2018 will go down as the year when Nick Foles beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. It will go down as the year when J.R. Smith lost all sense of time and place. It will go down as the year when stars emerged, when legacies were cemented, and when upsets happened on par with any in history. As the year winds down, The Ringer is looking back at its favorite sports moments of the past 12 months, from Philly to Pyeongchang and everywhere in between. Here, in no particular order, are the 45 moments that stood out most to our staff, broken up into nine categories.
1. The Minneapolis Miracle
Robert Mays: The meanings of some classic sports moments don’t crystallize until later. Why they matter changes over time, depending on the outcomes that follow and the legacies that are created. In the grand scheme of NFL history, the Minneapolis Miracle will become a forgotten footnote to most. It will go down as an impossible victory rendered moot by the Vikings’ 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. But I was there—and I can tell you it mattered a great deal.
The Twin Cities are home to perhaps America’s most tortured sports fan base, and the Vikings are their most beloved, haunted franchise. Gary Anderson’s missed field goal in 1999. Blair Walsh’s botched kick in 2016. Four trips to the Super Bowl in less than a decade and no titles to show for it. Every time that Minnesotans start to embrace the idea that one of their teams has a chance—a real chance—there comes a looming sense of dread.
A play like the Minneapolis Miracle would ignite any stadium, but the sound that erupted when Stefon Diggs came down with the ball and turned up the sideline is the loudest roar I’ve ever heard during any game, in any sport. As Diggs flung his helmet aside upon crossing the goal line—all but asking the fans, Are you not entertained?—the sound that resonated from 70,000-strong clad in purple was an exorcism a half-century in the making. In a way, that this became the last great memory of a charmed season makes it all the more poignant. It wasn’t the defining moment of a championship run, but it remains perfect, and perfectly frozen in time.
2. Arike Ogunbowale Drills Back-to-Back Game-winners
Shea Serrano: The most awestruck I was during a sporting event this year was when Arike Ogunbowale hit a 3 to win a national championship for Notre Dame. There were three seconds left in the game, and the score was tied; less than two minutes earlier, Notre Dame had been down by five; less than a quarter before that, Notre Dame had been down by 15; and in the semifinal game, against a Connecticut team that was supposed to have broken Notre Dame’s jaw on the way to another title, Ogunbowale hit a game-winner, and so everyone figured that she’d used up all of the magic that the universe had afforded her. Plus, the 3 she launched in the title game was wildly contested, wildly off balance, and wildly improbable.
And still. No matter. Fuck it. Fuck it all. It can all go to hell, is what Arike seemed to say. She caught an inbound pass, took two dribbles to her right, pulled up, tried to square her body, fired a shot over her defender, and then a couple of days later arrived back on campus as an immortal. Nobody in college basketball history had ever hit a game-winner in a semifinal game and in the following championship game. This was the sports moment of the year; of that I am certain.
3. Tua Tagovailoa Goes From Backup to Legend
Ben Glicksman: There was a time when Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa was merely a backup. The 6-foot-1 quarterback with a rocket for a left arm toiled on Alabama’s bench for most of his true freshman season, getting into games only when Nick Saban’s soul-crushing juggernaut had sufficiently smashed a given opponent. He showed glimpses in mop-up duty—the average QB can’t make this play, after all—but that was it. He was supposed to watch from the sideline as Bama cruised to its fifth national title in nine years.
He was supposed to, anyway. Then Georgia raced out to a 13-0 halftime lead in January’s championship game. Then Saban benched Jalen Hurts, his two-year starter, in favor of the kid from Ewa Beach, Hawaii. Then Tua threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to get Bama on the scoreboard, and later a 7-yard touchdown pass to help send the game to overtime. Then, facing second-and-26 with the Crimson Tide trailing 23-20, he did this:
This will go down as the moment when Saban acquired his last Infinity Stone. The Tide have long featured a dominant defense, a multifaceted rushing attack, and some of the nation’s best receivers, from Julio Jones to Amari Cooper to Calvin Ridley. What they’ve lacked is a quarterback who is more than just a game manager. In that sense, this was the end of an era.
It was also a beginning. Tagovailoa has since made ridiculous play after ridiculous play en route to becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist, leading Bama back to the College Football Playoff, and providing the blueprint for the future of his position. Tua’s 41-yard walk-off bomb was both the moment of the year and a harbinger of things to come.
4. Max Muncy Walks Off a World Series Fever Dream
Craig Gaines: Midway through the second epoch of the third game of the 2018 World Series, a dinosaur appeared in the Prince. The patrons of Los Angeles Koreatown’s stateliest bar greeted him as one of their own. By that point, October 26 had given way to October 27, multiple outcomes and narratives had risen and died, and time had bifurcated into the linear (long, endless) and the circular (wait, had Eduardo Núñez done some absurd shit earlier in this game? Or was that a lifetime ago?). Game 3, played a few days before Halloween under a brilliant waning gibbous moon, was as strange and variegated as we’ll ever see: When it was young, rookie Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler hurled a masterpiece (two hits, seven strikeouts, and no runs allowed over seven innings) that drew a standing ovation from Sandy Koufax. When it was middle-aged, Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. crushed an offering from Kenley Jansen into the right-field stands to tie things up and condemn us all to our extra-innings fate; Nathan Eovaldi pitched a sterling near complete game in relief; Cody Bellinger nailed a runaway Ian Kinsler with an off-target missile; Núñez crashed around the batter’s box and the infield; and Clayton Kershaw appeared as a pinch hitter. When it was old, Max Muncy, having missed a walk-off home run to right by inches innings earlier, sent the night’s final ball just beyond the wall in left. “DODGERS DINO [clap-clap-clapclapclap],” we’d chanted at the dinosaur. “GO RED SOX,” he had yelled back. The tyrannosaur knew that the series would be even longer than this game, and could see into the future.
5. Jordan Poole Sinks Houston With a Buzzer-beater
Noah Malale: Michigan will never be anything but a football school. Probably. In the past decade, though, head coach John Beilein has lifted Michigan basketball into the elite, leading the Wolverines to two national championship games and another Elite Eight berth. But to truly transform into a basketball school, this program needs memories. Key moments that the fan base raves about for decades. Think Desmond Howard striking the Heisman pose in the end zone or Denard Robinson streaking down the sideline against Notre Dame. In 2013, Trey Burke’s deep 3 to force overtime against Kansas was iconic. But there’s something even more special about a buzzer-beater that ends the game on the spot. I mean, look at this reaction.
I texted my Michigan friends for inspiration before writing about this shot. Every response was too inappropriate to share. They all had one other thing in common: complete euphoria.
6. Belgium Beats Japan With a Perfect Counterattack
Shaker Samman: This summer’s World Cup was filled with moments that elicited pure elation, but none were more emblematic of the best version of the beautiful game than Belgium’s game-winning strike that completed a comeback win over Japan in the round of 16. Down 2-0 in the second half, the Red Devils pushed hard, scoring an accidental goal off of Jan Vertonghen’s head followed by a planned one from Marouane Fellaini. Each tally was fine. Nacer Chadli’s winner was perfect.
We dare you to find a better counterattack!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 2, 2018
Chadli finishes off a beautiful team play to give Belgium the win late in stoppage time. pic.twitter.com/lbUxZDzG0E
Nearly half of Belgium’s squad—goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne, wingers Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard, and striker Romelu Lukaku—played their part in the ball reaching Chadli’s feet. When it finally came time to put it home, he delivered.
Coronations and Goodbyes
7. Alexander Ovechkin Lifts the Stanley Cup
Donnie Kwak: Sometimes a moment of catharsis can be so pure, so powerful, and so poignant that it justifies the painful journey of getting there. That was Alex Ovechkin lifting the Capitals’ first Stanley Cup:
Alexander Ovechkin hoists the Stanley Cup Trophy....Goosebumps pic.twitter.com/kKbZK5UyVD— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 8, 2018
You couldn’t script a more perfect end: Ovi exhorting his teammates with double-fisted glee, his hands-on-head OMG reaction upon seeing the trophy; the primal yell he unleashes as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hands it over … and, finally, the long-awaited climax, Ovi’s triumphant raise of the Cup as the arena music swells. [Cue tears.] Thirteen years of frustration, plus decades more for longtime Caps fans, were washed away in an instant. The moment was so electric that I’m convinced Ovi almost short-circuited the NBC broadcast as he peeled away for his first lap. Canadian network Sportsnet has already ranked Ovi’s Cup lift as the third best of all time. It is without a doubt my favorite sports moment of the decade.
8. The Red Sox Cap a Dominant Season With a Ring
Jackson Safon: The Red Sox had the best record in baseball in 2018. They scored the most runs in baseball. They had the AL MVP in addition to a player who clubbed 43 home runs this season. Oh, and how about the pitching staff, where Boston had one of the best starters and closers in MLB? Naturally, the heroes in the World Series were Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi, two guys whom casual baseball fans might never have heard of. In fact, neither was even on the team to open the season.
Pearce, 35, has had exactly one season with more than 20 home runs. He hit three in five games during the World Series. Eovaldi, 28, has been an injury-riddled journeyman for much of his career. In Game 3, he threw six heroic innings in relief after pitching in the two previous games.
Sure, baseball’s best regular-season team winning the World Series in five games seems boring in a vacuum. But the crowning of underdogs will never grow old. This team will be remembered for the talent of Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, and Andrew Benintendi, among others, but it was a champion because of efforts put forth by guys like Pearce and Eovaldi.
9. Tiger Woods Walks Up the 18th at East Lake
Andrew Gruttadaro: It just wasn’t ever going to happen again, you know? It had been 1,876 days since Tiger Woods won the Bridgestone Invitational, and in the interim we had seen the greatest golfer ever fall apart, mentally and physically. There were the withdrawals from the 2014 Honda Classic and the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open. In 2016, he didn’t play in a single major tournament. There was the DUI arrest in 2017, due to prescription medication. In 2018, he discussed how there were “four to six months” when he couldn’t even get out of bed on his own because of his countless back issues. Heck, 2018 alone had reinforced the idea that it wasn’t going to happen again: Tiger’s name sat atop the leaderboard at the British Open before a double-bogey on the 11th hole; he was within a stroke of the lead with just five to play at the PGA Championship, before Brooks Koepka turned into a dream-killing robot. Tiger was getting closer and closer, but victory still seemed so far away.
So you can forgive the gallery at East Lake Golf Club for making the Tour Championship look like the Feeding of the 5,000 when it became evident that it was, in fact, going to happen again.
Tiger Woods stands alone in his ability to conjure this sort of fanaticism, so enamored are we of his greatness and so desperate to get a taste of it once more. When Tiger tapped in that clinching putt, he gave us what we had been yearning for these past five years. Perhaps many of us had given up hope in that half-decade—having turned our backs on him—but by the time that ball hit the bottom of the cup, we’d all returned. Tapping his putter to the ground, Tiger paused before raising both his fists. He seemed just as surprised as we were.
10. The U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey Team Takes Gold
Kjerstin Johnson: In 2017, the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team staged a successful labor strike ahead of the IIHF championships. It was an incredible story of solidarity, injustice, and triumph that transcended the ice. In 2018, the U.S. women wrote the next chapter at the Pyeongchang Olympics, in their rivalry match against the decorated Canadian squad.
Women’s ice hockey became an Olympic sport just 20 years ago, with the U.S. team winning the inaugural competition. Before the Pyeongchang Games, Canada had brought home the gold at every tournament since. The 2018 U.S. squad had watched the ’98 team as kids, idolizing players such as Julie Chu, Gretchen Ulion, and Cammi Granato. This winter, when the two North American nations met up in the final round—as they tend to do—it was historic and personal. When the puck dropped, it was on.
Although Team USA scored first, Canada came back with two goals in the second period. It wasn’t until the waning minutes of the third period that Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied it up. Overtime came and went with no scoring, setting the stage for a penalty shoot-out. I dashed to the bathroom to throw up, my stomach roiling with dark beer and nerves.
No one—including, crucially, Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados—saw what was coming next. Jocelyne Lamoureux (Monique’s twin sister) had executed the “Oops I Did It Again” shot earlier in the week during a win over the Olympic Athletes From Russia. This time, however, Lamoureux unleashed the “Oops I Did It Again” remix, with an extra, filthy fake at the end. Watch it once, watch it again from a different angle, and watch it in slow motion with dramatic music. It never gets old.
Of course, that goal didn’t clinch the gold. It was up to Maddie Rooney, a then-20-year-old goalie who had been with the U.S. team for less than a year, to stop the Canadians’ final attempt. Even months later, from miles and miles away, what unfolded is electrifying to watch.
11. And So Does the U.S. Men’s Curling Team
Rodger Sherman: The Winter Olympics feature some of the greatest athletes on earth. They also feature curling, a transfixing ice shuffleboard competition. It’s like bowling for cold people. Every four years I become obsessed with this competition; every four years, I also become extremely familiar with the disappointed face of John Shuster, a Minnesotan restaurateur who somehow keeps representing the United States in curling. Shuster was apparently so talented that nobody could unseat him on Team USA, but so prone to choking that his Olympic appearances all ended in disaster. In 2010 he was benched by the team’s coach—a rare, but, in his case, deserved demotion—and in 2014 his team went a dismal 2-7. Things looked like they were headed that way again in Pyeongchang. Shuster’s team started the 2018 Games 2-4, with losses to Italy and Japan. Once again, he missed some inexplicable shots.
Then something flipped. Shuster was essentially perfect for five straight days. Team USA needed to sweep (curling term!) the final three games of the round-robin tournament to make the medal round, including a game against Canada, which had won the past three gold medals. Shuster won ’em all. That brought a rematch against Canada—another W—and finally the gold-medal matchup against Sweden, which had dominated the entire tournament. After 12 years, Shuster’s knack for incredible shot-making that had earned him America’s spot in the Olympics time and again finally revealed itself to the world:
No sports thing in 2018 brought me more joy than seeing a perpetual choke artist stun the giants of his sport five times in a row to secure the highest honor in a competition I pretend to understand once every four years.
12. Virtue and Moir Win Over Hearts and Thighs
Alyssa Bereznak: The first time I watched Canadian ice-dancing duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir perform, I felt as if I had accidentally stumbled upon some secret Olympic Skinemax channel. Here were two extremely hot people dancing so flawlessly, so intimately, to Moulin Rouge!’s “El Tango de Roxanne” and “Come What May” that I almost forgot that they were gliding around on a cold and slippery surface. Her racy, backless dress, their risqué cunni-lift-us dance move, the moment when Virtue victoriously balances her skates on Moir’s thighs—all of it was evidence that I was witnessing the world’s most passionate romance being acted out on Olympic ice.
What made it all the more impressive, in hindsight, is that Virtue and Moir are allegedly “just friends.” It’s one thing to parlay a real-life romance into compelling on-ice chemistry, but it takes years of counseling, practice, and unresolved sexual tension to conjure that kind of heat out of thin air.
13. Serena Williams Passes the Torch to Naomi Osaka
Julie Kliegman: A Wimbledon finalist this year after giving birth 10 months earlier, Serena Williams found herself on the verge of winning the U.S. Open, too. But her 24th Grand Slam title eluded her reach thanks to Naomi Osaka, an up-and-coming then-20-year-old from Japan who grew up idolizing Serena. Armed with a ruthless first serve and an even temper, the younger challenger captivated in a 6-2, 6-4 win—though one of those games was never played.
Williams, characteristically frustrated by double standards in officiating that benefit white, male players who can smash rackets on the court and yell at chair umpires without consequence, stood up for herself. But not just herself: her tourmates, her daughter, and young athletic girls everywhere. She almost certainly couldn’t have won the match, already in its second set when she was penalized. But it was never about that. The nuts and bolts were ugly, but the aftermath was, in its own way, beautiful.
The two women, emotionally drained, didn’t shy away from expressing their anguish at a trophy ceremony, stereotypical athlete mental toughness be damned. Let’s celebrate Osaka’s win and Serena’s bravery, and the expanding notion of what it means to be a woman and an athlete.
14. Becky Lynch Wins the SmackDown Women’s Championship
David Shoemaker: It’s a magical thing when a pro wrestler wins the title at exactly the right time. It’s ephemeral, sure, but it’s some combination of rising (but not plateauing) popularity, masterful storytelling, and plausible disbelief. One thinks of Steve Austin winning at WrestleMania XIV, or the Ultimate Warrior toppling Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI; these are the pinnacles of the form. It’s into that distinguished company Lynch marched at Hell in a Cell in September. It was a simple thing: After a hard-fought match, she absorbed a spear from Charlotte Flair and rolled it into a quick pin. The crowd, if it needs to be said, went nuts.
It wasn’t Lynch’s first title—she was the inaugural SmackDown women’s champ in 2016—but it was the first belt for this iteration of Becky Lynch, the supernova fan-favorite-even-though-she’s-a-villain, the cheery kids’ idol evolved into a three-dimensional, irresistible badass who calls herself “The Man.” When Lynch first came on the scene in WWE as part of the “women’s revolution” stable alongside Flair and Sasha Banks, Lynch seemed like the third wheel, a few steps behind Flair in physicality and Banks in charisma. Funny how things change. By the time she won the strap, she’d become the single most compelling performer in WWE. Not just above Banks and Flair, but above all the women, and the men too.
When Lynch lost a month earlier at SummerSlam (to Flair) and turned heel, it felt like an outrage to make such a popular figure play-act as a baddie to gin up some sympathy for Charlotte. That ended up being a masterstroke because Lynch had to leave her old self behind to make the leap, and because we don’t like to be told who to cheer for anyway. Hell in a Cell wasn’t her best performance this year (the rematch at WWE Evolution was next-level good) but HIAC takes the top billing just for that pristine moment when Lynch won. It wasn’t just because it was a good story (it was), but because she had built herself into an elite performer and got the crowd singularly behind her, and because it seemed like it might never happen. It’s one of those weird pro wrestling things: She won the championship. She really won it.
15. David Wright Gets a Poignant Citi Field Farewell
Bobby Wagner: David Wright was maybe the only athlete who could have made such a spectacle look humble. Before the captain’s last game September 29, he caught a first pitch from his daughter. He shook the hand of every player on his team. He dapped up umpires. He 360-degree-saluted the Citi Field stands so many times that I got dizzy from watching the camerawork. He was substituted off the field, went into the locker room, did a hit in the broadcast booth, shaved (don’t believe me? Scroll from 13:39 to 21:40 in this video), then came back out to give a heart-wrenching final speech to the crowd and shake every one of his teammates’ hands … again! And that coy, earnest smile that has long endeared him to Mets fans never left his face, even through the copious tears.
For a while, in the midst of another morass of a Mets season, it seemed touch-and-go whether Wright would even get the opportunity to play in Citi Field one final time. Medical and performance concerns threatened to cut short his road back to The Show. Maybe that’s partly why his capital-G Goodbye to Queens felt so surreal. Rarely do the Mets get out of their own way long enough to let their fans unabashedly express their love. That was the beautiful thing about rooting for David Wright. Those chances felt more common with him on the field.
The J.R. Smith Moment ...
16. J.R. Smith Reveals His True Essence
Jason Concepcion: In sports, an athlete will sometimes make a play that is so transcendent it seems to capture something essential about them. J.R. Smith’s Game 1 Finals mistake is like that. It will live on in basketball history for as long as the sport is played.
What is he thinking? I’ve often asked myself while watching J.R. Smith play basketball. This question is the fundamental J.R. Smith experience. Smith seems to operate within a reality-distortion bubble in which the rules of time, space, and good shot selection—as well as the boundaries of normal conduct—are somehow warped. This, after all, is a man whose career was for a stretch defined by wild, fallaway jumpers launched at inopportune times. Who was fined for untying opponents’ shoes. Who had his spot detonated with a suitcase nuke by Rihanna, who called him “desert thirsty” as she theorized that perhaps his late-night carousing, for which she was present, was the reason for his playoff shooting slump. Who was suspended last season for throwing soup at Cavaliers assistant coach Damon Jones.
In that sense, J.R. dribbling out the clock of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, with the score tied at 107, was not a mistake, per se. It was not a gaffe, nor a fuckup. Instead, it was a return to form. A homecoming after a brief detour to the top of the mountain tucked under LeBron James’s capacious wings to breathe the rarefied air of champions. Smith shot 40 percent from 3 for during the 2015-16 season and 43 percent from deep in those playoffs as the Cavaliers came back to win the title after falling behind the Warriors 3-1 in the series. Balling out on the biggest stage in the sport while not knowing what the score is or how much time is on the clock—that’s the essence of J.R. Smith.
In recent days, Smith has stated his desire for a trade. “I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can,” Smith told Jason Lloyd of The Athletic. “I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.” In response, the Cavs exiled the guard. His career, and the alternate reality in which he dwells, may never see another NBA court. That’s a shame. But at least we have this play.
… And the Best of the Rest in Sports Memes
17. Diego Maradona’s Emotional Journey
Miles Surrey: Argentina had a dispiriting World Cup, losing in the round of 16 and potentially spoiling its final tournament with the greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi, operating at the height of his powers. Los Gauchos peaked when Marcos Rojo volleyed in an 86th-minute winner to take down Nigeria in the group stage, providing some fleeting euphoria. It was also the moment when Argentine soccer deity Diego Maradona brandished both his middle fingers so aggressively that he had to be restrained from falling off the rail by a man wearing a jersey with Maradona’s name on it. #Goals?
Maradona was on a journey during this match, including but not limited to: dancing clumsily with a Nigeria supporter, being held by his bodyguards during the national anthem so that he wouldn’t fall off the rail (this proved to be a recurring theme), passing out near halftime, getting carried out of the stadium, and seeking medical attention—reportedly for reasons that extend beyond the natural adrenaline of watching your country play a decisive fixture. Whatever it was, Diego said he was “fine” afterward, and he was living his best life: My guy was wearing giant watches on both wrists and rocking enough bling in his ears to serve as a functional light source.
Argentina may not have lifted the trophy, but Maradona captured the ethos of being a passionate soccer fan, and all the highs and lows that come with fervent fandom. And also maybe, uh, something else.
18. James Harden Crosses Wesley Johnson Into Oblivion
Haley O’Shaughnessy: It’s appropriate that the insolence James Harden showed March 1—with a brutal crossover move to embarrass Wesley Johnson—represented a crossover moment for Harden’s career. Harden’s utter lack of regard for Johnson gave the Rockets star a place in history among the most disrespectful moments not just in the sporting realm, but known to mankind. (I’d slot this somewhere below Mariah Carey’s “I don’t know her” and AI’s infamous stepover in the all-time pecking order.)
Here’s what happened that night, on the play that turned Johnson from NBA veteran to 30-year-old retiree (not really, but I’d believe it): Harden crossed Johnson so severely above the left elbow that Johnson stumbled, fell, and landed on his butt. Meanwhile, throughout this entire sequence, Harden paused at the perimeter, staring at Johnson flailing around. He didn’t pull up until after Johnson stood back up. No Clipper even bothered switching onto Harden.
19. LeBron Goes Behind the Back and Through the Legs
Paolo Uggetti: I think I know myself pretty well, and as such I do my best to avoid falling into the death trap that is YouTube’s algorithmic anaconda. This goes double for videos of oddly satisfying things. I can watch these for hours. This year, the most oddly satisfying video there was just so happened to come from the best player in the sport doing one of the most impressive things I’ve seen on a basketball court.
We can debate how much of this was luck, how much of it was timing, how much of it was skill, and how much of it was LeBron James being LeBron James. Regardless: Damn, was it cool. The window to complete this pass without it touching Tristan Thompson’s leg, let along brushing his shorts, is minuscule. It has to have the right spin, the right placement, and the right angle. And James does this behind his back without even looking at it.
It took me five replays to fully grasp what had happened, 10 to appreciate it, and about 100 more to finally cut myself off. Oh yeah, and of course LeBron finished with an and-1 layup.
20. Giancarlo Stanton Gets Hit With His Own Home Run Ball
Ben Lindbergh: To be clear: The Ringer does not, in most cases, condone or encourage throwing objects at athletes. We’ll let this one slide, though, because (a) Giancarlo Stanton is indestructible; (b) the contact wasn’t intentional; and (c) it looked really frickin’ cool.
ICYMI: A fan threw Giancarlo Stanton's home run back onto the field ... and hit him with it pic.twitter.com/oB5dnwIkwJ— ESPN (@espn) September 30, 2018
Thirty-two-year-old Atlanta man Andrew Lastrapes was days removed from walking up the fairway with Tiger Woods—whom he did not nail with a golf ball—when he got his hands on Stanton’s 38th home run (and the Yankees’ record-breaking 266th) of the season and heaved it from the top of the Green Monster toward the infield, where it hit the sizable Stanton as he rounded second base. The height-aided, long-distance strike was so improbable no one even got mad. Stanton smiled, saluted, and later posted a Lastrapes–Henry Rowengartner mashup on Instagram, while Fenway Park security declined to discipline Lastrapes.
It’s easy for modern baseball fans to feel far away from the field, both because the seats are literally farther than they used to be and because the separation between players and fans—in terms of talent, size, and salary—has never been bigger. For a few seconds in late September, though, a throw broke the barrier between the unshaven, unchiseled, third-Duplass-brother-looking Lastrapes and a slugger with baseball’s most lucrative contract. Suddenly, the Yankees’ bats seemed beatable, and the field looked less distant than it had before.
21. Jayson Tatum Dunks on LeBron
Jack McCluskey: The Red Sox won the most games in baseball and rolled to their fourth World Series title in the 21st century. The Patriots played in another Super Bowl, full of dramatic moments. Yet when I went looking for the moment that stood out in Boston sports this year, I found one that didn’t result in a championship (or even a Finals berth).
Jayson Tatum had a fabulous rookie season, most of which he played while all of 19 years old. He was thrust into a starring role and flourished, taking it to another level in the playoffs when Kyrie Irving joined Gordon Hayward on the injured list. And then in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, with the Celtics needing to overthrow the guy who is often referred to as the King, Tatum literally went at LeBron James. He did not miss.
22. Everyone Dunks on John Wall
Chris Almeida: It’s been quite the year for sports in the nation’s capital. The hockey team won its first Stanley Cup and brought an end to a 26-year title drought for the city. The football team started Mark Sanchez at quarterback. The soccer team brought in the maybe washed but still fun Wayne Rooney. The very talented baseball team missed the playoffs and will probably be losing its biggest star. In short, 2018 was bittersweet.
Last season, the Washington Wizards stumbled into the playoffs, grabbing the no. 8 seed before flaming out in the first round. Then they signed less-than-exciting guys. Then, this:
At a July Team USA event in Vegas, John Wall showed up looking … not great. The Wizards tweeted the photo, and the internet, of course, was not kind. A Washington Post headline read “Wizards deleted Team USA photo of John Wall but couldn’t stop him from getting roasted.”
look idk what john wall was on this summer but lmk if you find it pic.twitter.com/EZC6ufft0L— Haley O'Shaughnessy (@HaleyOSomething) July 26, 2018
I am at once a fan and a skeptic of the Wizards. I want them to succeed, but I am never convinced that they’ve set themselves up for success. Now they are 11-16, and not a good 11-16. I guess you could say that their games look a lot like this photo. When you root for a team this hapless, your sense of humor twists a bit; you have to enjoy the small things. I guess it says something that this was the most entertaining moment the team’s had all year.
The Philly Specials
23. The Philly Special
Michael Baumann: The Eagles lost in either the NFC championship game or the Super Bowl five times between my freshman year of high school and my senior year of college. This sounds silly to say out loud, but I think it fucked me up a little. The rage or sadness over one individual game would fade after a day or two, but this happened during the part of my life when I was establishing a self-image, and with each loss I internalized that every good thing would eventually end in disappointment. By the time the Eagles got another crack at the Patriots in February’s Super Bowl, I never entertained the possibility that they’d win, and never risked getting my hopes up. Until the Philly Special.
It’s not just that they won, or even that they won as an underdog. It’s that they won not by playing a cagey tactical game, but by stomping and swashbuckling down the field. They went toe-to-toe with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and were a little smarter, a little braver, and a little cleaner. Not only could good things happen, but they could happen through positive action, outlasting potential disappointment. The sting of each individual NFC title game or Super Bowl loss would fade within hours; I woke up a genuinely happier, more optimistic person the day after the Super Bowl. Ten months later, the glow still hasn’t faded.
I suspect that’s why the city had to grease the lampposts. It’s not that Eagles fans are rowdier than normal fans, or rather it’s not just that. This Super Bowl obliterated decades of pessimism for millions of people in seconds, and the human mind and body lack the capacity to express or even understand such a colossal release of euphoria.
I tried to explain this all to my tattoo artist months later, as he carved the Philly Special play diagram into my arm. I don’t think he quite got it. Maybe it is silly, but I’m so much happier now that I don’t really care.
24. The Eagles Win the Goddamn Super Bowl
John Gonzalez: I didn’t want to go. Minnesota seemed like a perfectly lovely place, but visiting for the first time in February sounded a bit much. For starters, I don’t own a proper jacket. And more than that, it felt like a big stretch to believe that a backup quarterback who had very nearly retired stood a real chance of beating Tom Brady and the Patriots machine. But I went because it was the Super Bowl, and because strange things happen in sports, and because even after a lifetime of conditioning had taught me that things never work out for the Eagles, there was still a part of me that felt maybe, just maybe, this time would be different.
I don’t think I exhaled that entire evening. Even after Brady’s desperate end-of-game heave fell to the turf and the Eagles won 41-33, I still found it hard to catch my breath. It was incredible to watch Philly finally win a Super Bowl, but what I enjoyed most was how happy it made people—which meant celebrating by commandeering garbage trucks, collapsing the Ritz-Carlton awning, and airing a list of grievances on national TV. It also meant sweet relief. While confetti fell and my wife and I celebrated, we looked over at our friend Kristin, who said everything about what that moment meant without ever uttering a word.
25. Eagles Fans Celebrate Their Super Bowl Quarterback
Kate Knibbs: The greatest sports moment of the year? I’ll be honest: The competition was stiff, and I had to think long and hard. But what sticks out the most is the way Eagles fans went nuts for backup QB Nick Foles after he led their team’s season to an intense climax. Carson Wentz’s ACL injury had thrust Foles into the spotlight, and fans worried that a promising 10-1 start would leave them riled up and disappointed. Nobody knew whether Foles could rise to the occasion. But then he grew into a hugely important member of this story. Foles rammed past the Patriots defense, determined to leave Philadelphia feeling satisfied. And it was heartwarming to see Eagles fans so pumped up. Even though Wentz is back, I hope Philly remembers what a versatile package Foles offers. He doesn’t deserve the shaft.
26. Markelle Fultz Makes a (Temporarily) Triumphant Return
Justin Verrier: What started out as a slight hitch in Markelle Fultz’s free throw form slowly became one of sports’ great tragedies. The no. 1 pick in the 2017 draft was shut down four games into his rookie season, because of what the Philadelphia 76ers described as a “scapular muscle imbalance” in his right shoulder. A parade of misdiagnoses and mystery ensued. The imbalance was resolved in December, but he was still kept out of games. Then–team president Bryan Colangelo said Fultz was medically cleared, but also acknowledged a “mental component.” Was it an injury? The yips? Something else entirely? More than a year later, we still don’t really know.
But on a Monday in late March, Fultz surprised everyone, including his head coach, Brett Brown, by declaring himself ready to return after 68 straight absences. Joel Embiid, as he is wont to do, commemorated the occasion with a GIF. When Fultz checked into the game against the Denver Nuggets with 2:54 remaining in the first quarter, the Philly crowd gave him a hero’s welcome.
Fultz’s output was modest: 10 points (on 5-of-13 shooting), eight assists, and four rebounds in 14 minutes. And his noticeable avoidance of the 3-point arc foreshadowed greater struggles to come. But he darted and spun and hesi-pull-up-jimbo’d around the court like he had in college. He looked like a 19-year-old trying to find his way in an NBA game. For one night, he got to live the life he was expected to lead.
27. The Sixers Drop Their Confetti Too Early
Lindsay Zoladz: Who can blame the city of Philadelphia for being a little overeager to celebrate in the months after the Super Bowl? (OK, everyone. Fine. Everyone blames the city of Philadelphia for everything, all the time. How ’bout you all just [REDACTED OBSCENE GESTURE.]) Point is, on May 5 the Sixers were down two games to none against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals and trailed 89-87 with under a second to go. That’s when mio amore Marco Belinelli sunk a buzzer-beating jumper that looked a lot like a 3-pointer from the part of the ground to which I had at that point melodramatically fallen. Apparently I was not alone! Because even as the referees realized (like, instantly) that his foot was on the line, meaning that he made a 2-pointer and not a 3 and thus the game was heading to overtime and not ending in an instant Sixers win, someone had already slammed the button that sends confetti triumphantly falling from the Wells Fargo Center rafters.
Even better, it was this guy:
Here’s the premature confetti guy. pic.twitter.com/4PSx73ncLi— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) May 5, 2018
The game had to be delayed another seven minutes while people cleaned up the premature confetti on the court. Has there ever been a more Philadelphia sentence than that? (Actually, there has: “Breaking news: I don’t care.”) The Sixers lost their momentum, blew the game in overtime, and, save for a redemptive Game 4 that made a hero of plucky lil’ T.J. McConnell, the series and by extension the season was over. Still, for the briefest moment, as the confetti fell, we all lived in a universe in which the Sixers had won. And “Here Come the Sixers” became the new national anthem. Schoolchildren were forced to recite its lyrics each morning instead of the Pledge of Allegiance, because President Gritty said so. You could dress as a mummer every day without censure, and none of the telephone poles were coated with Crisco, so you could climb as many as you liked. For one brief moment, as the confetti fell, everything was perfect.
28. The Moment We Decided Gritty Is Good
Rubie Edmondson: How do you launch a new mascot in 2018? The Philadelphia Flyers gave us a master class with the debut of Gritty, a sentient Tang-colored fuzzball of team spirit that now boasts a near-100 percent approval rating. And because Gritty is now so universally accepted, it’s easy to forget that our initial reactions to this … creature … were a bit more mixed.
Gritty was first announced by the official @NHLFlyers Twitter account in September via a fairly innocuous hype video. The reaction was a collective “?!?!?” The tides turned fairly quickly, though, when thanks to the power of his googly eyes, he immediately became a meme. And then he fell on the ice (!) during his first game and became another meme. But as Day 1 of his newness waned, the true test of whether Gritty was Good or Bad came down to one question: How would he handle the newfound internet fame?
Spectacularly, as it turns out.
29. Donte DiVincenzo Goes Supernova
Danny Chau: The 31 points Donte DiVincenzo dropped in the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball national championship game puts him in a tie with Danny Manning and Glen Rice for the ninth-most points ever scored by a single player during the final round. It was the most any player had scored in the title game in three decades, and, more than that, it was the most captivating championship performance I’d seen in years, a YouTube highlight mix captured in real time. It was a truly modern viewing experience, an unholy amalgam of Steph Curry’s perimeter showmanship and the type of gravity-defying denials you’re more liable to see on an episode of Slamball than in any sanctioned basketball game, let alone one of the highest prestige. Villanova beat Michigan 79-62, and DiVincenzo was named the Most Outstanding Player of the night. Before it was all over, he was milkshake-ducked into oblivion. Like I said, a truly modern viewing experience.
Scrolling through the leaderboard doesn’t offer any greater context for DiVincenzo’s achievement, only trivia: His name is ranked above the likes of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, and Elgin Baylor. The word that comes to mind most often when thinking about DiVincenzo’s performance is ecstatic, but I hesitate to use it as a descriptor. I’m not talking about rapturous joy, although it certainly embodied that, but the idea he’d somehow surpassed the limits of his self and entered a mystical plane of being. DiVincenzo had turned 21 just over a month before his blackout performance; how can you transcend yourself if you haven’t even spent enough time on Earth to know yourself?
Individual Performances for the Ages
30. Kylian Mbappé Blazes Through Argentina
Brian Phillips: One of the frustrating things about writing on sports is that the best moments often unfold faster than language can convey them. I can describe everything that Kylian Mbappé did in France’s World Cup knockout game against Argentina—the space-collapsing sprints, the two goals scored in four minutes, the runs where he seemed to ricochet through the Argentine defense like a stone skipping over water—but words are a slow medium. By the time you finish rounding off the first part of the sentence, Mbappé has already … whoops, he just did it agai ... how can anyone run like that with the ball?
Before the match, you may remember, all the talk was about Messi, and Messi’s last World Cup, and Messi vs. Ronaldo, and would Messi finally get it done, and would Messi’s legacy be tarnished if he didn’t. Any talk that wasn’t about Messi was probably about Maradona, and whether he, too, would finally get it done (i.e., walk unassisted down a flight of stairs after halftime). You could love Messi and Argentina a lot and still feel that the context surrounding the team had become a grim slog. Then the match started, and Mbappé blazed through all that like a light wave with something to prove.
There was a moment around the 11th minute. I’m not going to break it down move by move, because it took place in approximately the span between the period at the end of this sentence and the capital letter at the start of the next one, so please consider the following 16th of an inch of white space my piece of descriptive analysis. In broad strokes, Mbappé got the ball about 80 yards from the opposing goal, shimmered through the entire Argentine squad, and won a penalty when Marcos Rojo (kind of heroically, in the event) pulled him down in the area. My memory may be sentimental, but it was clear to me at that moment that the narrative had changed for good and that France was going to win the World Cup. Kylian Mbappé is 19 years old. What a game, what a tournament.
31. Bryce Harper Is Baseball’s Chosen One, for One Night
Claire McNear: In 2018, Bryce Harper’s Nationals tenure was a mostly forlorn thing. Free agency loomed, the team never quite clicked, and the franchise’s hopes of either the superstar outfielder sticking around or the Nationals’ window staying open for long enough for it to count seemed—and still seem—grim. These things happen in sports: The player you love, the one who could potentially bring your city a parade, moves away, for better money or the promise of more parades or nicer weather. Who can say? Maybe more accurately: Who can blame them? You get it. You’re still sad.
But as it just happened, 2018 was the Nats’ turn to host the All-Star Game. Harper, who hadn’t appeared in the Home Run Derby since 2013, agreed to participate. In the first two rounds of the event, he bested Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman and then Los Angeles’s Max Muncy. The crowd—people who had paid hundreds of dollars to be there, and who had also, perhaps, been to one or more of the Nats’ string of heartbreaker NLDS outings—grew rapt.
In the final round, Harper faced Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber. He beat him in the closing moments of the competition, shooting his 45th home run of the night into the Nats Park stands as the Nationals faithful screamed and stomped. It was a meaningless contest. Harper will probably wear another team’s colors come spring. You get it. You’re still overwhelmed.
32. Chloe Kim Becomes the Nation’s Youngest Hero
Isaac Lee: I admittedly know very little about snowboarding. I do, however, know quite a bit about being a Korean American from the South Bay of Los Angeles. So when Chloe Kim—the 18-year-old snowboarding phenom from Torrance, California—captured gold in the women’s halfpipe finals at the Pyeongchang Olympics in record-demolishing fashion, my heart swelled with a vicarious pride of unrivaled specificity. What made her feat so impressive was not just that she earned a near-perfect 98.25 score with the gold medal already in the bag, but that she did so in the land of her heritage, all while tweeting #relatablecontent as a true Generation Z member.
Kim’s extraordinary accomplishment catapulted her into stardom, but the fame and accolades—including a spot in the Time 100 and in a Maroon 5 music video—didn’t faze her. The Chloe Kim I met when she visited The Ringer’s podcast studios had no shred of pretension or conceit. Maybe she knew this moment was just the first of many, and so she turned her gaze to the next mountaintop.
33. Aaron Rodgers Topples the Bears on One Leg
Megan Schuster: “That’s about as bad a sight as any Packer fan can see,” NBC’s Al Michaels said midway through the second quarter of Week 1’s Sunday Night Football matchup between the Packers and Bears. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay’s quarterbacking savior, had just exited the sideline medical tent, sat down on the cart, and been shuttled to the locker room. He’d been sacked by Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris not long before, and, as he limped off the field, Packers fans feared that the QB they just got back, the one who had missed the majority of the 2017 season with a broken collarbone, would be lost for an extended stretch once again.
Instead, Rodgers ran out of the Lambeau Field tunnel after halftime like a gladiator preparing for battle. He returned to action with just more than nine minutes left in the third quarter (and his team down 20-0) and did this:
It was a comeback for the ages: Rodgers playing on one leg, with his ability to scramble taken away from him, slowly picking apart the vaunted Chicago defense. His best throw of the night—a fourth-quarter bomb to Geronimo Allison that soared 39 yards through the air—was as beautiful as any we’ve seen from Rodgers in his career. The Packers went on to win 24-23, giving the franchise its largest fourth-quarter comeback ever and Rodgers one of his greatest triumphs in a historically great career.
This season hasn’t gone how the Packers would have hoped. They’ll likely miss the playoffs for the second straight year, and fired head coach in Mike McCarthy in December. Rodgers hasn’t been as consistently sharp as fans would expect. But his valiant return to the field in Week 1 will forever endure as my lasting image of this Green Bay season. That’s just fine with me.
34. Simone Biles Shines in Doha
Katie Baker: In November, during the all-around competition at the World Gymnastics Championships in Doha, Simone Biles fell off the beam, failed to stick her landing on the vault, and stepped out of bounds on her floor routine. And yet the celebrated gymnast still won the gold medal—and it wasn’t even close. (The points gulf between gold and silver was greater than the one between silver and 12th place.)
Biles’s masterful meet came in the same year that the 21-year-old phenom demonstrated her influence off the mats as well. In January, she added her name to the list of hundreds of girls and women who said they were sexually abused by trainer Larry Nassar. In August, she wore a teal leotard, a color that has come to represent solidarity with other survivors. And in October, a day after USA Gymnastics had hired Mary Bono as its new president and CEO, Biles called Bono out for a tweet in which she boasted of coloring in the Nike swoosh on her shoes to protest the brand’s commercial with Colin Kaepernick. Bono resigned days later.
*mouth drop*— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) October 13, 2018
don’t worry, it’s not like we needed a smarter usa gymnastics president or any sponsors or anything https://t.co/cYQizcjywn
Biles soared and spun and won six medals in Doha, a performance that she pulled off despite a trip to the hospital on the eve of the competition, where she was diagnosed with a freaking kidney stone. “The Doha Pearl,” she named it, in her cheerful and edgy manner. It was fitting: Compared with Biles, everyone else was just a shell.
NBA Statements, Screeds, and, Uh, Songs
35. LeBron James Refuses to “Shut Up and Dribble”
Dan Devine: It can’t be easy to have the eyes and ears of the world trained on your every comment. But as LeBron James has evolved from prodigy to patriarch, he’s seemingly grown more comfortable raising his voice on issues of social and political import, and more seasoned at spinning the vitriol that might come his way into something that fuels his work. Case in point: In January, he and on-court rival/off-court collaborator Kevin Durant criticized President Donald Trump, with James—not exactly shy about expressing his distaste for the commander-in-chief—describing Trump as “someone who doesn’t understand the people and really don’t give a fuck about the people.” When the video was released in February ahead of 2018 All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, it drew the ire of Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham, who recommended that the “ignorant” NBA MVPs “keep the political commentary to yourself.” Or: “Shut up and dribble.”
The next day, I posted up in a horde of media members at the Los Angeles Convention Center to find out how James would respond to Ingraham’s reductive dog-whistle remarks. When the question came, he addressed the content of the comments head-on: “We will definitely not ‘shut up and dribble.’ I will definitely not do that. I mean too much to society. I mean too much to the youth. I mean too much to so many kids that feel like they don’t have a way out, and they need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in.” It was the truth, and if you need proof of James’s commitment to providing that leadership, look no further than his opening of a new public school in his hometown of Akron, aimed at supporting students and their families with an inventive approach.
After rejecting Ingraham’s suggestion to pipe down, LeBron proceeded to thank her for the assist, allowing him to “sit up here,” with a throng of international media broadcasting his thoughts worldwide, “and talk about social injustice, equality, and why a woman on a certain network decided to tell me to shut up and dribble.” That’s not all he got out of the encounter: After James arrived in Los Angeles to join the Lakers, he and his team at SpringHill Entertainment announced a raft of media projects, including a three-part documentary series produced for Showtime offering a “look at the changing role of athletes in our fraught cultural and political environment, through the lens of the NBA.” The title? “Shut Up and Dribble.” Swish.
36. KD to C.J.: “I Just Did Your Fuckin’ Podcast”
Molly McHugh: Kevin Durant was a guest on C.J. McCollum’s podcast this summer and lightly roasted the Trail Blazers guard by telling him that his team wouldn’t be in the NBA Finals this season. Rude, but likely correct. Perhaps rankled, McCollum tweeted that Durant’s decision to sign with the Warriors in 2016 was “like getting jumped with ur [sic] brothers by a gang you should’ve beat then joining the gang that jumped u [sic] and ur [sic] brothers 2 months later and forgetting about your bros.” Less rude, and definitely correct.
The tweet likely would’ve gone unnoticed, but Durant—a man who makes burner accounts so he can defend himself to internet strangers—responded, gifting the world a new level (genre, even?) of sports pettiness: “I just did your fuckin podcast.”
So,I would get into a gang fight, lose, plot on my brother for 2 months in our home and then go get the gang we lost to and beat him up? U think that low of me CJ? I just did your fuckin podcast. Snakes in the grass boy I tell ya— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) July 26, 2018
37. Fergie Sings (?) the National Anthem at All-Star Weekend
Daniel Chin: Watching Fergie perform the national anthem at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game was a surreal experience for those watching at home, those watching in the stands at Staples Center, and those standing on the court mere steps from the “Fergalicious” singer. Fergie, I would like to imagine, felt that she was putting on a Marvin Gaye–caliber All-Star performance. In reality, it was closer to a 21 Savage halftime show. When Draymond Green broke into laughter (thankfully captured by the broadcast cameras), an instantly great meme was born. And the best part (?) about this moment was that it was nowhere near being over.
Eight months later, this infamous performance resurfaced as Fergie’s ex-husband called Draymond a “prick” during an interview, adding that the Warriors forward owed her an apology. And for perhaps one of the last times before the Draymond-KD incident, the Warriors all had Green’s back. We might never see this team’s chemistry return to what it was in the Knicks’ visiting locker room that October night. Fergie’s truly awful rendition of the anthem is the one thing that brings us all together.
38. Stephen Jackson Roasts Andrew Wiggins
Micah Peters: This year Stephen Jackson persuaded me to take up an unnatural position: against the young upstart, in favor of the old head. To be fair, he also persuaded me to do exactly the opposite when Walt Frazier said on SiriusXM that Kevin Durant would forever have an asterisk next to his name because he joined the Warriors, the coward. My updated position wasn’t based on a better understanding of self-determinism or a realization that professional athletes don’t owe the world some debt of gratitude. It was based on Jackson, while roasting Frazier to a cinder on Instagram, calling him a “Bird and the Midnight Falcons–looking ass” and breaking into song. Just in CAAAAAAAASE mmmmmmmm. This was not even his finest work.
Jimmy Butler’s escape from Minneapolis was prolonged, ridiculous, and widespread, to the point that, somehow, Jackson was involved. You can get into the weeds elsewhere, but the streamlined version is this: Andrew Wiggins’s brother tweeted, Butler trolled, and finally Jackson chimed in, saying that Wiggins could use Butler’s surplus of heart, since Wiggins doesn’t have any. Wiggins then posted to his story to assure us that, well, yes he does, and Jackson, white durag floating triumphantly on the A/C current in his living room, responded by wishing Wiggins the best this season, blowing cigar smoke, and threatening violence. “I’m from the old law. … Make sure your energy straight when you see me.”
Jackson is a Disney employee.
The Basketbrawls of the Year
39. TunnelGate Takes Over the NBA …
Danny Heifetz: Chris Paul, NBA superstar and the head of the National Basketball Players Association, staged a Black Ops siege on his former team’s locker room that involved multiple teammates, underground tunnels, and the starting center staging a diversion so that Paul could confront his former boss’s son. Paul was playing Hannibal from The A-Team on the set of Office Space, except he’s an NBA player in the Staples Center and it all played out on Twitter.
A quick reminder of what went down: In January, the Clippers hosted the Rockets in a Lob City revenge match featuring Houston’s Chris Paul, a bunch of former L.A. teammates who now hated Chris Paul, and a bunch of players who hated the Rockets because they had been traded for Chris Paul. The game was unofficially billed as the closest the NBA will get to sports without sportsmanship, and it lived up to the hype. Blake Griffin bumped Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni on the sideline, prompting D’Antoni to shout “fuck you!” as loud as his Appalachian twang can go. Austin Rivers (whose dad traded for him and then signed him to an above-market-value extension) was wearing a suit and a walking boot on the bench and grabbing his belt and trash-talking. Griffin and Trevor Ariza were ejected. The game ended, but the night was just beginning because are you gonna let Austin Rivers talk to you like that?
Dawg I’m still cryyying at Austin Rivers holding his belt buckle like a cowboy & barking at Trevor Ariza pic.twitter.com/BThBDnqFFU— Money (@MasterChefMoney) January 16, 2018
The answer was no.
Rockets players were clamoring for Blake Griffin too, league sources said. Chris Paul also entered with other Rockers players through a backstory that connects team dressing rooms. https://t.co/BRgyHe1WgL— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 16, 2018
The whole incident was the sequel to my favorite Twitter moment ever, when Blake Griffin and Chris Paul holed up in DeAndre Jordan’s house to convince him to renege on an agreement with the Mavericks in the summer of 2015. The collective imagination is brightest when the absurd plays out in real time.
40. … And SpitGate Proceeds to Top It
Sean Yoo: The 2019 NBA season officially began on October 16. Yet it wasn’t until four days later, in LeBron James’s first home game as a Laker, that the NBA reentered our homes with all the subtlety of the Kool-Aid Man.
With just over four minutes to play in the Lakers’ matchup against the Rockets, James Harden drove into the lane and got called for a foul against Brandon Ingram. Chris Paul promptly argued the ruling—ordinary stuff for the NBA regular season. But that changed when Ingram shoved Harden to create a small scuffle on the court, which ultimately led to Paul and Rajon Rondo throwing punches at each other. At first the broadcast missed this interaction, as it followed Ingram being restrained by, of all people, Lance Stephenson. But the replay showed CP3 putting his finger in Rondo’s face, and multiple punches being exchanged by these longtime frenemies.
LeBron’s home opener was overshadowed by the fight. And the discussion surrounding the events didn’t stop when the game did. NBA Twitter did what it does best: turned it into an all-out meme extravaganza. Carmelo Anthony and a few other Rockets later said that Rondo started the fight because he spit on Chris Paul, and #SpitGate quickly went viral. This brawl also provided the indisputable best use of slo-mo footage in 2018.
The Things We Had to See to Believe
41. A No. 16 Seed Upsets a No. 1 Seed
Jonathan Tjarks: There have been a lot of great sports moments this year, but only one truly historic one. We waited 79 years for a no. 16 seed to topple a no. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And when it came, it wasn’t a fluke, either. The University of Maryland–Baltimore County blew the doors off mighty Virginia, taking control of their matchup from the outset before cruising to a 74-54 victory. The Retrievers’ legacy is secure no matter what happens. If no. 16 seeds start winning more frequently, we’ll all remember UMBC, which shredded Tony Bennett’s packline defense with an NBA-style spread pick-and-roll offense, as the team that gave them the blueprint. If the status quo returns for the next 20 years, their win will only seem more incredible with time.
John F. Kennedy once asked America why Rice played Texas in football to illustrate why he wanted the U.S. to send astronauts to the moon. If a no. 16 seed can demolish a no. 1 seed, maybe we can actually go to Mars.
42. The Browns Defeat the Steelers, 21-21
Rob Harvilla: On Christmas Eve 2016, the San Diego Chargers shanked a last-second field goal attempt to hand a hard-fought, butt-ugly, 20-17 win to the Cleveland Browns, thus raising their record to a respectable 1-14 and avoiding, temporarily at least, the ignominy of an 0-16 season. My oldest son, who was 5 at the time, screamed with both delight and confusion. The Browns lost their next game to finish 1-15, and then went the whole 0-16 in 2017, compelling me to attend a sarcastic “Perfect Season” parade this past January in weather conditions so inhospitable my phone nearly froze.
And then, on September 9, 2018, in what remains one of the grossest football games ever shown on television, the Browns finally did not lose, fighting their former rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 21-21 tie in their season opener. (I say “former rivals” because you have to beat your rival on occasion for it to constitute a rivalry.) My oldest son, now 7, was even more confused. And I, for one, was ecstatic. Two weeks later, the Browns actually won, beating the Jets 21-17 in a much better game that signaled the rise of Baker Mayfield and the imminent demise of Hue Jackson. God bless.
Still, the tie is a far more vivid memory for me, equal parts thrilling and maddening and wildly unlikely. Not the tie part; the not-loss part. For the first time in forever, there was somewhere to go other than up.
43. The Rams and Chiefs Usher in an Offensive Revolution
Rams 54, Chiefs 51 was a perfect, beautiful thrill ride from beginning to end. And it wasn’t some sort of Big 12 game in which the last team that had the football won. This game had balance, too: There were three defensive touchdowns! The Monday night clash was a blend of crisp, efficient offense with just enough sloppiness to make for an instant classic. It exceeded expectations and broke records. There has never been a game like it.
As soon as the fourth quarter ended, analysts were saying it could be the greatest regular-season game ever played, and that it helped mark what football is becoming: fast, modern, and fun as hell. The only thing that could have made it better would’ve been if a Lombardi Trophy had been on the line. Luckily, there’s still a chance for that to happen.
44. Vontae Davis Spontaneously Retires at Halftime
Justin Sayles: When I reflect on my life, I’m most proud of giving up the things that were terrible for me. I quit smoking in my mid-20s (don’t ask how long ago that was). I’ve ended toxic friendships without an ounce of guilt. Hell, I left a steady but dead-end job and moved across the country with little more than a couch to crash on, and I’ve never looked back. But for all the times I’ve quit something, none have been as spectacular—as inspiring—as what Vontae Davis did in Week 2 of the 2018 NFL season.
For Davis, the terrible thing was playing football for the Buffalo Bills. The Upstate New York Browns have been wonderful #content generators for this website. They have not, however, generated much quality football. Mere months removed from their first playoff appearance since before Tom Brady was drafted, the Bills promptly opened this season with a 47-3 loss to Joe Freakin’ Flacco. Their next game was marginally better to most outside observers—after all, how could it be worse?—but then again, most outside observers weren’t contractually obligated to watch Nathan Peterman play quarterback. So shortly before halftime in a 31-20 loss to the Chargers, Davis looked at what was happening on the field, looked inward, and then concluded, “Football is not for me.” The 30-year-old cornerback retired on the spot, and no team chaplain or executive could change his mind.
Since then, Davis has found a second act as a self-aware pitchman. The Bills would use his spontaneous retirement as inspiration for the funniest win of the season. Sometimes, walking away can be best for both parties.
45. Brandon Woodruff Takes Clayton Kershaw Deep
Zach Kram: In the history of baseball, pitchers have never hit worse than they did in 2018. As a group, men who belong on the mound hit just .115 and struck out 42 percent of the time they strode to the plate; one of my colleagues wrote a well-considered argument that the National League should institute the DH, with his piece titled, “Let’s Stop Pretending That Pitchers Can Hit.”
And then Brewers reliever Brandon Woodruff stepped in to lead off the third inning against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound. In his MLB career entering the 2018 playoffs, the Dodgers ace had held opposing pitchers who hit lefty against him to an .080/.094/.080 slash line with zero extra-base hits and a 61 percent strikeout rate. Yet Woodruff battled to a 2-2 count, and when Kershaw grooved a fastball down the middle, a man whose position dictated he can’t hit—facing the greatest pitcher of a generation, who never let same-handed pitchers hit with success—uppercut a 407-foot blast.
“Are you kidding?!” Joe Buck shouted. No, the sport wasn’t, which made this the best and most improbable moment of the year.