Athletes Everyone Should Root For

Giancarlo Ferrari-KingFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

Athletes Everyone Should Root For

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Sometimes in the sports world, we stumble across athletes who everyone just has to root for.

    The reasons for this phenomenon are tough to decipher. It's almost this cosmic aura that pulls us toward them without a complete explanation.

    Looking at the names on the list, we can draw a few conclusions. First off, these players are all amazing at what they do. Watching them at their very best is like nothing else we've seen.

    Second, they win. In sports, we love winners. Anyone who can carry a team, win a championship or compete at a high level demands respect.

    Finally, they work their tails off. Without hard work, these athletes wouldn't be where they are today. Through tough injuries and all the high points, the work they put in is admirable.

    Let's now take an extensive look at 15 athletes everyone should root for.

Adrian Peterson

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When it comes to the running back position, the devaluation process that has gone on over the last five years in the NFL has been staggering.

    Once considered one of the most vital positions in the game, the true workhorse halfback has become a thing of the past as the league continues to evolve into a more pass-friendly environment.

    Adrian Peterson may be the last of a dying breed. A true grind-it-out tailback, Peterson has had a historic run in a Minnesota Vikings uniform.

    As a football fan, it's easy to root for Peterson. He's carried a franchise by his lonesome into the playoffs behind a 2,000-yard season and has gone the majority of his career without a competent quarterback under center.

    Now that he's 29 years old, Peterson's magical career may be starting to wind down. But if we've learned anything over the time he's spent in the NFL, it's never to count him out.

    Remember, this is the same guy who has changed the way we look at players recovering from catastrophic knee injuries.

    We may never see a running back like Peterson again. For that reason alone, you have to root for the man Vikings fans call Purple Jesus.

Derek Jeter

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Derek Jeter has always managed to do things the right way.

    Being one of the most popular players of all time during an era where steroid usage stole headlines and changed the way fans felt about the game just makes Jeter even more of a folk hero.

    You can pretty much check off all of the boxes when it comes to Jeter's resume. Multiple championships, 3,000 hits and a career batting average above .300 make the Yankees captain one of the most iconic players in baseball.

    Unlike a lot of his peers, Jeter's legacy won't be tarnished by steroid talk and court cases. He will be remembered as one of the greatest New York Yankees of all time and one of the true good guys in all of professional sports.

Tim Duncan

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    If the San Antonio Spurs didn't take down the almighty Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals, would Tim Duncan be a player everyone roots for?

    There was a time—pre-LeBron James arriving in Miami—where Duncan was considered "boring" despite being insanely talented.

    He didn't have the swagger of Kobe Bryant or the sheer power of James. Duncan was just, well, Duncan.

    Outside of Spurs fans and basketball purists, that all changed after the "Ray Allen miracle." The Heat were on top of the world and falling just short of winning an NBA title. Duncan's team became the anti-Heat.

    They would get revenge this past season by not only destroying the Heat in five games but also dismantling the Big Three in the process.

    Duncan should have been a player everyone rooted for since Day 1. He's a five-time NBA champion, the greatest power forward to ever play the game and overall just a fantastic team player. I guess all it took was his team shellacking Pat Riley's basketball version of Frankenstein to earn that respect.

Steven Gerrard

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    Describing Steven Gerrard is easy: He's a Liverpool legend and a staple of soccer in England.

    It's been incredible to watch the 34-year-old become one the most lethal shooters in the history of the Premier League. He's a world-class talent who will always be remembered for his dazzling display of vision and relentless leadership.

    Playing for Liverpool his entire career, Gerrard is the equivalent of a hometown hero.

    He's done remarkable things over his career. He's carried the club to a Champions League title in 2005 while refusing to leave Liverpool and play for a soccer giant like Real Madrid or Barcelona.

    Gerrard is basically Cal Ripken Jr. if he was located across the pond. He's hung around one club his entire career and in turn has shown that loyalty still matters in sports.

Derrick Rose

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    KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/Associated Press

    Whether you are a Chicago Bulls fan, or you've pledged your loyalties to a team like the Los Angeles Lakers, it's simple to root for Derrick Rose.

    Over the last two seasons, we've barely seen Rose take to the hardwood. In fact, the former league MVP has only suited up for 49 games since the start of the 2011-12 season.

    Countless injuries have derailed the trajectory of one of the league's brightest and most ambitious stars. But Rose is fighting back.

    His second "return" is slated for the start of the 2014 season, and fans couldn't be more excited. The Bulls are a team that everyone has a soft spot for thanks to Michael Jordan. With Rose back in the swing of things, it's going to be tough not to root for this young man to finally get back to the high level he was playing at before his knee injury.

Calvin Johnson

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    There are gifted wide receivers in the NFL today, and then there's Calvin Johnson. A tower of a man at 6'5", Johnson is able to complement that size with a ridiculous amount of speed.

    When you put it all together, Johnson has used that ability to morph into the NFL's top pass-catcher.

    As a fan, it's hard to ignore supreme talent when you see it. Johnson is not only great at what he does, but he does it with such ease.

    Watching him turn a routine slant pattern into a massive touchdown or jump what seems like 80 feet into the air is all part of his charm.

    No matter what team you've pledged your alliance to, the man they call Megatron is one dude you have to pull for on Sundays—especially when he's on your fantasy team.

Roger Federer

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    Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

    Often, greatness commands a level of respect. Roger Federer is one of sports' best examples of that notion.

    Federer's greatness on the court has made him tough to root against. Maybe that's just how tennis is structured.

    Growing up, you always rooted for one of the greats. When the Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras era ended, Federer became the tennis' biggest star.

    He's clashed with elite players over his career including Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic and walked away with an astounding 79 singles titles and 17 Grand Slams.

    Federer is a class act. You can be a Nadal fan or even pull for the underdog, but watching a consummate professional like Federer glide across the court and strike with fury will be something tennis fans remember until the end of time. 

Victor Cruz

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Victor Cruz is your classic "rags-to-riches" story.

    He entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent, and the New York Giants scooped up the former UMass playmaker and threw him on the roster back in 2011.

    All Cruz has done since then is salsa his way into the hearts of fans and earn a cool five-year, $43 million contract in the process.

    The Giants need Cruz. So much so that they had no qualms with not re-signing a former first-round pick—wide receiver Hakeem Nicks—to a long-term deal.

    Cruz is a huge part of what the Giants like to do on offense. He can open up the field, work out of the slot and take the top off a defense vertically.

    Any player who can literally come from nowhere and become the best offensive weapon on one of the most decorated NFL franchises deserves to be cheered for. Cruz is no exception to the rule.

Stephen Curry

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Ever since Stephen Curry was banging three-pointers down at Davidson College, you knew this young man was going to be special.

    Curry was a scrawny kid who destroyed elite programs with big shots that made everyone across the United States believe in that Davidson team.

    When he got to the league, he had already built up a following. All Curry has done since putting on a Golden State Warriors uniform is mature like a fine bottle of merlot. He's reinvigorated a fanbase that hasn't been active since the Don Nelson years and become one of the league's top scorers.

    There's no limit to what this young man can do. The more time he spends in California, the better he gets. Maybe it's because of what he did during the 2008 NCAA tournament, but rooting against Curry is something you just don't do.

Peyton Manning

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    USA TODAY Sports

    They don't make quarterbacks like Peyton Manning anymore.

    Manning doesn't have any mobility or even a rocket launcher for an arm. But what makes him so great is his attention to detail and football IQ. The guy is a tireless worker who studies more film than Mike Mayock.

    He brought prestige, media attention and globs of money to the Indianapolis Colts for 14 seasons before moving on to shatter records with the Denver Broncos.

    At 38 years old, this may be the last season we get to see one of the greats step onto the field. He's a true "good guy" in every sense of the word. A no-nonsense player who also does ridiculous Papa John's commercials.

    Honestly, how can you not be a fan of Peyton?

Clayton Kershaw

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Baseball has found its latest pitching gem in Los Angeles Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

    Kershaw trotted onto the mound in 2008 at 20 years old and over the next three seasons developed into the best pitcher in the game. Watching him throw is like watching art being constructed. He has a blazing fastball and wicked curveball and makes hitters chase them down with a devastating slider.

    The guy has pitched a no-hitter, won the Cy Young Award twice and, as Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com mentioned, become the leader of the Dodgers.

    Like so many names on this list, greatness is hard to root against. Kershaw's dominance is rare. He's one of the best pitchers we've seen come along in years, and the best part is that he's only 26 years old.

Kobe Bryant

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    You don't root for Kobe Bryant because he's trying to come back from an injury like Derrick Rose. You don't root for Bryant because he's a Los Angeles Lakers legend. You root for Kobe because he loves the sport and works unbelievably hard to make the game better.

    Unless you've been catching sleep under a rock for the last 15 years, you know by now that Bryant is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He came to the Lakers with a chip on his shoulder—thanks to the Charlotte Hornets—and ever since then has done nothing but transfix NBA fans.

    Bryant is the closest thing to Michael Jordan we've seen. At times, their games are eerily similar, which is a testament to the mutual respect these two guys have for each other.

    Roland Lazenby, who at the time was writing a book about Jordan, tweeted "MJ just told me Kobe's the only one to have done the work, to deserve comparison."

    Like Jordan, Bryant is a momentous talent who possesses an unmatched work ethic and a killer instinct. We probably won't see another player like Kobe again. Even at 35 years old, with a ton of basketball minutes wearing down his legs, it's still a pleasure to watch the Black Mamba work.

Russell Wilson

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    In sports, we always appreciate guys who do things the "right way." There may be no better example of that right now than Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

    Whether it's fair or not, Wilson is the anti-Johnny Manziel.

    That's not trying to take a shot at Manziel or even say he won't be great. It's just that Wilson has spent his career in Seattle keeping a low profile—unless it's about his charity work—and working to become the very best he can be.

    Wilson is going to lead the next generation of quarterbacks by winning games, playing smart and making big things happen with the ball in his hands. He may not have the sheer skill of Andrew Luck or the entertainment factor of Robert Griffin III, but Wilson already has a Super Bowl title under his belt at the age of the 25.

Lionel Messi

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    Soccer has many stars, but there's no one quite like Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

    Messi has the flair on the field of Cristiano Ronaldo even though he's just 5'7". Watching him operate at times is almost surreal. It's hard now to imagine that Messi was told he wouldn't be big enough to play soccer at the professional level.

    All he's done since he's arrived in Barcelona is compile an insane amount of trophies, awards and victories for the club.

    He's one of the most gifted and creative players to come along in ages, and being an underdog from the jump just means Messi is hard to root against—unless you're a big Real Madrid supporter.

LeBron James

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    LeBron James' decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2010 vilified the NBA's "Chosen One." He went down to Miami and won two titles with the Heat while dominating the Eastern Conference.

    Cavs fans were furious. They burned LeBron jerseys in the streets and wrote off the former prodigal son of Ohio. But then, things changed.

    James' Heat were demolished by the San Antonio Spurs, which started the whole "LeBron is coming back to Cleveland" narrative. And once LeBron announced via Sports Illustrated that he was "coming home," Cavaliers nation began to heal.

    So is all forgiven? In the eyes of everyone who resides in Ohio, that answer is, of course, yes.

    But how do the rest of the fans feel? Can we root for James now that he's back home?

    If you go by the recent Harris Poll that just came out, per ESPN's Darren Rovell, the answer is yes. "LeBron James is the most popular male athlete in America for the first time in his career," said Rovell.

    Welcome back, King James. Now would you do us all a favor and go win the Cavaliers a championship?

     

    All MLB, NBA, NFL and tennis stats provided by ESPN.com, unless noted otherwise.