Counting down the year's biggest names in the world of sports.
Sports are particularly interesting because they are at their very core, unpredictable. In any given year, there is no telling which teams will go on to win championships and which players will become dominant. Sometimes, there are specific teams and individuals who remain consistent which leads to a feeling of familiarity and endearment amongst fans. Meanwhile, breakout stars help change the landscapes of their respective sports to the point where competitors are trying to bend the rules to defeat them.
In 2019, stars were born, superstars were reaffirmed, and aging legends made comebacks. Whether you love football, basketball, combat sports, or even golf, there were numerous athletes who made an impact this year. So without further ado, here are the 10 best athletes of 2019, in our eyes.
10. Aaron Donald
No defensive player in the NFL instilled more fear into their opponents this past year than Aaron Donald. The Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle went on to win his second NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and continues to dominate out on the field. While his dominance mostly came through the 2018 season, it has certainly bled into 2019. You can make the argument that his statistics aren’t as good as they were in the past but this is only because he is consistently double and triple teamed by opposing offensive lines. Teams are so worried about Donald that they have begun to focus almost all of their energy on him.
Ask anyone in the NFL who they think the biggest athletic freak in the league is, and they’ll probably say Donald. He is easily one of the most impressive defensive tackles to ever play the game and his presence continues to scare teams. Not to mention, his 99 rating in Madden isn’t too shabby either.
9. Tiger Woods
If you were to ask golf fans about Tiger Woods a few years ago, most of them would call him a washed up has-been who hasn’t been good since the 2000s. As of 2009, Woods had 14 Major championships to his name and it looked as though he was going to catch Jack Nicklaus who has the all-time record with 18. Of course, a cheating scandal put a serious dent in Tiger’s career and in the years following, he couldn’t seem to recover. Sure he won tournaments here and there but back surgery after back surgery kept him from achieving any real sustained success.
Fast-forward to the 2019 Masters and Tiger began playing some of the best golf of his career. In the final round, Woods was able to beat out numerous golfers who were all hovering around the same score. After sinking his final putt on the 18th hold, the crowd erupted as they knew he had just won his fifth Green Jacket, against all odds. Tiger’s comeback is truly one of the best we’ve ever seen.
8. Israel Adesanya
What more can be said about the "Last Stylebender"? Adesanya came into 2019 as a bit of an enigma in the UFC’s Middleweight division. He had barely beaten anyone of note although his unique style and vibrant personality was quickly catching on within the MMA community. His first matter of business in 2019 was a fight against the legendary Anderson Silva, which he easily won by unanimous decision. From there, he won the interim Middleweight belt against Kelvin Gastelum and then in October, he KO’d Robert Whittaker to become the official Middleweight champion.
With Conor McGregor acting as an inconsistent figure in the world of UFC, the sport has been struggling to find a new star to market around. Adesanya looks like he is ready to become that star. He already has the approval of many in the hip-hop space and his social media presence is enough to keep fans wanting more. If anyone on this list can be considered a breakout athletic star this year, it would most certainly be Adesanya.
7. Deontay Wilder
Deontay Wilder might be the scariest man on this list and it’s all because of his vicious right hand that continues to be an absolute nightmare for opposing boxers. Wilder currently holds the WBC heavyweight title and got to defend it twice this year. The first bout was against Dominic Breazeale and in true “Bronze Bomber” fashion, it barely lasted a full round as Wilder delivered a devastating KO with his right hand.
From there, Wilder continued to terrorize the heavyweight division and even gave Luis Ortiz a second chance at defeating him. This fight was much harder for Wilder and after six rounds, it looked as though he was losing on the score cards. In the seventh round, Wilder flipped the script and delivered a stunning right hook to Ortiz’s face which immediately ended the fight. Once again, Wilder proved that he is not to be messed with and is by far the most terrifying man in combat sports right now. Heading into 2020, Wilder is on track to fight Tyson Fury and if he wins, he could be competing to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world which we’re all lowkey hoping for.
6. LeBron James
Make no mistake, LeBron James had a down year by his standards but his contributions to the sport of basketball and life outside of it are why he places sixth on our list. After suffering a freak groin injury at the end of 2018, LeBron was stuck on the Lakers bench, watching a bunch of young players ruin the success he had given the team to start the year. Once he came back, the Lakers didn’t fare much better, although he was able to pass Michael Jordan for fourth on the all-time NBA points list. This would be his biggest on-court accomplishment of 2019, aside from the dominance he has displayed in the early parts of the 2019-20 campaign.
Off the court, James has continued to be an incredible role model for kids everywhere. Say what you will about the whole China debacle, LeBron has done much more good than bad. His “I Promise” school in Akron, Ohio continues to provide less fortunate kids with a stellar education all while boosting their confidence. James is constantly partaking in charitable efforts for the kids and this season, he has been seen giving his shoes to kids in the stands at games. Not to mention, LeBron is getting heavily involved in music as he was an A&R on the latest 2 Chainz album, Rap Or Go To The League. He is also starring in Space Jam 2 which only helps to increase his relevance in pop culture. It’s impossible to deny his influence.
5. Tom Brady
Love him or hate him, you have to give Tom Brady his props. Heading into the 2018 NFL season, fans were anxious to see if he would fall off or continue his reign of terror. Just like he does every year, he got off to a slow start but picked things up towards the end, and in 2019, he led the New England Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl in 20 years. Throughout the course of the entire season, fans and pundits were convinced that Brady was finished but time and time again he proved everyone wrong and made all of us look like fools.
Now, Brady is 42 years old and is seeking his seventh world title. While he hasn’t been his usual self, the Patriots are well on their way to being a contender and with the playoffs on the horizon, Brady is about to enter his favorite time of year. At this point, Brady’s accomplishments have become standard and in some ways expected. This is what makes Brady so significant. He has set the standard so high for himself that he’s able to fly under the radar with his dominance. With this in mind, Brady is the perfect athlete to begin our top 5.
4. Zion Williamson
Aside from maybe LeBron James, no basketball player has ever been hyped up more throughout their draft year than Zion Williamson. If you were to go back three years ago, Williamson was just your average high school player but luckily for him, a massive growth spurt turned him into an athletic freak of nature. While playing for the Duke Blue Devils, Williamson quickly became the most exciting college basketball player in the nation. Everyone was tuning into Blue Devils games and when the team made it to the March Madness tournament, all eyes were on Zion.
Thanks to his exceptional work ethic and alien-like physical strength, Zion was able to become the first overall pick in the NBA draft and the hype was real. Pundits were comparing him to some of the best big-men to ever play the game while others felt like the expectations were too lofty. In the preseason, Zion was outstanding and lived up to all of the hubbub. Unfortunately, an injury has delayed him from finally playing his first NBA game. Regardless, the promise of his presence has begun to loom over the NBA like a huge cloud and fans can’t wait to see what happens.
When you factor in the hype, celebrity, and all-around dominance that surrounds Zion, it becomes quite clear why he’s one of the best athletes of the year.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
When you take a look at today’s NBA, you see a league filled with superstars who are all linked up with other superstars. The NBA is currently in the “superteam” era, initially ushered in by LeBron James back in 2010 when he joined the Miami Heat. Giannis Antetokounmpo, AKA the “Greek Freak,” is the antithesis to the “superteam” movement. The Milwaukee Bucks big-man has single-handedly turned a struggling franchise into a prime contender to win the NBA championship.
In 2019, Giannis was able to leverage his dominance into the NBA MVP award and was just two wins away from the NBA Finals. One any given night, Giannis can be the most dominant player on the court as he out-muscles you with his size and agility. The man is a human highlight reel who can deject an entire team with one scintillating poster dunk. Antetokounmpo has made some of the league’s best defenders look like AAU players which is truly an accomplishment in and of itself. There wasn’t a single basketball player in 2019 who was more dominant than the “Greek Freak.” While there is still one NBA player ahead of him on this list, it doesn’t take away from the sheer superiority he exhibited on the court this year.
2. Patrick Mahomes
Perhaps the biggest breakout star of 2019 was none other than Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes’ true talent was displayed throughout the 2018 NFL season although his success was able to carry on well into 2019. After throwing for 50 touchdowns in his first full season in the NFL, Mahomes was able to earn himself league MVP honors and was even put on the cover of EA Sports Madden NFL 20. When it came to the playoffs, Mahomes was an offside call and a good defense away from making it to the Super Bowl which he most likely would have won.
At the beginning of the 2019 season, Mahomes continued his dominance thanks to his signature side arm throws that had defenders contemplating their life choices. After the first three games, it seemed like Mahomes would be able to put up yet another 50-touchdown season but a knee injury kept him out for a few weeks. Ever since returning to the field, Mahomes has picked up right where he left off and looks poised to lead the Chiefs through yet another deep playoff run. Aside from maybe Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady, there isn’t a single QB in the league who feared more than Mahomes. Every time he takes the field, there is a real fear that he can score a touchdown at will, which makes him the most dangerous weapon in the sport. If he had won the Super Bowl, he probably would have been number one on our list.
1. Kawhi Leonard
As you were making your way through this list, you probably anticipated the inclusion of Kawhi Leonard. The Los Angeles Clippers superstar gets to be number one on our list because in 2019, he captured the hearts of an entire country and gave them their first ever experience of NBA glory. Of course, Leonard carried the Toronto Raptors to the NBA Title last season and he did so in exceptional fashion. There were various moments that defined Leonard’s title run although perhaps the best was his last-second shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the second round. His dominance in the Finals was something to be admired and with the win, he was able to secure NBA Finals MVP honors.
Leonard did more than win an NBA title, though. He was the first athlete signed to New Balance’s new basketball line and has helped resurrect the brand’s image. The various memes that surround him have become legendary and no athlete gets social media laughing harder than Kawhi. When it came time for free agency, Leonard was the one player that got obsessive media coverage. For a full week, Kawhi was arguably the most popular name on this very website as fans were hanging on to his every move. Eventually, Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers and is paired up with Paul George on what could be a perennial title contender.
If there is any athlete who dominated all of 2019, it would be Kawhi Leonard. He’s the reason why we have terms like “load management” and he’s also the reason why the Warriors dynasty has crumbled before our very eyes. 2020 looks promising for the “Fun Guy” and we can’t wait to see what he does in the future.
Who do you think was the best athlete of 2019? Let us know in the comments below.