The Toughest Athletes: The Naturally Gifted

In this tribute to the scrappers, the warriors, and the freaks of sports, Maxim salutes the world’s toughest competitors.

Blake Griffin

Power Forward, L.A. Clippers

He won the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest with a stunt for the ages, leaping the hood of a four-door sedan, catching a ball passed through the sunroof, and driving it home. A year later, he drew raves from LeBron by throwing a monster dunk down on Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins. But Griffin’s mythic powers stretch well beyond the rim. He’s big enough to split defenders in the paint, nimble enough to run the break, and sharp enough to see the clutch pass. Judging by his TV commercials, he’s got a great sense of humor, too. But his greatest feat? Turning Los Angeles into a Clippers town.

J. J. Watt

Defensive End, Houston Texans

No question about it—many a QB wishes this 6′5″ wonder had stuck to mopping floors and delivering pizzas like in his soul-searching days at community college. Instead he returned to the field a more committed man, blossoming into a pass-smothering, soul-crushing sack artist. Want to explore the stuff of Jay Cutler’s nightmares? Check out the YouTube clips of Watt’s five-foot box jumps.

Russell Westbrook

Point Guard, Oklahoma City

A reporter once asked the 6′3″, 190-pound All-Star if he ever felt scared on the court. Westbrook’s reply? “Never.” That’s a bold declaration, but plenty of NBA players—Kobe Bryant among them—would agree. With his aggressive style, Westbrook is a threat from all over the court. (Given his awesome athleticism, he’d no doubt excel on the gridiron and soccer pitch, too.) Off the court, the man is no less immune to fear—particularly when it comes to fashion. A leopard-print shirt and spiky shoes? That takes cojones. 

Up Next, The Fearless.

Photos by Ethan Miller / Getty Images