It's such a minefield out there with branding. I would have to say the most immediate and recognisable brand for me (and to some point the most inspiring) would have to be Nike with it's "Swoosh" symbol. The Just Do It campaign really appeals as it's quite broad in who it's targeting - particularly women.
So for me, the best brand for recognition and mass media production is Nike.
However, I do love North Face - it's more left of field in branding and may not readily be associated with sports but the clothing range is sensational for cold climates and can be used for sports or day wear. So if the category asked for my favourite sports brand it would have to be North Face.
When it comes to sports clothing, I try to avoid brands all together. After learning about the conditions under which Nike employees work, I swore off sports brands. That was a long time ago, so perhaps things have changed.