. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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    In 2012, a young basketball fan from New Jersey named Jeff Lorenz managed to make a difficult trick shot off the deck at his family's home. That shot won him a contest created by three-point shooter extraordinaire Stephen Curry. The prize merely involved him leaving the outgoing voicemail message on the fan's phone, but Curry took it one step further.

    Prior to a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Curry visited the fan's house and hung out with the contest winner and his friends. They ate pizza, shot some hoops, played ping pong and took plenty of photographs. You could not ask for anything more from one of the league's brightest young stars.


13. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

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    J.J. Watt's larger-than-normal frame helps him bat down passes from opposing quarterbacks, and his larger-than-life personality draws plenty of fans to his off-the-field endeavors. Watt regularly uses his popularity for charitable pursuits, and one of the biggest hits has been his annual Charity Classic softball game made up from Houston Texans players, including running back Arian Foster.

    As Watt told Brian T. Smith from the Houston Chronicle, "Fans are showing up at noon, 1 o’clock for a 7 o’clock game. It’s unbelievable to see all this media attention and everything else for such a good cause." Approximately 7,500 people turned out to watch the event. 

    According to Watt's Facebook page, the 2014 Charity Classic raised over $400,000 for his foundation, which focuses on youth athletics and after-school programs.


12. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    Despite having trouble staying healthy on the court, Derrick Rose's charitable efforts have thrived. In 2011, he promised to donate $1,000 for every point he scored to tsunami relief in Japan. In 2013, amid a spate of tragic gun violence in Chicago, Rose offered to help pay for the funeral of an infant killed by a stray bullet.

    Aside from donating to worthy causes, he also champions his mother for helping him ascend to NBA stardom. He blows a kiss to her before every game, though he also told the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson that he would annihilate his mom on the basketball court if she tried getting in his way. Don't worry, he was merely illustrating a point about his competitiveness. 

11. Curtis Granderson, New York Mets

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    Early this season, outfielder Curtis Granderson used one of his rare days off during the season to fly to his hometown of Chicago. The occasion marked the opening of Curtis Granderson Stadium, a new facility at University of Illinois-Chicago where he attended. Granderson committed $5 million of his own money and confirmed for Marc Carig of Newsday that that the process has "basically been five years in the making."

    Granderson has also been lauded for his work with kids in the New York area, and with his own youthful exuberance and love for pro wrestling, he sets a fantastic example of giving back to the community.

10. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

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    Dustin Brown serves as the L.A. Kings captain on the ice, and he exhibits the same leadership after he takes off the skates.

    In one of the cooler ways to donate money devised by an athlete, he chooses a different charity each season and donates $50 for every hit he dishes out on another player. Most recently, that money has gone to newborn and infant critical care at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, meaning those kids love to see Brown checking other players.

9. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

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    David Ortiz's nickname, "Big Papi," fit his large body and larger personality. Beloved around baseball despite playing for the Boston Red Sox, Ortiz has cemented a reputation as one of the nicest guys in the game.

    He also uses his expansive popularity to help empower the less fortunate in his native Dominican Republic. His annual charity golf tournament there regularly draws big-name players and big donations along with them. Fellow Dominicans Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano can certainly afford it.

8. Ray Allen, Miami Heat

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    Ray Allen's son, Walker, nearly died during the 2008 NBA Finals as his dad's Boston Celtics squared off against the Los Angeles Lakers. The 17-month-old had to be hospitalized in L.A., and tests showed sky-high levels of blood sugar that confirmed the boy had Type 1 diabetes. Fortunately, Walker received insulin, survived the scare and celebrated his dad's NBA title shortly thereafter.

    Since then, the Allens have been extremely active in raising money and awareness for those suffering from diabetes, an affliction that disproportionately affects African-Americans. The league's all-time leader in three-pointers stands as one of the most visible figures campaigning for a cause that impacts millions of lives.


7. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Clayton Kershaw picked up his second Cy Young Award in 2013 after posting a minuscule 1.83 ERA and fanning 232 batters. Along with all his success on the diamond, the left-handed hurler is called to action by a higher power.

    He established Kershaw's Challenge, a "Christ-centered, others-focused organization" that carries out numerous charitable directives from Los Angeles to Zambia. His "Striking out to Serve" campaign donates $1,000 for each strikeout, which is an ample commitment from last year's leader in the category.

6. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    Known as the "Big Fundamental," Tim Duncan has long been one of the most mild-mannered stars in the NBA. Duncan, whose mother died from breast cancer, created a foundation that tackles various initiatives for the treatment and prevention of breast and prostate cancer since 2000. His annual charity bowl-a-thon has raised over $650,000 for the cause.

    Duncan's foundation also has a program to identify students in the San Antonio area who give back to their communities, an initiative which recently expanded to his birthplace in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

5. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

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    It's very difficult for a star athlete to play in New York for nigh on two decades without having an embarrassing story eventually sully his reputation, but not for Derek Jeter.

    Not only does Jeter carry himself with grace and class, serving as the new standard for all future Yankees, he wasted no time in establishing a charity to give back once he became a big leaguer. Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation, founded in 1996, promotes healthy lifestyles for kids to steer them away from any negative influences.  It has awarded more than $16 million toward that end.

4. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

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    Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg hails from Sweden, so it makes sense that his charitable efforts would take a global scope. Zetterberg received the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2013, and it is hard to track all that he does to help others.

    In addition to assisting children’s hospitals and nonprofits in the Detroit area, his foundation has also worked in Ethiopia to create clean-water stations in severely impoverished areas. The Red Wings even holds a yearly collection of smoke detectors to distribute to low-income families, and Zetterberg personally matches all the donations.

3. Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears

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    Nicknamed "Peanut," Charles Tillman does more than just retweet solicitations for birthday wishes from his fans. In 2012, he responded to an autograph request on a young fan's homework by writing a whimsical rebuttal to the teacher's word problem, which showed an obvious bias toward the Green Bay Packers.

    Back in 2010, Tillman spent eight days on a USO tour in Kuwait and Iraq. The dude even wrote a children's book! It's no wonder he received the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2013.

2. R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays

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    2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey does not content himself with checkbook charity. He favors action and hands-on outreach work. In February 2013, Dickey penned an article for the New York Daily News about his recent visit to India.

    As Dickey described it:

    This is Kamathipura, the red light district of Mumbai, among the most notorious sex-trafficking locations in the world. I am here as a guest of Bombay Teen Challenge (BTC), a charity that has been fighting human trafficking for more than 20 years, one I joined forces with last year, when two friends and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and raised $130,000.

    Often times, charity takes the form of visiting a local church, shelter or youth group. Dickey does not fear tackling thornier problems amid dire poverty with wide-ranging commitments halfway across the world.


1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Kevin Durant does not hold back on the court or in his charitable efforts. The 25-year-old four-time scoring champ made headlines in 2013 by personally donating $1 million to the Red Cross for tornado relief in Oklahoma.

    That contribution sparked matching gifts from the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the players' association. Durant then solicited Nike, his sponsor, to kick in $1 million in products to support affected residents, and the company even pledged to donate profits from the sale of Durant's new sneakers.

    KD remains mindful of his roots as well, and contributed $150,000 that year to causes in Prince George's County, Maryland, where he hails from. Despite dripping with skills as a pure scorer, Durant comes across as a soft-spoken, grounded individual who places more value on things like family and charity than on his nightly point total.