7 Players Revolutionizing Their Sports

Matt MartinezCorrespondent ISeptember 21, 2011

7 Players Revolutionizing Their Sports

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    In sports, athletes have roles. If you play defense, it's typically your job to keep the opposition from scoring. If you're an offensive player, your role is to run up the score.

    But some guys do things a little differently.

    They don't allow themselves to get boxed into specific duties. They may see things in a new light. Or, they might be so good, or physically imposing that they end up blazing a new trail for future generations.

    Those are the guys we are looking for. Here are seven players revolutionizing their sport.

7. Jason Belmonte

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    We all love to bowl. It's fun. But, some guys make their living hurling 16-pound balls at rednecked white pins 60 feet away.

    And while there seems to be a traditional way of bowling, it took years for the game to evolve.

    Before bowling balls had three holes, they had two. One hole for your middle finger, and one for your thumb. Decades later, the three-hole ball became the norm.

    Professional bowlers drill their thumb hole almost underneath the ball to produce a hooking spin. This approach creates consistency, and with consistency comes success.

    A group of bowlers are shunning the old way.

    One such bowler is Jason Belmonte, an Australian-born professional. Instead of throwing the ball in a traditional, one-handed toss, Belmonte uses two hands.

    He has become the first successful two-handed bowler in the PBA.

    Named the 2008-2009 Rookie of the Year, Belmonte and his unorthodox style are a force to be reckoned with on tour. 

6. Robinson Cano

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    Traditionally, when you think of second basemen, you don't think of hulking power hitters. You don't think about middle-of-the-order staples or triple-digit RBI totals. You think of scrawny guys with quick hands. You think about bunt singles and miraculous diving snares.

    Robinson Cano is bucking those stereotypes.

    Only finishing his seventh season at the big league level, Cano is in the prime of his career. Over the past three seasons, Cano has smacked at least 25 home runs and legged out 41 doubles or more. His average hasn't dipped under .305 during that span and in 2009, he hit a career-best .320.

    No American League second baseman has enjoyed this type of consistent success since Joe Gordon.

    Back in the 1930's and 1940's, Gordon was paving a new style of play for second baseman with the Yankees and Indians. In 11 seasons, he hit 246 long balls. He would have hit a lot more if it wasn't for World War II.

    In the National League, future Hall of Famer Jeff Kent has hit the most homers at second base. His nearly uncatchable 377 seem almost out of Cano's reach. Robby has amassed 142 dingers, but he is in the meat of his career.

    Just like Ernie Banks and Cal Ripken, Jr. at shortstop, Cano is showing that the middle infield isn't reserved for soft-hitting speedsters.  

5. LeBron James

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    LeBron James will go down as the best small forward in the history of the NBA, it's only a matter of time.

    Sure, he hasn't won an NBA championship, but he's 26. At 26, he has scored more than 17,000 points. At 26, he has averaged 27.7 points per game, 7.0 assists per game and 7.1 rebounds per game over seven seasons.

    So what makes 'Bron revolutionary?

    He is, in essence, a point forward. He controls the tempo of the game and distributes the ball with unmatched court vision and dead-eye accuracy.

    The only forward who compares to James in that arena is Larry Bird. Bird's career 6.3 assists per game are close, but he didn't average more than seven dimes per contest until he was 30. 

    James is also a great rebounder. Though he spends a great amount of time along the perimeter, he still grabs plenty of boards.

    Finally, James is an outstanding defender. Anytime LeBron is trailing a fast break, I cringe. I just know he's going to pin it on the glass. 

    James is forcing the next generation of small forwards to do it all. There hasn't been an all-around type of talent like LeBron since Oscar Robertson.

4. Nicklas Lidstrom

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    Nicklas Lidstrom plays two-way hockey like no one else in the league.

    He is a devastating defenseman who has an acute ability to take away the passing lane and make scoring avenues disappear. He's also a great puck handler, passer and a serviceable finisher.

    Only eight defenseman in the NHL's history have scored 1,000 points. Lidstrom is one of those guys.

    The Swedish-born lefty has won seven James Norris Memorial Trophies, four Stanley Cups and has been voted an All-Star 11 times.

    He's also got an Olympic gold medal in his collection from the 2006 Turin games. 

3. Roger Federer

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    It took a long time to see any decline in Roger Federer's play.

    After spending a record 237 consecutive weeks at the ATP's top position, Rafael Nadal finally knocked off the Swiss-born Federer in 2008. He has won a record 16 Grand Slams and reached 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals during one stretch.

    He is, simply put, the greatest of all-time.

    He is also a revolutionary player. Much like LeBron James, Federer is good at everything. He plays well on any surface, can strike the ball from any position on the court and is unbelievably efficient. 

    Federer will force the next generation of tennis players not to favor a surface. He will challenge them to couple a strong baseline game with a comparable net attack.

    If anyone will have a chance at the career Federer has had, they will have to be as well-rounded as Roger.

2. Lionel Messi

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    Lionel Messi is undoubtedly the best footballer of his generation.

    He's earned countless individual honors and has led FC Barcelona to five La Liga titles, and three UEFA Champions League. He led his native Argentina to a gold medal win in 2008 and tallied a FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2005.

    Messi is a consummate winner.

    Sure, he's surrounded by an enormous amount of talent, but that will only get you so far. Eventually, great players have to make great plays. And Lionel Messi has made great plays time and time again.

    Messi is Diego Maradona's heir.

    His seemingly fragile 5'7" frame doesn't seem built for such dominance. Messi truly has a nose for the goal and he couples that with an uncanny ability to possess the ball.

    It's also alarming that Messi seems to just get better and better. In 2008-2009, he netted 38 goals. In 2009-2010, 47 and last season he scored a record 53 times in all competitions. 

1. Peyton Manning

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    It's sad to think that we may have seen the most revolutionary quarterback of this generation play his final game in the NFL.

    Manning's neck injury is devastating. It's not the kind of injury an athlete should take lightly. If he gets popped the wrong way, he may never walk again.

    Peyton turned the Indianapolis Colts into a relevant team again when he was drafted in 1998. During his run, he won a record four MVPs, compiled a record 121.4 passer rating in 2004 and hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy at Super Bowl XLI.

    But what makes Peyton so much different than his contemporaries?

    Manning is an on-field offensive coordinator. He takes a look at the opposing defenses' alignment and audibles into the proper play. This style of quarterbacking takes an immense knowledge of the opposing team and a mind that is capable of advanced problem solving.

    It's unlikely that any future quarterback will be able to do what Peyton has perfected in his 13 seasons in the NFL. And what we have seen out of the Colts' offense since Manning hasn't been under center is a testament to how important he is to his team.