The Toughest Athletes: The Scrappers

These are scrappers, the warriors, the freaks of sports, who by just about every measurement should never have made the big time.
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These are scrappers, the warriors, the freaks of sports, who by just about every measurement should never have made the big time.
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Joakim Noah

Center, Chicago Bulls

Nobody can accuse this privileged son of a tennis pro and a Miss Sweden of playing with a silver spoon in his mouth. He may be a citizen of three countries, but his game is pure lunch pail. That’s how he became a two-time college hoops champ at Florida. That’s why

he put the Bulls on his back when the league, the fans, and even the front office had written them off. That’s what you do when you’re the reigning defensive player of the year. 

Dustin Brown

Power Forward, L.A. Kings

He’s not your typical leading man. No Adonis-like looks. No witty repartee. He needs ice skates to inch above six feet tall. But he steered the Kings to two Stanley Cups in three years with his punishing play: dishing out hits, killing penalties, scoring goals—none bigger than the double-overtime number that stunned the Rangers in Game 2 of the finals. That’s why the folks in Ithaca, New York, are accustomed to seeing their hometown hero walking the streets with Lord Stanley’s prize.

Alex Zanardi

​Racecar Driver

In 2003, less than two years after he lost both legs in a midrace collision, the Italian driver returned to the sport. Equipped with prosthetic limbs, he continued to race—and win—through 2009. Upon retiring, instead of pruning lilacs, he spent his days winning two gold medals as a hand cyclist in the 2012 London Paralympics. To celebrate, the 47-year-old returned yet again to the auto-racing circuit, this time driving a specially modified BMW Z4GT3 in the 2014 Blancpain GT Sprint Series.

Miguel Angel Jimenez

Golfer

It’s one thing to challenge the Masters’ field for a green jacket and yet another to do it with Jimenez’s flair: hair in a ponytail, eyes shielded by aviator sunglasses, cigar clenched firmly in teeth. His magnificent belly is a testament to his love for the good life. So too are his exotic cars, his beautiful wife, and his thirst for fine rioja. But don’t mistake him for a soft touch. Fourteen of the Spaniard’s 21 tournament wins have come in the decade since he turned 40. “I’m like the good wines,” Jimenez says. “Getting better with age.”

Up next, The Loudmouths.

Photos by Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images