The Most Awesome People in Sports Right Now
What defines being awesome? In sports, it can be a variety of things.
First and foremost, players or coaches who perform at their best are always put into heavy consideration. Being at your best at all times trumps anything else.
But there are other ways to fall into the awesome category. Masters of social media and people who play by their own set of rules also deserve to be included on this list.
If you mix all of that criteria together, toss in a pinch of pepper, put it on the stove for 45 minutes, then reduce it to a dull simmer, what you get is a comprehensive power ranking of the most awesome people in sports right now.
Let's get going on the list.
15. Giancarlo Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton is not only a powerhouse at the plate, but he also boasts one of the coolest names in sports—I swear, I'm not just saying that because we share the same first name.
Stanton has been important for all of the people named Giancarlo in the world. Outside of Giancarlo Esposito—the man who portrayed Gus Fring on Breaking Bad—we really don't have many marquee names in the United States.
Stanton is in the midst of a heroic season, all while playing for a dismal Miami Marlins team. At 24 years old, he not only has a long career ahead of him on the field, but he also carries the Giancarlo name on his shoulders.
14. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo is not just the cheapest player in FIFA 14—the guy actually mimics that type of play for the super club Real Madrid.
Ronaldo is a goal-scoring machine who shreds the back of the net and racks up a castle full of accolades in the process. Now that La Liga is finally back in session, fans of the sport will get to quench their thirst of seeing spectacular plays and Scud missile shots launched from the Spanish capital.
In the world of soccer, what's better than Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi?
13. Kliff Kingsbury
The jury is still out on whether or not Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury will be an effective coach in the Lone Star state. The one thing we do know about Coach Kingsbury is that he's hands down the coolest coach in the game today.
Kingsbury is a coach the players love through and through. Videos of his antics during practice and memoirs of his time in Lubbock are a testament to that label. But why stop there? Kingsbury has also admitted on The Dan Lebatard Show that mothers of recruits flirt with him.
In what can only be described as an outstanding piece of writing, Matt Crossman—penning a special for Bleacher Report—perfectly summed up Kingsbury:
Easily the most GQ coach in America, he wears designer sunglasses and tailored suits. All big-time college coaches have tailors. Perhaps Kingsbury alone uses his to dress nicely instead of like an insurance salesman from Poughkeepsie.
12. Jimmy Graham
When the NFL decided that they were going to fine players who dunked the football over the goal post, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham's world must have been turned upside down.
For the past couple of seasons, Graham has used the dunk as his signature touchdown celebration. No matter though—during the preseason he just kept on dunking, eating a hearty amount of fines along the way.
Anyone who opposes the "no fun league" belongs on a list paying homage to awesome athletes. Graham is not only a proponent of excessive TD celebrations, he also happens to be a supreme talent and crucial part of the Saints' offensive attack.
11. Joel Embiid
All hail Joel Embiid, the undisputed king of Twitter. Emerging from the Andrew Wiggins-laden Kansas Jayhawks, Embiid put his talents on display and immediately became one of the hottest prospects entering the 2014 draft.
Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports called Embiid the "best center prospect in a decade," and for good reason too. As Doyel wrote, during his one-year stint at Kansas, "Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in just 23.1 minutes."
Had he not gone under the knife for foot surgery prior to the big day, we may have seen the 20-year-old donning a Cleveland Cavaliers garb before being shipped off to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Embiid's exemplary Twitter game keeps him on this list.
Once he graces the court again, he'll climb even higher.
10. Gus Malzahn
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is pretty much the anti-Kliff Kingsbury. He dresses in sweater vests, rocks tan colored slacks like Jim Harbaugh and doesn't look like he starred on a soap opera for 10 years.
Still, Malzahn is awesome in his own right. He crafted his own version of the no-huddle offense while serving as the head coach for Springdale High School, and because of it he was launched into the college coaching ranks.
After serving on Houston Nutt's staff in Arkansas and coaching with Todd Graham at Tulsa, Malzahn became the offensive coordinator for Auburn in 2008. In 2010, the program won a National Championship with Cam Newton doing his best Superman impression at quarterback.
Malzahn briefly left the school to become the head coach at Arkansas State before returning to Auburn this past season to fill the same role.
The Malzahn offensive express rolled through the SEC, which culminated with a dramatic Iron Bowl win against Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide. Though they ended up losing the National Championship to the Florida State Seminoles, Malzahn definitely earned his place on this list.
Anytime you get under Coach Saban's skin with your crazy offensive schemes, you can shout from the mountain tops that you've officially made it.
9. J.J. Watt
When you're talking defensive players in the NFL, they don't get much better than Houston Texans star J.J. Watt.
Watt is light-years above his competition from an advanced metrics point of view. But just how much better is he? The wonderful human beings over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Watt as the No. 1 3-4 defensive end in all of football last season.
If that wasn't impressive enough, consider this: Watt's cumulative grade on the season was a staggering 99.8. Calais Campbell—who was ranked as the second-best 3-4 end—well, his grade was a respectable 34.1.
The baddest man on the planet may in fact be Watt. He's a wildebeest in the trenches who has spent his entire career destroying offensive lines.
8. Chip Kelly
Creative geniuses in football have captured the imagination of the general public for years. The latest one to reach the shores of the NFL is Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.
Kelly came to Philadelphia after a spending four seasons building his hyper-octane offensive scheme at the University of Oregon. The biggest questions about Kelly were based off that scheme. Would it work in the NFL? Would it be effective enough to win a ton of games? Would Kelly wear players down with his rapid tempo?
Those questions were answered during his debut season, when the Eagles won 10 games and reached the playoffs after winning four games the prior year.
Kelly has brought excitement, a winning culture and a dash of sports science over to the city of Brotherly Love.
Chris B. Brown of SmartFootball.com and Grantland wrote:
Kelly’s question-everything approach has caused many smart NFL coaches and executives to ask themselves why they’ve been doing things the same way for so long. And many are realizing that Kelly has better answers.
Outside of the league's reincarnation of Darth Vader—Bill Belichick—no one is changing the game as much as Coach Kelly.
7. LeBron James
LeBron James' NBA career is going to be ridiculous to look at in retrospect. He's a stat-stuffer on the court and a master, John Calipari-like recruiter off of it.
James teamed up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami to form the now infamous "Big Three." After two championship rings and four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, James left Miami and returned home to play with his beloved Cleveland Cavaliers.
As if returning to his home state wasn't enough, the King was at least partially responsible for luring Kevin Love over from the Timberwolves, per Kevin Spain of USA Today. LeBron James isn't Michael Jordan. What James represents is a free-agent magnet, who also happens to be insanely good at basketball.
6. Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson is the ultimate good guy in football. Wilson's awesomeness stems way past the football field. He's a smart, productive, Super Bowl winning quarterback who spends a bulk of his time doing charity work and helping people.
All things considered, how could you not want him as your quarterback? He seems to do just about everything right. Plus, unmatched work ethic and on-field smarts have made him one of the game's best signal-callers.
There's no question that Seattle is in good hands with No. 3 as its fearless leader.
5. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant was the man who finally unseated LeBron James as the NBA's Most Valuable Player during the 2013-14 season.
Despite not winning a championship, Durant has become one of the top players in the game. He's an offensive savant who scores the basketball with a simple roll of his finger or flick of his wrist. Watching James play is amazing. But watching Durant on the hardwood comes across as art in motion.
Durant's career in hoops is on fire, and that's what fans care about. The fact that he may sign a shoe deal worth $250 million with Under Armour (according to Anthony Riccobono of the International Business Times) is the icing on the cake. Perhaps a more challenging task than winning an NBA title will be getting people to wear Under Armour shoes.
4. Tim Duncan
Winning never gets old. Just ask San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan.
Duncan's pursuit of a fifth NBA title finally came to fruition when the 38-year-old helped lead his Spurs over the Miami Heat this past June. Like Steve Martin, the veteran power forward doesn't age. The proof is in the statistical pudding.
When the 2013-14 regular season finished up, Duncan averaged 15.1 points per game and 9.7 rebounds a contest. He might not streak up and down the court like LeBron James or shoot buttery jumpers like Kobe Bryant, but that doesn't take away from Duncan's greatness.
3. Clayton Kershaw
Just how good is Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw? Good enough for Marc Normandin of SB Nation to write a piece comparing him to some of the all-time greats.
Kershaw's dominance over the last couple of years has been one of the strongest talking points in all of baseball. Another one has been the obscene seven-year deal he inked worth $215 million.
You can't get much better than the young fireballer from Dallas, Texas. Two Cy Young awards and 66 wins over the last four seasons are impressive. What's even more impressive is that it looks like he's just getting started.
2. Peyton Manning
Wherever Peyton Manning goes, insane numbers and wins follow. Last season, Manning decided that the best way to prove he was still one of the best quarterbacks in the game was to obliterate the record books.
Taking a cast of young, talented pass-catchers, No. 18 threw for a record-setting 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. The Broncos dominated their AFC foe and earned themselves a Super Bowl bid. On a cool night at MetLife Stadium—home of the New York Jets and Giants—Manning's dreams of a second championship ended at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
Despite the drumming the Seahawks laid on the Broncos, nothing can take away from his Einstein-like brilliance on the gridiron. Manning is a special quarterback who has constantly adjusted his sails to accommodate the swirling winds of change that encompass the NFL.
With a reloaded cast of characters, this season should be no different for The Sheriff.
1. Richard Sherman
Land on the cover of Madden 15? Check. Super Bowl ring? Check. Become one of the best cornerbacks in all of football? Check.
Is there anything Richard Sherman can't do at this point? Out of all the guys who have played the position, perhaps no one outside of Deion Sanders have drawn more public attention than Sherman. His outburst after the NFC Championship game has propelled him to a different level than the rest of his peers.
He says what he wants and people deal with the consequences. The best part about Sherman is that he backs up his banter with extraordinary play on the field. In fact, his play has been so good that he earned himself a nice four-year, $56 million extension earlier this offseason.
The Seahawks will be looking to repeat as Super Bowl champions. For that to be even a remote possibility, Sherman once again will have to take away an entire side of the field.
All MLB, NBA, NHL, college football and NFL information and stats provided by ESPN.com, unless noted otherwise.
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