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Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter and the Top 25 Leaders in Sports

Elliott PohnlFeatured ColumnistNovember 30, 2010

Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter and the Top 25 Leaders in Sports

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter have molded their careers around a one simple ideal.

    While producing Hall of Fame numbers, both men have displayed the core values that define a great leader.

    We will remember Bryant's game-winning buckets and his Championship resolve.

    We will remember Jeter racing towards home plate to track down a missed cutoff throw and his fist pump after winning another World Series title.

    But while we tend to marvel at their individual moments of athletic glory, it's important to also realize the impact they have had on those around them.

    When actions weren't enough, both players have always been willing to speak out to lend support or motivation to their teammates.

    One way or another, their actions and words have produced consistent success.

    And when their team needs a big play, we know these two leaders will answer the call.

    Here's a look at 25 of the best leaders in sports today.

No. 25: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

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    It hasn't happened yet, but Dirk Nowitzki wants nothing more than to win an NBA Championship.

    Once a mild-mannered player, he has hardened during his days in Dallas.

    Since his poor performance when the Mavericks were upset by the Warriors in the 2007 playoffs, Nowitzki has become more assertive and more vocal.

    He even took a pay cut to stay in Dallas in hopes of helping the team around him improve.

    Dirk is one of several players on this list who leads by his actions more than words.

No. 24: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Quarterbacks always seem to be natural-born leaders.

    Unlike some of his more vocal counterparts, Ryan leads almost completely through his actions.

    Along the way, he commands the utmost respect from his teammates.

    It's about time Matty Ice starts being mentioned as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

No. 23: Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos

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    Surprised to see Tim Tebow on this list?

    Probably not.

    Mr. Intangible gets more credit than he deserves for being a great leader, but for some reason, his teammates always seem to respond to him.

    Even during training camp, all the Denver Broncos could talk about was how much of a joy it was to play with Tebow.

    It should be interesting to see how his legendary leadership skills translate to the NFL level once he assumes a bigger role.

No. 22: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    The reigning National League Rookie of the Year was arguably the biggest reason the San Francisco Giants even made it to the World Series.

    Posey looks like he is about 15 years-old, but the Giants' motley collection of veterans clearly believed he could come through in the clutch.

    Once he supplanted Bengie Molina as the everyday starting catcher, the Giants really took off.

    From his production at the plate to his game-management, the level-headed youngster has the makings of a great leader for years to come.

No. 21: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Utley played through pain last season in an effort to keep the Phillies afloat while they dealt with injuries throughout the lineup.

    The gritty second baseman has been the most consistent piece in Philadelphia's return to prominence.

    Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard get most of the attention, but Utley's leadership makes him the face of the franchise.

No. 20: Darren Sharper, New Orleans Saints

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    Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

    As good as Drew Brees and the Saints' offense was during the Super Bowl season, there is no debating the influence of Darren Sharper on the defensive side of the ball.

    The veteran anchored a secondary that was supposed to be the weakest link, helping young players like Tracy Porter find their footing.

    Without Sharper directing the backfield, New Orleans would have needed a miracle to reach the Super Bowl.

No. 19: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    You can't argue against winning.

    On the way to winning his first of four NBA titles, Duncan learned how to lead from David Robinson and Avery Johnson.

    Now, 11 years later, he is able to get his message across without even saying anything.

    His refreshing professional approach to the game has the Spurs' dynasty alive and well.

No. 18: Derek Fisher, L.A. Lakers

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    Speaking of a dynasty, the Lakers' run of titles just wouldn't look the same if Derek Fisher finished his career elsewhere.

    Fisher took the money and ran to Golden State for two years, then played a year in Utah before the illness of his daughter led him back to Los Angeles.

    Throughout his entire career, Fisher has been a tough player who rose to the challenge of defending the league's best point guards.

    There's a reason that the Miami Heat tried desperately to pry him out of Los Angeles.

    Even at age 36, Fisher's toughness and tenacity has yet to fade.

No. 17: Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears

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    He doesn't seem like the smartest guy in the world, but he certainly knows football.

    Urlacher has been the staple of Chicago's defense through thick and thin.

    Even when his athletic brilliance began to fade, he never made excuses and always stood by the coaching staff.

    That's the mark of a great leader.

No. 16: Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox

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    Youkilis never got a great deal of hype as a prospect, but once he broke into the lineup he just kept right on hitting.

    While helping the Red Sox reverse the curse, Youk became the vocal leader of the Red Sox who kept things as serious as possible in the clubhouse.

    His leadership and polarizing presence on the diamond has him destined to be remembered as one of the Bo Sox's all time greats.

No. 15: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    When Polamalu was sidelined for much of the 2009 season, the Steelers' defense absolutely fell apart.

    His soft-spoken demeanor is contrasted by his fierce nature on the football field.

    He also isn't afraid to defend his teammates or speak his mind in the media.

    Polomalu has stood up for James Harrison and criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for having too much power.

    It was nice to see a respected player stand up and say what many people were thinking.

No. 14: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Staying in the Steel City, Crosby has taken to starting fights in an effort to show he is truly deserving of that "C" on his chest.

    When he first splashed onto the scene, his true grit was masked by his grace on the ice.

    Now, Sid the Kid has the makings of great leader for many years to come.

No. 13: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Pujols is another great athlete who is a great leader despite saying very little.

    His competitive drive has helped the scrappy Cardinals' teams consistently overachieve.

    Regardless of his health or the importance of a game, Pujols never dogs it and makes the most of every at-bat.

    Leaders are much harder to identify in baseball, but the slugging first baseman in St. Louis is clearly one of the best.

No. 12: Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets

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    Billups wasn't always known as "Mr. Big Shot."

    Before helping the Pistons upset a team with four future Hall of Famers to claim the 2004 NBA Championship, he bounced around and was widely labeled as a major bust.

    His willingness to rise to the moment helped restore the glory of the Pistons' franchise.

    After heading home to Denver, he helped George Karl gain control of his wild Nuggets' squad and even inspired his new teammates to play defense.

    At least they tried to play defense.

No. 11: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

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    Rivers gained a lot of respect around the league when he nearly helped the Chargers knock off the undefeated Patriots while suffering from a torn ACL.

    It was that tough performance that allowed him to shed his "crybaby" label and become regarded as a leader.

    Ever the competitor, Rivers refuses to back down and seems to get the most from his teammates.

No. 10: Landon Donovan, USA Soccer

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    After being nothing more than a great player for years, Donovan expanded his game for the United States in the 2010 World Cup.

    He took to his duties as team captain, refusing to shy away from big moments on the pitch while leading his young teammates to success.

    Along the way, he finally seemed to gain a little bit of respect.

No. 9: Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings

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    A couple years ago, Brett Favre likely would have been ranked much higher on this type of list.

    After a brilliant 2009 campaign, his selfishness has finally gotten the better of his career and the fate of the Minnesota Vikings.

    Sure, his fortitude is admirable and even inspirational at times, but that sense of self-importance inspired teammates to begin questioning Brad Childress.

    Favre will always be a leader, even if it means organizing a mutiny of sorts.

No. 8: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings

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    The aging defenseman is still playing at the height of his game for the Red Wings, even as he enters his forties.

    Lidstrom has spent his entire glorious NHL career in Detroit, winning four Stanley Cups since breaking into the lineup nearly 20 years ago.

    His toughness made him the logical replacement to captain the Wings when Steve Yzerman finally hung it up.

No. 7: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

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    Derek Jeter certainly isn't worth the $20 million he is asking for, but the Yankees should feel at least a little compelled to reward his steady leadership over the years.

    Aside from his winning pedigree, Jeter has never been a malcontent amidst the tumultuous culture of the Yankees.

    He even stood by A-Rod during those dark days following his admission of guilt.

    There's nothing wrong with getting fed up with an aging shortstop with declining skill and numbers dominating the headlines.

    Just don't completely dismiss the true value of those annoying "intangibles."

No. 6: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

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    Peyton Manning has made stars out of household names by being the picture of consistency.

    He is never hesitant to praise young players, or even to stay after practice to help them improve.

    Although he isn't the biggest talker in the world, it's safe to say his leadership makes him one of the most respected players in the NFL.

No. 5: Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics

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    While Peyton Manning and others on this list like to play the role of peacemaker, Garnett won't hesitate to criticize his teammates.

    His dominant personality has ambushed Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis during his days in Boston, but in the end helped to maximize the talent's of both players.

    In his prime, K.G. was a ferocious competitor who certainly could back up all of his woofing.

    As his NBA career comes to a close, his biggest value lies in his leadership ability.

No. 4: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    Brees is a fantastic competitor who helped the Saints discover an identity.

    Although he isn't the biggest or the strongest quarterback, his intensity continues to be contagious among his teammates.

    Don't be shocked if he has a little more magic left when the playoffs roll around in January.

No. 3: Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    Brady is usually calm, cool and collected.

    That doesn't mean he won't lay into his linemen or receivers if he feels they aren't executing.

    Playing for Bill Belichick has kept Brady from commonly being labeled as a great leader or a brilliant football mind.

    Looking at his body of work, it's difficult to understand why he doesn't get more credit for being the orchestrator of the Pats' dynasty.

    Brady has led the Pats' to the best record in the NFL this season despite being surrounded by almost no experienced players on offense.

    That's the mark of a great leader.

No. 2: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

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    There is plenty of substance behind Ray Lewis' outspoken antics.

    His young teammates have picked up on his insane level of intensity, making Baltimore's defense a force to be reckoned with.

    For the most part, Lewis has been a devastating force on the field without making dirty hits.

    Even as his skills slowly begin to decline, he remains the unquestioned leader of the Ravens.

    It's safe to say he has repaired his image.

No. 1: Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers

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    Whatever the Lakers need, Kobe Bryant can provide.

    When Phil Jackson needs to shut down a scorer, Bryant can get the job done on the defensive end.

    When the Lakers need a big bucket, Bryant can get it.

    Even after knee surgery, he can still elevate over defenders and raise his game in the biggest moments.

    It's his knack for rising the moment that makes him a fantastic leader by example.

    When it comes to letting his words do the talking, he is willing dish out praise or dispense criticism to his teammates.

    It certainly was a winding road, but Kobe Bryant has finally become a great leader.

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