The calendar year is just about in the books, and The Ringer is looking back at 2017 for the rest of the month. We’re ready to hand out our sports awards, but these aren’t for MVPs and championships—they’re for the weirdest, funniest, or most interesting players, teams, and moments that captured our hearts. Here are our “winners”:
Best First Impression: Nathan Peterman
Miles Surrey: Have you ever played someone in Madden who’s never touched the game before, and that person just lobs the ball to a receiver in the hopes they catch it? I’ve played with first-timers who did better than Peterman—the difference is, one is playing a consequence-free video game in which John Madden lays out the minutiae of the sport, and the other is an NFL quarterback starting for a team with a legitimate shot at the playoffs.
Peterman was historically awful for the then-5-4 Buffalo Bills, throwing five interceptions and only six completions in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers. Buffalo would go on to lose 54-24. I don’t mean to pile on Peterman—but, LOL—as Sean McDermott is the man who elected to start him over perpetually decent quarterback Tyrod Taylor and all but refused to acknowledge he seriously screwed over his team in a crucial game.
#Bills HC Sean McDermott on Peterman: There were some plays he'll want back, but there were also some plays where you said, 'Hey, that was pretty darn good'— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) November 20, 2017
Peterman’s terrible debut should’ve been the last we’d seen of him, but a Taylor injury led the rookie to start another game: a 13-7 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts, ostensibly played on the ice planet Hoth. That could be enough to convince McDermott, who’s refused to cater his offense to Taylor, to stick with Peterman.
I’m not a Bills fan, but I do have a soul. I’m so sorry, guys.
“Austin Rivers” Award for Most Meme-able Performance: Austin Rivers
John Gonzalez: Rivers is more of a meme at this point than a player. His teammates make fun of him better than any of us ever could. But even by his standards, Son of Doc had a particularly bad week as November bled into December. First, he accidentally fell on Blake Griffin’s knee while stumbling after a loose ball, thereby setting up Griffin’s latest unfortunate injury in a long list of them. Then, a few days later, he got fined $25,000 for cursing out a fan. That happens—though it rarely occurs at home. The incident unfolded at Staples Center in Los Angeles in front of what is still ostensibly a Clippers crowd. “I didn’t handle it the best way,” Rivers said. On the contrary, Austin Rivers, you handled it exactly the way Austin Rivers should.
Best Wrestling Move Executed In an NBA Game (That Wasn’t Called a Foul): Brook Lopez’s Block on Rodney McGruder
Danny Chau: Here’s a take: Brook Lopez has some of the best YouTube mixes of his generation. Highlight collages by nature erase blemishes of their subject, but erase Lopez’s slow-footed defense in space and his debilitating allergy to rebounds and you get a timeless portrait of a dominant center. He’s a giant with a condor wingspan and soft hands; he has an offensive repertoire as deep and varied as the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef. He knows how to play to the camera: His dunks often feature his arms stretched out to their furthest extent, and he often swings on the rim upon completion with his legs splayed, playing up the illusion of an explosion.
But my favorite Lopez plays are his blocks, which really put in perspective just how coordinated he can be for such an enormous human being. My favorite block of 2017 happened early in the year in a Nets-Heat game. Brooklyn was in the throes of what would become a 16-game losing streak; the Heat were capping off a 13-game winning streak. Early in the third quarter, Luke Babbitt raised his fist calling out a play, which drew the eyes of every single Nets defender like moths to a shitty Bic lighter. Rodney McGruder caught the entire Nets lineup slipping and drove from the top of the arc for what should’ve been a thunderous dunk. Instead, he was eclipsed by Lopez, who not only blocks the attempt cleanly, but generates so much force as to drag McGruder from the Y-axis to the X-axis. Watch it again. Lopez essentially catches McGruder in midair and executes a sidewalk slam Kane would be proud of.
Best Performance in a Short Film: Jimmy Butler
Megan Schuster: Traveling by canoe can be treacherous. Toppling over is a constant concern, especially if one of your fellow riders stands up unexpectedly, or if you’re with your dad who thinks it’s funny to rock the boat in the middle of a lake. But the threat of falling seems less immediate the closer you get to shore (less water beneath you, more opportunities to stabilize the boat, etc.). Unless you’re Jimmy Butler.
In a video interview with ESPN, one that was billed as Butler exploring his new Minnesotan home, host Sam Alipour took Butler on a canoe ride. At the end of the trip, as the boat hits the shore, Alipour steps out leaving Butler to tip over into about six inches of water.
This clip—taken from the full video—is art, and I’ve watched it at least 20 times since it came out last month. Butler’s scream was so affecting that it even found its way into a Taylor Swift mashup, replacing the iconic screaming goat video for best cover of “I Knew You Were Trouble.” There are so many aspects that make this video great, but special thanks go out to lakes for existing, canoes for being unstable, and Jimmy Butler for unleashing the full strength of his vocal cords.
Most Improved Player: Ananya Vinay
Shaker Samman: The most improved participant in any sport this year wasn’t Kristaps Porzingis, or Carson Wentz, or even Aaron Judge. No, that title belongs to one Ananya Vinay, the 12-year-old from Fresno, California, who won this summer’s Scripps National Spelling Bee. Last year, Vinay made the third round. This year, she won it all, besting hundreds of other competitors by correctly spelling “marocain”—a dress fabric that is made with a warp of silk or rayon and a filling of other yarns.
Listen, I get what you’re thinking. “But Shaker, the spelling bee isn’t sports.” I counter with this: It’s broadcast each year on ESPN, and everything on ESPN is sports. We can talk all we want about guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring an extra point or two per game, or Judge hitting a few more dingers, but there was no more impressive feat in sports than what Vinay did in June.
Congrats to Ananya Vinay, the greatest sportsperson to ever live.
Best Sign-Off: Alberto Contador
Michael Baumann: Contador was a controversial figure: an inveterately aggressive cyclist whom purists loved because his birdlike bounce on the pedals made riding a bicycle somehow look beautiful, but the heir to Lance Armstrong as the frontman of Johan Bruyneel’s doped-to-the-gills Discovery Channel and Astana squads. More than anything, he was easy to hate because he won all the time—he’s one of only two riders to win all three Grand Tours at least twice, and if he hadn’t lost his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia titles for doping, he’d be the only man ever to win all three races at least three times. Imagine if Lionel Messi were also Barry Bonds.
But by 2017, Contador had become a romantic figure. Chris Froome had taken Armstrong’s place as the sport’s dominant GC rider, and in much the same fashion: leading an expensive superteam that simply rode his opponents into dust until they were too exhausted to attack. The 2017 Tour de France, which Froome won for the fourth time in five attempts, was the closest in years, but it was still a parade: Froome’s Team Sky held the yellow jersey for 19 of 21 stages, and Froome was never more than 12 seconds off the lead, while Contador wheezed home in ninth place, more than eight minutes back, his worst Grand Tour finish since 2005.
Contador’s last grand tour was his home race, the Vuelta a España, and once again Froome won easily, taking the leader’s red jersey on Stage 3 and holding on all the way to Madrid three weeks later. But Contador, leading an also-ran Trek team, attacked constantly, and even though Froome and his men brought Contador back every time, the Spaniard would simply catch his breath and try again. It’s romantic to see a legend of the sport knowing there’s no tomorrow race like it. Until finally, on the race’s last competitive stage on the Alto de l’Angliru, Contador finally escaped to win the stage and consolidate a fifth-place finish in the scenic Asturian hills, on some of the race’s steepest climbs. By this point, everyone was rooting for Contador, because legends don’t usually get a send-off like that.
Best Attempt at Trying to Replace the “Alonzo Mourning Thinking” Meme
Kosta Koufous with his own version of the Alonzo Mourning GIF pic.twitter.com/h23GilKmcG— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 10, 2017
Keith Fujimoto: Kosta Koufos, you beautiful soul of a man. Bless you for contemplating more things at once than anyone in the history of the world that November night against the 76ers. The Alonzo Mourning GIF meme is tired and in really shitty quality. The hoops Twitterverse needed something new, something better. Who could’ve expected your thought process would make for better social content than any Joel Embiid Instagram location that evening? Thank you, KK, not for your nearly one win share, but for this timeless piece of internet gold.
Highest Prestige: Dion Waiters Revealing That Miami Should Not Have Agreed to Pay Him $52 Million
Haley O’Shaughnessy: Of course Waiters was at the center of Miami’s late-season surge. Waiters is always the star of his own movie (and the screenwriter, and the director, and the film’s distributor); he’s drawn to the spotlight with the same amount of gravitational force that makes him, well-defended and with teammates wide open, pull up for forced 3s. (Shot selection, much like thinking about the long-term implications for your franchise before signing a bunch of fat contracts, is overrated.)
Waiters returned from injury last January to a Heat team that had already packed up for hibernation, only to shoot and drive and pass Miami back into playoff contention. He averaged 16.7 points and 4.6 assists, and made 3s at a 41.6 percent clip after his return, all stats that would have been the best marks of his career.
Waiters was injured again late March, but he left the 2016-17 Miami team—which began the season 11-30—within reach of a playoff berth. After Gordon Hayward, who was reportedly considering Miami, signed with Boston, Pat Riley devoted his cap space to Waiters—who, this season, is banged up yet again, refuses to entertain the idea of coming off the bench, is on track to average a career high in turnovers (2.5), and has shot 35 percent or worse overall in a third of his games.
Abracadabra! You owe him $52 million.
Best Costume Design: Cam Newton
Danny Heifetz: Cam Newton, who dresses like a Batman villain in an Austin Powers movie, is the only nominee in this year’s Ringer Sports Awards to run uncontested. His style transcends “eclectic,” veering closer to the sartorial version of the expanding brain meme.
Newton is the best-dressed person in sports, if not the world. He’s invented entirely new genres of dress like top hats and glass-less glasses, Roasted Marshmallow x Crocodile Dundee (notice the matches!), and my personal favorite, Robin Hood saves Candyland. Cam Newton’s shoes have better outfits than most people.
I think cam newton had the wildest cleats I’ve ever seen yesterday lol prince inspired pic.twitter.com/B1k7VTljOH— L.A. (@LA_isOfficial) December 12, 2017
Newton, sensing he would receive this prestigious honor from The Ringer, has already given his acceptance speech. In an interview posted on the Panthers’ website on April 20, he addressed his critics directly, explaining how he can stay on the cutting edge of outerwear.
“When you’re able to have sauce, when you’re dripping goo,” Newton said. “And for you to not understand that, then you’re already out the loop.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Best True-to-Yourself Performance: Yasiel Puig
Paolo Uggetti: On the basis of pure game quality and excitement, the MLB playoffs didn’t need much in the way of extra entertainment. But at the same time, I can’t ignore the fact that October wouldn’t have been as fun had Yasiel Puig not brought his personality to the plate.
The Dodgers outfielder was unleashed, becoming the best version of himself both as a baseball player (he batted .414/.514/.655 in his first two series and hit two home runs in the World Series) and the physical embodiment of a walking viral video.
Much to the chagrin of some, Puig began, as he has in the past, with bat flips on everything, including home runs, singles, doubles, and triples. That quickly devolved into licking his bat. Straight up.
“I make love to the bat and he pays me back with hits,” Puig explained.
It didn’t stop there. When he hit a triple in the NLDS, he unrolled his tongue and went crazy as he slid into the base. It became a Thing.
Puig was able to perform without making it feel like what he was doing around his at-bats was performative, even though it was clear that it was, at times, intentional. From his tongue-wagging, to his coach-kissing, to his variety of reactions when taking balls, it was the postseason of Puig being Puig, but it was also the postseason where everyone came around to enjoy him for who he is.
Most Literal Enactment of “Sailing off Into the Sunset”
Ben Lindbergh: Passable Pittsburgh Pirates corner guy John Jaso, who may or may not have retired in October, was baseball’s finest purveyor of the philosophical, semi-profound postgame quote.
John Jaso on the Pirates’ sweepy ways: "It's bizarre. Such is this game, and such is life."— Stephen J. Nesbitt (@stephenjnesbitt) April 19, 2017
Jaso, a dreadlocked Southern Californian, was the antithesis of the archetypically ultra-intense and occasionally combative athlete; according to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, the Zen lefty was the one player whom he’d never seen complain about a call at the plate. This is a man whose nickname remains “Mikey” because Carlos Peña, who couldn’t remember the then-rookie’s real name, mistakenly called him Mikey when the two were teammates on the Rays. The nickname Jaso gave himself for Players Weekend this year, “Easy J,” also fit him fine.
“That’s just kind of how my boat floats down the river,” Jaso said in March, explaining his unruffled attitude. He may have meant that metaphorically, but a more literal interpretation applies equally well. Several months later, when Jaso announced his retirement (with the caveat that “I can't really tell you what the future holds or whatever”), he told reporters that he was taking his talents to the open water. “I have a sailboat, so I just want to sail away,” Jaso said, sealing the finest nautical-themed retirement by a Pirates right fielder since Derek Bell declared, “Just tell them I got in my yacht and rode out into the sunset.”
If Jaso puts in at a port near you, there’s no need to say hello; he’s trying to lead a simple, anonymous existence. At 34, he has a lot of life ahead of him, and if his history is any indication, he’ll take both the calm seas and the swells in stride. Such is the sea, and such is life.
Most Important Historical Document: The Oral History of the Time an Eagles Beat Writer Got Ejected From the Press Box for Arguing Too Loudly About a Third-Quarter Penalty
Katie Baker: High on my to-do list is to buy new printer ink and an underground waterproof box, because I am extremely preoccupied with the fear that, when future historians sift through the wreckage of the 21st-century world, they may not find proper evidence of the things that lived online. And if they want to truly understand one of the most important and influential slices of late-American culture—the Philadelphia sports media—it is imperative that they discover and study the oral history of the time an Eagles beat writer got ejected from the press box for arguing too loudly about a third-quarter penalty.
I’m not attaching undue praise to this brilliant document just because it was published on The Ringer Dot Com. I can absolutely promise that I’d be burying a copy of it in my backyard for posterity whether it ran on someone’s Tumblr or on the Sports Illustrated website. For one thing, it is the rare piece of Philadelphia sporting history that includes the names Bryan Colangelo, Chip Kelly, and Michael Vick as mere throwaway asides.
The real meat of this oral history is that it illustrates the distinctive tribalism and the complicated code of law that defines and governs Philly sports media, one of the most fascinating societies in modern existence, a group of humans whose daily rituals include fist fights and radio wars, and whose writings include lines like “[the] CEO and chairman of Chickie’s & Pete’s said he was down the Shore this weekend and didn’t know enough about the incident to comment.” It depicts how members of this surly band of hunter-gatherers are at once antagonistic toward one another and fiercely loyal: “Even though Jeff and Les literally hit each other, they stand up for each other,” one elder said.
Every line is precious, every word is canon. This text is the Magna Carta, it is the Code of Hammurabi, it is the Bill of Rights. Now, I just need to find my shovel before the fall of civilization hits.