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Crowd-Pleasers
December 26, 2005
LANCE Armstrong
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December 26, 2005

Crowd-pleasers

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2005 | Shockingly, he lived up to the outlandish expectations by averaging 27, 7 and 7, turning sacrificial Cavs into contenders, becoming an All-Star and--perhaps just as important--avoiding arrest and refraining from coldcocking an opponent while radiating an old-school (circa '89) cool that makes the commish's glasses fog up. 2006 | Now all he has to do is sell a gazillion sneakers, win a championship and change the way American kids ball.

BERNARD Hopkins

EXECUTIONER'S SWAN SONG

2005 | He's done his time--prison in the '80s and now more than 10 years as middleweight champ, a historic run that ended with two close losses this year to Jermain Taylor. At age 40 Hopkins could still do everything the 27-year-old Taylor did, but he just couldn't do quite enough of it. 2006 | The boxer famous for his independence, and fighting promoters, is now a promoter. He sometimes entered the ring to My Way and is leaving it singing the same tune.

MARIA Sharapova

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE AND LOVE

2005 | She served notice (at 110 mph) that she has the game to match her gams by winning 53 matches and briefly holding the No. 1 ranking. In her off-hours she earned $20 million in endorsements, making her the most lavishly compensated female athlete on this planet. 2006 | Given her youth (19 in April), her focus and her concussive ball striking, look for both her haul of WTA titles and her Q rating to continue swelling.

DEREK Jeter

CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS

2005 | Hard to believe that it's been 10 seasons since he was the top rookie and seemed to be a part of every key rally for the '96 champs. He played his 1,500th game in '05 and had more hits and runs at that milepost than anyone since Joltin' Joe. 2006 | He'll get hit 2,000 in '06, but the man who won four rings in his first five years--and none since--won't rest until he wins another one for those long-suffering Yankees fans.

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