The Madeira-born Portuguese knows he is breathtakingly handsome, gifted and wonderful (even if he can't quite persuade us he's as good as Leo Messi). Yet it's nice for him to be reminded of his greatness by wandering round a museum that he's bankrolled on the island to be a shiny shrine to himself. In its midst stands a life-size waxwork of CR7 himself. Indian celebrity beard styles.
He was bought by Real Madrid to win "la decima," their long-cherished 10th European Cup, and his extra-time penalty against Atletico Madrid in 2014 sealed the deal at the end of a Champions League campaign in which he scored a record 17 goals. It also allowed him the chance to strip off and pose like a muscle man -- an act he never needs to be asked twice to perform. It was a similar scene over the weekend when Ronaldo peeled off his jersey triumphantly after delivering the penalty kick that clinched Real Madrid's 11th Champions League title.
"It's opinions. Maybe in your opinion Messi is better than me. But in my mind I am better than him. So it's simple." -- Ronaldo
James is a powerhouse on and off the court. He and Michael Jordan are the only players to win a regular-season MVP, NBA Finals MVP and an Olympic gold medal in the same year. He's pals with everyone from mega-investor Warren Buffett to Jay Z. In 2014, Forbes named James the World's Most Powerful Athlete, and in 2015 James announced a partnership with the University of Akron to provide scholarships for as many as 2,300 students, beginning in 2021. He touches all the bases.
Arguably, it hasn't happened yet. Winning two titles in Miami was vital for his legacy, but James' personal story will go from great to spectacular if he can finally snap the city of Cleveland's 52-year drought without a pro championship.
After James almost single-handedly kept Cleveland in last year's six-game NBA Finals loss to Golden State by averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in 45.8 minutes per game with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love out, columnist Bruce Jenkins wrote James didn't run out of steam, "He ran out of team."
Imagine what fun it must be for you to know that however great Cristiano Ronaldo thinks he is, you're actually even better, to the point where the only pertinent question left is whether you're the best soccer's ever seen. Of course, Barcelona's Messi is too modest to suggest this. In 2013, a Japanese jeweler created a gold replica of his left foot valued at $5.25 million. Hah! Everyone knows that the real thing is actually priceless.
You think Steph Curry's highlight reel is unreal? Then watch Messi's. Goal after goal of mesmerizing brilliance. The best? We'll plump for the one in the 2015 Copa del Rey final when, from just inside the Athletic Bilbao half, he takes the ball on the right flank, weaves past four bamboozled players and beats the keeper at his near post. Pure genius.
"He is the best player in the world by some distance. He's like a PlayStation. He can take advantage of every mistake we make." -- Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's manager, after Messi had scored four past them
The joyous boy from Brazil (and Barcelona) is only 24, but, goodness, he's already lived a life. A dad at 19 while also becoming Brazil's footballing idol, he has been the most marketable athlete on the planet, the face of an entire World Cup and cover model for Vogue and Time. Indeed, he's been so famous for being famous that it's easy to forget about the extraordinary gifts that spawned the celebrity. He's become a true champion at Barcelona, selflessly in the shadow of Leo Messi, and you know how good he is when Pele starts muttering that no way can he become the new Pele.
Once he was knocked out of the World Cup with a back injury, the lights went out for Brazil -- but don't forget that until then, he had carried the impossible weight of expectation brilliantly with four goals, including two beauties against Cameroon.
"Neymar's football is artistic, because he can join his superior technique with his playful imagination. It is something original, beautiful and effective." -- Jorge Valdano, Argentine World Cup winner and soccer sage
Whenever you play, you are worshipped by those who think that watching one of your matches is like seeing Nureyev or Olivier on stage. You can wear gold-trimmed white blazers to walk on court and still carry it off. Writers pen love letters to you, saying that seeing you play tennis is like a religious experience. Even your rivals can't bring themselves to hate you, you're so darn nice. And all the time, you can only think to yourself in four languages: "You know, they're probably right."
Winning the 15th of his record 17 Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon in 2009. Not just because the Fed surpassed Pete Sampras's record when "Pistol" himself was watching in the Royal Box, but because even when not playing his sublime best, he demonstrated in the 16-14 final set against his favorite old punchbag Andy Roddick that he had rare guts to accompany the genius.
"The metaphysical explanation is that Roger Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws." -- Author David Foster Wallace in a 2006 New York Times essay titled "Federer as Religious Experience"
The top available free agent in the NBA's 2016 class, with a chance to decide where you'd have your best shot for your first title. Will it be the Lakers, where Kobe is gone and new head coach Luke Walton is in? Could it be San Antonio, where Tim Duncan could be done playing for OKC's perennial nemesis? What if Durant heads to Golden State, the team that just dispatched his Thunder in the Western Conference finals? The Warriors might never, ever lose.
Durant and the Thunder knocked off the Spurs in the strike-shortened 2011-12 season to earn Durant his first NBA Finals berth. He won the NBA scoring title that year as well. (The Thunder, despite Durant's series-high 30.6 scoring average, lost the championship to Miami.)
"The four-headed monster of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant would certainly strike fear into the rest of the NBA.... Add any fifth player in the league, almost any player, and that is one of the best starting lineup to grace the court since the '96 Bulls, maybe ever." -- Forbes.com's Simon Ogus
Healthy enough -- finally -- to at least be discussing a return to the PGA Tour after being sidelined for months by back surgery (and knee issues before that.) Whether Woods, now 40, can ever resume his derailed chase of Jack Nicklaus' record total of 18 major titles is the last great intrigue of his career. He's been stalled at 14 since 2008.
The 1997 Masters, Woods' first major title, because of the history of the course and the spectacular way Woods lived up to the hype that had followed him since he was a child prodigy. Woods won by 12 strokes, set the 72-hole Augusta scoring record (minus-18) and became the youngest Masters champ ever at age 21 years, 104 days. Before long, other golf clubs started re-doing their courses to make them "Tiger proof."
"I think he's tired. I think he really wishes he could retire, but he doesn't know how to do it yet, and I don't think he wants to leave it where it is right now. If he could win a major and walk away, he would, I think." -- Michael Jordan, basketball legend and friend of Woods
The hottest name from the top sport in a nation of 1.25 billion people. Kohli also dated actress Anushka Sharma, one of Bollywood's biggest stars. He's playing as well as anyone in the world, with four performances of 100-plus runs in the Indian Premier League this season. To provide context, consider that all other players in the league have a total of three centuries in 2016. As captain of the Indian Test side, he is fashioning a team in his own aggressive, in-your-face style, and he has been India's best batsman in the more popular shorter forms of the game.
Just recently, Kohli was quoted as saying, "I don't know if I have reached my peak yet." So it's reasonable to expect the best is yet to come for the 27-year-old Delhi native. In 28 Twenty20 innings in 2016, covering the IPL and international matches, Kohli has scored 1598 runs - and few would bet against him continuing that spree in the months to come.
"If you talk cricket with me I can keep going on. I can keep talking about it the whole day. Just the mindset, understanding the game, understanding angles, playing in different situations... I like to learn from and discuss with a lot of people because eventually it will open your mind to new things you can absorb." -- Kohli, to The Cricket Monthly in 2015
The angel-faced Colombian was named after James Bond (although it's pronounced Ha-mes), and for a while at the 2014 World Cup, like 007, he seemed capable of pulling off the impossible. Life's been tougher trying to live up to expectations since his move to Real Madrid, but his rare talent means he's neither been shaken nor stirred.
Colombia vs. Uruguay, World Cup, Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, June 28, 2014, 5:28 p.m. He collects a headed ball high on his chest, 25 yards out and side on to the goal, cushions it expertly and while still finding time to glance over his shoulder for his options, spins to detonate a perfect volley that arcs into the net via the crossbar. A star is born.
"He's such a talented player and he's a good-looking kid as well -- he's got the whole package." -- David Beckham on Rodriguez
Never in the field of tennis conflict has one so thunderously competitive on court, seemingly ready to suck an opponent's soul away like a remorseless Dementor with a racquet, been such a humble gentleman away from it. So don't go changing, Rafa, we say. One of the true nice guys is now getting back to his biceps-bulging, forehand-crushing, arched-eyebrow, fiddly-fidgety best after injury and confidence issues. Everyone should beware.
We can argue where he sits in the pantheon of great players, but let there be no debate about the fact Nadal won the most dazzling tennis match ever. Wimbledon 2008, in near darkness, five superlative sets, squandering a match point but still beating Roger Federer on Centre Court.
"I am afraid of a lot of things. A dog. I could be afraid of a dog that's upset, for example. So on the tennis courts, maybe on the outside I look fearless. But on the inside, I'm scared." -- Nadal (well, he could have fooled us!)
Flush enough to commute to and from work via helicopter, as Bryant often did when his Los Angeles Lakers played home games at Staples Center.
The hypercompetitive Bryant would say his five title wins, but his fans would say the outpouring of affection he attracted last season during his retirement tour. Such fondness wasn't always a given for Bryant, whose career had its share of controversy.
"What's funny -- the thing that had me cracking up all night long -- the fact that I go through 20 years of everybody screaming to pass the ball, and then the last night they're like, 'Don't pass it!'" -- Bryant after scoring 60 points in his final game
In a country where rugby is the sporting religion, Bale ensured soccer will dominate the Welsh psyche this summer after his brilliance transported the national team to Euro 2016, the first time Wales will compete in the finals of a major championship in 58 years. He's also winning over those Real Madrid skeptics who wonder if he merits his world record £81 million price tag. Of course! The boyo's worth every penny, they'll tell you in the valleys.
It may be his lot to be a mere satellite of Planet Ronaldo, but Bale's big match goals remind Real of his worth. None was more monumental than the simple extra-time header in Lisbon 2014 that put them ahead of neighbors Atletico and transported them toward the holy grail of a 10th European Cup triumph.
"We all knew about Gareth Bale at school. He was the kid with the Adidas Predators. At primary school, even then he had the best boots. He was the best footballer I've ever seen" -- Sam Warburton, Wales rugby captain and Bale's old schoolmate
No. 8 on Forbes' most recent list of the world's highest-paid athletes. He's won 42 PGA Tour events, including five major championships, and ranks No. 2 on the PGA career earnings list, checking in just shy of $80 million.
He shed the dreaded "best player without a major" label in 2004 when he won the Masters -- more than 13 years after his first PGA Tour victory. He also memorably stopped at a Krispy Kreme location for doughnuts the day after winning the 2010 Masters -- while wearing the famed green jacket.
"I try to respect everybody out here: players, caddies, fans, media." -- Mickelson in 2009
Some athletes are blessed to be loved by their nation. For a rare few, though, love morphs into a kind of reverence. You want to know quite how much MS Dhoni is adored? Well, Bollywood is making a film about him, and his stellar career isn't even over yet. But then if you've captained India to a cricket World Cup triumph in the sport that leaves a billion people spellbound, you've effectively already crossed the line that separates celebrity from living deification.
Hitting a six to win a World Cup is unreal enough. Yet to deliver the massive, decisive blow in Mumbai at the climax to a marvelous, match-turning innings that wins the trophy for your cricket-besotted compatriots for the first time in 28 years? Well, that sounds like a pipe dream. Even Sachin Tendulkar, India's batting god, failed in that 2011 final. But Dhoni, like some muscular, cricketing John Wayne, swaggered to the rescue. Doesn't he always?
"The coolest man in world cricket, MS Dhoni delivers when it matters most." -- former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan
Nobody ever played the role of a sporting savior more brilliantly. And no superstar athlete could ever be as cool. Track and field, riddled with doping cheats, hamstrung by cynicism and stifled by apathy, needed a spring-heeled superman who could demonstrate that it was possible to become the fastest man in the world while on a diet of showboating, smiles and Chicken McNuggets.
He did go on to run faster -- 9.58 seconds in Berlin the following year, to be precise -- but nothing could top the OMG moment when, on the biggest stage of all in Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium in 2008, he first demonstrated why he would become the greatest sprinter in history as he somehow demolished the 100-meters world record in the Olympic final in 9.69 seconds while absent-mindedly spreading his arms and beating his chest. Here was a man reveling in his own splendor.
"When I'm at the gym, I think about chicks, going to the beach, and looking good. I do it for the girls." -- Bolt
He tries everything to make us love him. His daft impressions of other players, his gracious winner's speeches, his attempts to make the ball boys laugh, his courtesy -- and yet still he's only admired, not loved. Here's the thing, though. Djoko really doesn't have to try so hard because, ultimately, through sheer force of achievement he'll force us all to recognize him as perhaps the greatest tennis player of all, an athletic, competitive and relentless winning machine. And, of course, everybody eventually learns to love a winner.
After his first Wimbledon triumph over Rafa Nadal in 2011, he took a blade of grass from Centre Court and ate it. As he did, he recalled all the struggles he'd had as a kid growing up in war-torn Serbia, remembering the highs and lows of his incredible journey to the top. And, he smiled, it all tasted beautiful.
"I believe he's the most perfect tennis machine, similar to the F-18 navy fighter jet." -- Nick Bollettieri, tennis coach
Being the top all-time international goal scorer for the country who gave soccer to the world ought to be enough, but it's been the Manchester United striker's lot to be sometimes undervalued at home, as if somehow he's never been quite forgiven for supposedly not quite living up to the expectations England had for him. Really? Well, the England captaincy, five Premier League wins and a Champions League triumph and so, so many beautiful goals tell a different tale.
His pyrotechnics at Euro 2004 against Switzerland and Croatia saw the young Rooney at his mesmerizing best. Sven-Goran Eriksson, then England's manager, said he'd seen nothing like it since Pele at the 1958 World Cup. Pele? Aaargh! It was not a comparison an 18-year-old needed to bear.
"Rooney would play for 100 Euros a week. You can see the fire in his eyes. It's that fire which makes him the best of the best." -- Lionel Messi
How do you solve a problem like Maria's? Well, even if you can't play tennis because of a doping ban, your enduring fame is such that you can still dominate the tennis landscape with effortless ease. At the news conference called to reveal her failed drug test, only Sharapova could inform those who had thought she was going to hang up her racquet: "If I was ever going to announce my retirement, it would probably not be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet." Ah, that icy Siberian majesty.
The first of her five Grand Slam wins as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon was a hard act to follow. She beat Serena Williams that day and later in that 2004 season, too. Yet in their 17 matches since during the past 12 years, she's won just once against her nemesis.
"It's tough playing tennis and being Mother Theresa at the same time and making everyone happy." -- Sharapova, after being booed for shrieking while winning a match at the French Open
Apart from when some dullards moan that he's ineffectual, flatters to deceive and looks lazily uninterested, Arsenal's German playmaker doesn't so much receive rave reviews as love letters, great drooling odes to his languid, elegant, aesthetically pleasing, creative magnificence -- sorry, we're getting carried away here! One internet hit from January is a wedding reception video where the bride listens lovingly to her new husband conclude in his speech: "All I hope is that this special someone knows from the bottom of my heart how much they truly mean to me, so will you please raise a toast to -- Mesut Ozil!"
Winning the World Cup with Germany was the high spot of a dazzling career of international orchestrating which has seen him win the award of Mannschaft player of the year four times.
"Ozil is unique. There is no copy of him -- not even a bad copy" -- Jose Mourinho, who managed him at Real Madrid and, for once, tends to agree with Arsenal leader Arsene Wenger, who persuaded his bosses to fork out £42.5 million to sign Ozil
In the post-Tiger era, golf was going to be Rory's personal fiefdom and it still might well be. Of course, since Jordan Spieth and Jason Day came waltzing along, the succession picture has been muddied somewhat with a new Big Three jostling in the sport's game of thrones. Yet on sheer unadulterated, God-given ability, you'd surely say the Holywood, Northern Ireland, native is the one with a touch of Hollywood in his game. Nice fella, too.
When McIlroy won his first major in 2011, shooting a U.S. Open record 16 under at Congressional to win by eight shots, it was a gun-to-tape procession that out-Tigered the Tiger.
"Rory is an unbelievable talent. I love his swing, I love his rhythm, I love his moxie. He's got a little swagger there, it's a little bit cocky but not offensive. I like that.... He has an opportunity to win 15 or 20 majors if he wants to keep playing." -- Jack Nicklaus in 2014
It is one hell of a gift to be so utterly persuaded of your own magnificence that you can shout it out to the world one day and then demonstrate it on the soccer pitch the next. With a galaxy-sized ego and a gigantic talent to match, of course we have to chuckle with the great one as he declares: "I am Zlatan. I can't help but laugh at how perfect I am."
It was only a friendly international, but Zlatan's four goals against England in 2012 represented the zenith of his art, featuring one 35-yard free kick, a delightful chest-and-volley finish and a preposterous, midair 25-yard bicycle kick that must go down as one of the great international strikes we've ever seen.
"One thing is for sure. A World Cup without me is nothing to watch." -- Ibrahimovic, after Sweden failed to make it to Brazil 2014
What must it be like to know you can get away with being soccer's answer to Hannibal Lecter and still be the subject of mass adoration because you also happen to be the game's deadliest marksman? The Uruguayan has his own 160-line Wikipedia section entitled "Luis Suarez Controversies," outlining a charge sheet featuring kicking, punching, racial abuse and three counts of biting opponents, not to mention cheating Ghana out of the World Cup with a deliberate handball. So what? Barcelona and Uruguay fans would forgive him for anything after he netted an extraordinary 60 goals this season.
Taking a bite out of England in the 2014 World Cup with two clinical finishes. He reckoned it was so sweet, perfect retribution for all the flak he received while playing for Liverpool.
"Just downloaded a video of Luis Suarez's greatest moments. It was only three mega bites." -- one of the many Twitter jokers after Suarez had taken a chunk out of Italy's Giorgio Chiellini
Considered even more fascinating after the first MMA loss of your career than you were beforehand, when people marveled at the swiftness of your victories and said you were "unstoppable." UFC president Dana White before Rousey's shocking upset by Holly Holm last year: "With [Rousey], it's like the Tyson era, like, how fast is she gonna destroy somebody, and in what manner?"
Rousey was on top of her sport in 2015 after she submissioned Cat Zingano with an armbar in 14 seconds, the fastest win ever in a UFC title fight. Observers wondered if Rousey would be able to find worthy competition from the world of women's mixed martial arts. "She's strong," boxer Manny Pacquiao said at the time. "Strong enough to beat Floyd Mayweather in MMA."
"Somebody told me once that it's the pretty fighters you have to watch out for. If someone's all gnarled and mangled up, obviously they've been getting hit a lot.... I'm the heel, I'm the antihero. And I like it that way." -- Rousey, who also has an acting career going, to the New Yorker
When you've been the Premier League's best player and have produced the most iconic moment in its history, scoring the goal which won the 2012 title for Manchester City in the 93rd minute of the nine-month season's final game, then you're bound to be feted by all and sundry. Er, except by your ex-father-in-law, that is. Diego Maradona, enraged that Aguero had split up with his daughter, just growled that "Kun" was a wimp whose name he couldn't even bring himself to mention.
As the distinguished Sky TV commentator Martin Tyler put it, immortalizing the moment as the Argentine scored that storied title-winning goal in injury time against Queens Park Rangers: "AGUEROOOOOOO! I swear you'll never see anything like this ever again! So watch it, drink it in!"
"We are talking about someone who is special -- world class. When you are in trouble, he can bail you out. Those are the types of players who, when you are away, struggling and have not had a good day, we can defend and he might win us the game." -- Thierry Henry to Sky Sports after being surpassed by Aguero as the second fastest to score 100 goals in Premier League play
Considered the best female player in tennis history by acclaim and able to brag you had perhaps your best season in 2015 at age 33. Williams' eclectic interests in fashion and acting keep her in the spotlight, too.
It's a close call between the "Serena Slam" that Williams put together by winning all four majors in succession in 2002-03, or her 53-3 record in 2015 and near-miss of a calendar year Grand Slam in the U.S. Open, the season's last major. Her 2015 campaign was probably more remarkable because it came 20 years into her pro career.
"They were like, 'We would love for you to be in this particular song. It's about strength and it's about courage, and that's what we see you as.'" -- Williams on why her friend Beyoncé asked her to appear in the video for "Sorry," a track on the singer's "Lemonade" album
Mayweather, now 49-0, lives up to his nickname "Money." He's a five-division world champion who has generated approximately $1.31 billion in pay-per-view revenue throughout his career, surpassing former top attractions such as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Manny Pacquiao. If Mayweather, now 39, comes out of his latest retirement to fight MMA star Conor McGregor, as rumored, his estimated take could be another $100 million.
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Mayweather was already considered the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world when he beat Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. Afterward, Mayweather briefly retired, saying his heart was full and he had "nothing left to prove" in boxing.
"We believe in our heart of hearts that Floyd Mayweather is the successor in a line that starts with Ray Robinson, goes to Muhammad Ali, then Sugar Ray Leonard," said Bob Arum, Mayweather's first promoter. For once, Arum wasn't exaggerating.
Sadly, it's been like watching the tiger turn into an old toothless tabby but, actually, it doesn't matter how grievous a disappointment the Colombian's been in the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea -- a £140,000-a-week misfit who has managed only five goals in two years. That's because the mind's eye always drifts back to El Tigre in his predatory pomp, the most lethal of finishers for River Plate and Atletico Madrid. Humble and God-fearing, we'd love him to find his roar again, but he's never looked the same since the ACL injury that made him miss the 2014 World Cup.
The first-half hat trick for Atletico, hailed by manager Diego Simeone as "indescribable," that sank Chelsea in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup final was the high watermark of his scoring art.
"If I can help Falcao reach his level again, I will do it. It hurts me people in England think that the real Falcao is the one we saw at United." -- Jose Mourinho, before signing Falcao on loan for Chelsea (he failed in his quest)
One World Cup, two European Championships, the club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Premier League, La Liga, Copa del Rey -- what more can you give the midfield conductor who's seemingly won the lot? Well, a Champions League winner's medal would complete the set, and new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte will count on the intelligence and vision of Spain's orchestrator to deliver that. Er, but not next season after Chelsea's annus horribilis.
Well, Fabregas' 30-yard strike in the San Siro for Arsenal to knock holders AC Milan out of the Champions League in 2008 was stupendous, but how can you top the moment he delivered a perfectly weighted pass to set up Andres Iniesta's winner in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands.
"Oh, Fabregas is magic, he wears a magic hat, he could have signed for Arsenal, but he said, 'No f-- - that.' He passes with his left foot, he passes with his right! And when we win the Premier League, we'll sing his song all night!" -- Chelsea fans' anthem about Arsenal's former hero
Paid well for your suffering, praised for your scoring talent and rarely blamed for how your team never seems to find lasting success. Even the arrival of 11-time champion Phil Jackson as team president hasn't turned around the Knicks. It helps that Anthony became an almost instant superstar by leading Syracuse to the 2003 national championship as a freshman.
Anthony and the Knicks seemed on the rise when they won the 2012-13 Atlantic Division title and 54 games with Mike Woodson as head coach. Anthony finally advanced out of the first-round playoffs for only the second time in his career.
"People say every year is the one that will determine if I'm great or terrible, if I've met expectations or been a disappointment. To be honest with you, I'm tired of it." -- Anthony
A star who is comfortable in his own skin. Rose was among the league's best players when he suffered his first knee injury in 2012, and he withstood a firestorm of criticism because of how long it took him to return to playing for the Bulls. But he didn't bend or break.
Rose became the youngest MVP in NBA history when he got the 2011 award at the age of 22 years, 6 months.
"I can't get mad about peoples' opinions, I always say that. That's their opinion. They got every right to say or think whatever they want to say and think. And whatever they say and think don't affect my life." -- Rose
Being Britain's greatest current sportsman -- or Scotland's greatest, depending on who's claiming him -- is one thing. Yet might Murray, a two-time Grand Slam champ who has happened to be unfortunate enough to be parading his rare talent at the same time as three of the best players ever, even be considered the U.K.'s finest sportsman of all? His single-handed annexation of the Davis Cup for Great Britian last year bolstered his case.
It was one of the peak moments in British sports annals, too, when Murray finally achieved in 2013 what most right-thinking Brits had thought would never happen in their lifetimes: a home-based bloke winning Wimbledon after a hopeless 77-year search for the next Fred Perry.
"A friend sent me a message the other day with an article from a newspaper that said 'Andy Murray is duller than a weekend in Worthing.' Which I thought was a bit harsh. To Worthing." -- Murray, proving dryly that he's not as dour as legend has it
The NFL's reigning MVP and a quarterback whose freakish athletic ability is complemented by an impressive command of the mental part of playing the position. Newton is a polarizing figure -- some folks love his dabbing; others say it's preening. Newton has won everywhere he has been.
Leading the 2015 Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 record and Super Bowl 50, where they lost to Denver.
"What happens when you take a lion out of the safari and try to take him to your place of residence and make him a house pet? It ain't going to happen. That's the type of person I am. I'm that lion." -- Newton
Called "rejuvenated" and "Father Prime" this year while leading the Heat on another deep postseason run at the age of 34 while Chris Bosh was out. What's Wade's secret? Must be the compression boots.
Wade has three NBA championship rings, including two earned while playing alongside LeBron James (who hasn't yet won a title without Wade). Still, Wade's biggest peak moment might've been his play in the 2003 NCAA tournament for Marquette, which elevated his draft stock and landed him with Miami when Shaquille O'Neal was still there. Together, they won the 2006 NBA title late in O'Neal's career.
"Dwyane has been the franchise cornerstone for this team since the day he arrived. He has shown his commitment to the Heat many times over the course of his career and has always been willing to sacrifice in order to help build this team into a champion." -- Heat President Pat Riley in a statement when Wade signed his current contract
Curry is a unique combination in sports. He shoots like an assassin, is cuddly as a stuffed animal and plays like a superstar, but he's built like an average guy. He's already a world champion, a scoring champion and leader of a Warriors team with the NBA's single-season wins record. He just became the league's first unanimous MVP while winning the award for the second consecutive year. Did you also know his real first name is Wardell and he was born in the same Akron, Ohio, hospital as LeBron James?
Curry owns the NCAA and NBA records for 3-pointers in a season, but winning the 2014-15 NBA title tops everything.
"I walk in the gym and this guy's stepping across half court just pulling jump shots. Splash. Splash. And when we played him, he had like 35 and he was like 10 years old. I was like, who is this? And 10 years later... that was Steph Curry." -- Kevin Durant on his first Curry sighting, which happened at an AAU event
The great eight-weight world champ is carving out a career as a politician in the Philippines -- a fairly clumsy one so far if his anti-gay comments are anything to go by -- but it's a fair bet that, as a new senator there, he will not have the power to change society in the way he has done as a boxer. How's that? Well, on the day of Pacman's fights, they say, the crime rate drops to zero because the streets are deserted with millions having switched off their lives and switched on their TVs to watch him.
The supreme night for the supreme champ came in 2009, when he turned the ferocious Miguel Cotto into a bloodied wreck with a 12th-round stoppage to become the first man to win world titles in seven weight divisions.
"The job of senator is so demanding, I don't expect to see Manny in the ring ever again. But it remains to be seen. With Manny, anything is possible." -- Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter
Wanted. Howard is part of a dying breed -- a classic, defense-first NBA center. He's 30 and has taken a team to the conference finals only twice. But four clubs -- Milwaukee, Orlando, Portland and Charlotte -- are supposedly interested in pursuing him if he opts out of staying with Houston to sign with his fourth team in six years.
Howard's future seemed limitless when he went straight from high school to the pros and led Orlando past LeBron James and Cleveland in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals. It was just Howard's third season, and though the Magic lost the NBA Finals in five games to Kobe Bryant's Lakers, people thought Howard would make more trips to the Finals.
"I think I was very likable in Orlando, and the way that situation ended, I think people felt as though I'm just this bad guy, I'm all about myself, I'm a diva, I'm stuck on being Dwight Howard, this famous basketball player. So people say, 'I don't like that guy.' And I hear that, and it really hurts me because my heart and my attitude toward the game has always been the same." -- Howard, when asked by Charles Barkley why people don't like him
A thoroughly modern third-millennium creation. Has sport ever seen anything quite like the dandy Dublin showoff before? He combines bull and blarney with extreme violence to provide the intoxicating cocktail that fuels UFC's seemingly irresistible rise. Weirdly, even when he loses, as with his choking by Nate Diaz, his cult just grows apace. When he threatened to retire, you could feel the master manipulator's value click upward. Next stop, prepare for a "Notorious-Money" cross-code showdown with Floyd Mayweather, a pointless happening which is the last thing the world needs, but we'll doubtless still pay handsomely to behold should it occur.
Thirteen seconds of mayhem. Punch, kick, punch. That's all it took for McGregor to win the UFC world featherweight crown last December, KO'ing Brazilian Jose Aldo, who'd not lost a bout for 11 years.
"These custom-made suits aren't cheap. This solid gold pocket watch, three people died making this watch. I need to put people away. I need those big fights. I'm going to end up in debt pretty fast." -- McGregor
The NFL's career leader in passing yards (71,940) and touchdown passes (539), a five-time MVP and a two-time Super Bowl champion. You might have seen him in a commercial or two as well. Cut that meat! Check, check, 287, orange barrel, reroute! Chicken parm you taste so good.
Manning finally silenced critics who said he couldn't win the big one when he guided the Colts to victory over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Seven years later with the Broncos, he set NFL single-season records with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards.
"When someone thoroughly exhausts an experience, they can't help but revere it. I revere football. I love the game." -- Manning, at his 2016 retirement news conference
One of the NBA's best point guards and leaders as well as a guy with his own app, Game Vision by Chris Paul. Paul's website claims the app can help people train to "see faster, think faster, and outperform your opponent by acting faster." It seems to work for him.
New Orleans fans don't like to hear it, but Paul's best career moment probably came when, after NBA commissioner David Stern nullified a deal that would've sent Paul to the Lakers. Instead, he was shipped to the Clippers, springing him from a purgatory-like existence in the Big Easy to title contention with L.A.
Paul's friendship with LeBron James dates to when they played together in a 2003 high school all-star game. "I think our personalities are very similar," Paul said. "We both joke all day every day. But we're very family-oriented. We always know that we can be real with each other.... He's not as tough as he puts on all the time."
The NFL's king of the circus catch, the sideline toe-tapping catch, and the one-handed touchdown catch. The Giants' Beckham now draws almost as many fans to his acrobatic pregame warmups as Golden State's Steph Curry does for his pregame dribbling/shooting exhibitions. Fans know to arrive early.
As a rookie in 2014, Beckham electrified teammates, rivals, fans and a Monday Night Football TV audience with his leaping, one-handed touchdown grab against the Dallas Cowboys despite being held on the play. Many jocks -- including some former star NFL receivers -- jumped on Twitter and called it the greatest catch in NFL history.
"I don't know what a jinx is. It's definitely a blessing to be on the cover. It was a surprise to be in the running after just a year, but it's definitely exciting." -- Beckham, on being voted to grace the cover of the Madden 16 video game last year, an honor that's thought to carry a curse
When the woman from Mumbai chalks up another milestone in her pioneering tennis career, it's not just an individual tour de force, but it marks her out each time as a rare trail blazer for India. She has had to put up with sexism, religious dogma and political objections to her career as a sportswoman. The fame (and infamy) has been suffocating and wearing at times. Yet she keeps breaking down barriers, having become a multiple Grand Slam champion alongside doubles partner Martina Hingis.
When Mirza and Hingis took the doubles title at Wimbledon last year, India understood the effort and sacrifices that their first female Grand Slam winner had made over a dozen long, hard years. It's why everyone from India's greatest sporting hero Sachin Tendulkar to Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi flooded her with tribute messages.
"If my story can inspire even just one youngster to the heights of winning a Grand Slam in the future, I will feel blessed." -- Mirza in her autobiography
Just when he'd plummeted mysteriously from the Premier League's best player of 2014-15 to out-of-sorts misfit of 2015-16, Chelsea's supremely talented Belgian winger finally put behind him a half-hearted, injury-hampered season that reflected his team's equally shocking fall from grace and started playing like a slaloming god again. He may have regained his form too late to salvage Chelsea's season, but Belgium will benefit at Euro 2016.
It was far from his loveliest goal, but after missing a penalty, the scruffy header that Hazard nodded in against Crystal Palace on the rebound won Chelsea the title in 2015. Oddly enough, his quite brilliant goal a year later for Chelsea against Spurs was enough to give Leicester City the title.
"One day I want to be the best and what I did this season is play very well, Chelsea played very well. I don't know if I deserve to win but it is good for me.... It is better to be voted by the players -- they know everything about football." -- Hazard after being named the Professional Footballers' Association player of the year for 2014-15
Building a reputation as the NBA's Master of Irony, not just one of its best dunkers. Many of Griffin's commercials, and deadpan willingness to make fun of himself, are as memorable as his rim-rattling slams.
When Griffin and Chris Paul joined together for the Clippers' 2011-12 season, they began collaborating on the sort of alley-oop plays that made the Clippers fun to watch -- and bigger winners. They even began outshining the Lakers in Los Angeles -- at least in the standings.
"When the Clippers had the first pick and they announced that they were gonna draft me, everybody was like, 'Uh, you probably should ask not to get drafted. Try to go somewhere else.' And I was like, 'You know what? Let's just see.' And honestly, it wasn't even about L.A., because I hadn't been to L.A. at the time. I thought, 'OK, whatever, Beverly Hills Cop.' All I wanted to do was play basketball." -- Griffin, to GQ
A player who went from being a career reclamation project to legend in his adopted city of New Orleans by leading the traditionally awful Saints to greatness at the same time the city was recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Brees, 37, will eventually retire as one of the most accurate and prolific passers in NFL history.
Quarterbacking New Orleans' 2009 club to a Super Bowl title in his fourth season there, outdueling Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts for the championship.
"People in New Orleans needed somebody to care about them. And it was the one place that cared about me.... People told me it was like the Vegas of the South. That's so wrong. This place is in people's blood, and they want you to feel that too." -- Brees in Sports Illustrated, after being named the magazine's 2010 Sportsman of the Year
A Trail Blazers draft pick who -- unlike Greg Oden, Sam Bowie and others -- has actually exceeded projections for his career. Since arriving from Weber State, Lillard has embraced being Portland's leader, not just its starting point guard. He also raps -- Droppin' dimes, droppin' dimes -- under the name Dame D.O.L.L.A.
Dragging the Blazers to 44 wins this season after preseason estimates pegged them as a 26.5-win team following LaMarcus Aldridge's departure. Portland has the NBA's lowest payroll and third-youngest roster but still made it to the conference semifinals before falling to Golden State.
"He doesn't put himself above the team or above other players. He's not taking Uber to games instead of arriving with the team. He just works hard. He treats the rookies like he treats vets. He never demoralizes people and doesn't talk down to them. It's rare you see a player of his caliber so humble, so laid back." -- Portland teammate C.J. McCollum
Heading to your fifth Olympics, a first-time father of a new baby boy (named Boomer Robert) and convinced you're capable of swimming faster than you ever have while approaching your 31st birthday.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics, where Phelps delivered on his goal to win eight gold medals in the same Games, breaking Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record of seven. Phelps now has 22 medals overall, 18 of them gold, totals he will look to increase at Rio.
"Everyone was comparing me to Mark Spitz. But for me... it was never about beating Mark Spitz. It never was. It was about becoming the first Michael Phelps, not the second Mark Spitz. And that's truly what I always dreamt of as a kid. I dreamt of doing something that no one had ever done before." -- Phelps, on Olympic.org
It's not just that the best tennis player Japan has ever produced possesses a lovely game -- he's one of the rare players Andre Agassi reckons he would pay to watch -- but it's what Nishikori could do for the game globally that truly excites. Already a superstar as the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam final, his engaging, endearing manner makes him so marketable that he's already one of the world's 20 most lucratively endorsed athletes. Imagine what he'll be worth when he wins one of the big ones.
Japan went crazy for the story of how Nishikori outlasted the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the 2014 U.S. Open semifinals in four grueling sets to become the country's first Grand Slam finalist. Alas, the fairytale ended when Marin Cilic crushed his final dream.
"Kei is a special player -- and they don't come along very often. We are seeing a great opportunity for tennis in Japan and Asia as a whole." -- Michael Chang, 1989 French Open champion and Nishikori's coach
Known as the most stylish player in a league full of style freaks, as well as the most athletic point guard in the game. Westbrook's wardrobe choices are the highlight of many postgame news conferences and striking enough to have moved GQ.com to recently title a story about him, "God Bless Russell Westbrook, May He Never Change."
In 2014-15, Westbrook reminded everyone that while Kevin Durant might be Oklahoma City's best player, Westbrook is the Thunder's heart and soul. With Durant and Serge Ibaka both out injured, Westbrook dragged OKC to the playoffs while piling up triple-doubles at a rate that conjured up memories of Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.
"I told him he's a helluva player. I've seen others with the same size and physicality. But they don't have his determination." -- Robertson, who is often critical of today's game and players, on what he told Westbrook after calling him over to talk before the 2014 All-Star Game (via Sports Illustrated)
A Super Bowl-winning quarterback with a 46-18 career regular-season record who hasn't missed the playoffs in four NFL seasons. He recently became engaged to Grammy Award winner Ciara.
It's tempting to point to his Super Bowl XLVIII victory with Seattle as a second-year pro, but that Seahawks team leaned on an imposing defense and stout running game. Instead, let's go with his 2015 season. He took his performance to another level by throwing for more than 4,000 yards for the first time, completing 68.1 percent of his passes, throwing 34 touchdown passes with just eight interceptions and leading the league with a 110.1 passer rating.
"I have high expectations of myself. I always have, always will. That will never waver." -- Wilson in 2012
A two-time major title winner at the mere age of 21 and the prodigy who has replaced Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as the face of golf.
Winning the 2015 Masters at age 21 while tying Tiger Woods' 72-hole scoring record of 18 under -- then rising up later that summer to become the youngest man to win U.S. Open since the great Bobby Jones in 1923.
"I'm not taking it very hard. I've got ladies at grocery stores coming up and putting their hand on me going, 'I'm really praying for you. How you doing?' My dog didn't die. I'm doing OK. I'll survive. It happens.... It was very tough to go through. At the same time, I have a couple major victories to draw on." -- Spieth, on why he won't be haunted by his collapse at this year's Masters
Living proof that nice guys can come first, Rose somehow always did manage to retain his humility, dignity and charming equanimity through a roller-coaster golfing odyssey. He savored the heady highs of being a teenage phenom -- the 17-year-old amateur who chipped in at the 18th at Royal Birkdale to finish fourth in the Open Championship -- and endured the miserable lows of missing 21 cuts in a row as a young pro en route to fulfilling his destiny of becoming a major champion.
There was hardly a dry eye in the house at Merion on Father's Day 2013 when Rose became the first Englishman in 43 years to win the U.S. Open and looked up tearfully to the heavens to salute his late father and inspirational mentor, Ken.
"A lot of us come from great men and we have a responsibility to our children to show what a great man can be." -- Rose, paying tribute to his late father after the U.S. Open triumph
A football superstar who's only the second-most famous person in his own marriage. Brady's supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, has an estimated net worth three times that of Brady's, which means he could quit this football thing any time he wanted to and be just fine, thank you very much. Of course, there's no reason to quit when you've won four Super Bowls, two MVP awards and are considered by many to be the best quarterback who has ever played. And assuming Brady's four-game Deflategate suspension doesn't get overturned again, the happy couple will get to hang out plenty this September.
The Super Bowl XLIX title in February 2015. It was Brady's fourth Super Bowl title and third Super Bowl MVP trophy, but he hadn't won either in 10 years despite his team's consistent presence as a title contender. It was a late-career breakthrough that cemented his place on the league's quarterback Mount Rushmore.
"He's a good, tough, competitive, smart quarterback that is a good value. And how he does and what he'll be able to do, we'll just put him out there with everybody else and let him compete and see what happens." -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick, after selecting Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft
A two-time NFL MVP with a Super Bowl trophy, a $22 million-a-year salary, a national State Farm endorsement deal, a movie-star fiancée and the highest passer rating in NFL history. If you ever wanted to tell the cocky high school quarterback, "This is as good as it'll ever get for you," Rodgers is not the evidence you would cite.
Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas, in which his Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25. Rodgers was 24-for-39 with three touchdown passes and no interceptions and was named the game's MVP. The 2010-11 postseason was peak Rodgers. He completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 1,094 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions in Green Bay's four postseason games. He's 3-6 in postseason games other than that year's 4-0.
"You've got to remember what your priorities are. When you're playing, what you do on the field is the most important thing." -- Rodgers, on balancing off-field fame and his playing career
A maverick who helped start the Fear the Beard movement in sports, and proved after being traded from Oklahoma City to Houston that his ambitions of being The Man weren't silly.
A lot of folks -- including Harden -- thought he deserved to be the league MVP for 2014-15, not Steph Curry. Harden led Houston to 56 wins even though star center Dwight Howard missed half the season and Patrick Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones also missed time because of injuries.
"There's so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I'm not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player." -- Harden, " target="_blank">on his second-place finish in the 2014-15 MVP voting
Morgan, a prolific scorer and assist-making forward, has become the most-marketed face of the hugely successful U.S. women's national soccer team. As of May 10, she had more than 8.94 million social media followers across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. She's also a best-selling children's book author and advocate for equal pay for women and men in sports.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Morgan -- at 22 and the youngest player on the team -- scored the winner in the 123rd minute of the semifinal against Canada to propel the U.S. into the final, where it ended up beating Japan 2-1 for the gold medal.
"I can't remember ever feeling this way after scoring a goal, it's just so exhilarating. I've never wanted to cry on a field after I scored a goal. It was the best feeling ever." -- Morgan, after the win against Canada
The rare defensive end who enjoys the sort of sought-after pitchman status that usually only quarterbacks command. Watt, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has filmed commercials in everything from tuxedos to farm overalls to his Houston Texans uniform with faux dirt smeared on his face. He also has found himself uttering lines such as, "The most exquisitely scrumptious beef you can buy." (Scrumptious? Seriously? But are you going to bust his chops about that?)
In 2014, Watt became the first player in NFL history to register a second 20-sack season, and finished second in the MVP race behind Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Hollywood producers have talked to Watt about perhaps becoming an action star in movies. Watt's take on it all? "It's always surreal," Watt told NFL.com. "I mean, it'll never stop being surreal. This is crazy. Nothing about my life now will ever be normal, because it's not -- it's crazy, it's absurd, it's awesome and it's unbelievable."
The beloved son of a legend and talented in your own right. Dale Jr. has always been seen as a sympathetic -- even courageous -- figure because of the way his father died in a Daytona 500 crash in 2001 and how he carried on. In addition to his own racing team, Earnhardt has leveraged his popularity into a broad range of investments in TV, radio, podcasts, video games and car dealerships.
Earnhardt, almost unfathomably, followed the racing code and competed at Rockingham the weekend after his father's death but finished in last place after a nerve-jangling wreck on the first lap. Later in the season, however, Earnhardt began a comeback with an emotional win at the Pepsi 400, the first race held at Daytona since his dad's death.
"During the race season, [if] I'm under caution, I'm getting [Redskins] stats and numbers told to me over the radio during the race. I've got to know. I can't concentrate on what I'm doing if I don't know what the Redskins are doing. My fans tell me if I lose, it ruins their week. But if the Redskins lose, it ruins my week." -- Earnhardt
A self-effacing six-time champion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and a man whose jumpsuit is labeled with more corporate sponsors than you can see on Madison Avenue.
Johnson was clairvoyant. He knew he wanted a life in racing when he began competing on motorcycles at the age of 4. It's been all up since. In 2013, Johnson won his sixth championship, one fewer than the record held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
"I think Dad would have liked Jimmie as a person, but he certainly wouldn't have enjoyed competing against him.... I love when we race door to door, but when he goes out there and he spanks you, it's not a lot of fun." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Imagine being the kid who actually lived his childhood dream -- and more. "Mr. Dennis, I want to race for you one day," a 10-year-old English kid from a working-class background once told McLaren team boss Ron Dennis at an awards ceremony. His wish became Ron's command and thus began the building of a champion who's had a fantastic pioneering career as Formula One's first great black driver, dating a Pussycat Doll, buying a private jet and winning three world championships on the way.
In just his second F1 season in 2008, Hamilton's first win in his home British Grand Prix had a touch of Ayrton Senna-like genius about it as he sailed around Silverstone in treacherous wet-weather conditions while the others just seemed to be drowning.
"The guy is driving like a god. I have to say he is the best. He wins everything. He makes very few mistakes. He is the quickest guy." -- F1 legend Niki Lauda before Hamilton's ninth win of the 2015 season
One of the few Asian-American players in NBA history, and a popular player in the burgeoning Chinese and Far East markets.
Lin was undrafted after he left Harvard and then he was cut twice by NBA teams before he burst onto the scene with the New York Knicks in 2012 after signing a 10-day contract and sleeping on the sofa of a friend. Lin, knowing he was perhaps a day away from getting cut outright or sent to the D-League, played so well in an emergency role, he sparked a Knicks winning streak and generated a global wave of attention known as "Linsanity." Lin become the first NBA player to score at least 20 points and have seven assists in each of his first five starts
"I do believe I am a more refined player, a more all-around player. I do think the work I have put in has made me better. I just don't think I have had the same fit or opportunity." -- Lin last year after signing with the Hornets, his third team since his breakthrough with the Knicks
Rich, retired and traveling the world at age 30. Lynch has popped up in Turkey, Egypt and Haiti, among other places, over the past year and seems determined to get the most out of his early retirement. We may end up hearing more from him as an ex-player than we did when he was playing.
From 2011 to '14, Lynch averaged 1,339 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns per season and 4.5 yards per carry. And those were just regular-season stats. He took his average up to 4.8 yards per carry in postseason games during that time. Lynch's peak moment should have been a short rushing touchdown that clinched a second straight Super Bowl title for Seattle. But since the Seahawks chose to pass at the goal line and got intercepted by the Patrtios' Malcolm Butler, he'll have to settle for the Super Bowl XLVIII title as his career topper.
"I think he's the first of a new generation of athletes that are going to be more individualistic. They're going to be more, 'This is my way. This is just how I do things.' And you have to respect the guy. He's the same person every day, and he's not going to give you anything fake. What you get with Marshawn is real." -- Former Seahawks teammate Michael Robinson
Here's the thing about fame. Even when you're stinking up the joint, you can still be the center of said joint. Take Lampard. Currently, New York City FC fans can't stop talking about him being the worst marquee signing in MLS history. No commitment, no interest, no shows, they say with some justification. And to think that he'd been touted, as his old Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho reckoned, as the best, most dedicated player in the Premier League for a decade.
Lampard took possession of the captain's armband when Chelsea skipper John Terry was suspended for the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich and led his team -- one supposedly over the hill -- to a famous triumph against all odds. He even coolly netted a penalty in the shootout.
"I like to go to America. That's where I go for most of my holidays." -- Lampard said this before his MLS adventure, and now NYCFC fans fear he really did fancy a vacation
The only woman to finish as high as third in the Indianapolis 500 (2009) and the only woman to finish as high as eighth in the Daytona 500 (2013). The petite, photogenic Patrick is the daughter of Beloit, Wisconsin, parents who met at a snowmobiling event. In a relatively short time, Danica went from go-karts to Formula Fords in Great Britain to Rahal Letterman Racing, for whom she won Rookie of the Year honors at the 2005 Indy 500. After becoming the first woman to win an IndyCar race, the 2008 Japan 300, and setting an IRL record by completing 50 consecutive races, she switched over to NASCAR, where she became the only female to ever win the pole position at the Daytona 500 (2013).
At the age of 23, the 100-pound former high school cheerleader was actually leading the 2005 Indianapolis 500 with just six laps to go. Alas, she had to slow down to conserve fuel, and three drivers passed her.
"Give yourself permission to shoot for something that seems totally beyond your grasp." -- Patrick
An extreme-sports cottage industry. Sheckler is an American-born pro skateboarder and entrepreneur. He starred in the MTV reality series "Life of Ryan," and among his many other credits is a role in the music video for "What Do You Mean?" by Justin Bieber.
Sheckler has won three X Games golds, but his first was historic. At age 13 in 2003, Sheckler became the youngest event champion in X Games history. "What I remember most was going home and going back to school the next day," he said about winning Skateboard Park gold.
"Ryan is the first legitimate teenage heartthrob in our industry. People who watch him aren't skateboarding fans, they're Ryan Sheckler fans." -- Andy Macdonald, eight-time X Games gold medalist
The most gifted hockey player in two countries. The fun-loving, dentist-challenging Alexander the Great has led the NHL in goals six times and skated for the Russian national team in 12 world championships and three Olympics. Now the captain of the Washington Capitals, Ovechkin owns the NHL records for most goals in a season by a left winger (65 in 2007-08) and most career goals by a Russian-born player (525). For all the gaps in his bridgework, there are few flaws in his game -- his defense has improved over the years, while his slap shot remains one of the marvels in all of sports.
On Jan. 31, 2008, Ovechkin absorbed a hard check into the boards that busted his nose and a puck to the face that lacerated his lip, yet he still scored four goals, including the overtime winner, in a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. He got an assist on the one goal he didn't score.
"My weapon isn't my shot. My weapon is me." -- Ovechkin
A two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants playing in America's largest media market and a member of the first family of quarterbacking. Those championship rings conveniently obscure a current four-year playoff drought and 199 (!) career interceptions.
It's difficult to separate the significance of Manning's two Super Bowl victories. Both have become indelible acts in NFL history. Specifically, we remember the winning drives he engineered in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI with a little help from David Tyree's helmet and Mario Manningham.
"In New York, they like winners. They don't like second place." -- Manning in 2012
LeBron James' handpicked wing man and a scorer whose teammates are constantly telling him he should shoot more, not less. Sounds like heaven, right?
Love finally decided this season, after much angst, that it was better to adjust his game to fit in with the Cavs and perhaps win a title rather than fight his role change from a do-everything star with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He's even started to swing between power forward and center and is a huge part of the Cavs' 3-point attack.
Forever known as one of Miami's three "Heatles" along with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, rather than just a very good player who began his NBA career with the Toronto Raptors once upon a time.
Winning the NBA title in 2012 and 2013 made everyone forget -- at least a little -- the regrettable introductory event the Miami Heat threw for the Big Three at their arena. It featured smoke, spinning lights, a mosh pit of fans, the works. A forklift even lifted the trio into the air for their arrival. Said Bosh that day: "Let's get it done, man. Let's get this string going."
"He absolutely has championship DNA.... With us, he's arguably our most important player and it's not just because of that shot." -- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra after Bosh's clutch 3-pointer helped the Heat edge the Spurs in Game 2 of the 2014 NBA Finals
Poised to earn $65 million to $70 million in the first three years of his next contract. Luck passed for 12,957 yards from 2012-14, the highest total in NFL history for a player in his first three seasons, before being limited by injury last season.
It probably hasn't happened yet. So far, we can point to his 2014 season, in which he led the league with 40 touchdown passes and guided Indy to the AFC Championship Game. He also eclipsed Peyton Manning to set a Colts franchise record for single-season passing yards with 4,761.
"Biggest lesson I learned my first year in the NFL is no one gives a crap about what you did last week." -- Luck in 2013
The quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, right? I mean, come on. People can bang on Romo all they want for failure to win big games. But he's still the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys -- a job about which any football-loving boy born in 1980 must have dreamed at least once during the early 1990s. Romo rolls into 2016 with a freshly repaired collarbone to play behind the best offensive line in the league. Sure, he wishes he'd played in at least one Super Bowl, but things aren't so bad in the grand scheme there.
The 2014 season was the best of Romo's career, with 34 touchdown passes, nine interceptions and a league-leading 69.9 completion percentage. He won one playoff game and, for a moment late in the second, before Dez Bryant's famous catch/non-catch was overturned, had reason to believe he was headed for an NFC Championship Game matchup against Seattle. Following the season, he was able to parlay his fame and his near-miss into a DirecTV commercial featuring his creepy alter ego, "Arts and Craftsy Tony Romo" -- a moment that may be as unforgettable as any he has produced on the field.
"If something in sports is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you've lived a pretty good life." -- Romo, to USA Today, in 2007
The reigning NL MVP and a three-time All-Star is poised to fetch a contract potentially worth $500 million by the time he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, became the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year for the Nationals and has already topped 100 career home runs at age 23. Seemingly, the only things that can slow him down are bases on balls -- a category in which he leads MLB.
Harper emerged in a huge way in 2015, leading the majors in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and wins above replacement. He also led the NL in runs and tied for the NL lead in homers to become a unanimous MVP selection.
"I will never say anybody's better than me. I don't think those words will ever come out of my mouth." -- Harper
The face of fun in the NFL. New England's lovable goofball tight end was recently named the Madden '17 cover athlete in the same week he'd already appeared on the cover of GQ -- a wide grin on his face and a bikini-clad supermodel on his ripped shoulders. Gronkowski is so good on the field that he gets away with cultivating a party-bro persona so over the top and in your face that he hosted Gronk's Party Ship, a February cruise from Miami to the Bahamas.
The summer that followed the Patriots' Super Bowl XLIX victory in 2015. Gronk was everywhere -- partying in Vegas, dancing on the ice at NHL games, wearing bizarre suits and sunglasses at the Kentucky Derby. His 2014 season was one for the ages, but it is only really in celebration that we can enjoy Peak Gronk.
"Best dancer? I mean, since I'm the only one who really whips out my dance moves, I'd have to go with myself." -- Gronkowski, at Super Bowl XLIX media day, when asked to name the Pats' best dancer
When you're this great, even being a martyr has to be part of the fun; when Trout isn't being heralded, he is being defended for the slights that have come his way. Only this guy could fall short in the AL MVP voting three times in his four big league years despite leading the league in WAR each time.
His career has been one long highlight reel, but it's hard to not get stuck on Trout's historic rookie season with the Angels. He posted the highest WAR ever for a rookie position player (10.8), led the league with 129 runs and 49 steals and belted 30 home runs. It took Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown -- baseball's first since 1967 -- to keep Trout from adding the MVP to his Rookie of the Year award.
"Now, despite its name, the farm bill is not just about helping farmers. [Agriculture] Secretary [Tom] Vilsack calls it a jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a research bill, a conservation bill. It's like a Swiss army knife. It's like Mike Trout, for those of you who know baseball. It's somebody who's got a lot of tools and multitasks." -- President Barack Obama in a 2014 speech about his then-newly passed farm bill
The deeply respected Grand Dame of women's tennis and the most reliably sensible voice on issues affecting the game. She's also one half of sports' most amazing sister act ever.
Williams has won seven Grand Slam singles titles, but it's been her ability to come back to the WTA Tour after being diagnosed with Sjorgren's Syndrome, a disease that creates unpredictable bouts of chronic fatigue, that speaks to her will and the pure pleasure she derives from playing the game.
"I didn't know about that. She's the cool one. I'm not the cool one. I've got to work on my cool points." -- Williams, on first seeing sister Serena's appearance in a recent Beyoncé video
First, the best news of all. Alonso is alive and well. His high-speed crash at the season-opening Formula One Australian Grand Prix in March destroyed his McLaren and was so horrific that even he concedes he is lucky and thankful still to be with us. Now, though, the two-time world champ is back to prove at 34 that he's still, as many F1 aficionados believe, the most complete and fastest driver out there. Just give him the right car.
So many great drives to choose from, but his masterly performance in weaving through from 11th on the grid for Ferrari to win the 2012 European Grand Prix in his home country of Spain was the one that meant most to him -- and his adoring compatriots.
"I've said many times that I regard him as my fastest and most talented rival -- I think he is one of the best drivers F1 has ever seen." -- Lewis Hamilton, three-time F1 champion, on his former teammate
Even though he wasn't part of the X Games this year, the guy who some might think invented them (he debuted there in 2000, first won events there in 2003 and has 15 X Games golds in all) has continued to march to his own beat. He has long since tired of the "Flying Tomato" moniker, but the most talked-about Olympic athlete on Facebook during the 2014 Winter Games owns a snowboarding tour (Air + Style) and plans to compete at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea at age 31.
This year's Burton U.S. Open in Aspen had to rank right up there in terms of satisfying wins for White. While certainly not an Olympic gold medal (he has two), the man many consider the best halfpipe snowboarder erased the bad taste from his disappointing finish at the 2014 Olympics and was nearly flawless, flashing back-to-back double cork 1260s that left the competition in his spray.
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"He wasn't happy about it. Such is the risk you take when you put on a bib and lay it on the line. His career is far from over, athletically. He's still, hands down, the best halfpipe rider in the world, and not by a small margin." Bud Keene, White's coach, about White's fourth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Olympics
A three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion as a driver and two-time champion as an owner. Stewart has won 48 career Sprint Cup races -- including at least one every year from 1999 through 2013 -- and is also a former IRL and IROC series champ. Last September, he announced that 2016 would be his final season on the Sprint Cup circuit.
Stewart won his 2011 Sprint Cup championship as a driver and team owner, becoming the first on the circuit to accomplish that double since Alan Kulwicki in 1992. Stewart won five races that season -- with all five occurring during the playoff chase -- and finished in the top five a total of nine times. He clinched the title by winning the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"I'd wreck my mom to win a championship." -- Stewart, prior to winning the 2011 Sprint Cup title
Even when his Achilles aches, the grand old man makes the trip around the bases look easy to the kids, and that much easier when he is doing it seemingly nightly at age 40. Ortiz says the youngsters on the Red Sox breathe new life into him during what he said would be his final season. But most nights, they're the ones in awe.
It would be easy to call Ortiz's 2013 World Series MVP performance his career highlight. But it was his speech on April 20 of that season, before the Red Sox's first home game after the Boston Marathon bombings, that many may ultimately remember just as vividly. "This is our f-- -ing city," Big Papi told the Fenway Park crowd and a national TV audience. "And nobody's going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."
"We travel to all these ballparks and he's presented gifts. But I think our fans are getting the greatest gift of all, and that is seeing what David is doing game in and game out.... It really is incredible to watch daily." -- Red Sox manager John Farrell
Stoudemire called this past season with the Miami Heat "the best time of my life." And that's saying something after he averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in the regular season and barely nine minutes per game in the playoffs. After the Raptors bounced the Heat from the playoffs, Stoudemire said his limited playing time -- he did not play at all in Game 7 -- was "not a part of the deal" when he decided to sign with Miami in July. The six-time All-Star is still playing at 33 after coming off the bench the past three seasons because of knee injuries and still apparently has enough of his old confidence to complain.
He was always capable of producing staggering highlights, but the 2005 Phoenix-San Antonio playoff series which his Suns lost but where Stoudemire all but ran over Tim Duncan, averaging 37 points per game, showed his raw athletic ability in all of its resplendent form.
"His potential is unlimited. He can be the next Karl Malone, whoever he wants. He's already pretty close to that." -- teammate Steve Nash midway through the 2005 Suns-Spurs playoff series
A sportsman born at the right time. Of course, if you've been an urbane, intelligent undisputed champ for a decade, then you're no ordinary athlete -- but old Dr. Steelhammer did rule in a wretchedly mediocre era for boxing's big guys. He was the Ukraine assassin, so the joke went, because he killed heavyweight boxing. Sadly, he wouldn't fight his brother Vitali, the one who could have put us out of our misery by stopping his methodical, safety-first sibling. In the end, it took plodding Brit giant Tyson Fury -- crazy name, potty mouth -- to end his reign. But Wlad, at 40, was still warning us, Arnold-like: "I'll be back."
There were times in the early days when Wlad could entertain, like when he avenged big brother Vitali's loss to Chris Byrd by dropping the American twice to win the title in 2000.
"You have about as much charisma as my underpants." -- Fury, taunting Klitschko before their 2015 fight (it's rumored the underpants threatened to sue).
A two-time major championship winner who has already racked up more than $10 million in earnings and endorsement income at age 19. Ko was born in South Korea but grew up in New Zealand.
Ko became the youngest golfer, male or female, to claim a world No. 1 ranking when she achieved the feat in January 2015 -- nearly three months before turning 18. Ko already has won 12 LPGA events and 17 professional tournaments overall. She won four pro tournaments and rose to No. 4 in the world as an amateur.
"Everyone won't be asking me when I'll win my first major because it's done." -- Ko, after winning the Evian Championship in September 2015
Seen as a promise fulfilled rather than a hyped sensation who never lived up to the label of "The Next One" -- a takeoff on Wayne Gretzky's "The Great One" nickname. Crosby won his first Stanley Cup title with the Penguins in 2009 and owns a slew of individual awards, including two Hart Trophies as the NHL's MVP.
Beating Detroit for the '09 Cup was fantastic, but Crosby's comeback from post-concussion syndrome after being sidelined parts of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons has enabled him to continue to build a Hall of Fame career rather than be regarded as a tragic figure whose terrific career was cut short.
"I'm not trying to be the next Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. I am putting pressure on myself to do my best and perform to my potential -- that's all I can do." -- Crosby in 2005
It would be pretty hard not to have a good time playing golf in octopus pants, as Horschel did in the 2013 U.S. Open. When it takes three tries to get your PGA Tour card, you tend to appreciate your career. When other pros call you obnoxious for throwing clubs and otherwise acting the fool early in your career, you realize that it's more fun to play well.
The 2013 U.S. Open was the one that made the world aware of both his pants and his golf game. Playing in his first major as a pro after winning his first tour title earlier in the year, Horschel was tied for the lead after two rounds and finished tied for fourth. But it was the following year when he established himself as a serious clutch performer, taking the BMW Championship and Tour Championship in consecutive weeks to grab the FedEx Cup title and a $10 million prize.
"When I'm on the golf course in front of certain players, I want to show them, hey, I'm the s---. I want to show them that I'm not just this kid who won one time and talks a big game. I want to show them that I'm a really good player." -- Horschel in a 2014 Golf Channel interview
They call him "El Canelo" because it's the Spanish word for cinnamon and the color of his hair, but since turning pro at 15, winning his first world title at 20 and collecting $12 million to fight Floyd Mayweather in 2013, Saul Alvarez has taken his place on the roster of great Mexican fighters and as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world. He's a long way indeed from being bullied as a boy for his unusual looks and the hot, hour-long bus rides he used to take to his Guadalajara gym.
Hard to beat the night in 2008 he fought on the same card as his six older brothers or when he was given a horse after a fight by Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez. But when Alvarez won his first world title in 2011, defeating former junior lightweight champion Matthew Hatton in devastating fashion for the WBC super welterweight crown, it drew major attention to his spectacular rise.
"One day he came to me and said, 'Your work is too hard.' He said he wanted to box. He told me, 'It's going to turn out OK. I'm going to be good.'" -- Alvarez' mother Anna Maria to the Los Angeles Times in 2010
A client of Jay Z's agency, which negotiated a contract for Cano with the Seattle Mariners (10 years, $240 million) worth $75 million more than the Yankees were willing to pay to keep him. Cano was hampered by injuries last season but is healthy and productive again this year, helping Seattle become a contender again.
Cano has been the best, most durable second baseman in baseball the past 10 years while hitting for power and average and winning two Gold Gloves and six Silver Slugger awards. Still, his 2009 World Series win with the Yankees remains the most cherished moment of his career.
"I was hoping the Yankees would come up with a better offer. My goal was to stay there.... I would never say anything [bad] about them. I want to leave with the good memories I have in New York. I respect my teammates and the organization. I want to be able go back and say 'Hi' to them.... I'll always be thankful and happy to have been there my first nine years." -- Cano
The midfield powerhouse recently had his 33rd birthday. The great news was that Manchester City didn't forget it! Famously, the club didn't acknowledge their star's big day two years ago, leaving big Yaya to sulk about being disrespected and supposedly ponder walking out of the club. Cue a host of birthday cakes winging Toure's way from fans, who couldn't help but laugh. Yes, he'd behaved like a child, but they still loved him because, at his bulldozing best, he really is like the big boy with the ball in the school playground knocking all the little kids out of the way.
Toure really launched a new Man City era in 2011 by scoring the winner in the FA Cup semifinal against lordly neighbors United and then thrashing the goal in the final against Stoke that earned City a first major trophy for 35 years.
"The goals he scores with his team are just incredible. If these were done by Lionel Messi, it would have been said immediately that he is the best player on the planet. Yaya Toure scores goals that Lionel Messi, Pele or other great players have scored." -- Samuel Eto'o, former teammate of Messi and Toure in Barcelona, in 2014
Before the tension with Jerry Sloan, before the injuries and before the move East, Williams seemingly scored and dished at will, and the only question seemed to be whether he or Chris Paul would be the "Next Great Point Guard." There were Olympic gold medals and All-Star appearances and for the better part of five seasons, averages of nearly 20 points and 10 assists per game for the Utah Jazz. And just when you were convinced his decline was permanent, there were sparks in this 11th season after his return home to Dallas, like the December night he dropped 30 against Portland.
When Williams joined John Stockton as just the second player in Jazz history to record at least 30 points and 10 or more assists in a 2010 playoff game, it was just the start. He would score 34 with 10 assists later in the series against Denver and go on to become the first player in NBA history with 20 or more points and 10 or more assists in five straight playoff games.
"There are a lot of expectations on him. I don't know the reasons why -- the status he had when he was playing here, the contract. Whatever it may be, Deron Williams is a very good basketball player and Deron Williams is going to prove that this year with this team. And you guys are going to love him or respect him." -- Brooklyn Nets coach Lionel Hollins during the team's 2014 training camp, defending Williams and his performance in the team's second-round playoff loss to the Heat
The hitter that other hitters talk about, the best right-handed batter of his generation, the killer at the plate who turns playful at first base, teasing everyone who stops by. The Detroit Tigers slugger is a gifted technician as much as a gifted talent, but he doesn't like to talk about himself, which only enhances his persona.
A year after leading the AL in batting and home runs, he added the third jewel. Cabrera in 2012 became the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown with a.330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs as he was named the AL MVP, his first of two straight.
"It's almost like a shotgun going off when he connects; it's so loud, isn't it? What a sweet sound that is. You live for that sound in the summer." -- Then-Marlins hitting coach Bill Robinson in 2004, Cabrera's first full season in the majors
A sensation back home for being among the latest Japanese pitchers to move to the U.S. big leagues, as well as a man whose Iron Man reputation was invoked in a different way when he suffered elbow trouble the past two seasons. Both times, Tanaka passed on the popular trend of having Tommy John surgery and kept pitching for the Yankees, though he finally relented and had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow this past offseason.
The year before the Yankees won the 2014 bidding for Tanaka with a $155 million salary offer plus a $20 million posting fee, he finished 24-0 for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan's top professional league. He took the loss in Game 6 of the 2013 Japan Series despite throwing a 160-pitch complete game, but he avenged it by picking up the save in the Eagles' decisive Game 7 win.
"One thing that has resonated is the competitive side of this particular player. He thrives on the biggest stage. That speaks to one of the reasons he chose us." -- Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, after signing Tanaka in January 2014
Groomed to follow a future Hall of Famer in David Robinson, the former No. 1 would establish his own foundation in spending the past 19 years in San Antonio and become everything Robinson was and then some, with five NBA titles, three Finals MVPs, two regular-season MVPs, 15 All-Star selections and 18 playoff trips.
His best postseason run of all might have come in 2003, when the Spurs ended the Lakers' run of three straight Finals, highlighted by Duncan's 37-point, 16-rebound effort in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. Duncan averaged 24.7 points, 15.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.3 blocks in those playoffs en route to his second championship.
"The Spurs won because of Tim Duncan, a guy I could never break. I could talk trash to Patrick Ewing, get in David Robinson's face, get a rise out of Alonzo Mourning, but when I went at Tim he'd look at me like he was bored. Whenever I run into a Tim Duncan fan who will claim Tim Duncan is the GOAT, I won't disagree with him." -- Former rival Shaquille O'Neal in "Shaq Uncut"
Once considered one of the most dynamic wing players in the NBA, Gay also helped the U.S. to two world championships. But, despite averaging a steady 18.4 points per game for his career, he was never quite in right place at the right time and has appeared in the postseason just once in his 10 NBA seasons.
Gay thought he had finally found a home when Toronto traded him to Sacramento in December of 2013. While isolation plays accounted for less of his offensive production for the Kings than it had for the Raptors, Gay was still the 20-point scorer he had been and, for the time being, more efficient. The Kings apparently thought so too, signing him to a three-year, $40 million contract extension the following November.
"We've made strides to being a good team. It takes a lot more work, but I do feel like we could be a contender in the West at some point if we keep progressing at the rate we've been." -- Gay in 2014, after signing his extension with the Kings, who have gone 62-102 the past two seasons
The first Russian-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP, Malkin has teamed with Sidney Crosby to make the Penguins perennial playoff threats. Crosby may be the bigger name, but it's Malkin who always takes the ice last.
With Crosby out for all but 22 games in 2011-12, Malkin refused to let the Penguins slide. He went on the attack and led the NHL with 339 shots and 109 points, earning the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's MVP and carrying Pittsburgh within one point of the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
"I was not scared to come to America. I was scared what my friends would think of me. I love Russia. It is my country, my home. It was a tough time. But I had a dream, and that was to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL." -- Malkin in a 2011 interview with Pittsburgh Magazine
A three-time MVP and two-time World Series champion in the midst of a $240 million contract. Pujols is a 10-time All-Star who has topped in the 1.000 mark in OPS eight times during his career. Since leaving the Cardinals and joining the Angels prior to the 2012 season, however, his offensive production has sharply declined. Pujols' contract with the Angels runs through the 2021 season, when he will be 41 years old.
As noted above, Pujols has enjoyed a lot of peak moments over the course of his career. The zenith of his production was probably the 2009 season, when he captured his third MVP award. That year, he led the majors in home runs, total bases, runs, slugging percentage, intentional walks and OPS.
"I play to represent God, something bigger than baseball." -- Pujols in 2009
The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion who also owns a Camping World Truck Series team. Busch has won 37 times on NASCAR's top circuit and is the career leader in victories on the Xfinity series by a wide margin, making a habit of weekend sweeps. It's also good that, unlike older brother Kurt, he has never been romantically linked with an alleged trained assassin.
Busch clinched the Sprint Cup championship for Joe Gibbs Racing by winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22, 2015. He earned the first Cup title of his career despite missing the first 11 races of the season with a broken right leg.
"The dream of a lifetime, a dream come true" -- Busch, after winning the 2015 Sprint Cup championship
Safe in the offseason, where the jokes aren't as plentiful and maybe don't sting as much. Seriously, Dalton's fame is almost completely built on his failures. He's a good quarterback but not a great one, and he can't win a playoff game. It's obviously not his fault the Bengals lost their first playoff game this past year, since he was hurt and couldn't play in it. But unfortunately for Dalton and a Cincinnati team that's neither missed the playoffs nor won a postseason game since it drafted him, he's best known for what he can't get done.
Dalton was unquestionably peaking just before the Week 14 thumb injury that ended his 2015 season. At the time, the Bengals were 10-2 and Dalton was working on a career-high 66.2 completion percentage to go with 25 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. His breakout statistical season was one of the stories of the year. Then he turned the ball over and busted his thumb trying to make a tackle, and that was that. Some peaks just don't linger.
"Our goal was to come out here and make the Red Rifle look like a Red Ryder BB gun, and I think we did that." -- Texans DE J.J. Watt, after Houston beat Cincinnati 10-6 to hand the Bengals their first loss of the 2015 season last November
A U.S. World Cup star and stalwart Premier League goalkeeper who this year brought his talents to the Colorado Rapids of MLS. And don't forget the time he briefly became U.S. secretary of defense -- according to a Wikipedia jokester.
American sports fans took notice when Howard made a record 15 saves (original stats said 16, but FIFA revised the official total) to keep the U.S. in its 2014 World Cup game against a superior Belgium team. The Americans would lose 2-1 in extra time, but Howard broke the mark of 13 saves that stood since 1978 (records were first kept in 1966).
"My first goal is -- from a personal standpoint -- not only to win but to play at least 100 games for this organization. We'll get there and see what happens. I want to play in another World Cup." -- Howard, upon signing with Colorado in March, confident he has plenty of saves left in him at age 37
Who says Formula One has lost its characters? All hail the gloriously rude, monotone Flying Finn, probably the world's only monosyllabic playboy. He unashamedly won't play the media game. The only thing he likes about F1 is driving fast things. And then he might get drunk and chuck himself off a boat. He deadpans: "I was born in the wrong era." We should celebrate the fact he was born in ours.
Winning the World Drivers Championship by a single point over Lewis Hamilton after the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix. Dear old Kimi didn't even make that sound exciting.
When offered advice he felt he didn't need after taking the lead in the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Raikkonen famously admonished his race engineer over the Lotus team radio: "Just leave me alone, I know what I'm doing." Raikkonen later had the quote printed on 500 T-shirts for each member of his team.
The youngest quarterback ever to win the Super Bowl, which Roethlisberger was when he steered the Steelers to a Super Bowl XL victory over the Seahawks at the age of 23. He added a second championship three years later to stamp himself as an all-time winner in a city whose football tradition demands the very best. Roethlisberger's early-career fame was not of the best variety, as off-field issues earned him a four-game suspension to start the 2010 season. But he's managed to stay out of trouble since, and his fame has increased for on-field, football-related reasons.
The Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Cardinals that followed the 2008 season. Roethlisberger was 21-for-30 in that game, hitting Santonio Holmes for a legendary 6-yard touchdown pass with 42 seconds left and the Steelers down by three points.
"Leadership is something you earn, something you're chosen for. You can't come in yelling, 'I'm your leader!' If it happens, it's because the other guys respect you." -- Roethlisberger
On your second NFL life. A former No. 1 overall pick, Palmer got sick of the losing in Cincinnati, got himself traded to the Raiders and ultimately ended up in Arizona, where he and coach Bruce Arians are teaming up on an offense that's perfect for him. Palmer is enjoying the best seasons of his career in his middle and late 30s. As the captain of the Cardinals' renaissance, he's living up to his No. 1 overall pick status, even if it took a little while.
The two overtime throws Palmer made to Larry Fitzgerald against Green Bay in January were keys to his first playoff victory, the high point of his NFL career. He'd prefer not to talk about what happened the following week in Carolina.
"So many people get caught up in being a pro athlete and think they are better. I don't feel like I've ever changed or acted any differently because of the situation I'm in or the status I have." -- Palmer
To say Matt Kemp experienced everything Hollywood had to offer those first years as a Los Angeles Dodger would not be far off. Four home runs in his first 10 days in the big leagues began his road to stardom. A reported relationship with Rihanna a few years later, which coincided with his numbers precipitously dropping and the speculation as to why, showed him the flip side. The relationship reportedly ended before the 2011 season, which turned out to be the best of Kemp's career.
In 2011, Kemp fell one home run short of becoming the fifth member of the 40-homer, 40-steal club, and only a third-place finish in the batting race kept him from a Triple Crown.
"But you're talking about a Midwestern kid who comes to the bright lights and is in the big leagues at 21. You're going to get caught up in that a little bit. It's human nature. A lot of people get caught up in the Hollywood fever. I don't think it's out of the realm to expect it to happen to a young kid from Oklahoma City." -- Logan White, then-Dodgers assistant general manager, in 2001