We’ve already taken a look at the highlights from the first half of the year in sports—those iconic moments that may have already faded in your memory. This next batch is more recent but no less exciting. Here are our favorite sports moments from the second half of 2017:
June 3: Jon Lester Picks Off Tommy Pham
Ben Lindbergh: “That’s a trick, that step-off and hold the ball,” Cardinals broadcaster Tim McCarver intoned as Cubs starter Jon Lester stared at Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham, who was leading off first base well past where runners typically fear to tread. “He’s not going to throw to first base.”
No one watching would have quibbled with McCarver, including Pham, who didn’t even do Lester the professional courtesy of returning to the bag when Lester adopted a threatening stance. Lester hadn’t picked off a runner since September 2015; before that, he hadn’t recorded a pick-off since August 2011. Even after the Royals exploited his pick-off yips in the 2014 AL wild-card game, he went years at a time without even attempting a pick-off throw, exposing him to constant scrutiny from fans and media members in every subsequent start. When he did attempt the odd pick-off, it usually went wild, demonstrating why he didn’t do it more often. Lester’s inability to perform an action so simple—while successfully performing a much more difficult action dozens of times per game—became one of baseball’s most fascinating subplots, as did baserunners’ attempts (or puzzling lack thereof) to profit from his well-known weakness. The story offered all of the rubbernecking potential of a public breakdown without most of the associated suffering.
Yet this year, in an otherwise unremarkable early-June game, Lester threw on target to first, catching Pham justifiably unprepared. For longtime Lester watchers, it was an inspiring sight, a testament to the southpaw’s perseverance and behind-the-scenes pick-off practice. And because the universe sometimes gives us great gifts, it came, on cue, immediately after McCarver’s comment.
perfectly written, perfectly timed, perfectly executed. the best comedy sketch of the year pic.twitter.com/9YWuuPd4bR— Double Birds (@2xBirds) June 3, 2017
An unstoppable force (McCarver’s ability to be wrong about things) had met an immovable object (Lester’s refusal to throw to first base). The object budged.
June 7: Kevin Durant Shoots Over LeBron in Game 3
Jonathan Tjarks: LeBron didn't pass the torch in this year's NBA Finals—Durant took it from him. LeBron was just as good as he was in 2016, when he became the first player in playoff history to lead both teams in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. The difference in 2017 was that the Warriors had their own version of LeBron. The play from this series that will live forever came in the final minute of Game 3: With Golden State down two and less than a minute left, Durant cleared the defensive glass, dribbled up the floor and rose up for a pull-up 3 over LeBron. The shot ended up giving the Warriors a 3-0 lead and essentially ended the series. It feels like the beginning of a new era. Durant is 29 and at the height of his powers, and it will take a miracle for LeBron to win another championship. The King is no longer the axis around which the whole league revolves.
July 4: Joey Chestnut Breaks the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Record
Daniel Chin: There is perhaps no singular event that is more American, and certainly none more gluttonous, than the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. It’s a competition that requires endurance, hunger, and an impeccable amount of determination, and Joey Chestnut is the greatest contestant of all time. This man took down a record-setting 72 (!!!) hot dogs on his way to his 10th Mustard Belt, the most prestigious of all belts named after condiments. That’s over 20,000 calories consumed in 10 minutes. But it’s the absolute heart that Chestnut displays, as he stuffs those final dogs into his face while his rivals look like they’re about to implode, that earns him a spot on this list:
Through the sweat and tears, Chestnut put up numbers that even the disgraced Takeru Kobayashi could never reach, and he joined an elite company of champions.
July 16: Roger Federer Wins Wimbledon
Amanda Dobbins: The Australian Open victory felt like a gift, or (more honestly) a fluke. Roger Federer was 35 years old and had been in decline for a better part of a decade; the instinct, as a devoted fan, had been to hope for one more Grand Slam title and to be grateful when it arrived. Which is why I never — not even at approximately 6 a.m. PST on July 16, as Federer cruised into the third set of the final, serve and back intact, and on his favorite surface, too — dared to dream that Roger might win Wimbledon. It seemed too greedy. (It seemed plain stupid!) He, of course, made it look easy. I’d almost forgotten that that’s what Roger Federer does.
August 26: Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor Face Off
Donnie Kwak: The interminable buildup to the Mayweather-McGregor fight was mildly amusing but mostly loathsome, and so rooted in cynical greed that I was content to steal-per-view the event at home. But then a friend texted me to join him at a fight-night gathering, so I obliged.
Unbeknownst to me, that gathering was in a private, secluded space in downtown Manhattan. Among the 100 or so attendees were Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and Spike Lee—a triumvirate of Black Star Power that brought a palpable, electric energy to the room. That buzz only intensified as the fight—and the war of attrition of Floyd’s fists on Conor’s face—plodded on. Perhaps I was a bit dizzy from the atmosphere, but it suddenly seemed to me that all of those pre-fight racial barbs had become real and weren’t just rhetoric. My skepticism surrendered to the spectacle. McGregor’s loss in the 10th round felt, in that moment, like a real moment. I’ll certainly never forget where I was when it happened.
September 9: Baker Mayfield Plants the University of Oklahoma Flag on Ohio State’s Field
Micah Peters: It was September. Oklahoma was away at OSU, trailing 10-3 early in the second half. Then Baker Mayfield—2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield— threw three touchdown passes, leading the Sooners to a 31-16 win. Then he ran around waving the Sooners flag wildly for a good 20 or so seconds before planting it smack-dab in the Buckeye logo at center field. It didn’t stick, and that’s one of only two things about this that weren’t perfect.
You know what I think? I think Mayfield remembers Ohio State singing their fight song after beating the Sooners like a drum at Norman last year fine, but that this—hanging off the rim over the entire state of Ohio—had absolutely nothing to do with “Buckeye Battle Cry” or when or where it was sung. Mayfield is Michael Caine’s Burmese Bandit, tossing rubies the size of tangerines into the river, for no other reason than because he can. He planted the OU flag in the eye because he wanted to, and we enjoyed it because some small part of each of us also likes to see stuff burn—at least when there aren’t any victims or fallout or material consequences, obviously, and there weren’t any here. There weren’t any real versions of those things, anyway. So why, then, did Baker have to apologize, I ask the OU Athletic Department, who I’ll assume inspired this act of contrition?
There’s still time to correct this, by the way. When it comes time to cast Mayfield in bronze in Heisman Park, actually let the statue depict him planting the flag at Ohio Stadium. Please. It’s only right.
September 9: Louisiana Tech Faces Third-and-93
Rodger Sherman: Everything got worse, and kept getting worse, and sense ceased to be relevant as the most farcical, stupid event anybody could remember took place. This is my description of this play, and also of 2017.
Louisiana Tech had to be in a pretty good position to fall so far. That’s what makes this play possible—if the football had traveled 87 yards backwards on almost any other play, the result would have been a safety. But because the Bulldogs started out so close to the opposing end zone, this tremendous loss was possible.
But Louisiana Tech kept fighting. This could have easily been a touchdown for their opponents, but even as the world around them got stupider and their situation got worse, they kept battling. Eventually, wide receiver Cee Jay Powell won a footrace the length of a city block, hopping on top of the ball. He saved possession, preventing the situation from becoming a total loss and bringing up third-and-93—believed to be the longest distance any football team has ever faced. May we all live in 2018 with his resilience.
September 11: Sergio Dipp Becomes a Meme on ‘Monday Night Football’
Miles Surrey: Everyone’s faced some type of public humiliation in their life. When I was 6, I got lost in a library while pretending to be a T-rex, and 10 minutes later I heard my name on the intercom and had to walk to the lobby, where I was (deservedly) whacked on the head by my mom. However, only, like, a few dozen people saw this stupid, lost kid who really loved dinosaurs get owned by his mom.
So I really felt for Sergio Dipp, ESPN’s sideline reporter for its second Monday Night Football matchup in Week 1. He mainly does the network’s Spanish-language broadcasts, and to add to the pressure, my dude was on national television. Unfortunately for Dipp, his lone report on the night—with the awkward, stilted pauses in his speech—was better suited for The Room than a football field. Lots of folks laughed at his expense, and to Dipp’s credit, he took it all in stride. But don’t pretend we haven’t all been there.
September 11: Younghoe Koo Misses a Would-Be Game-Tying Field Goal
Sean Yoo: As a Korean American sports fan, there are such few moments where you can feel immense pride over your ancestry in the national sports spotlight. That rare moment happened in the first week of the NFL season, where Korean American kicker Younghoe Koo was summoned for a potential game-tying kick during the waning seconds of Chargers-Broncos.
But before we get to that moment, let me quickly paint a picture of the brief but meteoric rise of Mr. Koo. Koo signed with the Los Angeles Chargers this off-season and out-kicked Josh Lambo to win the starting job. He immediately became a celebrity in the niche world of Korean American sports fans.
Fast-forward to the first week of the NFL season, where the Chargers were playing on Monday Night Football. Down three points with five seconds left in the game, Koo was called upon to kick a 44-yard field goal to bring this game into overtime. At this point in the night, our NFL Slack channel had reached full pandemonium, and my heart was beating at an unhealthy rate. The kick went right through the uprights… but was called off because of a time out by Broncos coach Vance Joseph. The following kick was blocked, and so were my hopes and dreams for Koo to be the greatest Korean NFL player of all time. But regardless of the outcome, Koo will always be the placekicker on my team.
September 26: Mike Beasley Expands the Human Brain
Jason Concepcion: On September 26, Mike Beasley, the second pick in the 2008 draft, noted weed smoker, and generally wild guy, sat for an interview with SportsNet New York’s Taylor Rooks that forever altered our conceptions of science, biology, astrology, cosmology, horology, and various other -ologies too numerous to name, rendering the Galaxy Brain meme woefully incomplete. Wearing three watches, one on each wrist and a third on his ankle (the better to measure the effect of gravity on the passage of time), Beasley expounded on his theory that the discovery that humans only use 10 percent of their brains (not true, but what is truth in the year 2017) could only have been made by a person using 11 percent.
“If you’re only using 10 percent of something that means you don’t know the rest of the 90,” Beasley explained, his words erupting from his mouth like holy flames to burn away the darkness. “I’m the first person in the world. Say I’m Adam. And I wrote that we can only use 10 percent of our brains. That means that I would have to surpass the number 10.” Rooks, who is obviously imprisoned by her 10 percent, struggled to follow the reality-warping revelation: “That’s not the right logic.” For a time, I, too, believed that Mike Beasley was wrong. Then he went for 30 points, powering the Knicks to a home win over the OKC Thunder, and the scales, each representing 5 percent brain use, fell from my eyes. Questions, however, remain. For example: Does the 11 percent revelation require 12 percent brain use? If so, does realizing that require 13 percent, and so on and so forth? Why does Beasley wear number 8 and not number 11?Are all the watches set to the same time zone? Like the rest of the world, I eagerly await the answers.
October 13: Ross Bowers Front Flips for a Touchdown
Riley McAtee: In general, I think football players should leave their feet as little as possible. Football is already an unsafe sport, it becomes even less safe when players are airborne, and Cal in particular has a scary history with players trying to leap their way into the end zone. The last thing this sport needs is the added chaos that comes when players are literally flying through the air.
But cast those concerns aside for a moment and look at this flip:
Cal football wasn’t very good this year. At 5-7, they didn’t even go to a bowl. But for one moment in October, sophomore quarterback Ross Bowers spun through the air to put an exclamation point on what would become a 37-3 win over then–No. 8 Washington State, and everything was great. Heck, Bowers almost stuck the landing.
October 25: Game 2 of the World Series Delivers a Classic
Michael Baumann: Game 5, thanks to the involvement of Clayton Kershaw and the preposterous back-and-forth in the later innings, is going to go down as the better—or at least longer—classic 2017 World Series game, but I'll always have a soft spot for Game 2. Game 5 was the big space battle near the end of the sci-fi blockbuster, but Game 2 was the smaller battle near the beginning of the movie where you learned the rules the story was playing by. The later innings of Game 2 were when Chekhov's home run binge, which we'd been hearing about all season, came to a head in dizzying, scintillating fashion.
And it culminated in my favorite at bat of the year, a nine-pitch white-knuckle thunderbolt-chucking staredown between Chris Devenski and Yasiel Puig, the two least-chill players in the series, if not all of baseball. That at bat, during which the air positively crackled with intensity, felt like it consumed the very last ounce of energy either team—even the fans—had to expend. It's not every day that baseball is dizzying, full of nonstop action, but Game 2 offered that on the sport's biggest stage. Sometimes, a sport as quotidian and familiar as baseball will toss out something you've never seen before—the back-and-forth of Game 2's last three innings was just that.
October 26: The Clippers Race to a 4-0 Start
Isaac Lee: After a summer in which J.J. Redick left for the Sixers and Chris Paul forced a trade to the Houston Rockets, my friends Kevin O’Connor and Paolo Uggetti tried to convince me that my beloved Los Angeles Clippers would exceed expectations with Point Blake running the show. While reluctant to give into optimism around a team that has failed me again and again, I nonetheless embraced that small hope. So it was to my surprise when opening night rolled around and the new-look Clippers, the true L.A. team, won handily against the Lakers, with Blake Griffin looking like the fully realized superstar that had been smothered by Chris Paul. Then, an amazing thing happened: The Clippers kept winning. For eight days, we were undefeated, inspiring headlines such as “Lakers Are Overhyped and Clippers Are Underrated.”
But of course, it didn’t last. The Clippers quickly sank to the depths of the underworld by going 1-11 in their next 12 games, leading me to seek out another Clippers team to root for:
I now root for the AC Clippers at least they win games go Clips go https://t.co/hYRGjHvaWG— Isaac K. Lee (@IsaacKLee) November 22, 2017
Even when the skid finally came to a halt—a 116-103 victory against the lowly Atlanta Hawks—it came on the heels of Patrick Beverley going down with a microfracture in his knee and being ruled out for the rest of the season. As if on cue, Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari, and Montrezl Harrell subsequently suffered leg injuries. The small hope that I held so close to my chest also went down with a sprained MCL and is expected to be out for 8-10 weeks.
October 29: Game 5 of the World Series Breaks Our Understanding of Baseball
Mallory Rubin: When the Best Sports Moment email thread went around, I picked World Series Game 5 without hesitation. My colleague Michael responded equally quickly with, “Mal picked the wrong World Series game. I want Game 2.” I’d like to note that Game 5 featured seven home runs and that the Astros erased three different deficits on their way to a 13-12 extra-innings win. I feel compelled to mention that Clayton Kershaw gave up six earned runs in his start, devastatingly casting his postseason legacy further into the shadows. I must remind you that the madness went on for so long that Fox appeared to run out of commercials. It was such an electrifying sporting event that we felt honor bound to publish a condensed version of The Ringer’s absolutely lit MLB-channel Slack conversation about the game as a newsletter the next day. It was the kind of contest that clarified why the term “instant classic” exists.
But I’d also like to note that it doesn’t matter whether Game 2 or Game 5 stuck with you more. They’re both part of a greater whole: a postseason that revived our shared love of baseball and restored the sport, however briefly, to its former standing as our national pastime. Every postseason I, as a baseball lover, look forward with true delight and longing to the moment when the masses gather around their screens and take in a reminder that baseball is great. The Astros and Dodgers helped so many people remember that so many times this postseason, and so whether you preferred Game 2 or Game 5, I hope that you’re as grateful as I am for the unifying gift that this series provided.
October 29: The Texans and Seahawks Battle in Seattle
Danny Kelly: It’s been a really weird, and at times brutal, NFL season. The rash of injuries to the league’s superstars, the controversy around the player protests, the ever-increasing concern over the effects of concussions, and the question of the long-term viability of the sport itself often distracted or overshadowed the actual games being played. But in late October, at least for a few hours, all that stuff faded into the background and we all got to witness pure, unbridled football brilliance. The Seahawks and Texans engaged in a shootout for the ages, trading touchdowns and big defensive stops before putting on the game’s wild, nail-biting finish. When the dust cleared, Seattle emerged victorious, 41-38, but it was tough to take anything away from either team’s performance that day.
The Texans’ rookie breakout quarterback, Deshaun Watson, put on a show, becoming the first quarterback in league history to throw for 400-plus yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 50-plus yards. He challenged All Pro safety Earl Thomas early with a deep-bomb touchdown to Will Fuller, and he uncorked tight window throws to DeAndre Hopkins with All Pro corner Richard Sherman in coverage. He showed no fear, leaving little doubt that he’s on his way to being a star in the pros. And he was somehow still overshadowed by Seahawks veteran signal-caller Russell Wilson, who threw for 452 yards and four touchdowns, had one pick, and added 30 rushing yards on four attempts. To put his superlative performance in perspective, Wilson (482) outpaced his entire team (479) that day in total yards. Paul Richardson made incredible grabs. Jimmy Graham caught the game-winning touchdown. It wasn’t all offense, though. Thomas got into the end zone on a 78-yard pick six. The Texans gave themselves a chance to win when Marcus Williams picked off Wilson with 2:49 left in the game. Seattle’s defense then gave Wilson and the offense new life by forcing a Houston punt on the next series (and Graham caught the game-winner on the ensuing drive). It was the best game all year. It was a roller coaster ride and it was fun as hell.
October 29: Malik Monk Has a Highlight-Reel Dunk—Until He Doesn’t
John Gonzalez: Doug Collins used to say that rookies “don’t know what they don’t know yet,” or words to that effect. There’s probably some truth in the statement, but it fails to consider that rookies not knowing their limitations can lead to some moments that are really great—less for them than for us. To that end, let us appreciate and never forget the glorious contribution made by Hornets rookie Malik Monk early this season.
Monk wanted a highlight-reel play, and he got one—just not of the variety he expected. Monk and his Kentucky teammate De’Aaron Fox still talk every day. They’re good friends. When I asked Fox if he saw the dunk-turned-disaster, he didn’t answer at first. Because he was laughing. Bless him, and bless Monk most of all.
November 13: The Knicks Clarify Chance the Rapper’s Profession
i like that it says rapper underneath chance the rapper pic.twitter.com/1rL0GkVgxr— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) November 14, 2017
Keith Fujimoto: Some folks are really good multitaskers. Yet it’s more likely that they’re just really good at one thing and iffy at best at the other shit. Chance the Rapper raps, but he also can harness his inner Kirk Franklin. And on November 13, the Garden's scoreboard operator revealed his masterpiece under James Herbert's watchful eye. The world (i.e., the crowd at the Knicks game) turned, looked up to the rafters, and simultaneously learned that, in fact, Chance THE RAPPER is actually a rapper. I love the smell of clarity on a Monday night.
December 12: The Knicks and Lakers Trade Eight Straight Baskets
Katie Baker: It’s maybe not the stuff of legend, or high stakes, or medium stakes, or NBA supremacy: On a random Tuesday in December, the 13-13 Knicks hosted a Lakers team five games below .500. But midway through the third quarter, with the game tied at 61, Lonzo Ball slammed home an alley-oop pass from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and started one of the most fun two-minute spans in recent Knicks and/or Lakers history.
New York’s cherished unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, responded with a long-range 3 as the shot clock expired. Ball sank a 3 on his end, too. Enes Kanter dunked. Ball drove the lane unassisted to the tune of Enesthing you Kanter, I can do better; Kanter responded, no you can’t; Brook Lopez and Porzingis traded 25-foot 3-pointers; and finally a timeout harshed the heady Madison Square Garden buzz with the game again tied, now at 71. (Fittingly, the game ended with a narrow Knicks victory in overtime.)
If you’re not a current fan of, like, three or maybe four top NBA franchises, all you can really ever do is squint into the future and swear you see a glimmer of good times just down the road. But these eight straight showy buckets, netted in front of an ecstatic crowd of Knicks fans and front-row Ball family members alike—Spike Lee may have found a worthy adversary—made the thirst feel sated and the mirage seem real. Hope springs eternal and compels us forward, and for those two minutes on that random Tuesday in December, it was enough.