From Simone Biles to LeBron James and the Chicago Cubs finally breaking the curse, 2016 was a banner year for sports
LeBron James, Simone Biles and the Chicago Cubs helped make 2016 one of the great years in sports history.
By Jason Diamond
It doesn't matter who you are, if you sat down and read a newspaper even once or turned on the nightly news, then there's really no way you can say 2016 was a good year for humanity. I don't care where you fall on the political spectrum, who you voted for or anything involving politics, because this was a year we lost so many great people and so much garbage happened all across the globe in a way that we're crawling into 2017 begging for this year to just go away already. When we tell our kids and grandkids about this year that is almost over, there's really no other way to put it besides saying 2016 sucked.
Yet somehow it was also one of the greatest years in sports history. So, is that how things are supposed to work?
Sorry to the 1927 New York Yankees or 1969 with the Mets, Wilt Chamberlain playing Bill Russell in the NBA Finals and Joe Namath making the correct prediction that his Jets would beat Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts. The Eighties had some contenders: 1991 through 1993 could all get up there simply based on Michael Jordan and the Bulls dynasty alone. 2008 had Rafa and Roger at Wimbledon, another Lakers vs. Celtics Finals matchup and the Giants upsetting the Pats; but no, 2016 was the greatest, certainly in recent memory. It might take time for this to sink in, for every last trace of confetti to be brushed away and tossed into the dustbin, but it's not that difficult to see that, in a year filled with so much darkness, sports gave us reason to cheer so much that our voice was reduced to a raspy whisper the next morning. That's why we watch sports, and 2016 reminded us of that.
Does anybody even remember John Scott playing in the NHL All-Star Game in January? Hockey's weird as hell four-team, three-on-three, single-elimination tournament really seems like ... something, not sure what exactly that is. Yet Scott, the 6-foot-8 winger, who was probably best known until this year as the massive human who beat the hell out of a lot of other hockey players, was one of the best examples of democracy in this election year. While some people thought it was funny to write in Harambe and Deez Nuts on their presidential ballot, an actual grassroots campaign by fans got Scott not only voted the captain of the Pacific Division team despite only having a few assists to his name, as well as a trade to the Habs before the break that ended with him going to the minors, but the guy scored two goals (three away from his NHL career total) and took home the MVP before hanging up his skates at the end of the year. Some hockey talking heads thought it was bad for the game, that it was a sideshow and even the league seemed really unhappy with Scott's inclusion in the game. Yet at the end of the day, Scott made the game fun, memorable and also a lesson in democracy. The people voted for who they wanted, and they ended up getting their candidate.
Scott was fun, but then actual legends also had perfect endings to their storied careers.
Say what you want about the score, but there was something just right about Peyton Manning as the grizzled old gunslinger, the guy who'd seen much better days, riding out of Super Bowl 50 a champion. Everybody knew he was done, Von Miller and the Broncos' defense made a joke out of Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, and Coldplay played the halftime show. All in all, it wasn't exactly a game for the ages. Yet there was Manning, setting the table for the grand exit that Kobe Bryant would revisit a few months later in his own final game, torching the Utah Jazz for 60 points. You probably already know these things, and there's a good chance that you won't forget Peyton and Kobe's last big wins.
It was also an Olympic year. Ryan Lochte, unfortunately, dominated the headlines toward the end of the Summer games in Rio, yet Simone Biles and the U.S. women's gymnastics team, Michael Pheps, Katie Ledecky, Lilly King, Simone Manuel and nearly every other American Olympians who dove into a pool dominated the medal podium for America, while Usain Bolt had his own Peyton/Kobe Olympics, running past everybody one last time.
Andy Murray also won gold in Rio. He also claimed his second Wimbledon title and made it to the number one spot in the world. Novak Djokovic may have beaten him in four sets at the French Open, but Murray still ended the year on top. There's a pretty good chance that twenty years from now we will look back on this past year as a time of change in tennis, with a bunch of young talent getting ready to break through.
All of that alone would put 2016 into contention as one of the great years in sports, but then you had the other big stories of the year. That's what made the last 365 days so incredible, that the foundation for the year, the legends and their last games, the gold medals, hell let's even throw in a banner year for UFC into that mix, all of that alone would be one hell of a year for sports fans. The UConn women's basketball team – coached by Geno Auriemma, who is in a league of his own at this point with more championship rings than he has fingers – went undefeated and won their fourth NCAA title in a row. Just put that into the stew that was this annus horribilis, and it gets much tastier. Mix in the Villanova Wildcats beating the North Carolina Tar Heels in one of the mo