All week we’ve been anointing people (and a few things) “Undeniable” — a rarefied group we can all agree on. It’s tough to crack the Undeniables list, but it’s far from static. We expect this list to grow, and when it does, this is who (or, in one case, what) will be on it.
Karl-Anthony Towns is almost too good to be true. The modern NBA is all about versatility and Towns is the most versatile 7-footer to enter the league since Kevin Garnett, who just happens to be his mentor. Towns averaged 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.7 blocks a game on 54.2 percent shooting as a rookie. As a rookie. He might be a top-10 player in the league as soon as next season. On top of all that, he’s incredibly grounded and well-adjusted for a 20-year-old. If Karl Towns didn’t exist, we’d have to create him in a lab. — Jonathan Tjarks
First he reinvigorated the small-budget, gritty indie drama with Fruitvale Station. Then, with Creed, he breathed new life into one of American cinema’s most beloved franchises and the boxing movie, one of the most damned genres of sports pictures. Next he’s going to save Marvel from itself with Black Panther (if the studio doesn’t get in his way). After that? Who knows. I hope he makes one of everything. What’s so refreshing — vital — about Coogler’s art is how he imports lived history to old genres. His movies etch themselves into the DNA of the places and people they’re about. They are nuanced, insightful, entertaining, and best of all, adventurous. Seeing him grow will be a delight. — K. Austin Collins
It’s not about the Oscar (though she won one). It’s not about the lifestyle business (though she has one). It’s not about the dancing (though she’s great at it). My girl is out here remaking the movie industry and the book industry with her bestseller adaptations (Gone Girl, Wild, Big Little Lies, Luckiest Girl Alive). One day, in the happy future, when the rom-com has been brought back to life and when women have the choice of not one but several Bechdel-friendly movies on any summer weekend, we will have Reese Witherspoon to thank. Long live Queen Reese. — Amanda Dobbins
“Don’t Be Evil” was Google’s clever mantra in its startup days, and it continues to cast a benevolent glow on the company years later. But what happens to a company whose early years are instead dogged by global protests from threatened workers, intimidation of journalists, and a seemingly never-ending stream of horror stories tied to its service? We’re about to find out. Uber is one of the fastest-growing tech companies ever, racing Google to bring us driverless cars and sparring with Amazon to deliver goods to our doorsteps. The company is changing the nature of work, travel, and venture funding all at once, with little remorse for its economic and municipal disruption. The smartphone was already a portal to another world, but Uber transformed the device into a magic wand that could summon cars (and lunch, and a dozen roses, and a hot air balloon) into the real one. It’s a convenience we’ve never known, and one we’re now unwilling to deny, no matter the dismaying headlines. — Victor Luckerson
Leonard Fournette will command an NFL season by the end of this decade. He’s already one of the top five people on the planet that you’d least want to see running toward you. Last year he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards at LSU, and next year his mix of size and speed will force an NFL team into making the rare first-round running back pick. And yet, his real undeniability comes from his personality. He’s an Andrew Luck–style mix of outgoing (he did a Heisman pose after his first college touchdown) and humble (he gave away an award to someone he felt was more deserving). Few football players have the charisma to become an undeniable NFL player, but Fournette has the makings of one. — Kevin Clark
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson
To a certain demographic — young, female, urban, Jewish, 420-friendly, me — the Broad City girls passed the undeniable threshold sometime between “Pussy Weed” and “Knockoffs.” To everyone else, though, they’re still a niche proposition. Glazer and Jacobson could very well stick to their lady stoner guns until Brooklyn collapses into the sea, but if a Lip Sync Battle appearance signals anything, it’s that the participants have their eyes on mass appeal. The values Ilana and Abbi champion, from weed to feminism to sexual fluidity, are slowly but surely hitting the mainstream. Like any good moguls in the making, Broad City’s stars are just making sure they’re primed to hit it big along with them. — Alison Herman
Baseball is in a weird spot right now. Mike Trout is obviously the game’s best position player and Clayton Kershaw is obviously the game’s best pitcher. Both are still young enough that the end of their dominance is still a ways off, making it tough for anyone new to become Undeniable anytime soon.
The only hope for others is that Trout and Kershaw are almost too perfect. Kershaw is a smiling Texan who builds orphanages in Africa in his spare time. Trout is goofy and affable, and he lived with his parents in the offseason until this past spring. There’s not a drop of controversy or an atom of renegade cool to either one.
Enter José Fernandez, the garrulous, Cuban-born Marlins ace, who, from the moment he debuted at age 20, has been nearly Kershaw’s equal on a per-inning basis. He is as electrifying a player as exists in the world, and he knows it. Fernandez fled Cuba as a teenager, landing in jail after one attempt and famously rescuing his mother on another. He knows better than most that life is too short to be corporate and respectable.
The ultimate Fernandez moment came on his first career home run, which he celebrated far beyond the limits of what baseball culture considers good taste. When the Braves took exception to his exuberance, sparking a benches-clearing incident, Fernandez stood on the outside of the scrum, mouth agape, amazed at how cool the whole incident was. It prompted SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee to call him “the Mike Trout of don’t-give-a-shit-face.” That charisma, that intentional subversion of buttoned-down baseball orthodoxy, sets Fernandez apart. It’s not just that he’s good. He understands that this is supposed to be fun. — Michael Baumann
There are lots of actors out there with talent. There are a good number with range too. There are even a small handful with talent, range, and a lock on a Hollywood franchise. But there’s only one Oscar Isaac. If Chris Evans were playing Poe Dameron, Poe Dameron would still be dead. If Michael Fassbender had played Llewyn Davis, Llewyn Davis would have probably murdered that cat. Calling an actor universally beloved is practically begging for backlash, but if anybody can survive such praise unscathed, it’s the guy who got J.J. Abrams to edit him back to life. — David Shoemaker
Do you remember when we spent all preseason talking about how Jake Arrieta might be the best pitcher in baseball? Can you recall how we excitedly awarded the label to Chris Sale and then Noah Syndergaard in April? Are you overcome with shame when you think of the ease with which Clayton Kershaw has made fools of us all?
The Dodgers’ ace is not merely the best pitcher of the 2016 season (deeply distressing back injury be damned). He is now unquestionably the best pitcher of his generation — and it’s getting easier and easier to envision him becoming the best of all time. Kershaw is still just 28 years old, and yet he’s already racked up three Cy Youngs, five All-Star berths, and an astounding 1,891 strikeouts. He’s led the majors in ERA in four of the past five campaigns, and is well on his way to doing so again this year. His season-long WHIP last crossed the 1.0 threshold in 2012, and his current 0.727 mark is so miniscule it defies logic. Amazingly, though, that’s not even his most jaw-dropping stat: Kershaw’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is currently 16.11, which would shred the major league record of 11.63. Kershaw barely has more walks (nine) in 2016 than complete game shutouts (three).
Baseball’s recency bias is very real; it’s tempting to want to anoint the next K-king. But when we’re all ready to be honest with ourselves, we’ll anoint Kershaw baseball’s most undeniable force instead. — Mallory Rubin
I was in a sports bar in Edmonton last summer when Dustin Johnson missed a succession of putts and lost the U.S. Open. From the pained communal reaction you would have thought that Wayne Gretzky himself, and not the father of his grandson, had failed to win a major. You can’t turn on coverage of a golf tournament without hearing vaguely creepy assessments of the 6-foot-4 Johnson. (I’ve heard his walk compared multiple times to that of a panther, and I’ve heard commentators go on for a good 15 minutes about what sport besides golf he could play. Beach volleyball was a big one.) But for so long, the knock was that he didn’t have it mentally — this despite the fact he’s battled his way out of some pretty tough personal lies. After his U.S. Open victory this year, one that came in spite of a ridiculous rules situation that seemed designed to mess with his head, he’s shrugged off that reputation. Something tells me we’ll be hearing rave reviews of his physique as he’s in contention on Sunday for years to come. — Katie Baker
This is a hope; it’s a jinx; it’s a paragraph of self-dooming stupidity.
Christian Pulisic should not be on this list, because no American soccer player should ever be on such lists. When it comes to our country’s young talent, predicting greatness only seems to guarantee mediocrity. But watch him score against Hamburg, and then watch him score against Bolivia, and then, hell, just take eight minutes and watch this entire highlight tape and remember that he’s only 17. Population math and probability suggest that someday, somehow, our country will produce a legitimate soccer star, so maybe … You know what? Forget it. Let’s move on. Pretend this conversation never took place. — Jordan Conn
If there is one medium in pop where “undeniability” can be measured with any real confidence, it’s professional wrestling. In wrestling, you don’t have to rely on the conceptual — all you have to do is listen. When it gets loud enough … you know. And I think I know who’s next: In five years, Sasha Banks will not only be undeniable. She’ll be the most popular professional wrestler in the world. — Sam Donsky
Brad Stevens is the next great basketball coach. Stevens’s talent was on full display at Butler, where he broke the record for most wins by a coach in their first three seasons and went to back-to-back national championship games in 2010 and 2011. In 2013, he signed a deal to become the head coach of one of the most storied franchises in the NBA and transitioned seamlessly. At 39 years old, Stevens has unlocked the potential of a number of players and engineered ways for his Celtics teams to overachieve in each of his first three seasons. The city loves him for it. — Carl Brooks Jr.
Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper is only 23 years old. Coloring Book may net the young Chicagoan some Grammys, but he still has many years of his music prime ahead of him. After all, Jay Z didn’t release Reasonable Doubt until he was 26. Chance loves to mention the fact he views himself as Kanye’s protégé, like in “Ultralight Beam”: “I met Kanye West. I’m never going to fail.” But don’t be surprised if in the next five years we start seeing Chance’s protégés taking over the music scene, and hearing Chance-inflected beats and sounds — that winning mixture of joy, gospel, rap, and love — beginning to reverberate throughout our top 50 lists. After all, blessings keep falling in his lap. — Gabe Fisher