2022 was a year of long-awaited triumphs: Lionel Messi. Matthew Stafford. Georgia football. It was a year of goodbyes: Serena Williams. Roger Federer. Coach K. And it was a year of highlights: Aaron Judge. Ja Morant. The Butt Punt.
With the calendar turning to 2023, The Ringer is looking back at the most iconic sports moments of the past 12 months. Here, in no particular order, are the 52 that stood out most:
Lionel Messi Kisses the World Cup Trophy Before He Has Actually Been Awarded the World Cup Trophy
Brian Phillips: The cheekiness of it. The sheer impish mischief of it. My God, the audacity of it. Lionel Messi, 35 years old, a grown-ass adult, a father, an occasional if not enthusiastic taxpayer, a man with responsibilities, a businessman, a role model, wins his first World Cup, and what does he do? Does he wait? Does he follow the carefully choreographed ceremony that was planned months in advance to ensure that the trophy presentation
made the maximum brand impact for FIFA and Qatar possessed the proper gravitas? Does he say to himself, “This is a serious moment. A historic moment. As the greatest male soccer player who ever lived, I should approach this moment with the proper respect”?
Like hell he does. I’m sorry, Emily Post, but patience, respect, and careful choreography are for people who didn’t just exorcise the shade of Diego Maradona after years (and years, and years) of trying. What Messi does instead is this: He goes up on the sort of laser-catwalk-twisty-neon-dais thing to accept the Golden Ball award, which he’s won as the best player in the tournament—a very chill moment, nbd. And the World Cup trophy is just sitting there, unattended, at the front of the laser dais. And he spots it. And he can’t resist.
Carlos Alberto, the captain of the 1970 Brazil side that’s widely regarded as the greatest soccer team of all time, started the tradition of kissing the trophy because, he said, it just looked too pretty not to. A little twinkle comes into Messi’s eye, a look that generally means a defender or six are about to lose their health insurance. But now, as he’s passing the trophy, he sidles up to it and gives it a peck. He kisses it. He caresses it. He gazes down on it with a look of pure, radiant love. If you were adopting a new puppy, you would treat this puppy to exactly the same look on the day when you went to bring it home.
And look, it’s just a moment. It didn’t contribute meaningfully to the drama of what was, I’m sorry, the most dramatic sporting event I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t even the most disrespectful thing that happened on the laser dais. (Shout-out to Emiliano Martínez for grinding his Golden Glove award against his crotch as if he were … well, let’s just say it was the first time Martínez had appeared to have a single fuck to give in Qatar.)
But Messi’s stolen kiss felt so good. It felt so free. It was imbued with the lightness of impossible expectations absolutely satisfied. And it made you feel, for a second, that this complicated, compromised tournament didn’t truly belong to FIFA executives and Qatari oligarchs. In that moment, it belonged to Messi. It belonged to us.
Kelee Ringo’s Pick-Six Gives the Dawgs Their Day
Jordan Conn: I spent the day of Jan. 10, 2022, as I’ve spent so many days leading up to football games between Georgia and Alabama: with a familiar and comfortable sense of dread. I’m a Bulldogs fan, married into a family of Crimson Tide fans, and I learned long ago that dread is the only appropriate response to an upcoming matchup between the teams. I had allowed myself previous dalliances with hope; each time, that hope was justly punished.
In 2008, there was the infamous “Blackout” game, in which a Georgia team featuring Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green, and Knowshon Moreno got buried by halftime. (“They’re wearing black because they’re coming to their own fucking funeral,” then-Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran told the Tide that week. A prophet.) In 2012, there was the SEC championship game; I watched it from the stands at the Georgia Dome, and after the Bulldogs’ final drive fell short, my Tide-supporting father-in-law, a teetotaler, offered to buy me a sympathy beer. (He seemed like he almost wanted Georgia to win that night, because that is what it means to be a Bama fan: to have so many championships you occasionally feel the urge to give one away, as a treat.) In 2018, there was the national title game that Georgia led 13-0 at halftime; Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench to spark a furious comeback, and my wife later found me sitting upright in bed, mumbling why? why? why? over and over. I had no memory of this the next morning.
The Tide were inevitable. They lost, occasionally, but always to someone else. And so, late in the fourth quarter of January’s national championship game, when Bryce Young floated a hot-air balloon of a pass up into the air in Indianapolis, surely, somehow, a Tide receiver would catch it. And when the ball landed in the arms of Kelee Ringo, a five-star Georgia cornerback who was 4 years old the last time the Dawgs beat Alabama, surely he’d drop the pick. And when Ringo took off running, with head coach Kirby Smart shouting at him to “Get down!” surely he’d fumble, or find some previously undiscovered way to give up the ball and the game.
But then Ringo ran with his blockers all the way to the end zone, and there were no flags, and the game was sealed. My dread was replaced by the most unfamiliar of emotions: giddy and unencumbered joy.
Thirteen Seconds That Changed Everything
Danny Heifetz: The Bills-Chiefs divisional-round playoff game redefined what it means to leave too much time on the clock.
With the league’s two most explosive offenses squaring off, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen delivered a combined 31 points after the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter.
With one minute and 54 seconds left in the game, Allen hit Gabe Davis for a 27-yard touchdown to give Buffalo a three-point lead.
Just 52 seconds later, Mahomes responded with a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill, retaking the lead for the Chiefs. Then Allen hit Davis again for a 19-yard touchdown, once again giving the Bills a three-point lead. But this time the Bills left the Chiefs just 13 seconds to tie the game. Dejected Chiefs defenders sat on the bench, distraught and in disbelief. The Bills had finally slayed the dragon.
The Chiefs went on to win the overtime coin toss and drove down to score a touchdown, winning the game without the Bills touching the ball. A couple of months later, the league changed the overtime rules for the playoffs to ensure that both teams get to touch the ball at least once. While neither of these teams made it to the Super Bowl, this game literally changed the sport—and raised the bar for quarterbacking.
Matthew Stafford’s No-Look Pass Lifts the Rams to Glory
Steven Ruiz: Matthew Stafford may not be a historically great quarterback, but he is a historically cool one. He’s capable of throwing a football pretty much anywhere on the field. He can throw from any arm angle, and he doesn’t even have to be looking at his intended receiver to get the ball to its target. Now, this combination of skills has its downsides, and Stafford hasn’t done a lot of winning throughout his career. But he is objectively fun to watch. And for at least one night, Stafford’s unorthodox creativity was exactly what his team needed.
I’m talking, of course, about Super Bowl LVI. The Rams won thanks largely to Stafford’s no-look throw to Cooper Kupp on second down in the fourth quarter to extend what would be the championship-winning drive.
It’s not the first no-look pass we’ve ever seen. Other quarterbacks, like Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, and even Ryan Fitzpatrick, have this tool in their bags. But Stafford had enough confidence in himself to trust the fancy technique on THE BIGGEST PLAY OF HIS CAREER. It was a bold move, and I’m happy it paid off. Not because I wanted the Rams to win the Super Bowl—I didn’t care about the result—but because it prevented any football coaches who hate fun from being able to point to it as proof that quarterbacks should just stick to their fundamentals instead of trying cool shit. Stafford took the coolest option possible and it helped him win the biggest football game of the year.
Saint Peter’s and a March Madness Run for the Ages
J. Kyle Mann: I hope you’re all happy. I rewatched this fucking game today, and as a Kentucky fan the entire time I contemplated soaking my clothes in chicken broth and falling over the rails and into the polar bear exhibit at our local zoo. “Saint Peter’s? Never heard of it,” I’d say, in all-consuming, spirit-dowsing denial as the bear starts sniffing around my face. If I could, I would pull a George Lucas and destroy every trace of this tape, preferably in some sort of grand fashion involving a sledgehammer. In the waning seconds of the no. 15-seeded Peacocks’ 85-79 win over second-seeded Kentucky, I screamed like that crooked cop from the first season of True Detective, the one who was forced to watch that awful VHS on a boat. Look, I’m not equating the tapes, I’m just trying to paint a picture of trauma. Fine, I’ll be honest: I had to think for a second about whether I wanted to equate the tapes.
Did it make me feel any better when head coach Shaheen Holloway’s brass-balled team also toppled Murray State and Purdue to advance in the bracket? A little bit, but not really. The reality is that I—like every other fan of Kentucky, Murray State, or Purdue—had to serve as a sad character within this glorious story. We were a necessary sacrifice upon the altar of the feel-good March Madness narrative, and this one had the makings of an all-timer. There was the fearless, mustachioed Doug Edert making wild contested floaters, rolling in 3-pointer after 3-pointer and landing himself an endorsement from Buffalo Wild Wings before the tournament even ended. There were undersized bigs like KC Ndefo and the Drame twins finishing strong against the likes of Zach Edey and Oscar Tshiebwe. There was that godforsaken (and admittedly awesome) mascot. There was the ecstasy of the school’s tiny student body celebrating without abandon.
In the history of the men’s tournament, there are plenty of stories about mid-majors that thrived despite entering the event without respect from their higher-profile opponents. But this situation gets more bizarre the more you zoom out. Saint Peter’s didn’t break .500 until halfway through its 2021-22 schedule. It had to win its conference tournament to even get into the field. It’s mind-blowing stuff when you consider that the Peacocks would go on to become the first no. 15 seed ever to reach the Elite Eight.
Re-living it, I’m still baffled by their phenomenal poise: They battled on defense and never strayed from their plan on offense, which resulted in a fantastic shot attempt on nearly every trip. North Carolina laid on them in the regional final like Yokozuna, but who cares? The glory of Saint Peter’s will resonate for a long time. Big respect, Peacocks. Big respect.
Steph Curry and the Warriors Return to the Mountaintop
Logan Murdock: A few minutes after Steph Curry clinched his fourth NBA championship, I found him along the south end of Boston’s TD Garden, standing on the vaunted parquet floor that may as well be the top of the basketball world.
Following a 34-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist series-clinching performance, he wove in and out of press obligations, engaged in spontaneous chats with teammates, and even took a call from former president Barack Obama. “This one hits different, man,” he whispered to me as he walked through an arena tunnel, trophy in hand, and a mixture of sweat, champagne, and tears trickling down his face. “This one hits different.”
Curry’s words voiced the general feeling of anyone within the team’s colossal orbit. The ones who persisted when Kevin Durant departed for Brooklyn in 2019, and the ones who endured Golden State’s two-tiered rebuild approach, which included Curry and teammate Klay Thompson returning from extended rehab assignments. On the final night of the 2022 season, Curry proved that the wait was worth it, as he shot, dished, and willed the Warriors back to the NBA mountaintop, punctuating the occasion with the first NBA Finals MVP trophy of his career.
“I mean, I knew if we were going to get the big trophy, then I would have to do what I needed to do to help lead the team,” he told me, before looking down at the trophy. “And that would obviously mean this would kind of take care of itself.”
Curry’s tone revealed a deeper motivation. In the six months before his Garden triumph, his signature calmness was tested by injury, family division, and inner doubt that mirrored the public’s pessimism that he’d ever reach this stage again. “When you hear all that talking, a lot of conversation, over and over and over and over again, even when you’re doing great things in the league, it’s like what do you not have?” he said. “I hear it all and I carry it, and just do my job, and come with the right perspective every day. And God takes care of the rest.”
The Transcendence and Devastation of Kamila Valieva
Zach Kram: Kamila Valieva’s short program is the best figure skating routine I’ve ever seen. But don’t take my word for it—I’m just a casual spectator, checking into the sport for a week every four years. Instead, listen to Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, the veteran announcing duo, who both said the 15-year-old Russian phenom was the best skater they’d ever seen too.
Her first skate at the 2022 Olympics displayed all of her historic talents in a three-minute expression of pure beauty. Her jumps were clean, her twirls controlled, her every movement brimmed with balance and rhythm, precision and grace. That Valieva blew away the rest of the field in the standings was almost beside the point; she had delivered on the full power of the Olympics, vis-à-vis the ability for a relatively unfamiliar athlete in a relatively unfamiliar sport to fill my eyes with tears.
Valieva didn’t medal, of course. She left her final skate of the Olympics with tears of her own, after a positive test for a banned substance upended the competition and sparked a scandal in which, as Michael Baumann wrote, “Valieva herself, as a 15-year-old, [was] a victim and not a villain.” But in this year-end celebration, I don’t want to focus on her positive test, per se. I don’t want to focus on Valieva’s error-ridden final skate, or the fact that the fallout remains murky months later, or the legacy of her controversial coach and the added Russian complications at this point in history. (Valieva wasn’t even competing under a Russian flag, technically, because of a previous doping scandal involving the Russian Olympic federation.)
Because in 2022, at the Olympics and beyond, enjoying sports meant making incessant moral compromises with the ethical quandaries that invaded our courts, rinks, and fields. This was the year that the men’s World Cup delivered its most entertaining product ever, capped by the best final of all time—against the backdrop of corruption and human rights violations. This was the year that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens fell short in their final inclusion on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballots. This was the year that the NFL—again—mishandled player safety.
But I can still rejoice when Messi raises the World Cup trophy. I can still marvel at YouTube clips of Bonds’s titanic home runs. And I can still watch Valieva transcend her sport for three tainted minutes and feel as if I’m witnessing true, rare art, even as her Olympic arc encapsulates the conflicted experience of the modern sports fan.
The Greatness and Redemption of Nathan Chen
Cory McConnell: The narrative that Nathan Chen was seeking redemption at the 2022 Winter Olympics because of his disappointing 2018 showing in Pyeongchang had largely been busted before he took the ice in Beijing. At the start of 2022, the figure skater was already in the midst of a legendary run, having captured three straight world championships and five straight U.S. titles, all while breaking records from decades ago—records from an era of figure skating nearly unrecognizable to modern audiences given the acrobatics and athleticism required from today’s competitors.
So what was left to prove in Beijing? Though it may have been unfair to ask for more from the best men’s skater in the world, legacies are made at the Olympics. And for as cruel as 2018 was for Chen, 2022 was glorious. He set a new world record in the short program, and then landed five quad jumps in the free skate (one coming at a particularly climactic moment of Elton John’s “Rocket Man”). His skating was as daring as it was emphatic. He won gold by a wide margin in the men’s singles competition, the first individual medal for American figure skaters in more than a decade.
Many people will remember the 2022 Olympics for the authoritarian setting and the scandal in the women’s skating program, and maybe that’s fair. But Chen’s skating was a bright spot of extraordinary talent showcased at the highest possible level, as well as a spectacle I won’t soon forget. He didn’t have anything to prove, but he proved his greatness anyway.
Serena Williams’s Bittersweet Last Stand
Alan Siegel: There are few things as satisfyingly romantic as a legendary athlete going out on top. That’s what I hoped for this summer when Serena Williams, on the verge of turning 41, started her final U.S. Open run. Her second-round upset win was thrilling, but by the third set of her next match, against Ajla Tomljanovic, it became clear that the end wasn’t going to be cinematic. Still, seeing the way people—the fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium, sportswriters on Twitter, hell, even the small crowd at the non-sports bar that I dipped into to watch—were agonizing over every point of what was shaping up to be a loss was a testament to what Serena meant to so many.
As much as we desperately wanted it for her (and us), Williams never got her Michael Jordan–over–Bryon Russell moment. But that’s OK. After winning 23 major titles, the perennial no. 1 had nothing left to prove or give. I’m just glad that we got one last chance to pull for her.
Roger Federer’s Emotional Goodbye
Alex Stamas: When Roger Federer announced on social media that the 2022 Laver Cup would be his final event, it marked the end of an era in men’s tennis. It was only fitting that his final match involved him playing doubles alongside Rafael Nadal, his greatest rival throughout his storied career. The two ultimately lost, but it was the emotional display afterward that everyone will remember most.
Normally cool under pressure on the court, Federer broke down. Both his greatest rivals and the younger stars whom he no doubt inspired all took in the moment. It was a beautiful representation of just how large Federer has loomed as arguably the greatest to ever play, and also as a worldwide icon. We may not get to watch the Swiss maestro compete competitively again, but his impact on the game will last forever.
The Swing of Bryce Harper’s Life
Aric Jenkins: The Phillies weren’t supposed to be here. They had just barely sneaked into the playoffs, enduring two separate five-game losing streaks in their last 20 regular-season games, including a dreadful sweep at the hands of the well-below-.500 Cubs. All the while, Bryce Harper was playing through a torn UCL. Despite this, the Phillies had brushed aside the Cardinals and the 101-game-winning Braves in the first two rounds of the postseason, and Harper was suddenly on fire. The Phils’ $330 million star had already crushed four homers in the 2022 postseason—nine in his career—but none would be bigger than the “swing of his life.”
Harper’s go-ahead two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Padres may as well have been a walk-off—there was no way that the baseball gods would let Philly lose Game 5, or the NLCS, after that. The pennant-winning blast cemented Harper as a legend in Philadelphia, even though the Phillies would go on to lose the World Series against the Astros. That night’s “Bedlam at the Bank” will live on forever, and will set the tone for the team to compete again in 2023.
The Home Run That Sent Aaron Judge Into History
Ben Glicksman: I was beginning to think that it wouldn’t happen. After hitting his 61st home run of the season in an 8-3 win over the Blue Jays on September 28, Aaron Judge had gone on a long ball drought, coming up empty in five straight games. Not only that, but opposing pitchers were also clearly avoiding him. He walked twice in a game against the Orioles on September 30; he walked twice more in a game the day later. Nobody wanted to be on the wrong side of no. 62.
Then Judge stepped to the plate in the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader against the Rangers on October 4. And he deposited a Jesus Tinoco offering 412 feet away into the left-field stands.
There are countless aspects of this moment that are special, yet three in particular stand out. The first is what Judge does after taking the second pitch of the at-bat for a strike. He steps out of the batter’s box, gazes into the distance, taps both of his feet, and then gathers himself before settling back in. Plenty of players have between-pitch routines; this, however, was completely atypical for Judge. He picked up on something. He realized that if he got another slider, he’d break an American League record that had endured for 61 years. It’s one thing to see someone make history; it’s another to see the moment when they know they’re going to make history and take a beat to calm themselves so that nerves don’t get in the way of it happening.
The second thing is the palpable joy of virtually everyone in the ballpark: from Judge as he circles the bases, from his Yankees teammates, who mob him at the plate, from the fans who marvel at the blast before giving Judge a standing ovation. Shouts especially to the guy who vaulted over the fence in an instinctive attempt to catch the ball, even though he was nowhere close to it. He will forever be etched into my memory.
The third thing is the image of Judge making eye contact with his mom, who was in the front row. He sees her as he trots toward third base. She blows him a kiss as he’s about to head into the dugout; he points at her and breaks out the widest grin. Look, I’m not here to say that Judge has the real home run record. Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001. I just want to bask in the rare moment when all the clichés about the beauty and unifying power of sports feel true. How can you not be romantic about baseball?
An Exorcism on the Third Saturday in October
Kevin Clark: The mark of any truly great team is that you remember where you were when it lost. This applied to Florida State in the ’90s, Miami in the 2000s, USC in the Pete Carroll heyday, and Ohio State in the early part of the 2010s. Yet it applies most of all to Nick Saban and Alabama. Since the head coach’s second season with the Crimson Tide in 2008, all of his team’s losses have felt like cultural events.
I was pounding Bud Lights at a bar in Blacksburg, Virginia, when it became clear that Tennessee would at least give Bama a scare on the Third Saturday in October. A handful of Virginia Tech fans nearby started to play “Rocky Top” on the jukebox, and my wife leaned over to ask a pretty good question: Why was everyone in this bar going crazy even though no one had anything to do with Alabama or Tennessee? The answer ties into the very fabric of college football and boils down to this: Everyone outside Tuscaloosa has grown to hate Alabama and its near perfection. For 15 years, the Tide have stood in the way of any team and fan base trying to have a nice, fun Saturday.
And so Tennessee achieved the dream of nearly everybody in college football: After more than a decade of wandering the wilderness, the Volunteers announced their return to the national stage on a brisk fall afternoon in their home stadium. It was, in all facets, as loud as a stadium could possibly get. Tennessee informed a massive audience that Josh Heupel could coach in the SEC, that Hendon Hooker was a great college quarterback, and that Jalin Hyatt (who had 207 receiving yards that day) was one of the best players at his position in the country. The Vols did all this while embarrassing Saban’s team at what it does best: playing defense.
Tennessee 52, Alabama 49. The Vols lived every program’s dream. They will never forget it. And neither will we. That’s college football.
An Almost Glorious Tie in Week 18
Lindsay Jones: In nearly every imaginable scenario, a tie is the worst outcome in sports. But that’s exactly what virtually all of us (save for the Steelers and their fans) were rooting for when the Raiders and Chargers faced each other in the final game of the 2021 regular season last January.
It wasn’t a traditional win-and-in scenario. Both of these teams and hated AFC West rivals would advance to the playoffs with a tie. Speculation ran wild in the days and hours leading up to the game about whether the teams might actually do it. It was fun to think about the ways in which this tie could happen. Alas, it is against NFL rules for teams to arrange the outcome of a game; the No Fun League would have frowned upon any gentlemen’s agreement between Brandon Staley and Rich Bisaccia to trade field goals or take safeties or just kneel down over and over until 60 minutes plus overtime elapsed. No, the coaches said, they’d play for the win. BORING.
But here’s where things got wild: THE TEAMS NEARLY TIED ANYWAY.
The fourth quarter was particularly chaotic: The Chargers rallied from a 15-point deficit, with Los Angeles converting six consecutive fourth-down attempts, including a 23-yard touchdown from Justin Herbert to Mike Williams on a fourth-and-21. Herbert threw the game-tying touchdown to Williams as time expired in regulation.
It might have been silly to think the coaches would collude to tie before the game. But before overtime? They should have made it happen. Instead, the Raiders, at least, kept playing for the win, and Staley’s defense was helpless to stop Josh Jacobs, whose 10-yard run on a third down got the Raiders into field goal range in the final minute of overtime. (Supposed Analytics God Staley also bizarrely called a timeout before that third down, but it really didn’t matter once his defense cratered.) Daniel Carlson nailed the 47-yard field goal, sending the Chargers home and the Raiders and Steelers to the playoffs. It was the least-satisfying game-winning field goal ever, but it was a night we’ll never forget.
The Scandal That Rocked the Chess Universe
Benjamin Cruz: Until 2022, the most dramatic chess moment I’ve seen in my life was a scene from the bowels of Hogwarts Castle. Ron Weasley’s heroic sacrifice to leave Harry Potter free to checkmate their invisible Wizard’s Chess opponent on the way to recover the Philosopher’s Stone was an absolute GOAT moment.
And then the Magnus Carlsen–Hans Niemann feud hit the chess world. Sure, other scandals have rocked the chess world, but this one in particular sticks out like a Barnes opening.
It’s simple, really: When a story involves the top-ranked chess player in the world (Magnus Carlsen) and the accusation that an up-and-coming rival (Hans Niemann) used anal beads to cheat in matches, well, that’s a headline that will turn heads.
This all started when Carlsen lost to Niemann at the Sinquefield Cup in September. The next day, Carlsen dropped out of the tournament entirely.
A couple of weeks later at the Julius Baer Generation Cup, Carlsen left a match against Niemann after just one move, like he was in a Zoom meeting with a bad internet connection. The announcers (yes, high-profile chess matches have announcers) were left in utter shock:
What unfolded from there is a documentary waiting to happen. Carlsen was vague in explaining why he had dropped out of the match, but threw some not-so-subtle shade at Niemann, linking him to known chess cheater Maxim Dlugy. Carlsen declined to say it outright, but his implication was clear: Niemann was a cheater.
How does one cheat in chess? It’s not easy. A theory soon sprung up that Niemann was wearing anal beads that are connected to a computer that follows the match live and sends the next move in morse code vibrations.
On the surface, that sounds absurd. But if it was so absurd that it had no merit, why did Niemann have his butt cheeks scanned at the U.S. Chess Championships? Niemann even said he’d play naked to prove he wasn’t cheating.
There are so many layers to this storm, including a 72-page report by Chess.com that says Niemann likely cheated in some form in over 100 online games, as well as Niemann filing a $100 million lawsuit against Carlsen and others in the chess world. Chess is fun again, everyone.
The Slap Heard ’Round the Baseball World
Claire McNear: You might think you know what this year’s most notable slap was. You are wrong: That (dis)honor belongs to one Tommy Pham, the former Reds outfielder who, on a placid May afternoon at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, charged Joc Pederson during a pregame warmup to deliver an open palm to the Giants outfielder’s face.
One can imagine many reasons that might at least begin to explain a grown adult striking a colleague thusly (and incurring a three-game suspension in the process). A heinous insult, perhaps involving a mother! A love triangle gone wrong! A vicious familial blood feud stretching back generations! A shadowy baseball conspiracy involving sign stealing or weighted bats or the crazed abyss behind Mr. Red’s bulbous eyes!
But the cause was none of these: Pham, it soon emerged, had slapped Pederson over a fantasy football dispute. As it turned out, the two players were in the same fantasy league—one presided over by none other than Mike Trout as commissioner. Pham reportedly took issue when Pederson moved a player listed as out to the IR to pick up someone else; Pederson sheepishly conceded that he might have further stoked the flames by sending the league’s group chat a GIF that mocked the San Diego Padres, who at the time were Pham’s team. Cue the Giants working out in T-shirts that read “Stashing players on the IR isn’t cheating” and Pham decrying Trout in the press. “Trout did a terrible job, man,” he said. “Trout is the worst commissioner in fantasy sports because he allowed a lot of shit to go on, and he could’ve solved it all. I don’t want to be the fucking commissioner; I’ve got other shit to do.”
The Ja Morant Show Reaches New Heights
Michael Pina: Ja Morant is a TV show. Every one of his games is a different episode. And what occurred on Feb. 28, 2022, deserves every available Emmy. Morant entered that contest against the San Antonio Spurs as an electrifying talent in the middle of a breakout season. He left it as a messianic figure.
His career-high 52 points and his 73.3 percent shooting from the field are, somehow, afterthoughts. What matters more is the indelible stamp Morant put on the most jaw-dropping night of his life—one of the most entertaining individual performances any NBA player has ever had.
His dunk on hapless Spurs center Jakob Poeltl was brought down with enough ferocity to stop the game. Thank goodness the teams kept playing. A few minutes later, with 0.4 seconds left in the first half, Morant shattered social media when he turned a full-length pass from Steven Adams into an alley-oop jumper right in front of his own bench. (The play was described as “something I’ll probably never be able to do again” by the ridiculously confident man who did it.)
When the credits roll on Morant’s career and he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame, both plays will lead the 29-minute-long highlight reel that precedes his enshrinement speech. A few more from this game alone will crack it. (He went 4-for-4 from behind the 3-point line and one was launched from the logo!) After this particular episode, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich summed up what he saw with words everyone who watched it were thinking: “He’s a beautiful player.”
The JRod Show Takes Over the Home Run Derby
Danny Kelly: For hardcore Mariners fans, Julio Rodríguez was seen as something of a messiah entering the 2022 season, a can’t-miss prospect whose promotion to the team’s Opening Day roster marked the first step toward delivering the franchise from non-playoff purgatory. For me, a bad, almost entirely lapsed Mariners fan, Rodríguez was more representative of the false hope that had come with an interminable two-decade-long rebuild. Cynicism took the wheel: I assumed that he’d be another in a long line of exciting prospects the team would eventually ruin and/or trade to the Yankees and decided he was not worth investing in, emotionally. Despite the buzz growing in my normally Seahawks-focused group texts, I resolved to double down on doubt and wrap myself in the warmth and familiarity of Mariners ambivalence.
That all went out the window in July when the 21-year-old phenom blasted 81 dingers in his Home Run Derby debut.
I don’t care that he didn’t technically win. Watching him rip 32 homers in the first round alone was enough to rid me of my Mariners cynicism. It was all so clear: This dude is for real. This dude has it. He’s a stone-cold superstar. My cold, black, resentful heart started beating again. At that moment, I decided that I was ready to die for Julio Rodríguez.
Of course, Rodríguez went on to win Silver Slugger and AL Rookie of the Year honors while leading the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years—all undeniably more meaningful feats in, like, real games that actually mattered. But I’ll never forget Rodríguez’s ridiculous Home Run Derby performance. That was the moment, for me, that Mariners baseball got fun again.
North Carolina Spoils Coach K’s Farewell Tour
Rodger Sherman: College hoops in 2021-22 generally felt less like a basketball season than a lengthy televised tribute to retiring Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. We were treated to video essays and pregame ceremonies; his wife, Mickie, got about as much airtime as the eventual no. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Paolo Banchero. If Coach K did something for the final time, people talked endlessly about it: his final game coaching at Madison Square Garden, his final ACC tournament, his final time using a public airport bathroom because he forgot to poop before leaving his house. (OK, maybe not that last one.) And for most of the season, the basketball worked out, as the Blue Devils had one of the best teams in the country. Heading into their final regular-season game, they were 26-4 and ranked fourth in the AP poll.
And then they lost, 94-81, to a seemingly mediocre North Carolina team led by first-year coach Hubert Davis. It was the one game Duke couldn’t afford to lose, and the Blue Devils got blown out. The Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd, which had paid record ticket prices to bid Krzyzewski farewell in his final home game against his archrival, sat in stunned silence throughout the postgame ceremony, in which Coach K half-heartedly accepted gifts while clearly fuming about the loss.
But the Tar Heels had an even meaner goodbye planned. That same group team went on a surprise NCAA tournament run as a no. 8 seed, and fate matched them up against second-seeded Duke in the Final Four. It was the first March Madness meeting between the two biggest rivals in college basketball and a chance for Coach K to reverse the damage of his last game at Cameron or bring eternal shame upon Durham.
He got the eternal shame option. This should have been a mismatch: Duke had four starters picked in the first round of the 2022 NBA draft; UNC didn’t have any players selected. Duke boasted a Hall of Fame coach; UNC had a guy who was in his first year on the job. Yet the Tar Heels outshot and outrebounded the Blue Devils in an 81-77 win highlighted by a lights-out second-half shooting performance by Caleb Love.
Duke and UNC will play each other again thousands of times from now until college basketball ceases to exist, but they’ll never play that game again. And the Tar Heels will forever get to cherish sending Duke’s iconic leader-hero-god-king into retirement on the sport’s biggest stage.
Edwin Díaz and Trumpets Invigorate Queens
Bobby Wagner: For a not insignificant chunk of the middle of the summer, Edwin Díaz was the biggest story in baseball. Yes, the closer was having one of the best relief-pitching seasons in MLB history amidst a sensational Mets regular-season run, but elite whiff rates alone are not enough to dominate the baseball internet (only the cool parts of it). No, Edwin took center stage because of trumpets. And one trumpet in particular.
Timmy Trumpet is what happens when you turn the “vibes” slider all the way up and the “self-awareness” slider all the way down on a human. A match made in heaven for Citi Field, and something baseball could use a lot more of. Some said it was a curse. NPR called it the “latest craze.” You know what I call it? Camp. I’ll never forget it.
The Sin City Miracle (or the Vegas Vomit)
Justin Sayles: In any YouTube compilation of the worst NFL plays, you’re bound to see Patriots jerseys pop up. Typically, however, the Pats appear as supporting characters as their opponents make a bone-headed play. Take, for example, the Colts’ bizarre punt formation in 2015, when most of the offensive line motioned out to the right, sacrificing a gunner and an upback to a swarm of bemused Pats defenders. (The play’s got a name: the Colts Catastrophe.) Or, more famously, recall Thanksgiving in 2012, when Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez rammed straight into an offensive lineman’s ass and coughed up the ball, only for New England to run it in for a touchdown. (You’ve definitely heard of this play: It’s the Butt Fumble.) It makes sense that the Patriots would be on the field for moments like these: For nearly two decades, they dominated and Belichick-mind-tricked their competition. For the Pats, the spoils of war included front-row seats to their opponents’ greatest comedies of error.
But that was then. Things have changed in the three seasons since Tom Brady migrated south for the winter of his career. The Pats are no longer the monolith that blot out the sun; they’re firmly average. In 2020, they went 7-9. In 2021, they backed into the playoffs only to be embarrassed by a team they used to routinely embarrass. In 2022, they appear headed to a below-.500 finish thanks to the Matt Patricia–Joe Judge brain trust, a half-dozen Mac Jones temper tantrums, and Bill Belichick’s nepo babies leading the defense. The Patriots had already gone from kings to peasants. In December, they went from peasants to jesters.
Let’s talk about the play at the end of the Week 15 matchup between the Pats and the Raiders, which we’re giving a name—either the Sin City Miracle or the Vegas Vomit, depending on your allegiances. We’ve seen plenty of teams attempt the thousand-lateral, last-gasp routine at the end of regulation. Usually, the lateraling team is trailing at the time of this prayer. But in New England–Las Vegas, the game was tied. The Pats just needed to take a knee to get to overtime. Of course, that’s not what happened …
As the clock drains to zero, running back Rhamondre Stevenson takes a handoff, runs through the gut of a prevent defense, and cuts to the right. He flips the ball back to wideout Jakobi Meyers. Meyers—the Patriots’ emergency QB, it should be noted—looks back and sees an open guy. Except that open guy is Mac Jones. And in front of Mac Jones is Raiders pass rusher Chandler Jones lying in wait. Meyers throws the ball, and it lands directly in the Raiders defender’s breadbasket. Jones turns toward the end zone and sees only Mac Jones standing between him and paydirt. Chandler stiff-arms Mac into another dimension, he scores, and the Raiders win, dropping the Pats out of playoff seeding and into a million memes. It’s the type of disaster the Pats are used to being the supporting characters in. But again, that was then. Welcome to now.
Set it to the Titanic song. Hell, set it to the Benny Hill theme. Better yet, put it in a new compilation of the worst NFL plays ever. We’re already used to seeing Pats jerseys in those. It’ll just take some getting used to seeing them on this side of the play.
The Harry Caray Hologram (or the Weirdest Nostalgia Play Ever)
Matt James: On August 11, a dead man sang during the seventh-inning stretch of the Reds’ and Cubs’ Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa. Legendary sportscaster Harry Caray, who has been deceased since 1998, delivered a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to 8,000 adoring baseball fans. Was it a ghost? A somewhat janky digital ghost, perhaps. An uncanny valley sprung from a “field of dreams.” The Harry Caray hologram was at once touching and off-putting. It didn’t look great. But if you squinted a little, or more likely took your glasses off or pounded another beer, maybe the modern magic of computers briefly took you back in time and reunited you with an old friend.
Did baseball, the American sport most intrinsically tied to nostalgia, lean a little too hard into nostalgia at their nostalgia event? As impossible as that sounds, the answer is probably yes. We really shouldn’t get in the habit of reanimating dead people for our amusement. But it certainly was amusing. And to those 8,000 people in Iowa that night, Harry Caray sounded even better than Tupac’s ghost at Coachella.
The Butt Punt
Nora Princiotti: Look, butts are funny. Stuff bouncing off of butts is funny. These are simply rules of comedy. These rules held true during the sports highlight (lowlight?) of the year, provided by Dolphins punter Thomas Morstead during a September game against the Bills. The Dolphins won 21-19, moving to 3-0 at the time, but not before giving up a safety after Morstead’s punt with 1:37 to go was blocked not by a defender but by teammate Trent Sherfield’s derriere.
Move over Butt Fumble.— SB Nation (@SBNation) September 25, 2022
The Butt Punt is here. pic.twitter.com/Uch6tB1gMR
That’s right, from the division that brought you the Butt Fumble, it’s the Butt Punt!
My cheeks have a big W tatted on them— Trent Sherfield (@Channel__10) September 25, 2022
A win for all of us, really.
The Butts That Became the Talk of Baseball
Ben Lindbergh: Catchers squat for a living, which makes them the foremost exemplars of the fabled “baseball butt,” an occupational perk enhanced by ballplayers’ cheek-flattering livery and fondness for slapping posteriors. This year, two callipygian catchers in the AL West bookended the MLB regular season with well-rounded displays of lower-body power, producing two of the year’s most memorable highlights for fans of baseball and booty alike. Shortly after Opening Day, then–Oakland A’s catcher Sean “Cakes” Murphy backstopped his ass up into a 74 mph slider from Rays righty Chris Mazza, which spun slowly enough toward his hinders for Murphy to twerk it away with a “Stupid Sexy Flanders”–esque flourish. The most viral of the many Murphy thirst tweets has been ogled 22 million times, almost certainly making it the most-viewed A’s-adjacent media since Moneyball.
“I could have hit four home runs yesterday, four grand slams, and it wouldn’t have had the attention I had last night,” Murphy said of his newly famous fanny the day after taking one for the team—and, by extension, for anyone with a fondness for fine haunches. The plunking may have left a bruise, but it also made Murphy an overnight sex symbol.
Months after Murphy broke the baseball internet, on the eve of October, comparably bootylicious Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh—or, as he’s more commonly called, “Big Dumper,” thanks to a legendary rear that one of his teammates testified is “as big as a trailer”—launched a pinch-hit, walk-off homer against the A’s at T-Mobile Park that clinched a wild-card berth for the M’s. The banged-up, bubble-butted backstop’s historic homer, which was caught by a 17-year-old fan, snapped a 21-year-old playoff drought for the Seattle franchise, the longest in major North American sports. It also inspired great relief and rejoicing, two incredible calls, and countless cake, peach, and dump-truck emoji.
Murphy sent Twitter into a tizzy; Raleigh sent Seattle to the postseason, where the thick, cheeky catcher cemented his standing as a folk hero by adding more huge hits. Baseball has the best cabooses, and this year, the most notable, valuable buns in MLB belonged to two West Coast catchers whose tushes took the cake.
A’ja Wilson Is the Press Conference GOAT
Kellen Becoats: A’ja Wilson is great at many things: defending your team’s best player, making you question whether she can be stopped anywhere within the perimeter, and making the lefty fall-away jumper look so damn pretty. But there is one thing at which the Aces star is the undisputed GOAT, and that’s delivering in postgame press conferences. Behold, the best 86 seconds of athletic achievement your eyes will ever see.
It’s impossible to choose a favorite moment here, so let’s just go through the whole sequence. A’ja immediately takes a swig of champagne after sitting down—with Chelsea Gray giving her looks of “Are you really this lit right now?” Kelsey Plum rolls through with a speaker on her shoulder like a character in an ’80s movie. A’ja burps, apologizes, and then cracks a smile as she proclaims she’s “six bottles deep.” The MVP tells fans “if you ain’t four shots in [at the Aces’ championship victory parade], don’t come. Stay at the house!” (Children are advised to drink ginger ale.)
Chelsea’s trepidation throughout the whole presser is the perfect yin to A’ja’s chaotic yang; 12/10, no notes. Make it a rule that no matter who wins the WNBA Finals, A’ja gets to do a speech at the podium at least four shots of tequila deep.
Stetson Bennett Is a Good Morning America Sensation
Austin Gayle: Stetson Bennett did something virtually no one else could have done, and followed it up with an interview for the ages. Hours after leading Georgia to its third-ever football national title and its first win over Alabama since 2007, the quarterback delivered five minutes of pure television gold in a conversation on Good Morning America.
Bennett was named MVP of the game after passing for 224 yards with two touchdowns. He carried that momentum into Georgia’s celebration, as he was pictured drinking thousand-dollar bourbon straight from the bottle. His GMA performance will be remembered as a continuation of the party: “I really couldn’t care less about a free drink,” he told Michael Strahan in a segment that was, uh, mostly comprehensible. It was an iconic capper on an iconic night.
The Third Inning That Created a Forever Fan
Sheil Kapadia: I’ll never forget the moment my daughter got the sickness.
Naya, 10, had previously held a casual interest in sports, but she wasn’t obsessed like I was as a kid. This year, she played softball for the first time and started watching Phillies games with me. Good timing! They were a fun team that snuck into the playoffs and upset the Cardinals to advance to the divisional round.
The NLDS against the Braves was tied at one game apiece when it moved to Philly, and I lucked into getting some tickets for her, my dad, and me. Three generations of fans hoping that something special might happen. It marked the first time the city had hosted a playoff baseball game since 2011—before Naya was born. My dad is 77 and has spent countless hours watching bad Phillies teams. Legendary play-by-play man Harry Kalas provided the soundtrack to our summers.
In the third inning, Rhys Hoskins came up with two men on base. He launched a Spencer Strider fastball into the left-field seats. The place erupted as Hoskins spiked his bat. It had been a long time since any Phillies fan got to celebrate a moment like that. Two batters later, Bryce Harper hit a two-run home run.
That was the moment. I looked over at Naya, and she was smiling, yelling, and jumping up and down while high-fiving me, my dad, and any complete strangers within reach. She was overwhelmed with excitement in the way you dream about but rarely get to experience as a sports fan.
The Phillies won, 9-1. Naya didn’t miss a pitch the rest of the postseason. I recently caught her watching a YouTube compilation of every home run the Phillies hit last year. She asked me to send her articles on Trea Turner and wants me to provide nightly updates on whether the team is making other moves in free agency. We’ve talked about going down to Florida for spring training or maybe even getting a partial season-ticket plan.
For us, that third inning changed everything.
The Celebration That Set Up a Fatherly Flex
Bryan Curtis: So it wasn’t the biggest sports moment of the year. It was just the one that made me feel most powerful. I was at the Cowboys-Giants Thanksgiving Day game with my son. Parents know that it’s easy to trick young kids into thinking you’re a football fortune-teller. “Holding, offense, 10 yards,” you say, a few seconds before the ref does. Blows their minds every time.
My son is 9 years old now. It’s getting harder to convince him I’m the fatherly version of Tony Romo. On Thanksgiving, before the game started, I pointed to the big, red Salvation Army kettle behind the end zone at AT&T Stadium. “You know,” I said, “Zeke Elliott jumped in there a few years ago.” Fast-forward three-and-a-half quarters. Three Cowboys tight ends dove into the kettle after a Peyton Hendershot touchdown and played Whac-A-Mole. “Told you!” I yelled, now sounding less like Romo than the late Hollywood scoopmeister Nikki Finke. My son looked semi-impressed. He forgot about it five minutes later. I never will.
Jocelyn Alo Smashes No. 96
Ben Solak: The best hitter in college softball history graduated this year. Let’s try that again: The best hitter in the history of bat-and-ball collegiate sports graduated this year. Her name is Jocelyn Alo.
Alo ends her career with 122 home runs, 22 more than Pete Incaviglia and 27 more than Lauren Chamberlain, her predecessor as the signature slugger of Oklahoma Sooners softball. Alo’s record-setting home run came in her home state of Hawaii, after she had walked 16 times as pitcher after pitcher refused to give her the record-setting pitch.
The state of Hawaii has almost as much, if not more, love for Alo as Sooners fans do. That’s because Alo brought just as much national visibility to Hawaii high school sports as she did to collegiate women’s softball. Alo is a sensation, a superstar, a defining player of the sport and of the young, rising generation of future softball fans and stars.
Albert Pujols Connects on No. 700
Isaac Levy-Rubinett: Before the MLB season, a friend asked whether I would rather Albert Pujols reach 700 career home runs or the St. Louis Cardinals make the playoffs. Even the most staunch why not both-ists could plainly see that these two outcomes were largely at odds. No serious team would give the requisite at-bats to a player who entered the year with 679 homers and hadn’t posted an above-average batting season in five years—even one with a claim to be the best of his generation. Would the Cardinals orient their season around giving Pujols every opportunity to make home run history? Or would they do everything possible to earn a postseason berth, even if it meant, say, pinch-hitting for Pujols in important moments? As excited as I was for Pujols’s homecoming, I also felt a little queasy imagining the awkward—and not unlikely—scenario in which one of the team’s greatest legends became its greatest hindrance.
But Pujols discarded such doubts like so many hanging sliders. In the second half of the season, he slashed a mind-boggling .323/.388/.715 with a wRC+ second in the majors only to Aaron Judge. Somehow, at 42 years old, Pujols surpassed even the most dominant stretches of his first Cards tenure, when he was a perennial MVP candidate and the best hitter in the sport. And when the team overtook the Brewers in the NL Central, it wasn’t in spite of Pujols. It was because of him.
On September 23, at Dodger Stadium, where Pujols himself said he rediscovered his joy for baseball, the slugger hit home runs nos. 699 and 700. One was a moonshot and one was an absolute missile.
I can hardly wrap my head around how improbable this season was. I was happy just to see Pujols don the birds on the bat again; I never imagined that he’d inspire the same fear in pitchers or the collective anticipation in fans that he did more than a decade ago. In life and in sports, just because something makes for a great story doesn’t mean that it will happen. Too often, it doesn’t. But in 2022, Albert Pujols reminded us that it can.
Michael Jordan Steals the Show at NBA 75
Matt Dollinger: Even NBA commissioner Adam Silver admitted that he wasn’t sure Michael Jordan would show up. It was halftime of the 2022 NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland, and the league was honoring members of the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team. One legend after another was called on stage. Magic. Bird. Kareem. LeBron. Shaq. Hakeem. Oscar. Dwyane Wade called it “basketball heaven.” But the night was made when the GOAT himself was announced last. Because even for the greatest basketball players of all time, it’s a treat to see Mike.
Just to give you an idea of what Jordan means to people, there’s a moment at the 40-second mark above when LeBron fucking James is legitimately too shy to say hello (don’t worry, he got his moment later). A few minutes later, Jordan changes the atmosphere backstage once he enters the room. Even in a room full of legends, his aura is on another level. MJ calls Magic “old dog” and challenges him to a game of one-on-one, turning the Lakers legend into a squealing kid.
MJ’s presence effectively turns the biggest NBA stars in history into role players. Seeing Mike show up and get his flowers was the highlight of All-Star Weekend and a reminder of where he stands in all-time debates.
Jayson Tatum Steals the Nets’ Soul in the Playoffs
Jack McCluskey: The amazing thing is that he was already spinning. Jayson Tatum hadn’t even caught the ball yet, but he already knew how he was going to get by Kyrie Irving and score to win Game 1 of the Celtics’ first-round playoff series against the Nets.
With Boston trailing by one point and 17 seconds remaining on the clock, Tatum took the defensive assignment against Kevin Durant. He contested KD’s 3-point attempt at the shot clock buzzer and bothered the future Hall of Famer enough to produce a miss. Then Tatum settled near the top of the key as the rest of the Celtics probed the Brooklyn defense for an opening and the clock ticked down.
Five seconds left: Jaylen Brown drives into the paint and hits Marcus Smart on the wing.
Four seconds left: Smart up-fakes and takes a hard dribble through two aggressive closeouts by Nets defenders. Tatum dives toward the basket and catches Smart’s eye.
Two seconds left: Smart’s pass trails behind no. 0, so the All-Star starts to twirl, turning his back to Irving and the basket as he grabs the rock.
One-point-five seconds left: Irving flails at Tatum’s memory as the Celtics star completes his spin and regains sight of the basket.
One second left: Tatum lays the ball up off the square, his momentum carrying him out of bounds and under the basket.
Half a second left: The ball falls through the hoop. Then the buzzer sounds.
This all happened in less than 20 seconds and foreshadowed the great run that Tatum and the Celtics were about to go on. And though that run didn’t finish the way Boston wanted, this one was immaculate.
Rob Mahoney: Klay Thompson is so many things to the Warriors: Splash Brother, icon, (sea) captain, spiritual adviser. Yet for 941 days and through multiple devastating injuries, he toiled away on the edges of the frame, technically a part of the team and yet very much alone. Thompson has been as candid about the psychological toll of injury and recovery as any athlete we’ve ever seen; when Charles Barkley said plainly that Klay wasn’t the same player he used to be, Klay made a point to respond—and not to disagree. (To quote Klay: “No duh.”) He just wanted to express how much it hurt to hear Barkley say that.
Which was why there was no sweeter moment in sports than seeing Klay in full goofball mode again, wearing another commemorative championship hat as he bounced up and down with Steph Curry after Golden State pulled out the title. Not many people can blow out a knee and rupture their Achilles and still climb mountains. Thompson kept at it until he could, and came up with huge shots and needed stops for the Warriors in the same signature ways he always had. If all of that seems inevitable, it isn’t—and that’s precisely the point.
Thompson said it best in the championship celebration: “I knew this was a possibility. But to see it in real time? Holy cannoli.”
Steph Curry, Game 4
Seerat Sohi: Basketball has no fury like Steph Curry with his back against the wall. Fury, as it happens, was a surprising new part of the Curry experience in 2022. Three years of accumulated slights—beginning with the departure of Kevin Durant—were coming out. He put opponents to sleep and jawed with refs through a season in which no one was sure whether the Warriors would make it back to the top of the mountain. By Game 4 of the Finals, the Celtics had a 2-1 lead. Their physicality, the foulmouthed TD Garden crowd (piling Draymond Green with deafening boos), and the creeping sense of early coronation only ratcheted up the tension—and the Warriors’ sense that they were being disrespected.
After you’ve watched a great athlete for as long as we’ve been watching Curry, you could tell early: This game was going to be different. His eyes were serious, his jawline hardened. No more baby face, just the assassin. Curry, basketball’s grand chancellor of chaos, thrives in the game’s multivariate possibilities. He rides the ebbs and flows. But here he took control, giving us four quarters of Curry unplugged. Halfway through the first quarter, he was already jawing with the crowd. Forty-three points and seven triples later, the Warriors evened the series, and Curry made his statement: Wake the sleeping giant at your own peril.
Erling Haaland Invades the Premier League
Christopher Sutton: Diving into Erling Haaland’s highlights is an exercise in appreciating beautiful football brutality. Even a quick foray unleashes countless clips of an unstoppable cyborg—seemingly created from the DNA strands of Robert Lewandowski, a Terminator T-1000, and Leif Erikson—demolishing elite center backs, racing across pitches, and lustfully blasting goals with joy.
So when it was announced last summer that the Norwegian was joining the ranks of Manchester City, arguably the best football club in the world, it felt as if Voltron had just bicycle-kicked any semblance of Premier League parity square in the nards. Similar to when Kevin Durant fled the quaint limitations of Oklahoma City to baptize himself in the Warriors’ 73-win nirvana, Erling’s move from Borussia Dortmund to the cream team of English football felt both expected and morally unfair. The Citizens were already teeming with an embarrassment of elite creators (Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish), visionaries (Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez), and defenders (John Stones, Kyle Walker) who had been processing Pep Guardiola’s Matrix-style schematics into titles and glorious passing for years. With the addition of Haaland, City now had the final cog in their Death Star.
Erling’s unprecedented goal-scoring form dipped slightly before the World Cup break. Still, with serious questions looming around the other big six teams, including a rejuvenated but youthful Arsenal, it’s difficult to imagine an end to the season that doesn’t see him hoisting a giant cup bedecked in powder-blue ribbons in one hand and a boot to match his luscious blond ponytail in the other.
Manchester United Beats Chelsea, 1-1
Micah Peters: One version of events is that Manchester United struggled mightily for a point against a vulnerable Chelsea side, which took them to fifth place in the Premier League table for about 16 hours. Another version of those same events: Suddenly unable to count on their big man in the big moments, United still had enough personality on the pitch to rescue a result that they probably deserved on balance.
For weeks it was a running joke that Scott McTominay—previously known for questionable positioning and needing a second or two to think before trying a forward pass—had been playing so well for United that he was keeping three-time Champions League winner, Brazil international, and 80-million-pound man Casemiro out of United’s starting XI. Then, almost as if the result of karmic law, McTominay tugged a wily Armando Broja to the ground in the penalty area, blowing not just an admirable United performance, but the head of steam the team had been building.
A different United would have punted to their midweek Europa League match, content with being admirable losers. But they kept grafting and chasing and out of a vanishingly small window of daylight, Casemiro headed home an equalizer, the narrative destroyed, the celebrations somewhere between “impassioned” and “vexed.”
Rory McIlroy’s Impossible Chip-In
Andrew Gruttadaro: As Cam Smith, in the final group on the last day at the Masters, lined up a putt on the 13th hole, CBS’s Nick Faldo lost all willpower. “I don’t want to spoil it,” he said, stifling a chuckle and throwing the broadcaster’s rule book into Rae’s Creek, “but something incredible has happened.” Sir Nick shouldn’t have said this; you don’t go up to someone watching The Sixth Sense for the first time and say, “Dude, you’re never gonna believe what happens with Bruce Willis.” But if you consider what Faldo had witnessed, you can forgive him for temporarily losing his mind.
Every time Rory McIlroy drives up Magnolia Lane on the first Thursday in April, he does so to the sound of whispers about how the fourth leg of the grand slam has evaded him, to clips of him as a boy wonder, hooking his ball into the trees on the 10th hole and erasing his name from the top of the leaderboard in 2011. For most of the 2022 edition of the Masters, it seemed that McIlroy would once again leave Augusta saying, “There’s always next year.” Three conservative rounds had him tied for ninth going into Sunday, 10 shots off of Scottie Scheffler’s lead. But then he started playing like the prize for winning the tournament was not a green jacket but the privilege to punch Greg Norman directly in the face.
He had birdies on the first, third, seventh, and eighth holes; a chip-in on the 10th; an eagle on the 13th. As Scheffler and Smith struggled to stay at even par, McIlroy went and posted 7-under through 17 holes. He was just three off the lead when he went bunker to bunker on the 18th, a seemingly fizzled-out end to an otherworldly Sunday run. But then, with Faldo watching from a nearby tower, McIlroy saucered his ball from the sand onto the undulating green and let it curve across a peak, roll down, and spill into the cup.
The sheer impossibility of this shot. The level of ecstasy. The throwing of the club. The flailing of the arms. The roar of the crowd. It was like Rory McIlroy had just won the Masters, finally, after chasing it for so many years. What makes this a perfect Rory moment is that he didn’t. Scheffler birdied 14 and 15 immediately afterward and basically walked to victory.
Such is the story of McIlroy since he won his fourth major in 2014: an unthinkable number of top-10 major finishes but never another win; out of it after Friday, but eking out a return to the conversation with Sunday brilliance that’s two rounds too late. 2022 was really good to him: He won the Tour Championship in August (over Scheffler), reclaimed the top spot in the World Golf Rankings, and spent most of the year valiantly defending the PGA against the scourge that is LIV Golf. But his best moment was out of the trap at Augusta, which didn’t seal victory but guaranteed that those whispers will follow him the next time he steps foot on the course.
Aaron Donald’s MVP-Worthy Sequence
Lindsay Jones: With all due respect to Cooper Kupp, the MVP of Super Bowl LVI was Aaron Donald. It was clear to me that night last February at SoFi Stadium, and it’s a truth that hasn’t changed in the 10 months since.
Donald closed out the Rams’ win over the Bengals in classic Donald style. With the Bengals facing a fourth-and-1 and just under 45 seconds to go in a game that the Rams were leading 23-20, Donald split the gap between Cincinnati’s left guard and left tackle, wrapped Joe Burrow around the waist, and flung the quarterback to the ground. At the last second, Burrow managed to fling the ball away—that errant, incomplete pass keeping Donald from recording his third sack of the game. The stat total didn’t matter; that moment capped an utterly dominant postseason run by the greatest defensive player of this generation.
Donald, a 280-pound defensive tackle, accounted for 23 pressures (the most by any player in a single postseason in TruMedia’s database, which goes back to 2000), nine quarterback hits, and 3.5 sacks during the Rams’ ride to the Super Bowl. He closed out the NFC championship game win by forcing Jimmy Garoppolo into an interception, and he pressured Tom Brady eight times in the Rams’ divisional-round victory against Tampa Bay. He faced frequent double-teams, and even an occasional triple-team in the Super Bowl, but managed two sacks (and this incredible one-armed tackle for a loss on a Bengals run play) anyway. But it was that final pressure of Burrow that was my favorite sports moment of the year—the best all-around player I’ve ever seen coming up big on the biggest stage in American sports.
Donald ripped off his helmet and started celebrating by emphatically pointing to his ring finger. Up until then, he hadn’t gotten over the Rams’ Super Bowl loss to the Patriots three years earlier. Winning a championship was truly all Donald had left to achieve. It’s a shame Donald will never win a league MVP award, despite being the NFL’s best defensive player—and arguably best overall player—in nearly every season of his career. He deserved to be Super Bowl MVP, and I think he would have been, had votes been tallied after the clock hit zero and not while the game was still in progress. Instead, he’ll have to settle for a place here on our list.
Matt Ryan, King of Collapses
Justin Sayles: Matt Ryan is a former NFL MVP. He’s tied for 10th on the all-time QB wins list. His career is marked by the kinds of accomplishments most signal-callers dream of. So how did his legacy become the face of the most infamous collapse in football—and now the single biggest collapse in the 102-year history of the sport?
Ryan, of course, was the quarterback for the Falcons during Super Bowl LI against Tom Brady and the Patriots, which Ryan’s team led 28-3 before losing 34-28. Given the stakes, the Pats rally is the greatest comeback in the history of the sport. But on the other side of triumph there’s heartbreak, and Ryan quickly became the avatar of that collapse (and the butt of more than a few memes). A half decade has passed since that failure, and Ryan has changed teams and appears to be winding down a career that could possibly lift him to Canton. And while the stink of that game still lingers, it’s been easy to forgive. It was just one game and it came against the greatest QB ever. Surely we can all move on, right?
Well, about that. In Week 15, Ryan started at quarterback for Indianapolis in a game against the Vikings. While the Colts haven’t been an offensive juggernaut this season—the team ranks near the bottom of the league in points scored—they held a 36-7 lead in the third quarter. And Brady wasn’t on the opposing sideline—it was Kirk Cousins, a QB who has so frequently withered under the bright lights of national broadcasts that he’s earned a nickname for his own choke jobs. The Colts should’ve coasted to victory. But the Vikings had other plans.
Over the course of the final two quarters and overtime, Cousins led the Vikings on the most furious comeback in league history—surpassing the 25-point deficit the Pats overcame in February 2017, and blowing past the comeback record of 32 points, set by the Bills against the Oilers nearly 30 years ago. They did it through perseverance, a methodical offensive attack, and stout second-half defense. They did it on the back of Cousins. They did at the expense of Ryan, who again finds himself the avatar of heartbreak and the butt of many more memes.
How much can Ryan be blamed for these epic collapses? Sure, his offenses immediately tightened up once the Pats and Vikings began their onslaughts, but he didn’t throw an interception in either game. He wasn’t the one calling the plays, and he certainly wasn’t the one playing defense. On the flip side, however, Ryan’s teams have a tendency to do this: As my colleague Riley McAtee pointed out in 2020, Matt Ryan’s Falcons blew all sorts of seemingly unblowable leads in the wake of that Super Bowl loss. Maybe opposing teams look at Ryan and see an eminently movable object, which thus turns them into an unstoppable force. Maybe Matty Ice’s biggest cooling effect is on his team. Or maybe he’s just simply been in the wrong uniform at the wrong time.
No matter the case, this is who Matt Ryan is now: the King of Collapses. He’s going to retire as one of the winningest QBs in NFL history. But we’re going to remember him above all else for two defeats—ones he had no business losing.
Matt Ryan, Unlikely Lakers Savior
Jomi Adeniran: The Lakers season was all but over.
When the Pelicans went to shoot two free throws, up three, with less than two seconds remaining in their November 2 matchup with Los Angeles, the Lakers were staring down the prospect of a 1-6 start.
Things looked cooked. One made freebie and the game, nay, L.A.’s entire 2022-23 campaign, would seem finished.
But Pelicans rookie Dyson Daniels missed the first one. Then he clanked the second. The Lakers had a lifeline, and the unlikeliest hero emerged.
Every angle of Matt Ryan's buzzer-beater to force OT! pic.twitter.com/YKPIZ5laht— NBA (@NBA) November 3, 2022
Matt Ryan, who had been driving for DoorDash over the past year while looking for an NBA job, swished an improbable 3 to send the game to overtime. The Lakers went on to win, 120-117.
It doesn’t matter that the Lakers never really got on track or that they cut Ryan a month later. What matters is that in that moment Ryan gave L.A. hope. With a season going like this, what more could fans ask for?
The Bloodline Takes Over WWE
Khal Davenport: Ten years after his pro wrestling debut, current Undisputed WWE Universal Heavyweight champion Roman Reigns returned to WWE with a shocking heel turn, marking the beginning of what’s now known as the era of the Bloodline, the top-tier faction that features Reigns, his cousins the Usos (who are the current, reigning, Undisputed WWE Tag Team champions), Solo Sikoa, the white-hot Sami Zayn, and Reigns’s adviser (both kayfabe and IRL) Paul Heyman. Each piece of the Bloodline is a threat to the competition on its own; their powers combined created the hottest story line in all of WWE, putting the Anoa’i family members (and, as Cheap Heat’s Peter Rosenberg would say, Anoa’i family members adjacent) in serious discussion as the GOAT WWE faction.
Reigns’s 2022 began with him becoming the longest-reigning WWE Universal champion of all time in January; that same month, the Usos broke their own record for holding the SmackDown Tag Team titles. In April, Reigns defeated Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 38 to not only win the WWE Championship but start his reign (pun intended?) as Undisputed Champion. The next month, the Usos defeated RK-Bro to win the Raw Tag Team titles, matching the Tribal Chief in titles held (while also making for captivating television). From there? Things got interesting. Sure, Reigns and the Usos continued to take on (and defeat) all comers, but that’s when the Bloodline started to take shape.
Zayn started hanging around, beginning one of 2022’s consistently hilarious (and engrossing) story lines, a.k.a. Zayn, the Honorary Uce. Meanwhile, Sikoa, already exerting his dominance as NXT North American champ, officially joined the main roster (and became the stone-faced enforcer of the Bloodline) by helping Reigns secure the win across the pond at Clash at the Castle. Reigns, when he was active, created some of 2022’s biggest WWE moments, including defeating Lesnar (and Lesnar’s tractor) and giving Logan Paul his best showing so far. The Tribal Chief wrestled only when he wanted to (deservedly so), which meant that the always-active Usos surpassed Reigns on our Power Board.
One of the keys to the house that Reigns built is that it isn’t just about where he is headed; there are many avenues you can explore. At one point, the entire IWC wanted Sami Zayn to turn on the Bloodline and focus on taking Reigns’s throne. (They will have to settle with Reigns and Zayn teaming up to battle Kevin Owens and John Cena on the last SmackDown of 2022.) Zayn also betrayed longtime frenemy Owens to help secure the Bloodline’s win at Survivor Series WarGames, adding another layer (with another capable player) to the mix. Outside of a few dope pro-wrestling stories (we’re talking to you, MJF), there isn’t much better than the Bloodline. And maybe bookmark this? We could be having this conversation again at the end of 2023.
Bianca Belair Takes Back Her Championship Belt
Brian Waters: At SummerSlam 2021, Bianca Belair was supposed to defend the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship against Sasha Banks—the woman from whom she took the title in the main event of WrestleMania 37. However, Banks was unable to compete, so another former champion stepped up: Becky Lynch. Fans were ecstatic to see “the Man” back in the ring after 15 months away, and Lynch grabbed the mic to challenge Belair. As the two squared up, Lynch extended her hand in a show of sportsmanship … except it was actually a gambit to lure Belair in. Lynch hit Belair with her finisher, the manhandle slam, and that was it. After just 26 seconds, Belair was no longer the SmackDown women’s champ. She had a few opportunities to regain the title in subsequent months but failed each time.
Fast-forward to February 2022 at the Elimination Chamber. Belair, now part of the Raw roster, scored the opportunity to win the women’s title at WrestleMania 38 when she defeated five other women. With Lynch also switching to the Raw brand, the rematch from SummerSlam was primed to take place. Belair knew just how to capitalize on it.
She kicked off the match with an epic entrance. She walked into the ring behind the Texas Southern University marching band, which played her theme song, “Watch Me Shine.” Then she overcame everything Lynch threw at her, including a kick to the face that led to a swollen eye.
Belair hit her with her finishing move, the KOD, and became the WWE Raw women’s champion. Just like that, the EST was back on top of the world.
Jannik Sinner Falls to Carlos Alcaraz (but Wins My Heart)
Katie Baker: As a tween growing up in the mountainous reaches of northernmost Italy, Jannik Sinner, now 21, was a youth skiing champion. Years later, all that downhill influence is still apparent in his international tennis game. He is skilled in nailing angles and in slipping sideways, in knowing when to absorb a bounce and when to attack a fall line with chaotic grace. In his fourth season on tour, he made it to three of four Grand Slam quarterfinals—the most recent of which was a match against 19-year-old sensation Carlos Alcaraz that began at 9:30 p.m. local time in New York City and didn’t end until nearly three in the morning. (The U.S. Open is a tennis event designed to be viewed by Californians.)
Watching Sinner and Alcaraz on the same court was like observing two foosball figures sprung to life. (The next Gerwig-Baumbach film?) They twirled and parried; they played the acute and the obtuse in equal measure; they never seemed to tire. Four hours and change into the U.S. Open quarterfinals, in the fourth set, after endless topspin and slides and screamin’ ground strokes, Sinner got ready to close out match point. An hour later, in the fifth set, Alcaraz won the match instead. Alcaraz would go on to win the U.S. Open, the first of what is projected to be many Grand Slam titles in the teen’s future.
Seeing these two young guns battle each other made me appreciate both of them more. (Between them, Frances Tiafoe, and Casper Ruud, men’s tennis finally has vibrant potential.) And watching Sinner lose to Alcaraz the way he did (and to Novak Djokovic in similar fashion at Wimbledon!) made me utterly, hopelessly invested in the wish that one day I’ll see him pull off a big win. Sinner the skier once thrived on flying down mountains. It will be a real treat to watch as Sinner the tennis player tries to climb them, all the way to the top.
Max Duggan Keeps TCU Going (but Falls in Overtime)
Kai Grady: Let me start off by saying that I went to Texas Christian University, so if the next few paragraphs feel like TCU propaganda, that’s because they are.
TCU quarterback Max Duggan had a historic season full of impressive athletic feats, record-breaking achievements, and unbelievable second-half comebacks (six, to be exact). “Mad Max,” as much of the school’s faithful calls him, carried the Horned Frogs to an undefeated regular season and finished as a Heisman Trophy runner-up with 3,321 passing yards and 30 touchdowns in addition to 404 rushing yards with six scores on the ground. Still, the most awe-inspiring moment from Duggan actually came in a loss against no. 10 Kansas State during the Big 12 championship game. Down eight points with just under five minutes remaining, the senior QB mounted an unforgettable drive and sent the title game into overtime.
The eight-play drive started with a handful of chunk plays from Duggan. With around three minutes left, he threw a 38-yard touchdown dart to wide receiver Jordan Hudson (and took a huge hit in the process), only for the play to be called back due to a pass-interference penalty. Despite being shaken up and facing second-and-20, Duggan did his best “Greg Jennings” impression and slipped by some blitzing defenders in the pocket to break a 40-yard tightrope run down the sideline. On the next play, he surged up the middle and hurled himself into the end zone for a touchdown, capping off an 80-yard drive, of which Duggan accounted for all but 5 yards.
At this point, Duggan was lying on the turf gasping for air, unable to even stand up without the help of his teammates. Then, with blood streaming down his arm, Duggan took the snap on the two-point conversion and floated a perfect pass to tight end Jared Wiley.
TCU ultimately fell short after Kansas State hit a field goal in overtime, snatching the storybook ending away from the Frogs. To me, though, that drive was the most memorable showcase of the year in terms of pure grit, relentless determination, and an overall unwillingness to quit.
The Sacramento Kings Become Fun Again
Riley McAtee: This was the day the beam team became something real.
The stage was set for a classic Sacramento letdown: a nationally televised game against Kevin Durant, with the Kings at 6-6 and looking to claw their way above .500 after an 0-4 start. Instead, the Kings blew the doors off a squad that is expected to be a title contender. A 27-4 second-quarter run buried Brooklyn, and Sacramento went on to win by 32. And it wasn’t even De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis leading the way—Terence Davis scored 31 off the bench.
This season’s Kings team has given Sacramento the most fun basketball it has had to watch in at least 15 years, if not 20. Between the beam, the Band-Aid, coach Mike Brown, Fox’s shot falling, Sabonis’s career year, a goofy postgame trophy, and some truly bonkers memes, this has been the most fun I’ve had watching basketball in my adult life.
There are fans in Sacramento who have been waiting their entire lives for this. There have been sparks before (Tyreke Evans’s rookie season, a few solid Boogie Cousins seasons) but for the most part, it has been 15 years of absolutely dreadful, completely unwatchable basketball. We are literally a generation removed from the crowds that made Arco Arena the most intimidating place to play in the early 2000s. Many wondered whether that type of local commitment would ever return to Sacramento and the new Golden 1 Center. But this season, it’s been loud again.
After demolishing Brooklyn, the Kings went on to win their next three games, turning in a seven-game winning streak, the franchise’s longest since 2004. They have not dropped under .500 since, their net rating has been in the league’s top 10 for most of the season, and they’re firmly entrenched in the Western Conference’s playoff race. Simply put, the Kings are back.
LAFC Becomes Champion for the First Time
David Lara: There I was in New York City, wandering the streets and looking for food. I had my iPhone out and YouTube TV streaming. I was stress watching the MLS Cup final. And as an LAFC fan, I had a lot to stress about.
LAFC and the Philadelphia Union were tied 2-2 going into the extra time. Carlos Vela was subbed off; Gareth Bale came on. Philly took the lead on a Jack Elliott rebound goal in the 124th minute. That left roughly five minutes for LAFC to tie things up and force penalty kicks—yes, there was nine minutes of stoppage time. As it turned out, that was just enough time for Bale to find some space in the box and head in a goal that sent fans into a frenzy.
LAFC missed its first penalty; the Union responded by sailing in its first attempt. LAFC drilled its next two kicks, while goalkeeper John McCarthy turned into a brick wall and kept stonewalling Philly. With LAFC up 2-0, Ilie Sánchez narrowly beat the Union keeper to seal LAFC’s thrilling win.
Was the stress worth it? In the case of one of the best—if not the best—MLS Cup finals to date, easily.
Japan’s World Cup Moment of Triumph
Keith Fujimoto: Since I’m a generally loyal Knicks fan, my favorite sports moment should be the franchise finally having a stable point guard. A million thank-yous, Jalen Brunson. Or maybe it should be Tom Thibodeau’s Kirkland-brand beard. But no, the moment I need to highlight is Japan besting Spain during the group stage in Qatar.
Selfishly, my emotions aren’t tied to my homeland doing the impossible; they’re connected to a dumb proclamation I made on Twitter:
if japan wins maybe i'll die my hair blonde— keith fujimoto (@oakleyandallen) December 1, 2022
The Japan national football team took my challenge personally. “How dare this nitwit underestimate us??” That had to be what Ritsu Doan was thinking when he tied things up 1-1. Ao Tanaka’s follow-up goal was one I’ll remember forever. This wasn’t just an unlikely comeback against a top-tier opponent; it was a devastating reminder to never air out hypothetical bets on the internet.
I’ll always remember 2022 as the year I went blond for the Japan national football team.
Harry Kane’s Penalty Kick Miss
Arjuna Ramgopal: In 1996, the Lightning Seeds, a popular British band, released the song “Three Lions.” This song, it should be noted foremost, is an absolute banger. It’s hopeful and has become a rallying cry for fans of the England men’s national team. Yet the track features a line—“30 years of hurt”—that sums up the absolute heartbreak, pain, and failure of England over the years. We don’t need to go through all the examples because one moment from 2022 was representative enough.
Harry Kane’s brutal penalty kick miss in the 84th minute of this year’s World Cup quarterfinal matchup against France ensured another few years of hurt. According to the Westwood Group, an average penalty kick has an 82 percent chance of success. Better than a coin flip, better than the odds of Tom Brady going to a Super Bowl, better than the Rotten Tomatoes score for Avengers: Age of Ultron. But Kane’s attempt sailed well clear of the net.
Barring England triumphing at the UEFA 2024 Euros, we’ll be at 60 years of hurt by the time the next men’s FIFA World Cup rolls around. Sixty! I was a young child in England during the mid-1990s, so some of my first memories are of hearing “Three Lions” and wondering, “How will this song be updated with each passing year?” Never did I think that the England men’s team would double the length of the drought.
The England women’s side won the UEFA 2022 Euros, so the drought applies only to the men. Hopefully Kane and Co. can bring it home soon, or we might have to start thinking about swapping in even sadder lyrics.
Freddie Freeman and an Enduring Love for Atlanta
Dan Comer: When Freddie Freeman returned to Truist Park in June for the first time since signing a six-year, $162 million deal with the Dodgers, he bawled in press conferences, teared up at the plate, and talked about not seeking closure (to the chagrin of his Dodgers teammates). This went beyond ex-partner nostalgia—baseball fans were witnessing real-time post-breakup regret from a Braves franchise icon whose smile once seemed unbreakable.
The moment was a rare glimpse into the psyche of a superstar athlete, as well as a liberating experience for born-and-raised ATLiens like me. Sure, the first baseman may be in L.A. for the rest of his career—and he’ll probably raise a banner or two at the expense of his former team—but there’s no doubt where his heart is. That’s a victory in and of itself.
St. Bonaventure and an NIT Run at Redemption
Isaiah Blakely: I think I can speak for all St. Bonaventure alumni in saying that we had NCAA-tournament-or-bust expectations for the 2021-22 men’s basketball season. This team had five senior starters returning, was ranked in the AP poll during the preseason, and ultimately climbed as high as no. 16 in the rankings. But bad injury luck and untimely losses kept the Bonnies out of March Madness. It was difficult to see how this season could be remembered as a success once that tournament dream was dashed.
St. Bonaventure got invited to the NIT, which didn’t seem particularly exciting for a group that had been to the NCAA tournament in the past. The Bonnies were matched up against Colorado, on the road, in the first round. Expectations were low and enthusiasm for the event was even lower.
But things began to change once the Bonnies won. Then they beat Oklahoma on the road. All of a sudden it became clear that these seniors could have one last triumphant moment before closing the book on their Bonaventure careers.
The quarterfinal matchup at Virginia was for the right to go to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t a pretty game, but Jalen Adaway and Dom Welch drilled big shots down the stretch. Jaren Holmes and Kyle Lofton hit some key free throws, and Osun Osunniyi capped things off with a massive block at the buzzer. The Bonnies won 52-51 and booked their tickets to MSG. Shortly after the game, I booked mine too.
Kickboxing’s Bad Boy Takes a Bow
Amaar Burton: At his best and his worst, Badr Hari is the Mike Tyson of kickboxing. And he’s blessed and burdened with all the electricity and absurdity that entails.
In October, the now 38-year-old Moroccan Dutchman with the nicknames “Golden Boy” and “Bad Boy” strongly suggested that he would retire after a unanimous-decision loss to fellow combat sports legend Alistair Overeem. We all know how retirements can go in the fight game, but this really felt like a farewell.
Before, during, and even after his prime, Badr’s superpower was the super power in his hands and legs, which could—and usually did—finish fights in a flash. Of the former K-1 heavyweight champ’s 106 professional kickboxing wins, 92 came via knockout. That ties into another Tyson parallel: Badr’s appeal transcends the sweet science of his sport and taps into something visceral. His strongest supporters, a keyed-up brigade known as the Badr Army, are kickboxing’s version of Raider Nation—showing up en masse whether their guy fights in the Netherlands, Russia, or Japan. (And, yes, like Iron Mike, Badr has had legal troubles.)
The last five years of Badr’s career mirror Tyson’s post-prime run of controversy and shocking results. Badr went 0-4 with two no contests during that stretch: In three of the losses, he was winning before getting stopped inside the distance. One of the no contests happened in March, when, during Badr’s rematch with Arkadiusz Wrzosek, a brawl among fans escalated to a chair-throwing riot, forcing officials to evacuate the arena and cancel the rest of the show.
Badr’s last match was appropriately chaotic. He dominated early against Overeem before fading late, allowing the former UFC stalwart to make a comeback. In the ring afterward, Badr interrupted a stare down between Overeem and reigning GLORY heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven to casually inform the crowd that he was, well, likely done.
Just like Badr’s signature knockouts, his apparent retirement was sudden and expected. It was a fitting capper to another power-packed spectacle.
The Libero of the Year Makes a Save to Remember
Tyler Parker: Houston’s Kate Georgiades is the reigning American Athletic Conference libero of the year. On Friday, December 2, in the first round of the NCAA women’s Division I volleyball championship, she offered extensive proof for why that is.
This is one of the raddest individual plays in recent memory. It’s the definition of supreme hustle. It’s a righteous, reckless, ridiculous, leave-your-feet-full-extension-crash-into-furniture blind bolt of dynamism. Georgiades is doing her best Jesus of Nazareth, performing miracles and flipping tables, treating South Dakota like she strolled into Creighton’s Sokol Arena and discovered the Coyotes selling doves.
Cut to Georgiades brandishing a whip of cords and screaming, “This is a den of saves.” Go on and cleanse that temple, Kate.