2023 will be remembered for many things. It was a year of triumphs: LeBron James, Coco Gauff, the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a year of upsets: Fairleigh Dickinson, the Texas Longhorns, the Rangers. And it was a year of unexpected characters: Tommy DeVito, Mac McClung, Taylor Swift.
With the calendar turning to 2024, The Ringer is looking back at the most iconic sports moments of the past 12 months. Here, in no particular order, are the 49 that stood out most:
LeBron Breaks the Scoring Record
Brian Phillips: It is not, in and of itself, a terribly exciting moment. Lakers playing the Thunder at home. Handful of seconds left in the third quarter. L.A. with the ball. It’s February, which means Russell Westbrook is still a Laker, and probably the weirdest thing about this sequence is that Westbrook is involved in it at all; watching it now gives you a little tingle of dislocation, like finding out Jackson Browne wrote “These Days” for Nico, or that John and Paul wrote songs for the Rolling Stones. Westbrook gets the ball to LeBron James around the free throw line. LeBron’s guarded by Kenrich Williams, who does not have much to say about what happens next. No disrespect to Kenny Hustle. LeBron takes a step back, gets up a fadeaway jumper, and … swish. About as basic a bucket as you’re ever going to see in basketball—except, of course, that this one puts LeBron on 38,388 career regular-season points, and thus makes him the highest-scoring player in the history of the NBA.
I don’t want to downplay the reaction. The game is stopped for an officially sanctioned celebration. The crowd chants “MVP.” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who took the scoring record from Wilt Chamberlain eight months before LeBron was born and held it for nearly 39 years, is on hand to pass the torch. It’s clearly a big deal. But honestly? The whole thing feels kind of routine. LeBron says a lot of stuff he’s said a hundred times before. The vibe is more efficient than exultant. It’s capital-h History, but it’s brisk. Imagine the Battle of Waterloo if they’d rented the field only till six o’clock and couldn’t afford the late fee.
At the time, in other words, the moment is a little anticlimactic, an impression that’s brought home when the Lakers go on to lose the game, 133-130. Only when you think about the accomplishment in the context of LeBron’s whole career does it start to give you goosebumps. Because once you do that, you realize that the lack of any real drama or suspense is the most astonishing thing about it, and maybe one of the most astonishing things in the whole sports calendar of 2023. LeBron has been playing the game of basketball (as he loves to call it) so well for so long that he made breaking the ultimate scoring mark feel kinda mid. You were like, well, of course he turned loaves into fishes; he’s LeBron. Whatever. And I mean, it’s one thing to topple a four-decade-old record that exists at the absolute pinnacle of your sport. It’s another thing to make toppling that four-decade-old record look like business as usual. I keep picturing the old WE ARE ALL WITNESSES sign, only the text at the bottom now reads WE ARE ALL EXTREMELY SPOILED.
“The Job Is Done. We Can Go Home Now.”
Michael Pina: A couple of minutes after the Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, ending the 2022-23 season and one of the most dominant individual postseason runs in league history, Nikola Jokic was on live television with a microphone in front of his face.
In the midst of the hoopla, the even-keeled stoic refused to be overcome by the excitement exploding around him. ESPN’s Lisa Salters stepped forward to ask him the only question she could. “Now that you’re an NBA champion, Nikola, how does that feel?”
The Joker’s reply was an instant classic, less thrilled than satisfied, responding with the tone of someone who was just reminded to empty their dishwasher, knowing they already had. “It’s good, it’s good,” he said, nodding his head, trying hard to conceal a smirk. “The job is done. We can go home now.” In that moment, the best basketball player alive also cemented himself as the most authentic. Long live Jokic and his understanding of how important a healthy work-life balance truly is.
An All-Time Great Super Bowl With an All-Time Underwhelming Ending
Christopher Sutton: It’s the fourth quarter of a gorgeous Super Bowl, and we’re witnessing greatness. Patrick Mahomes is quarterbacking for his life on a bum ankle, flicking desperate rainbows to Travis Kelce and JuJu Smith-Schuster while executing a frantic four-minute drill in cinematic fashion. The Chiefs’ sequence stalls out after he heaves an exhausted pass into the 10th row of the State Farm Stadium. Yet in the time that it took for the city of Philadelphia to breathe a collective sigh of relief, a flash of yellow falls onto the field, Mahomes wags a weary finger toward the left side of the secondary, and any fantasies of Jalen Hurts leading a last-minute drive for a championship evaporate into thin air as if Thanos whispered, “Defensive holding” and snapped the NFL season into ashy oblivion. Does it feel like this didn’t really happen to anyone else, or is it just me?
Eagles cornerback James Bradberry immediately admitted fault on the play in question after the game, but that doesn’t change how much of a bummer it was that an all-time great Super Bowl ended like … this. Upon multiple viewings, I still see a ticky-tack infraction enforceable only by the strictest letter of a law that is most likely broken 100 times a game. If the moment that decides the most important game of the year is equivalent to getting a ticket for going 30 mph in a 25 zone, well, it’s a shame that weighs hard on my sports fandom.
Fast-forward to Week 14 of the 2023 season, and an incredulous Mahomes shouts in Josh Allen’s face after the injustice of the infamous Kadarius Toney penalty. Maybe he forgot the end of last year’s Super Bowl as well?
Carlos Alcaraz Becomes a Legend at Wimbledon
Danny Chau: It was starting to feel impossible—Carlos Alcaraz, our 20-year-old boy wonder, thought so himself before stepping onto Centre Court for his first Wimbledon final. It had been a full decade since anyone was able to defeat Novak Djokovic on that storied court, on the biggest stage in tennis. Djokovic’s persistence is monolithic. It trumps both skill and willpower. You can only succumb, really. The definitive match of Djokovic’s GOAT career may well be his 2019 Wimbledon final against Roger Federer—a 297-minute, five-set brain-melter wherein Djokovic broke the value framework of tennis itself, winning the title despite losing to Federer in every statistical category other than unforced errors and tiebreaks won.
Alcaraz was just 16 then, days removed from both losing in the Junior Wimbledon quarterfinal round and practicing with Federer before the latter’s semifinal match (which Fed did as a favor to Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, a longtime adversary). It was before any hype. Before his court-tilting athleticism and ideal build as a late teenager turned typically mild-mannered tennis commentators into gobsmacked gawkers at a Little Buff Boys competition. In those ensuing four years, Alcaraz alchemized his prodigious gifts in ways no other player of the post–“Big Four” generation has been able to. He had the technical proficiency to go with the kind of astral-plane imagination that young luminaries like Victor Wembanyama and Connor Bedard have infused into their respective sports.
What Alcaraz had yet to show was the stamina, the mental and physical endurance to overcome someone like Djokovic, a player whose wiry frame had been hardcoded to respond perfectly to every if-then scenario that tennis had ever seen up to that point. But sometimes there is no real answer to Alcaraz’s perfect drop shot, the most fluid transition from explosive power to delicate grace there is, perhaps in any sport. The greats show us who they really are in the fifth set. Instead of buckling under Djokovic’s aura of inevitability, Alcaraz flipped the script. He was the persistent one, dictating style and order, flashing the irrepressibility of youth. In his first Grand Slam victory over tennis’s last true Colossus—a match only 15 minutes shorter than that iconic 2019 final—Carlos Alcaraz gave rise to a new myth. At long last.
Coco Gauff Becomes a Legend at the U.S. Open
Bridget Geerlings: “Get up, Coco Gauff, you just won the U.S. Open” is the phrase of the year and my dream WiFi network name. This famous sentence was uttered on national television after the American teenager fell to the ground upon securing her first Grand Slam title. The jubilant New York crowd had been with her the entire tournament, but there was a tsunami of sound that echoed from Arthur Ashe Stadium the minute she pulled off a wild comeback to defeat world no. 2 Aryna Sabalenka.
The pressure placed on Gauff to win a major title has followed her from the moment she beat tennis titan Venus Williams way back in 2019. This year, her odds didn’t seem favorable following an early exit in Wimbledon and a last-minute coaching change before things kicked off in Queens. But at the U.S. Open, the 19-year-old met every moment with perseverance, grace, and an admirable sense of humor. All of these qualities were displayed even when fossil fuel protesters and ineffective chair umpires disrupted her matches. Her decision to de-stress by snacking on fruit salad out of a Tupperware became a viral sensation and a new philosophy on life.
Will Gauff collect more trophies as she competes? There’s no doubt in my mind. But one thing you can bet on is that she’ll collect more fans, and hopefully a Tupperware sponsorship, as she continues to play the sport she so clearly loves, and that makes the watching all the more worthwhile.
The Fateful Flight of N616RH
Ben Lindbergh: For all the times that Shohei Ohtani has thrilled fans on the field, his greatest feat so far may be captivating three countries across two continents from the comfort of his couch. On the morning of Friday, December 8, the MLB free agent received a 10-year, $700 million contract offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers. That night, he decided to accept it. In between, he had legions of down-bad baseball fans following his every move—without ever actually making a move.
In the wee hours of that Friday morning, social media started buzzing about a private plane—registration number N616RH—that was scheduled to fly from Anaheim to Toronto at noon ET. That discovery, coupled with a Jon Morosi report that Ohtani’s decision was “imminent,” infected countless keyboard jockeys with flight-tracking fever. Throw in a Toronto opera singer’s rumor that Blue Jays pitcher Yusei Kikuchi had made a large-scale reservation at a sushi restaurant near Rogers Centre, Morosi’s update that Ohtani was en route to Toronto, and a Dodgers Nation report that Ohtani had chosen to sign with the Jays—all erroneous—and by the time N616RH crossed into Canadian airspace, tens of thousands of people were following its journey, still not knowing who was on board.
Then the plane landed, and out stepped … Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec.
“People kept on asking me, ‘Are you flying to Toronto right now?’” Ohtani later recounted through his interpreter. “So I was aware of that whole situation. But I was on my couch with the dog at the time.”
It’s a testament to Ohtani’s talent and fame—and the secretive way he went about picking an employer—that the mere possibility that he might’ve made up his mind bewitched all of baseball. And although the outcome saddened Jays fans—and prompted much media hand-wringing, including multiple mea culpas—the silly saga was a ton of fun. Sadly, we will never know the whereabouts of N616RH again; after all the furor, the Bombardier jet was delisted from flight-tracking sites. As for Ohtani, we can count on the fact that he’ll be “at home in Southern California” for a decade to come.
The Two Weeks That Changed Marathon Running Forever
Zach Kram: No sporting development in 2023 sparked more big-picture philosophical debates than what happened in the distance-running world over a two-week span this fall. In late September, a 26-year-old Ethiopian named Tigst Assefa shattered the women’s marathon record with her race in Berlin; the previous best was 2 hours, 14 minutes, and 4 seconds, but Assefa skipped over the 2:13s and 2:12s entirely with a scorching 2:11:53. Then, in early October, a 23-year-old Kenyan named Kelvin Kiptum blazed through the Chicago Marathon and broke the men’s world record by 34 seconds, lowering the official mark to 2:00:35.
Neither of these performances would have been remotely predictable a year earlier. In 2022, Assefa was a moderately accomplished former 800-meter specialist—meaning she was closer to a sprinter than a distance runner—and Kiptum was an unknown runner without a coach who had never even raced a full marathon before that December. Now, both are world-record holders, in part because of a new generation of superlight, super-bouncy shoes: Assefa wore the new Adidas Pro Evo 1s during her record-setting jaunt, while Kiptum donned the new Nike Alphafly 3s.
The records represented the next step in the super-shoe arms (feet?) race, which has been raging in running circles since Nike launched its Vaporfly line in 2017. Data proves that these shoes work, helping both amateur and professional runners cut crucial minutes from their marathon times. But as the technology continues to improve and rival companies continue to try to one-up each other, a new question has emerged: Do the shoes now help too much? Is it good for the sport that, as a Runner’s World article after the dual performances noted, “the world of marathon racing has become as much a battle of technology as endurance”?
As a runner and running fan, I am simultaneously awed by Assefa and Kiptum—a sub-two-hour marathon now seems firmly in reach, without the gimmicks that helped Eliud Kipchoge break two hours in an unsanctioned attempt—and concerned that distance running will soon head the way of swimming during the era of full bodysuits. World Aquatics eventually banned those super-suits but not until the entire swimming record book had been rewritten. Is that where marathon runners are traveling too?
Taylor Swift Mania Comes for the NFL
Nora Princiotti: I don’t know if you have heard, but Taylor Swift is dating Travis Kelce? Oh, you had heard that? OK.
Taylor-Travis (all the nicknames are bad, sorry) mania began in Kansas City, on the night that gave us “seemingly ranch,” but it peaked in New York, when the Chiefs visited the Jets on Sunday Night Football. Taylor went to the game with a gaggle of famous pals—Blake Lively! Ryan Reynolds! Hugh Jackman for some reason!—and chaos ensued. The game drew an audience of 27 million viewers, the most since the Super Bowl, the NBC crew made some of the worst “Shake It Off” puns imaginable, and Taylor, imitating Travis, playfully celebrated with Blake up in the box. I will remember that fist bump forever.
Wemby Mania Comes to San Antonio
Isaac Levy-Rubinett: In a year of indelible sports moments, I feel a bit like a doofus for picking one that revolves around ping-pong balls and dumb luck. No transcendent feats of athleticism. No powerful reminders of human beauty and grace. Just the random breaks of a lottery system designed to benefit the most inept teams in the NBA. Still, I and countless other Spurs faithful will remember 2023 as the year that gave us Point Sochan. Oh, and also Victor Wembanyama and another emotion so critical to sports fandom: hope.
I remember the end of the draft lottery happening very quickly, like a Band-Aid ripped off the arms of 29 other teams. I was in the car, listening on the radio. I had just pulled up in front of my house as the NBA was preparing to announce the last few picks—i.e., the top few picks—and I couldn’t chance missing it during my mad dash to the TV. One moment, the broadcast was lamenting the Pistons’ misfortune of landing the fifth pick. The next, they were heralding the arrival of another generational big-man prospect to San Antonio.
To that point, I had largely avoided watching Wemby’s highlights in an effort to temper my hopes. I had spent the 2022-23 season grimly reminding myself that anything with a 14 percent chance is highly unlikely. I had talked myself into Scoot Henderson’s extraordinary potential. And when the Hornets were awarded the no. 2 pick, leaving my beloved Spurs with no. 1, I shook my head, laughed, and yelled. Checked my phone, texted my friends. Got out of the car and walked toward my front door as if I were strutting down a promenade surrounded by adoring fans. It felt like the universe was on my side.
There have since been a succession of Wemby firsts: his first pro appearance, his first duel against Chet Holmgren, and, my personal favorite, his first “holy shit” NBA moment, when he dropped 38 in a victory against lanky forebear Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns. Presumably, Wembanyama will author many such moments in what I hope is a long and successful Spurs career. How ironic it is that, as arresting and magnificent as it is to watch Wembanyama play basketball, this all started with the bounce of a ping-pong ball.
Connor Stalions Pulls a Bobby Valentine
Ben Glicksman: With all due respect to fourth-and-31 in the Iron Bowl and the time Notre Dame lined up with 10 players on defense, the college football moment of the year happened on September 1 in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, during the Week 1 matchup between Michigan State and Central Michigan. This had nothing to do with the game itself; it had everything to do with a Central Michigan staffer standing on the sideline—or rather, someone pretending to be a Central Michigan staffer.
NEW: @TheAthletic has obtained more photos of the goatee'd sunglasses person on the Central Michigan sideline at Michigan State.— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) October 31, 2023
CMU is looking into whether this is Connor Stalions.
Story: https://t.co/79siEcZ89r pic.twitter.com/R5AyslTIWF
The man with the sunglasses and goatee above is named Connor Stalions. A few weeks after this photo was taken, he emerged as the most controversial figure in all of sports. That’s because Stalions, a retired captain in the U.S. Marine Corps who was then a low-level Michigan staffer, was reportedly the brains behind the strangest, dumbest, and objectively funniest scandal imaginable: the Michigan sign-stealing saga.
A quick synopsis: On October 18, the NCAA notified Michigan and the Big Ten that it was investigating allegations that the Wolverines had concocted a sign-stealing scheme in which representatives had been sent to games to scout future opponents. By the end of the month, many more details had come to light: Stalions was at the center of the investigation; he had reportedly purchased tickets in his own name for more than 30 games at 12 league schools over the past three years; the people in the ticketed seats reportedly used smartphones to film the home team’s sideline for entire games; the FBI got involved; the college football–viewing public demanded to know how much Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh knew and also became ludicrously, deliriously angry.
The absurdity didn’t end there. The photos of Stalions going full-on Bobby Valentine at the Central Michigan game hit the internet. So did screenshots of several fishy Venmo payments. Sports Illustrated reported that Stalions had penned a nearly 600-page document titled The Michigan Manifesto that laid out plans for, uh, world domination? A letter from Harbaugh’s lawyer to the Big Ten appeared to draw directly from a fan site blog post. Stalions resigned, and Harbaugh was ultimately suspended for three games; Michigan’s supporters went scorched earth about the punishment until another report broke detailing how a booster nicknamed “Uncle T” had partly funded Stalions’s operation and a linebackers coach had helped with the destruction of evidence. The linebackers coach was then fired.
Michigan finished the regular season undefeated and is the no. 1 seed going into the College Football Playoff. The program has a chance to win its first national title since 1997. But even if that happens, the enduring image of its season will be Stalions, master of disguise, playacting in Central Michigan garb. College football has always been about chaos first and arguing loudly about that chaos second. No moment better encapsulates that than Stalions standing on the sideline in an almost cartoonish attempt at subterfuge.
Aaron Rodgers Jogs Into His Jets Debut … and Everything After
Lindsay Jones: I debated among many Aaron Rodgers moments from 2023. Was it when he entered, and then emerged from, his darkness retreat? Was it his post-darkness appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, when he confirmed his intent to play for the Jets in 2023 … and aired more grievances about the Packers and NFL media? Aaron Rodgers had made himself the NFL’s main character of 2023 long before Week 1, but what happened on Sept. 11, on Monday Night Football, defined the entire season.
Thunderstruck played and green LED lights flashed in a darkened stadium as Rodgers was introduced as the Jets’ new quarterback. He carried an American flag in his right hand as he jogged out of the tunnel, slapping low fives with his new teammates. “This place is absolutely buzzing,” Joe Buck said on the ESPN broadcast. Of course it was! This was the moment generations of Jets fans had been waiting for; Rodgers was the quarterback who would lead the franchise from the abyss, make them forget about Zach Wilson and Sam Darnold and Mark Sanchez and the dozens of failed quarterbacks who came before them. With Rodgers, the Jets would be a Super Bowl contender!
The optimism lasted all of four snaps. Buffalo’s Leonard Floyd blew past the Jets’ left tackle, Duane Brown, and had a clear shot at Rodgers. Rodgers tried to spin away, but his left foot got tangled underneath him as Floyd swung him to the turf. Rodgers stood up briefly, but quickly sat back back down; he would later say he knew immediately his Achilles tendon had snapped. He was helped to the sideline as the crowd applauded, seemingly trying to will their supposed savior back to health, as Wilson took Rodgers’s place in the huddle. The Jets went on to beat the Bills that night with a walk-off punt return touchdown in overtime, but their season was doomed.
But you didn’t think Rodgers would just go away and quietly work through his rehab and get ready for 2024, would you? Of course not! Within days of his surgery, he suggested (on McAfee’s show, of course), that he’d put himself through an aggressive (and unorthodox) rehab to try to come back to play in 2023. He dangled the carrot of his return all the way until Dec. 19, two days after the Jets were officially eliminated from playoff contention, three weeks after he returned to practice and two and half weeks after his 40th birthday, when he finally admitted that returning to play 14 weeks after Achilles surgery “wasn’t realistic.”
Rodgers’s first season in New York ultimately was a flop, but Jets fans can hang on to the memory of that epic introduction, jog out of the tunnel, and the first three snaps to carry them into 2024.
Ezekiel Elliott Lines Up … at Center?
Danny Kelly: You know how on Jeopardy! they’ll occasionally run a cheeky category called “Stupid Answers,” where the correct “question” is not only incredibly obvious, but almost completely revealed in the answer? This play, which ended up going exactly as stupidly as you’d think it would go based on the presnap formation, reminded me of that:
Trailing 19-12 with just six seconds to go in their divisional-round playoff matchup with the 49ers, the Cowboys trotted out this galaxy brain formation as a last-ditch effort to stay alive. Lining up running back Ezekiel Elliott AT CENTER and all their actual offensive linemen flexed out to the wings, the ostensible plan was to give their blockers a head start to get out in space before doing the lateral-their-way-down-the-field thing. Except the Cowboys lining Zeke up at center all alone allowed the 49ers to blow the play up basically before it got started: Zeke got absolutely bowled over by linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, forcing Dak Prescott to get rid of the ball quickly under pressure. The pass found KaVontae Turpin about 8 yards downfield, but Turpin was tackled almost immediately by Jimmie Ward to end the game.
Now, I’ll admit, the odds of the Cowboys scoring on this play were astronomically low in any case. But you just have to respect Dallas’s choice to thumb its nose at dignity and lose the game in the most hilarious and embarrassing way imaginable.
A Fan Is Born: Lamont Butler’s Game Winner Over FAU
Austin Gayle: “Red team! Red team! Red team!”
That’s all I could hear ringing in my ear. My 5-year-old nephew, like every other 5-year-old before him, loves the color red. And no matter how hard I pleaded that San Diego State, my alma mater, also wears red, his allegiance to Florida Atlantic and its fully red uniforms was unwavering. He was beyond logic and reason. His FAU fanaticism, sparked just minutes before when he checked to see what I was watching on my phone, was devout. We were heated rivals huddled together over a six-inch screen. Me, sweating in silence as SDSU’s Cinderella run looked all but dead. Him, burying his forehead into my temple to get a better angle of the team he’d seemingly die for in a game he barely understood.
The chants were relentless deep into the final minute of the game. Key moments of Jim Nantz’s farewell tour drowned out by two words. Then Aguek Arop blocked the shot. Rebound pulled down by Nathan Mensah. For the first time, I couldn’t hear anything. No timeout. Lamont Butler’s midrange jumper goes up. Curtains. I screamed like a 5-year-old. SDSU was going to the national championship. But the red team wasn’t. My nephew was balling his eyes out. I thought I might have hurt him when I leapt out of my chair and sprinted around the house, but it was only his spirit that was crushed. “I wanted the red team to win,” he cried. His first taste of heartbreak as a sports fan.
And I couldn’t care less. Go Aztecs.
Caitlin Clark Arrives as College Basketball’s Biggest Star
Seerat Sohi: College basketball’s biggest story this year was Caitlin Clark, who displayed the potent, terrifying, expansive power of her potential—and, in Iowa’s loss to LSU in the championship game, its limits.
Through the season, the arc, distance, and persuasiveness of her 3-point attempts grew—and along with them, the Hawkeyes’ hopes, the popularity of the women’s college game, and the Overton window for boastful, aggressive displays of showmanship and emotion from female athletes.
There was the buzzer-beating 3 against Indiana, after which she snarled and stomped around the Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a manner reminiscent of Dwyane Wade telling fans whose house it was. After Iowa beat Louisville in the Elite Eight, Clark waved her hand over her face, mimicking John Cena’s “You can’t see me” gesture. In the Final Four, she blithely waved South Carolina’s Raven Johnson off (Johnson’s effectiveness from range, perhaps not coincidentally, has jumped by 20 percentage points this season). By the time the championship game against LSU rolled around, a record-blasting 12 million viewers tuned in to watch what recruiters in Des Moines had seen since Clark was in the seventh grade: the sharp, general-esque playmaking creativity and command of Sue Bird, the crunch-time clairvoyance of Diana Taurasi, the ingenuity of Steph Curry. No shot, we’d say—with a collective sense of awe and déjà vu calling back to the early days of Steph—was a bad shot for Clark.
For as long as women’s spectator sports have existed, the images of female athletes have been carefully curated and policed so as not to threaten the patriarchal conventions of the day. While Clark’s swaggering gait, competitiveness, and temper have drawn some ire, by the third quarter of the championship game, fans began pushing against the rule makers, who gave Clark a technical foul for flinging the ball out of bounds. The call was critical, giving Clark her fourth foul while Iowa stared down a deficit. When the replay revealed that Clark hadn’t said anything, outrage ensued. Why was Clark being punished for a slight infraction in the biggest game of her life when male athletes are given more leeway with their emotions? Why wouldn’t the refs give Clark a right to her own humanity?
By the time the buzzer sounded and LSU came out victorious, you could have asked the very same question about Angel Reese, whom the fans hadn’t afforded the same grace. Reese was named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player but garnered more attention—much of it negative and racist—for mimicking Clark’s “You can’t see me” taunt. What made Clark an entertaining showman made Reese, who is Black, “classless” and “a fucking idiot.”
“I’m happy,” Reese said in response. “All year I was critiqued about who I was. I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit in a box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year. But when other people do it, y’all say nothing. So this was for the girls that look like me, that’s going to speak up on what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you, and that’s what I did it for tonight. This was bigger than me tonight.”
Jonas Vingegaard Delivers a Time Trial Performance for the Ages
Riley McAtee: The 2023 Tour de France was supposed to be a clash of cycling titans. In one corner was Tadej Pogacar, the then-24-year-old Slovenian phenom who had won both the 2020 and 2021 Tours. In the other corner was Jonas Vingegaard, the then-26-year-old Danish leader of superteam Jumbo-Visma who had toppled Pogacar in a closely contested 2022 Tour.
For 15 stages, the 2023 Tour was tight. Entering the 16th stage, Vingegaard and Pogacar were separated by a mere 10 seconds, while the third-place rider (Carlos Rodríguez) was more than five minutes behind. For more than two weeks, the two had kept each other company like shadows, rarely allowing either to gain any time.
That made the 16th stage—a 22.4-kilometer time trial—crucial. Rather than the tactical jockeying for position that defines most cycling stages, a time trial is a straight showdown: fastest rider wins. Pogacar and Vingegaard would be stripped of their teammates, the peloton, and each other, with a shot at glory on the line.
To say Pogacar (who was the second-to-last rider on the course, while Vingegaard started two minutes behind Pogacar as the hammer) crushed this stage would be an understatement. Whizzing through the twists and turns in the Alps, he beat third-place finisher Wout Van Aert by a minute and 13 seconds (on a stage that took most riders just over half an hour to complete!). This was the type of superhuman performance you’d expect from a rider who was the youngest Tour victor in more than a century back when he won it at age 21 in 2020.
Pogacar’s problem? Vingegaard crushed him, besting him by a minute and 38 seconds. That meant that Vingegaard nearly caught Pogacar by the end of the race and also finished nearly three minutes ahead of any other rider on the day. Van Aert—one of the best riders of his generation—could only tip his cap and refer to himself as “the best of the normal people.” A 10-second gap between Vingegaard and Pogacar had ballooned to 108 seconds, all but earning the former his second consecutive yellow jersey.
Vingegaard widened the gap in the last few stages of the Tour, going on to win by more than seven minutes. Pogacar and Vingegaard now have two Tour wins each—and neither has placed worse than second in any Tour they’ve been a part of. There will be more showdowns in the future; we can only hope they result in performances as impressive as what we saw at Stage 16.
Fairleigh Dickinson Delivers a March Madness Upset for All Time
Steven Ruiz: It’s one thing to pull off the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. It’s another to call your shot beforehand with cameras rolling. That’s what Tobin Anderson did before leading 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson to an upset over no. 1 Purdue back in March.
"The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them."— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 18, 2023
Two days ago, FDU head coach Tobin Anderson spoke tonight's win into existence pic.twitter.com/4koDOJrlj3
Anderson knew. His comments didn’t come off as empty talk to motivate his team before an unwinnable game. That was apparent from the tip. Anderson’s team had a comprehensive plan for slowing down the Boilermakers’ 7-foot-4 National Player of the Year, Zach Edey. With the tournament’s shortest team, Anderson knew his team wouldn’t have a shot if Edey caught the ball close to the basket, and he formulated his defense to prevent that from happening. That required all five players to work in concert for 40 minutes straight. Just watch the first possession of the game.
Edey ended up with 21 points but took only 11 shots. He worked hard for every touch. Getting shots up required him to shoot over two or three defenders. Purdue had to pick up its tempo to get Edey the ball before FDU could set up its defense.
“A lot of times they would have one dude guarding from behind and one dude basically sitting in my lap,” Edey said after the game. “They were full-fronting the entire game, made it very hard to get catches. They’d full-front and they would sit someone [else] underneath the rim, which makes it very hard to get catches and get into a flow and rhythm. Credit to them, they had a great game plan coming in, and they executed it very well.”
FDU wasn’t a very good team during the season. The Knights “earned” a bid on a technicality. If they played Purdue 10 times, they would lose nine times. But that doesn’t mean this was a fluke. It was a tremendous coaching job by Anderson. The perfect plan for one particular game. And it provided us with one of the best moments of the year.
Mac McClung Becomes a Dunk Contest God
Rob Mahoney: I would say the idea of a virtual unknown vaulting up from the basketball minor leagues to dominate the NBA slam dunk contest strains credulity … if we hadn’t watched it happen and seen some of the world’s best athletes stare on in awe as Mac McClung cycled through dunks they had never seen before. The cosmic screenwriters really went wild with this one. McClung had probably been waiting his entire life to throw down a dunk so ridiculous he could declare a whole contest over, à la Vince Carter, in front of a packed arena losing its collective mind. Not only did that exact thing happen—McClung earned the moment.
You have to give him points for creativity. McClung posterized Vincent Adultman while knocking the ball off the glass. He threw down a breezy double-clutch 360. He finished a triple-pump handoff slam. And then he delivered a coup de grâce that even Vince could be proud of: a whirling, ferocious 540 reverse. I feel like I’m just naming moves from Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2, but maybe that’s fitting for a dunker who looks like he just walked out of a PacSun.
That improbability is integral to McClung’s appeal. A pint-sized guard from Virginia who had played a total of 24 NBA minutes to that point stormed the signature event of All-Star Weekend and made it his own. He racked up a nearly flawless performance by score, and he achieved it through the radical dunk contest strategy of making all of his dunks.
With that came a kind of viral celebrity: furious social media interest, a shoe deal, a commercial for a Dungeons & Dragons movie, and the kind of notoriety that gets you stopped in the street and told, over and over, that people had never seen anything like your contest performance. Yet even after his moment at the center of the basketball universe, McClung wound up back in the G League—first with the Delaware Blue Coats and now with the Osceola Magic. McClung is still a young player who should have a lot more basketball ahead of him. But sometimes, all we get is a moment. All we can hope is that when ours comes, we fly as high as McClung did.
Tommy DeVito Becomes an Italian American God
Justin Sayles: 2023 has been the year of the backup quarterback in the NFL, which means that for anywhere between 12 and 20 teams, it’s been a year of hell. Let’s look at an abridged list of casualties and horror stories: The Jets lost Aaron Rodgers mere minutes into their season opener, and then had to turn to Zach Wilson then to Tim Boyle then to Zach Wilson again in hopes of salvaging their season. (They didn’t.) The Browns are down their top three quarterbacks and had to pull Joe Flacco off whatever golf course he was hanging out on. (He’s actually been fine, though optimism and Browns fans mix about as well as bleach and ammonia.) The Steelers are starting Mason Rudolph; Mac Jones got benched for his tether (seriously, look at this shit); Aidan O’Connell squared off against Easton Stick in prime time (and somehow only Brandon Staley lost his job as a result). We tried hard—really hard—to make Josh Dobbs a thing, and we were subjected to whatever the hell it is that Drew Lock is doing. As it stands, Gardner Minshew and Jake Browning could be playoff starters, just like we all predicted in August. Be thankful no one could find Sam Bradford’s phone number!
But there is one team that has managed to turn lemons into lasagna: the New York Football Giants. Tommy DeVito—the undrafted third-string rookie thrust into action after injuries to both Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor—has become a certified cult hero in the tri-state area. Some of that is because of his performance in November and early December, when he led the G-Men to a three-game winning streak, capped by a comeback victory over the Packers on Monday Night Football. But let’s face it: Most of this is because of his proud, loud Italian-American roots. DeVito shares a name with Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas. (Has anyone tried out the nickname “Tommy Shinebox” yet?) Like every good Italian boy, he still lives at home (he’s a Jersey native, of course) and loves his mom’s chicken cutlets. (Speaking of his parents, isn’t his family [insert Italian finger-pinch emoji] simply perfetto?) He’s ranked Italian cuisines with a Staten Island food influencer, and he’s not afraid to shake hands at the local deli. (Bogie’s Hoagies in Hawthorne, where “size actually matters.”) And of course, he’s got a guy: His agent, Sean Stellato, a member of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, presumably for his work and not his custom-made Bellissimo hat. (My favorite headline of the year: “Tommy DeVito’s agent embroiled in pizzeria feud after allegedly raising QB’s appearance fee,” a dustup that led to the Passing Paisan hiring a new marketing rep. No word yet on whether the marketing rep also wears pinstripe suits.)
It’s hard to remember sometimes, but we watch sports for fun—a distraction from the day-to-day grind and real-world atrocities broadcast to us by the nightly news and social media. But whatever joy we find for the 18 weeks of the NFL season can be fleeting; you may wake up on game day and find your team starting a Nick Mullens or a Case Keenum and wonder why you even bother. But every now and then, a backup gives your team life. In Tommy DeVito’s case, that life isn’t about wins and losses—it’s about enjoying the ride, on-field results be damned. The Tommy Cutlets experience is surely almost over, with Tyrod Taylor scheduled to start after DeVito got whacked like his namesake. (On Christmas Day! Oof Madone!). But while we mourn the loss of our prince, let’s also pour some Rao’s marinara out and remember the ride for what it was: Linsanity for people who talk with their hands; Tebowmania for people who know where to get the best cannoli. Sometimes, a hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich. But others, it’s a backup QB with a sandwich named after him.
Gregg Popovich Cuts a Promo on the Spurs Home Crowd
Ben Cruz: I firmly believe that the rest of the sports world needs to be more like professional wrestling, all day, every day. Tyrese Haliburton has embraced it. George Kittle has embraced it. Draymond Green has (probably by accident) embraced it.
But there was no more quintessentially professional wrestling moment in all of sports this year than on November 22, 2023, when the winningest coach in NBA history did something unprecedented. Gregg Popovich cut a 1980s-esque babyface promo on the home San Antonio crowd when he asked everyone to stop booing former Spurs star Kawhi Leonard.
It’s more than just that Pop requested his fellow San Antonians to stop booing that sets this moment apart. It’s that Pop hopped on the mic in between Kawhi’s first and second free throws. “Excuse me for a second,” Popovich started with the crowd. “Can we stop all the booing and let these guys play? It’s got no class. It’s not who we are. Knock off the booing.”
In the words of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin: WHAT?! What’s wrong with booing a player who famously forced his way out of town, immediately won a championship with another team, and then subsequently demanded a trade to another team closer to where he grew up? What’s the point of being a fan—an inherently irrational endeavor—if you can’t incessantly boo someone who has passively hurt you?
On the one hand, Pop’s actions felt wild to me. On the other hand, this moment opened up a can of worms that I want to explore further. We need more in-game promos. I want to hear a Nick Sirianni soliloquy about why he’s challenging the spot on an Eagles tush push. I want to hear Florida State football coach Mike Norvell cut a scathing promo during the Orange Bowl about how Florida State was robbed of a spot in the College Football Playoff. I want to hear Jordan Poole finally respond to all the Draymond Green shenanigans in the middle of a Wizards game or, better yet, in the middle of a stepback 3 that almost decapitates the baseline referee.
Sports have become way too formulaic in how we consume them. If we have live microphones at our disposal, let’s make better use of them while making our wrestling forefathers proud.
Shohei Ohtani Vs. Mike Trout in the World Baseball Classic
Jack McCluskey: Sometimes you watch sports to see something you’ve seen before. To see your favorite team win again, to see your favorite player dominate your least favorite opponent once more.
And sometimes you watch sports to see something you’ve never seen before. Like Shohei Ohtani in a high-pressure situation with real stakes.
In March, we got the chance to do both. As one of the stars of Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic, Ohtani dominated both at the plate (hitting .435/.606/.739 in seven games) and on the mound (posting two wins, a save, a 1.86 ERA, and 11 K’s and just five hits allowed in 9 2/3 innings). And he was on the mound in the ninth inning of the championship game against Team USA, with the chance to win Japan’s third WBC title.
With two outs and Japan clinging to a one-run lead, the stars aligned when Mike Trout stepped to the plate to face his Angels teammate. It was the first career matchup between the two best players in the world. It was what we’d hoped to see, in pretty much the most dramatic scenario possible. I’m vibrating just thinking about it.
I’ll spare you the nine-month-old play-by-play, but just know that even though my team lost when Ohtani won that matchup and struck Trout out, I can’t think of a better ending, to the matchup or to the tournament, than the soon-to-be $700 million man firing his glove and hat into the air in celebration.
Shohei Ohtani Vs. the Tigers … Twice in One Day
Danny Heifetz: There are so many incredible Ohtani accomplishments that it is hard to pick just one. In fact, Ohtani’s accomplishments have become a meme.
every time I see an Angels highlight it's like "Mike Trout hit three homes runs and raised his average to .528 while Shohei Ohtani did something that hasn't been done since 'Tungsten Arm' O'Doyle of the 1921 Akron Groomsmen, as the Tigers defeated the Angels 8-3"— ℳatt (@matttomic) May 18, 2021
But if you watched the Angels on July 27, 2023, you saw the case for why Shohei Ohtani might be the greatest baseball player who ever lived.
Ohtani started Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Tigers as a pitcher. With another game that day, preserving the bullpen was key. Ohtani promptly threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout—the first complete-game shutout of his career—while striking out eight batters as the Angels won 6-0.
Hours later, in Game 2 of the doubleheader, Ohtani smashed two home runs to seal an 11-4 victory and the doubleheader sweep.
Now every time Ohtani does something amazing, people make jokes about breaking a record set by Tungsten Arm O’Doyle “as the Tigers defeated the Angels 8-3.” But two years after that joke was first made, the best day of Ohtani’s career actually came when the Angels beat the Tigers—twice. Ohtani became the first player to throw a shutout in one part of a doubleheader and hit a home run in the other game. Nobody had ever done that before, not even Tungsten Arm O’Doyle.
The A’s Fans Vs. the A’s Ownership in Oakland
Julianna Ress: As an Oakland A’s fan, there weren’t many sports moments to celebrate this year. Owner John Fisher and team president Dave Kaval’s plot to tank and steal baseball away from the East Bay was rewarded with a promise of a demolished hotel and a plot of land on the Las Vegas Strip. And with the team all but packed and shipped off to Sin City (though the move is not completely a done deal), it’s easy to look at the reverse boycott efforts—two games over the summer where A’s fans packed the stadium to demand to keep the team in Oakland—and feel like they just weren’t enough. Maybe that’s true—but maybe there was really nothing fans could do to stop the theft of Oakland’s beloved team. Some have placed the blame for the move on fans for low attendance, rather than the billionaire-heir owner who facilitated a multi-decade sabotage of a team whose all-time biggest contract is still Eric Chavez’s $66 million extension in 2004, one year before Fisher took over. Maybe the odds were simply stacked too high to overcome.
But even if the reverse boycott couldn’t stop the A’s Vegas negotiations, it still served as a celebration of a team and the vibrant community that it fostered. The drummers were back in right field, the protest signs went uncensored, Green Day frontman and Oakland native Billie Joe Armstrong showed solidarity, and of course, roars of “sell the team” were abundant. And loud. The Oakland Coliseum consistently ranks among the worst venues in sports, but I find that that concrete castle in the middle of a massive parking lot still has so much charm to it, especially in the age of the sleek, downtown ballpark. During the reverse boycott, everyone got to see how much power that place can really hold.
I’ve never known life without the A’s, but if they follow through with their move to Vegas, 2023 will probably be my last year as a baseball fan. It’s heartbreaking to think it’s just over—no more walk-offs, Moneyball, Banjo Man. But when I look back on it all, the reverse boycott will remind me that the A’s time in Oakland wasn’t for nothing.
The Kings and Clippers Break the Charts
Tyler Parker: The highest-scoring game in NBA history just celebrated its 40th anniversary. December 13, 1983. McNichols Sports Arena. Denver, Colorado. Detroit beat the Nuggets in a 186-184 three-overtime chartbuster. Kelly Tripucka dropped 35 for the Pistons and was only the game’s fifth-leading scorer. Denver went 1-for-2 from 3. So did Detroit. Isiah Thomas took both. Bill Hanzlik will never die.
This past February 24, the Sacramento Kings and L.A. Clippers treated fans to a similar offensive experience. There was no time for modest foreplay. It was straight to the lotus eating. Forty-forty at the end of the first quarter. A shotmaking bacchanalia from word one. The highlights are electric and debauched, unhinged, a testament to good old-fashioned American excess and the power of cold, hard beamage. “All right, fourth quarter. It’s 147-138.” The kind of SportsCenter package where Neil Everett chuckles every time he says the score and also mentions it’s George Thorogood’s birthday on Friday? The Kings posted a video on their YouTube page of just the fourth quarter and both overtimes. Running time: 45 minutes and 46 seconds. Gaze in wide wonder. It is cinema.
Let’s start listing stats. Malik Monk came off the bench to lead all scorers with 45 points plus six assists in 41 minutes. Kawhi Leonard had 44, four rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Shot 16-of-22 from the field and 6-of-9 from 3. Maybe most notably, he played 46 minutes. De’Aaron Fox played 45 minutes. During that time he went for 42 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, and five steals. It was his sixth straight game scoring 30 or more. When Monk and Fox are both hitting simultaneously, the screen erupts into some volcanic wonderland. In transition it’s let’s vamoose, y’all. Lava, but faster. They get the ball and get blurry.
More numbers because this game was bombed out of its tree, right? Just hammered out of its gourd. Just wrecked. Paul George put up 34 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. Domantas Sabonis had 20 points, 10 boards, and four assists. Norman Powell scored 24. In his Clipper debut, Russell Westbrook finished with 17 points, 14 assists, and five boards and made Everett scream, “Greased lightning.” The two teams combined to hit 44 triples, which tied the NBA single-game record. The Kings shot 58.6 percent from the field. The Clips, 60 percent. Sacramento had seven guys in double figures. So did the Clips.
At the end of the second OT, the Clips had the ball on a side out, down one with six seconds left. Nicolas Batum inbounded to Norman Powell. There’s a dribble and a lift fake, and Powell throws Batum a grenade with three seconds left on the clock. The Frenchman was running hot that night and already 5-of-9 from 3. Feeling it so much that after he banged a triple with 6:45 left in the fourth, Sacramento Kings play-by-play man Mark Jones declared, “That’s his office.” And so, with recent success puffing his chest, Batum figured what the hell, let’s live a little, shoot when the shooting’s good. He airmailed it long off the backboard. (Everett: “Batum doesn’t go the dynamite. Game, Kings. Game, beam.”) It was the second-highest-scoring game in NBA history. Three hundred fifty-one combined points. A Loyola-Marymount-sprint-the-night-away-D’Antoni-with-nukes acid trip to the stars. (Everett: “Somebody get me a beverage.”) Fox: “There was high-level offensive basketball that was being played.”
The Kings Light the Beam
Howard Beck: There’s something almost absurd about shooting a big, purple laser beam into space every time your team wins a basketball game. No, strike that. Not “almost.” It is objectively, patently, profoundly absurd to fire up four 1,000-watt RGB lasers, visible for lord-knows-how-many miles, requiring lord-knows-how-much energy, just to celebrate a regular-season win.
Truly absurd … and absolutely, positively wonderful. As was the long-awaited, happy rebirth of the Sacramento Kings.
They won 48 games, their most since 2005-06. They made the playoffs, ending a ghastly, record-setting, 16-season drought. De’Aaron Fox dazzled, and claimed the inaugural Jerry West Trophy as the NBA’s most clutch player. Fox and Domantas Sabonis forged a beautiful pick-and-roll partnership, becoming one of the league’s most effective tandems. The Kings were exhilarating, joyful, likable—and they gave long-starved Sacramento fans a reason to cheer and scream and, yes, to chant. “Light! The! Beam!”
Celebrating with a Laser Space Cannon (actual brand name), with illuminating power that’s “six times more visible than the brightest ordinary searchlight” (actual quote), might be extreme. But if any fan base earned it, it’s this one. Kings fans are as passionate and devoted as any in the NBA. I saw (and heard) it firsthand, during my years as a Lakers beat writer during the Shaq and Kobe era—or in Sac, the C-Webb/Vlade/Peja era. My ears are still ringing from the cowbells at ARCO Arena. Those Kings teams were a blast, and the rivalry intense.
Now, it’s an all-NorCal rivalry, with the Kings rising just as the Warriors dynasty is flagging. Their seven-game first-round series last spring was thoroughly riveting, requiring every bit of Steph Curry magic for the Warriors to survive. But the Kings’ time is coming, and it promises to be a blast. So go ahead, ring the cowbells. Fire the space lasers. Light the beam. A little absurdity is good for the soul.
Adolis García Destroys the Astros All by Himself
David Lara: There’s no team that Rangers fans hate more than the Astros. I can attest. This has made it brutal to watch the past few MLB seasons, with Houston emerging as baseball’s triumphant supervillain. And it made me especially nervous when the Rangers and Astros faced off in a battle for Texas that doubled as the 2023 ALCS.
But then Adolis García happened. He decided enough was enough. Houston suddenly had a problem, and it was him. García blasted five home runs in the series and knocked in an ALCS-record 15 RBIs. And he didn’t just crush the Astros; he crushed them with style. Look at the umpire-cam shot of this opposite-field bomb!
The ump cam view of Adolis Garcia's HR is incredible pic.twitter.com/vYgvgl1UvZ— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) October 24, 2023
The Rangers eliminated the Astros in seven games and then defeated the Diamondbacks to win their first World Series title. García missed several games against Arizona with an injury, but it didn’t matter: He’d done his part. Flags fly forever. That’s how long his epic hot streak will live on for.
Michael Lorenzen Is Unhittable, for One Night
Sheil Kapadia: Being a baseball fan is all about waiting for the payoff. You watch 162 games (or close to it), and most of the time nothing all that remarkable happens. You turn a game on in the first inning, and two and a half hours later, you’re left with a 4-3 loss that will escape your memory by the time you wake up the following day.
But then there are nights like August 9. The Phillies were hosting the Nationals, and Michael Lorenzen, a pitcher Philadelphia had acquired at the trade deadline, was making his second start with the team. He looked shaky early on, issuing walks in three of the first four frames. The Nationals hit some rockets off of him, but weirdly, they kept finding the gloves of Phillies defenders.
All of a sudden the game was going into the seventh, and Lorenzen still hadn’t allowed a hit. Then he was clean through the eighth. I was watching at home with my family. We hung on every pitch. My oldest daughter, Naya (11), voiced concerns about Lorenzen’s pitch count. He finished with 124, and that workload might have factored into his struggles the remainder of the season. My youngest daughter, Leela (7), yelled, “He’s choking!” after Lorenzen missed with a couple of balls off the plate. But he eventually got the final out—a shallow fly to center—and we all jumped around and cheered from our living room. The Vans (yes, I said Vans) Lorenzen wore on the mound were sent to Cooperstown.
Lorenzen might never have another big moment for the Phillies, but we’ll always remember where we were when he got that final out. For one night, the payoff was worth it.
Ben Solak: I’m going to be a dad next year. I can’t wait. I’m so excited for every part of it—diapers and crying and teething. First birthday, first day of preschool, first time playing sports. I’m going to have to teach my kid about everything. How to share with their friends. How to say sorry when they make mistakes. How to be kind to others.
And then there will come a fateful day in which my child asks me: “Dad, how are you supposed to act when you win? Should you make fun of the losers? Or should you be nice to them because they tried their best?”
And I’ll say: “Kelce (boy or girl name, works either way), that’s a great question. You should always be kind to others and gracious in victory. It’s important to respect other people, especially when they tried their best, like you did, but weren’t able to win.”
And then I’ll pause and say: “There is one exception. If you hit a home run in the MLB playoffs against a stacked superteam that you eliminated last season, and their shortstop said ‘attaboy’ to you after you got thrown out to end an earlier postseason game, despite the fact that you are evidently one of the greatest baseball players alive, and then you hit ANOTHER HOME RUN in what is quickly amounting to an uproarious home playoff rout … then you should behave this way.”
And then I will show them this video:
Texas 34, Alabama 24
Bryan Curtis: Most fans recognize a good, old-fashioned No Expectations Game. Your team will probably lose, but—good news!—you have nothing to lose. The Texas Longhorns have had two such games in the past two seasons, both against Alabama. The 2022 game was a one-point loss in Austin during which Texas’s quarterback, Quinn Ewers, got hurt. This September, when the teams played in Tuscaloosa, Ewers kicked ass.
The first Ewers thunderbolt was delivered to wide receiver Xavier Worthy in the second quarter. Sitting on my couch—well, standing a few inches from the TV, because by that point I’d leapt up in the air—I thought something like, Mhmmm? The second Ewers thunderbolt came in the fourth quarter, with the Longhorns up three and Alabama looking like it could sneak away with another win. This pass traveled 44 yards to Adonai Mitchell. (Note Nick Saban’s tight smile afterward). At this point, I thought, Wait a minute. What if Texas isn’t just a nice, conference-championship type of team? What if Texas is really, really good? I’m still processing that question. Check back after January 1 and hopefully I can give you some clarity.
Liverpool 7, Manchester United 0
Aric Jenkins: In the midst of the current Premier League season, with a resurgent Liverpool once again competing for the league title, it’s hard to believe that the Reds came into this match as underdogs. But nine months ago, their archrivals Manchester United were being discussed as potential title contenders themselves, and United were fresh off winning the Carabao Cup en route to a historic quadruple—or so some pundits believed.
Then March 5 happened. Liverpool, then in sixth place and floundering well below their standards, welcomed the Red Devils to Anfield for a showdown. What followed was nothing short of an utter capitulation. Two goals from Cody Gakpo, two from Darwin Nunez, two from Mohamed Salah, and one from Roberto Firmino for good measure. It goes without saying that this sort of score line isn’t supposed to happen in soccer. It hadn’t ever happened between these two teams in the 100-plus-year history of this illustrious fixture—the last time Liverpool came close to such a result against United, it was 1895, when the Reds recorded a 7-1 victory against a United team then known as Newton Heath.
Make no mistake, I have no skin in this game—I was a neutral observer. But for one afternoon, at least, I couldn’t help but get swept up by the history, the narrative, and the raucous chorus of “You’ll never walk alone.”
Messi Magic Comes to Los Angeles
Conor Nevins: A strange feeling occurs when you watch Lionel Messi play live for the first time, no matter how accustomed you have become to seeing his brilliance on television. It feels so obvious that it’s hard to qualify it as a true a-ha moment, but the realization is striking, nonetheless. For so much of the game, he just … stands there. It’s as though he’s rooted in place while all of the action unfolds around him, watching, anticipating, analyzing—whatever it is that happens in his cosmically blessed brain. Then, suddenly, he snaps into action, receives the ball, and—this is the moment I am trying to describe—the entire gravity of the game instantaneously shifts. The feeling inside the stadium is palpable; thousands of people rise to their feet in unison, gasping, chanting, frantically pulling out their phones. It’s simultaneously thrilling, suspenseful, and … a bit dystopian?
I watched Messi at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles when Inter Miami visited LAFC in early September. As introductions go, Messi’s arrival in Major League Soccer was near perfect: He scored a stoppage-time free kick in his debut, reassembled some of his old Barcelona teammates, and Inter Miami won a trophy in the newly formed Leagues Cup. It’s difficult to quantify the impact his celebrity, his pedigree, his quality, his sheer star power have had on the league. It felt as though I was at a concert or a live art installation. People weren’t here to watch a soccer game; they were here to see him. A teenager in the row in front of me watched the entire 90 minutes through his phone while recording the game.
In Los Angeles, the requisite celebrity presence had assembled (Leonardo DiCaprio, Selena Gomez), but what stood out most to me was how many young children were in attendance for a Sunday evening kickoff. Hundreds of them, all wearing Messi jerseys from Argentina, Barcelona, or Inter Miami, and every one of them looking as though they were experiencing the greatest event in their entire lives. Whatever cynicism I might have harbored about the spectacle subsided. How many times do you get to see an icon in the flesh?
Conversations about Messi’s legacy invariably delve into hyperbole and it feels similar when hypothesizing about his long-term impact on the league and soccer in this country. Maybe we’ll look back at that Summer of Messi as a fun flash-in-the-pan moment. Maybe he will have a truly transformative effect. But those kids, and myself, got to see the biggest star on the planet that night. We got to see him. And they, and I, will never forget it.
The Phillies’ Playoff Magic Runs Out
Dan Comer: Full disclosure: I’m an Atlanta Braves fan, and as such, I detest the behavior of Philadelphia sports fans. To any of you reading this, put the toddlers’ middle fingers down, stop throwing snowballs at Santa, and celebrate championships without setting fire to your city. None of that is as charming as you think it is.
Much to my dismay, the Philadelphia Phillies have been charming over the past two seasons, as a slugging group led by Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos has dominated my Braves in both the 2022 and 2023 playoffs to emerge as the viewing public’s October darling. Despite winning just 87 games and finishing third in the NL East in 2022, the Phillies made it to the World Series; they looked like a team of destiny again this past fall after taking a 2-0 lead over the Diamondbacks in the NLCS.
But then something magical happened: The scrappy Diamondbacks won Game 3 in walk-off fashion, evened the series at two in Game 4, and staved off elimination on the road in Game 6 to force a winner-takes-all matchup in front of the Philly faithful. The Game 7 stage was set, with Phillies pitcher Ranger Suárez—who to that point in his postseason career sported an 0.94 ERA and was undefeated in six starts—set to start against Arizona rookie Brandon Pfaadt. Nearly every matchup favored Philadelphia, but it choked away a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning (hat tip to Arizona youngsters Gabriel Moreno and Corbin Carroll) and never got it back.
Sometimes, your favorite sports moment of the year is your own team’s triumph. Sometimes, your enemy’s worst day is your best day.
Georgia Beats Ohio State at the Stroke of Midnight
Jordan Ritter Conn: College football fans have had a rough year. The national title game, between Georgia and TCU, was over by the end of the first quarter, the most lopsided contest in bowl history. Realignment dominated the summer, every move more nonsensical than the last; Colorado to the Big 12 (fine), Oregon and Washington to the Big Ten (what?), and Cal and Stanford to the ACC (absolutely the fuck not). Across the country, rivalries have been vanishing, traditions thrown in the trash. The four-team playoff is going out with its most grievous injustice, leaving an undefeated Florida State out of the field. And the transfer portal, while granting players a level of agency they’ve long deserved, has left rosters everywhere in a state of semipermanent chaos.
But this year began with a reminder of what makes the sport unlike any other. That’s when we saw the final moments of a Peach Bowl that, OK, yes, was played mostly on Dec. 31, 2022 but finished in 2023. When C.J. Stroud shut up the Ohio State fans who had never really shown him the love he deserved, shredding a Bulldogs defense that featured future pros at every position. When Stetson Bennett added one last virtuoso performance as a Bulldog, capping the “What if Rudy was actually good at football” narrative of his career. When we watched two of the sport’s Goliaths demonstrate how beautiful their game can be when played with the most stomach-twisting of stakes. At the exact moment New Year’s Eve hit its final countdown, Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles lined up a 50-yard field goal. When the clock hit zero, the New Year’s ball dropped and Ruggles’s kick took flight. It never had a chance. He missed, the Bulldogs held on, the Buckeyes mourned. And college football fans began the year with a reminder that no matter how maddening the sport may often be, it can still offer games like this one, when two teams not only compete with each other to win, but also seem to collaborate to offer the viewing public three and a half hours that feel sublime.
The Chargers Playoff Sadness Reaches a Historic New Level
Megan Schuster: Something being called “historic” in sports is either great, or horrible. There is no in-between. And for the Chargers on January 14, it was horrible. L.A.’s 31-30 loss to the Jaguars wasn’t just a last-second defeat that knocked them out of the playoffs. It wasn’t even just the Chargers Chargersing, as they’ve been wont to do throughout their franchise history. No, it was a historic loss, one that involved a blown 27-point lead (the largest in Chargers franchise history); a plus-five turnover differential, which made L.A. the first team to lose a playoff game with that kind of turnover luck; and postgame quotes like “We choked” (from edge rusher Kyle Van Noy), “It’s embarrassing” (defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day), and “I’m hurting for everybody in that locker room” (head coach Brandon Staley). They say beauty is pain, but nothing about this game was beautiful—even from the Jaguars’ perspective (Trevor Lawrence’s four interceptions were what got them in a 27-0 hole in the first place). But there was plenty of pain for the Chargers that day; some might even say historic amounts.
The Full James Harden Experience, in One Series
Amaar Burton: From his offensive brilliance to his audacious sense of empowerment, James Harden has been must-watch TV for more than a decade. Maybe the greatest combo guard in history (three-time scoring champ, two-time assists leader), yet also labeled a “legendary quitter” in these Ringer streets, he is the most polarizing player of his generation. And when a loud segment of the fandom launched a whisper campaign that the former MVP was washed up and irrelevant, Harden pulled a Rob Van Dam and gave us the whole fuckin’ show in 2023.
Harden led the league in assists last season, helping 76ers teammate Joel Embiid win MVP and a scoring title. While no longer a lock to score 30 himself, the aging-floor-general version of Harden still had Philadelphia looking like a title contender heading into the homestretch.
Then in the playoffs, Vintage Harden showed up. In Game 1 of the second round against the Celtics, with Embiid sidelined, Harden dropped 45 points and the game-winning 3. And then … the other Vintage Harden showed up. In the next two losses, the postseason’s Notorious M.I.D. shot 5-for-28. That set up a must-win Game 4.
It wasn’t Harden’s 42 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, four steals, or six 3s that made his performance epic. Those are just numbers. It was the myriad moments: prompting Malcolm Brogdon to do the Elmo Slide with a behind-the-back dribble; tossing a beyond-half-court lob for the easiest bucket Embiid made all day; drilling a sidestep 3 to end the first half (ESPN announcer: “He’s hotter than fish grease!”); making Al Horford play Dance Dance Revolution before cashing in a floater to force overtime. With Philly trailing in the final seconds of overtime, Harden capped things off with a catch-and-shoot game-winner. (Who says he can’t play off the ball?)
On that day, the sky was the limit. It felt like the Sixers could win the whole thing and Harden would have his crowning achievement, Kevin Garnett style. Anything was possible.
But that was the end of it. Philly lost the Boston series as Harden played increasingly worse in Games 5, 6, and 7. “Choker” label back intact, he then forced an offseason trade to the Clippers—his third forced trade in three years.
CM Punk Finds His Way “Home”
Khal Davenport: On November 25, 2023, not long after WWE’s Survivor Series: WarGames premium live event went off the air, Triple H shared a picture of himself posing with CM Punk after Punk’s long-awaited return to WWE and simply wrote, “Mighty cold day in hell.” Within two weeks, Punk’s “Hell Froze Over” T-shirt was already on sale in the WWE Shop, a fitting end to a year that found him fired by WWE’s biggest competition, only to return “home,” as he said during his first promo back on Raw. “Home”? Hell really must have frozen over.
Do you want to know how big CM Punk’s return to WWE is? Since ’Mania 39, I’d penciled in “Endeavor/WWE/TKO Group” as what I’d be writing about for this very piece. That was before CM Punk returned from his nine-month absence following his actions after AEW All Out 2022. While his return to AEW back in June was notable—mostly for his “real” AEW World title and the beginnings of his “Absolute” Ricky Starks program—fans will mainly remember Punk’s final run in AEW for his termination from the company following a physical altercation with Jack Perry. It didn’t take long for speculation that Punk would show up on Survivor Series—which would take place in Chicago, Punk’s home. On a night that already featured the return of Randy Orton, Triple H himself produced Punk’s quick comeback to WWE, nine years after he left.
In 2023, WWE has made some intriguing moves, from the Rock’s glorious SmackDown return to the signing of Jade Cargill after her AEW deal expired. And while neither company will say it out loud, WWE and AEW are currently at war. After both promotions settle their lingering TV rights deals, there might be some differences to our current schedule of programs in a few years. During Punk’s time in AEW, he said that Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav was a fan of his—the addition of AEW’s Saturday night show, Collision, in 2023 was reportedly Zaslav’s idea. If you want to believe current rumors, Punk’s arrival in WWE has helped reopen discussions between WWE and WBD about the TV rights fees for its flagship Raw brand. Mind you, AEW’s three shows—Dynamite, Rampage, and Collision—all air on TNT and TBS, a.k.a. WBD properties.
I’m not saying Triple H brought CM Punk back specifically to drive a wedge between AEW and Warner Bros. Discovery … but what if he did? All is fair in love and war, right?
Roman Reigns’s Title Reign Hits 1,000 Days
Brian Waters: Roman Reigns has always been great, but he ascended to a new level when his title reign reached this benchmark in May 2023. His last major test before getting to 1,000 came against Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania 39, as Rhodes was determined to “finish the story” and win the championship that his father never could. But Reigns reigned supreme, adding Rhodes to the list of impressive foes he had defeated.
Reigns’s run began a week after his shocking return at SummerSlam 2020. His title defense includes wins over future WWE Hall of Famers John Cena, Big E, and Brock Lesnar, as well as current Hall of Famers Goldberg and Edge. He successfully defended his belt at three straight WrestleManias and three straight SummerSlams and in the process joined Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, and Hulk Hogan as the only superstars to hold a world championship in WWE for longer than 1,000 days.
Reigns pulled a Wilt Chamberlain to commemorate his milestone. He earned it: He’s one of the best to ever do it.
Derrick White Saves the Celtics. Temporarily.
Alan Siegel: It wasn’t as picturesque as Carlton Fisk’s walk-off homer over the Green Monster in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, but Derrick White’s buzzer-beater to tie the Eastern Conference finals at three games apiece should go down as one of the best season-saving moments in Boston sports history. What the play lacked in prettiness, it made up for in joyful chaos.
With three seconds left and the Celtics trailing 103-102, White inbounded the ball to Marcus Smart, who forced up a fadeaway 3. Meanwhile, White managed to loop toward the basket without any Heat defenders following him. Smart’s shot bounced in, out, and right into the hands of White, whose game-winning putback fell through the net as time expired.
Rewatching the clip of White sprinting around the court and throwing his hand up to signal that the shot should count almost makes up for what happened to Boston in Game 7. Almost.
The Legend of Playoff Jimmy Butler Adds Its Greatest Chapter
Wosny Lambre: Jimmy Butler was already something of a cult hero coming into the 2023 NBA playoffs, but that’s when he truly cemented himself as a basketball immortal. The flashpoint moment came in the fourth quarter of Game 4 in Miami’s first-round series against the Bucks, when Butler scored a basket over Jrue Holiday—a player universally respected at the best perimeter defender this side of Scottie Pippen—and proceeded to scream, “I own you!” with the cameras and mics recording for all of posterity. Mind you, this happened while the eighth-seeded Heat were down by double digits against top-seeded Milwaukee in the fourth quarter.
Butler would go on to score 56 points that night (the fourth-highest playoff total in league history), and Miami would go on to win the game (119-114) and later the series en route to reaching the NBA Finals. The box score will go down in history, but I’ll always remember this verbal Playoff Jimmy outburst as the moment he solidified his status as a living legend.
Lonnie Walker IV Outduels Steph Curry
Jomi Adeniran: Of everyone in the NBA … who do you trust most to hit an open shot? The fate of the universe is on the line, the martians have the death beam pointed at Earth, and you better hit it or else? Who are you placing your faith in?
I want Lonnie Walker IV. Just ask Warriors fans.
On May 8, the Lakers were trailing Golden State 84–77 heading into the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. L.A. had a 2-1 series edge but was on the verge of giving home-court advantage back to the defending champions.
Enter Lonnie Walker.
Ever since the Lakers upgraded their roster at February’s trade deadline, Walker’s minutes had decreased to the point that he was bouncing between playing garbage time minutes and stringing together DNPs. But then head coach Darvin Ham put him in to start the fourth quarter of Game 4.
An immediate 3. A steal and a bucket. A pull-up J. Another pull-up J, this time in Steph Curry’s face. A floater in the lane. A third pull-up J, again in Curry’s eyeballs. Two free throws to ice the game.
On a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Walker delivered in the biggest possible spot. Fate of the universe in the balance? Of course it’s time for Lonnie Walker IV.
Steph Curry Finds Nothing but … Cup
Katie Baker: We were half-watching this Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament on TV this summer when Steph Curry hit his tee shot on the par-3 seventh hole. “I like his hat,” I said like a dumbass, but my husband was busy watching Steph watch his ball. “Look at his eyes,” he said, “they’re tracking up and down—he knows it’s good!”
Before I could roll my own eyes at such a golf-nerd observation, Curry’s shot dropped and bounced elegantly in. HOLE IN ONE, a shot that could have been worthy of a Mike Breen double-bang!!! Curry threw off his hat and began sprinting down the fairway like a child imitating an airplane. His playing partner, Joe Pavelski, galloped after him, manhugging anyone he came across. (Getting the secondhand shine from a hole-in-one is honestly such a blessed place to be.)
I had a facial expression that looked like an emoji and I very nearly Kool Aid man–ed through my front door. For a moment there, I truly thought that Curry was going to do, like, a backflip into the sand trap, and I have to imagine that he considered it. Instead he pumped up the crowd and then huffed and puffed his way through an interview, apologizing for his summertime shape. “I’ll be out of breath for the rest of the day, for good reason though,” he told NBC. Even rewatching it now, I feel pretty much the same way.
Antonio Pierce (Briefly) Brings Raider Fandom Back to Glory
Logan Murdock: The image of Antonio Pierce driving through the players lot of Allegiant Stadium in a lowrider, flush with candy paint, evoked a familiar feeling. It brought me back to my early days of Raider fandom, when my OGs wore all black, dressed in Ben Davis quarter zips, and rocked silver and black snapbacks. These are the ones who talked shit in the south lot of the Coliseum all Sunday morning, then watched the best ball of their life in the afternoon.
Pierce is cut from this cloth, and no matter the outcome of his tenure in Las Vegas, he has given us this rafter-worthy moment. Considering how the Raiders have played in recent years, for that I am thankful.
LeBron and Luka Give Incredible (Fucking) Postgame Interviews
Keith Fujimoto: For a washed dad who typically tries to censor all the fucks and shits out of his kids’ diets, something about hearing a player go rogue and unfiltered in the moment just hits different. Head to YouTube and look for Shaq lamenting that the refs took over the fucking game against the Raptors, and you’ll see what I mean. This year, much to Adam Silver’s chagrin, we had both Luka and LeBron—two of the league’s finest—wax poetic postgame using some expletives that’d make a live broadcast crew scramble for the censor button. Luka dropped an f-bomb when discussing how impressed he was with new teammate Dereck Lively II; Bron let the world know that he and his Lakers bros gave zero shits about the AD criticism. I’m all in favor of passion in sports, and if that involves me having to explain to my kindergartner why the man who defeated Al G Rhythm from Space Jam used one of the no-no school words, so be it. We need more Logan Roy–inspired postgame pressers!
LeBron Wins Ring No. 4.5
Jonathan Kermah: Sometimes you just gotta celebrate the little things. For example: The all-time NBA leading scorer proved yet again that he can take his game to another level on the league’s biggest stage … OK, maybe, uh, its second-biggest stage?
Sure, the NBA in-season tournament is clearly a marketing ploy to get more eyes on the sport during a stretch when most regular-games feel essentially meaningless. And sure, the Lakers have played their worst basketball of the season immediately following their time in Las Vegas. But this tournament championship means something to me, man! Seeing LeBron microdose a Zero Dark Thirty playoff performance in the semifinals against the Pelicans and then Anthony Davis hang Wilt-like numbers against the Pacers in the tournament final is special regardless of what happened afterward. Let me pop my champagne and celebrate LeBron’s four and a half rings in peace!
The New York Knickerbockers Win a Damn Playoff Series
Daniel Chin: In April, the Knicks beat the Cavaliers to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, and for only the second time since 2000, when Patrick Ewing was on the team and Tom Thibodeau was an assistant on head coach Jeff Van Gundy’s staff. The 21st century has not exactly been kind to the franchise, with New York cycling through more head coaches after losing seasons than trips to the playoffs.
But things are trending upward under Thibodeau! The team has secured playoff berths in two of the past three seasons after missing the postseason for seven years in a row. In Jalen Brunson, New York finally has an elite point guard who’s capable of dismantling opposing teams’ defenses; earlier this month, Brunson put together a 50-point masterpiece in a win against the Suns while shooting with unprecedented efficiency. Against the Cavs in April, Brunson was the steadying presence on a young and volatile roster, guiding the Knicks to a gentleman’s sweep of a team headlined by the same superstar the Knicks front office nearly traded for the previous offseason. Meanwhile, RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson both stepped up in major ways, highlighting the value of placing faith in homegrown talent after the organization opted for splashy, shortsighted deals for many years.
The Knicks may have fallen to the Heat in the second round, but this time the vibe really is different. The front office has built a roster that has the potential to keep growing while it has also remained patient for the next star to become available. With New York reaching the playoffs and winning games in the process, Madison Square Garden has felt more alive than it has in years. For now, at least, that’s more than enough for me.
Jayson Tatum Gets It Going—Just in Time
Isaiah Blakely: Jayson Tatum is obviously a star. He’s a four-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA selection. He’s had huge performances in elimination games. Before Game 6 against the Sixers, I wasn’t expecting anything different. There’s no team a Boston Celtics fan is more confident they’ll beat than the Philadelphia 76ers. Tatum tested this confidence for about as long as possible.
He had a slow first quarter but was getting assists and making the right reads, so I thought the shots would begin to fall. I was sort of right. Halfway through the fourth, he had as many points as turnovers, and somehow the game was still close thanks to the other six guys who played that night. I think of myself as a Tatum defender, but at that point I sent a text that read, “They’re not letting him back in the city if we lose.” It felt like your star pupil was failing in the biggest moment.
But then something really special happened that to me cemented his star status and showed what kind of player he is. With 4:17 left, he caught the ball behind the 3-point line in the left corner, rose up over Joel Embiid, and sank only his second field goal of the game to give the Celtics the lead. Then he hit a snatch-back 3 over Tyrese Maxey, and you realized he had it going now. He hit two more 3s, finishing the game with 19 points—16 of them in the last four minutes of the game.
A wise man once said, “Everybody’s tough when they’re up.” It’s easy to show how good you are when everything is going well. This game showed me that Tatum can do it when things are going poorly, too.
Kadarius Toney Lines Up Offside and Patrick Mahomes Melts Down
Arjuna Ramgopal: Patrick Mahomes is the best football player on the planet and could go down as the GOAT when all is said and done. But his sideline meltdown at the end of the Bills-Chiefs game on December 10 was embarrassing for everybody. Just in case you need a refresher, Kadarius Toney lined up offside late in the fourth quarter, negating a really awesome Travis Kelce lateral to Toney for a touchdown. The Chiefs ended up losing the game, and that was when Mahomes completely lost it.
Cameras caught him freaking out on the sideline, being restrained by teammates, and tossing his helmet. After a few moments, Josh Allen and Mahomes met at midfield, where the star QB continued to complain and told Allen it “was the worst fucking call I’ve ever seen.” Even that wasn’t the end of it, as Mahomes was still hot during his postgame press conference, lamenting that the refs had taken away from the Hall of Fame career of Travis Kelce.
One sideline freak-out won’t change Mahomes’s legacy (just ask Tom Brady), and as my colleague Sheil Kapadia said on a recent Extra Point Taken, this was probably weeks of frustration bubbling up, but it’s not a great look for the face of the NFL. Mahomes will probably wind up with a third Super Bowl ring one day and we’ll all forget, but for now it’s hard not to think of the Kansas City star as a bit of a complainer.
Lakers Vs. Celtics Vs. Officials
Kiera Givens: “The NBA has determined on the Lakers’ last possession of the 4th Q Jayson Tatum should have been called for a shooting foul on LeBron James.” NO SHIT.
The internet was set on fire, with NBA players and Lakers fans in shambles after the team took an L in overtime because the refs in TD Garden put on an all-time terrible performance. (A Lakers fan is typing this, by the way.) Screenshots of Tatum blatantly fouling LeBron filled my timeline as fans, players, and former players called for NBA refs to be fined for the stupidity of missing such a blatant game decider. However, one thing we did get out of this was all the dramatics and perfect memes.
LeBron James absolutely fuming that he didn't get the foul call at the end of Lakers-Celtics pic.twitter.com/vuTiEHEBJh— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) January 29, 2023
First up, Pat Bev brings the team photographer’s camera over to the ref to show them in 4K that Tatum hit LeBron’s arm on the final shot attempt in the fourth. This went down as one of the greatest techs in sports history. A legendary trolling moment. The world needed that laugh in the moment to get over the shell shock of the wild no-call.
Then there were LeBron’s theatrics and utter disbelief. He’s holding his arm, he’s kneeling on the court with his head down like he just lost Game 7 in the championship. It wasn’t supposed to be funny, but his reaction lived on as a meme for months. I still use it to this day. Give LeBron an Oscar for that all-time performance in a regular-season game.
William Karlsson’s Stanley Cup Parade Speech
Jack Wilson: The drunken championship parade speech has become a staple of any title celebration. The pure joy and enthusiasm mixed with alcohol make these ready-made viral moments, and NHL players may be on top in the sloppy celebration power rankings. In most instances, these are releases of emotion after so many years of failure, like Brett Hull belting “Gloria” for the Blues faithful at the end of 50 Stanley Cup–less years or when Jonathan Quick whipped out a hat trick of f-bombs in celebration of the Kings’ long-awaited first Stanley Cup.
The Vegas Golden Knights’ Cup came in just their fifth season of existence. So how much emotion could have built up? Before you answer, you should meet William Karlsson, whom they call “Wild Bill.” Wild Bill is a member of the “Misfits”: the six players on the Golden Knights’ Cup-winning roster who were also on the team during the 2018-19 inaugural season. The Misfits are sports royalty in Las Vegas. So it’s easy to understand how Wild Bill may have overshot the mark that night.
The immortal onstage moment opens with a tepid introduction of the Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Marchessault. Wild Bill seems to think this intro wasn’t good enough, and thankfully he gets a hold of his own mic to correct this. Oh, and he is shirtless. I haven’t mentioned that because I assume it’s a given. Credit to Karlsson right off the bat for censoring himself with a “This effing guy!” just before a string of expletives and a sideswipe of the Arizona Coyotes. Once he succinctly describes the Golden Knights’ journey to the top, a voice of reason appears and suggests he “pass the mic.” Gently at first, and then again in a way very similar to how I tell my 4-year-old son, “No, it really is time to leave the park now.” Think what you want about Karlsson’s performance to this point, but the guy absolutely sticks the landing. He came to pump the tires of his MVP teammate and did just that.
Erin Matson Coaches a Championship Team at Age 23
Lulu Kesin: It’s sorta easy to look at Erin Matson and ask the question “Damn, what did I do at 23?” Well, I for one can’t answer that until August, but I know it won’t be coaching a field hockey team to a Division I national championship, which is what Matson did on November 19—the youngest head coach ever to do so. A three-year captain for the Tar Heels, Matson graduated with four NCAA championship rings, five ACC championships, and the title of most decorated field hockey player in school history but still wanted more. She asked to replace Karen Shelton, who had sat at the helm of UNC field hockey for 42 years.
The viral tweets comparing her to another UNC legend are straight badass, as is the fact that when she asked the athletic director to be considered for the role, he replied, “Go win a national championship, and then we’ll talk.” So she did, without crumbling under the added pressure, further cementing her campaign for the head coach spot. A year later, that risk paid off. And while shoot-outs for a national title are electric by nature, Matson’s sprint onto the field with players who’d been her teammates less than a year ago was nothing short of epic.