From Golden State’s romp through history to the seemingly never-ending stream of hivemind-melting albums, the first five months of 2016 barely gave us a moment to breathe. With an election, an Olympics, and an NBA Finals still to come, the Ringer staff decided to revisit our favorite things from the part of this year when we didn’t have a website.
Swizz Beatz’s Vocals on Kanye West’s “Famous”
Lindsay Zoladz: Put on Kanye West’s “Famous,” right now, and just this once listen only to Swizz Beatz. How much would you pay to have this man follow you around for a day, punctuating your every utterance with a “TALK THAT TALK, MAN” or a “GODDAMN!”? There is not enough money in the world. His vocals on this song are like a motivational seminar imploring you to unlock your greatest potential. WOOOOO! That is the sound of a janitor walking into an empty classroom, solving the unfinished math problem, and signing it with a happy face. WOOOOO! If you could find a way to convert that noise into rocket fuel, you would be reading this from the moon. WOOOOOOO! If you decided tomorrow to run for president and made Swizz Beatz’s isolated “Famous” vocal track your campaign song, you — yes, you — would assuredly beat Donald Trump. In a landslide. “Wake up, Mr. West!” you will proclaim in your inauguration speech. And we the American people will join you in response: “Oh, he’s up!!!”
Stephen Curry Beats the Thunder With a Long-Range Buzzer Beater
Ben Glicksman: Years from now, when we look back on how the Warriors went 73–9, certain things that felt astonishing in 2016 will seem like they were inevitable. Of course Stephen Curry, the greatest shooter on the planet, routinely torched opponents like Daenerys Targaryen did the Dothraki leadership. Of course Draymond Green emerged as a superstar, and of course Klay Thompson made 276 3-pointers in a season.
What made this moment special, though, was that it felt preordained even as it happened. With the Warriors visiting the Thunder in late February, and the score tied at 118 in overtime, Curry took a few steps beyond half court before ripping OKC’s heart out. But what’s amazing isn’t that he made the shot; it’s that, as soon as he released it, everyone knew it was going in. Curry’s 37-footer with 0.6 seconds remaining was a lot of things — remarkable, euphoric, a precursor to a bananas Western Conference finals — but surprising wasn’t one of them.
Then again, that’s been the Golden State way all season: It makes the spectacular routine.
Larry Fitzgerald Upstages a Hail Mary in the Divisional Playoffs
Kevin Clark: Football can be so robotic, its maneuvers so scripted, that the best plays are always the ones that remind you that sometimes games are won because a dude decided to put a team on his back. Enter the Packers-Cardinals divisional playoff on January 16. Aaron Rodgers threw a 41-yard Hail Mary as time expired to force overtime — and that play didn’t make it one second of game time before being blown out by something more memorable. On the first play from scrimmage in overtime, Carson Palmer somehow escaped a Packer blitz and an unfortunate bump from his own teammate to throw across his body to find Larry Fitzgerald, who then scampered downfield as if he had a force field around him, with Packer after Packer getting into position to take him down … and failing. It was like a bad James Bond action sequence. Fitzgerald finally went down at the 5-yard line, and his short reception two plays later sealed Arizona’s trip to the NFC title game and this game’s legacy as an all-time playoff great.
Noah Syndergaard Goes Deep Against the Dodgers … Twice
Sam Schube: Every good superhero needs an origin story. Noah Syndergaard’s only problem is that he’s got too many. Doughy teen becomes statuesque flamethrower? Check. Talented youth sneaks away from home to join a school for mutants? Check. Nervous rookie threatens entire opposing roster? Fucking checkmate. But for my money, the Mets hurler’s most heroic moment — and without a doubt the single best thing to happen in 2016 — came at Dodger Stadium in May, when he grabbed his hammer, strode to the plate, and single-handedly bashed his team to victory. Twice. Because while “Thor” is an OK nickname for a fireballing pitcher, it’s an extremely good nickname for a fireballing pitcher who moonlights as his team’s best hitter. So good, in fact, that I’m already locking in my pick for Best Thing to Happen in 2023: Marvel Studios’ Thor: Two Jack City.
Don DeLillo’s ‘Zero K’
K. Austin Collins: The last few months have made me appreciate art that most people don’t seem to care about — art for which pleasure isn’t at risk of being overshadowed by the arguments and counterarguments, the analyses and meta-analyses. Important rituals all, but they wear me out. In the midst of a break from the discussion surrounding Lemonade, which had started to get in the way of the actual album, it was a blessing to read Don DeLillo’s Zero K — specifically, the last two pages, in which the author’s wide-eyed precision describes a breathtaking New York phenomenon. “The full solar disk, bleeding into the streets, lighting up the towers to either side of us.” Know what that is? “The purest astonishment in the intimate touch of earth and sun.” Wager a guess? Solar disk, bleeding light, towers, earth, sun: Manhattanhenge. Beautiful. How the hell did he do it?
Under Armour’s USA Gymnastics Commercial
Katie Baker: There’s no headier mix of spectacle, treacle, and debacle than the Olympics. But the Today festivities, the national anthems, and the reliable news stories about Olympic Village condom shortages all distract from the reality of the world’s elite athletes: Their lives are unbelievably mundane. The road to Rio is paved with tiny, boring bricks: the alarm clocks and the ice baths, the wrapping of athletic tape and the packing of duffel bags, the mindless repetition and the mindful meditation.
This commercial from Under Armour is one of the best reminders I’ve seen of what goes into the quest for a gold. It’s easy to watch a glittering pixie pull off a flashy floor routine and overlook all the callouses and Tupperware bus lunches she endured along the way, to elevate the podium over the process. This commercial makes that difficult, and also makes me want to run through a wall for America. What separates me from these athletes, among a few other things, is that I’d probably have to smack the snooze button first.
Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial
Robert Mays: The first time I heard “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia,” the 11-and-a-half-minute epic from Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial, we were six hours away from Klay Thompson tossing 11 3-pointers to save Golden State’s season. The most absurd was a 30-ish-footer that Thompson just flung toward the rim. What made the shot remarkable wasn’t that he made it; it’s that he was dialed in enough to think, “Of course this is a good idea.” “Costa Concordia” is that shot, a heat check near the end of an album-long barrage.
Teens of Denial runs 70 minutes, and along with the unapologetic ambition, that hour-plus is packed with some damn good rock songs and some of the most incisive, too-close-to-home lyrics I’ve heard in a while. The crows of “It doesn’t have to be like this!” are going to echo from festival crowds as clearly as “I’m going to bed now, I’ve sunk into my sorrows, and it’ll take 300 million dollars to get me up tomorrow” will induce tears on a subway. This album can make you feel 100 different ways. It took only a few listens for me to feel them all at once.
Manny Machado Surpasses Bryce Harper and Mike Trout
Mallory Rubin: Since the moment Manny Machado debuted in 2012, I’ve told anyone who would listen that I’d choose him over Mike Trout or Bryce Harper if I had to pick one position player around whom to start a franchise. Some laughed; some called me a shameless homer; some asked, softly and not unkindly, if I needed help making my way home. But few nodded in agreement; few saw what I saw: a future Hall of Famer whose combination of offensive brilliance and defensive wizardry made him a generational talent.
Now, everyone sees. Manny is tied atop FanGraphs’ WAR leaderboard for hitters with Trout, and as recently as mid-May he had a higher 2016 wRC+ than Babe Ruth’s career mark. He’s earning headlines like “Big Two? Try Big Three.” And, perhaps most thrillingly of all, he’s doing it at shortstop, the position he’s long been blocked from playing while paying nightly homage to Brooks Robinson at the hot corner.
Have I mentioned that he got his wife’s face tattooed onto his forearm or that he routinely Instagrams his dog, Kobe, the true stud in the family? In addition to being a damn good baseball player, Machado is a delight.
The Orioles are hanging with the Red Sox in a battle for first place in the AL East despite distressingly mediocre seasons from Adam Jones and Chris Davis, an abomination in the middle of the rotation, and an MLB-worst eight (8!) team steals. They’re managing it because the truth is now glaring enough to force even the willfully blind to see: Manny Machado may not have the one-name recognition of Trout or Harper, but he’s more valuable than either.
Bayern Munich and Juventus Score 10 Goals in the Champions League
Ryan O’Hanlon: I loved Everybody Wants Some!! more than any supposedly self-aware white man really should. The People v. O.J. Simpson lived up to the hype. And guess what. New Girl never stopped being good. But the best 210 minutes I’ve watched in 2016 were Bayern Munich’s 6–4 aggregate victory over Juventus in the Champions League Round of 16.
In fact, Bayern and Juve played the best pair of soccer games I’ve ever seen. Juventus were a bulwark that bit back — fortifying their own goal and launching straight-line attacking raids all at once. But after going behind by two, Bayern continued to shape-shift until they found a way to ooze through the smallest cracks in the Italian side’s back line. I like to imagine that the dots across the expected-goals map are all tiny Rothko paintings because that’s the kind of reverence these games deserve. With two supertalented teams playing distinct styles but with both of their settings pushed all the way to “ATTACK,” this was the fevered standard for what this sport can be. So, before you consider starting The Night Manager or ruining your weekend by going to see The Lobster, why not find a tape of the games in Turin and Munich? Like any truly great piece of art, it won’t ever get old.
Kanye West Performs “Ultralight Beam” on ‘Saturday Night Live’
Victor Luckerson: When we doubt Kanye the most — and he offered many reasons for disillusion in the run-up to The Life of Pablo — he often manages to deliver the most potent distillations of his brilliance. The debut of “Ultralight Beam” is perhaps the most powerful example. Standing before a stoic gospel choir and an ethereal light display, Mr. West bleats like a dying animal, begging for peace and love. Then, by the grace of Yeezus, he steps aside. The choir starts to sway and snap; Kelly Price sings one divine note and envelops the SNL soundstage in the Holy Spirit; Chance the Rapper glides onscreen to take his rightful place as Kanye’s heir apparent. This is not just a hymn — it becomes obvious as Ye and The-Dream start dancing in the corner — it’s a bop. It’s the smell of aged, musty pews, the feel of a church fan’s plastic handle in your sweaty fingers, the sensation of an unknowable joy swelling up in your heart. This is a god dream.