by Julian Spivey
Best Team: United States Women's National Soccer
The United States Women’s National Soccer Team was not only the best team of the year in winning its second consecutive Women’s World Cup title, but the most important team of the year in bringing to the forefront the inequality of pay between themselves and the far less successful Men’s National Team. The men’s team didn’t even make the last World Cup and have never had much success on the sport’s biggest stage when doing so and yet the women only make 38 percent of what the men do. It’s time to pay Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz and their teammates what they deserve.
Runner-Up: St. Louis Blues
2018: Boston Red Sox (MLB)
2017: Houston Astros (MLB)
2016: Chicago Cubs (MLB)
2015: Kansas City Royals (MLB)
Best Athlete: Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens, NFL)
At this point Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who in his first full season as a starting QB in the NFL, should be the obvious choice for NFL MVP. Jackson had led the Ravens to the league’s best regular season and has them as the No. 1 seed in the AFC heading into the playoffs next week. Jackson has been unstoppable both in the traditional passing aspect of his position, while also having the most successful running season of any quarterback in NFL history with 1,206 rushing yards through 15 games. Only five running backs in the entire league ran for more yardage this season than Jackson. Jackson’s 36 touchdown passed also led the league, while only a handful of QBs threw fewer interceptions.
Runner-Up: Joe Burrow (LSU, College Football)
2018: Simone Biles (Gymnastics)
2017: Tom Brady (New England Patriots, NFL)
2016: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA)
2015: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors, NBA)
Best Coach: Dave Martinez (Washington Nationals, MLB)
The 2019 MLB season saw Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez have the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. In his second season as the Nats manager Martinez almost didn’t make it out of the first half of the season. The Nationals started out horribly with a 19-31 record and there were many calls for Martinez to be relieved of his duties. Late in the season Martinez underwent a cardiac catheterization after experience chest pains during a game and was told by doctors not to allow himself to get too excited in the dugout. The Nats would end up winning the National League’s Wild Card, defeating the N.L. powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series, bulldozing over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series and then winning the franchise’s first ever World Series in an exciting and unique series that saw the Nats become the first team in World Series history to win all four of its games on the road. It was truly a Cinderella tale for Martinez from the firing block to greatest glory in team history.
Runner-Up: Bill Belichick (New England Patriots, NFL)
2018: Alex Cora (Boston Red Sox, MLB)
2017: Cole Pearn (NASCAR)
2016: Joe Maddon (Chicago Cubs, MLB)
2015: Ned Yost (Kansas City Royals, MLB)
Best Game & Best Moment: Final Round of Masters
My Game of the Year and Moment of the Year choices for 2019 are the same. There was certainly no better sports moment in 2019 than Tiger Woods winning the Masters Tournament for his first major tournament win in more than a decade (since the 2008 U.S. Open). It was a moment that many of us golf fans thought would never happen again after years of struggles on and off the golf course, including a back fusion surgery. When Woods won The Tour Championship tournament in late 2018 (a moment that was my Moment of the Year last year – so two years in a row for Tiger) there was a glimmer of hope and it only took until the next April to see him back in full glory. For the first time in his career Woods won a major tournament in which he trailed going into the final round. Woods was two-strokes behind Francesco Molinari, who had beaten him in a riveting final round of the previous year’s Open Championship. Around the turn going to the final nine holes on Sunday Molinari began to falter and Woods surged to the lead and held on to a one-strike victory of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele.
Best Breakthrough Athlete: Lamar Jackson
See 'Athlete of the Year'
Runner-Up: Pete Alonso (New York Mets, MLB)
2018: Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs, NFL)
2017: Aaron Judge (New York Yankees, MLB)
2016: Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys, NFL)
2015: Jordan Spieth (Golf)
Best Play: Kawhi Leonard's Buzzer Beating Bounces
All we knew at the time was it was a miraculous bounce and shot that would lead the Toronto Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals over the Philadelphia 76ers, but it turned out to be the moment that would propel the Raptors to their first championship in franchise history and the first ever NBA title for Canada. Game 7 of the second round playoff series between the Raptors and 76ers was tied at 90 with 4.2 seconds remaining on the clock and the Raptors inbounding the ball. Kawhi Leonard was given the ball at the top of the arc, moved to the right sideline and took a well-defended, tough shot to potentially win the game. The ball hit the closest side of the rim to Leonard and bounced into the air. It landed on the front of the rim and bounced backward to the right side of the rim where it hit iron another two times before falling into the basket and sending Toronto on and Philly home. Those were the final of the 15 points Leonard would score in the fourth quarter of the game to defeat Philadelphia. Leonard would then lead the Raptors over the Milwaukee Bucks in an exciting ECF and defeat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals being named the Finals MVP.
Runner-Up: Howie Kendrick's Game 7 World Series Homer for Nationals
2018: Philly Special in Super Bowl
2017: Julian Edelman’s Super Bowl Catch
2016: Tony Stewart’s Bump & Run Win
2015: Eric Hosmer Taking Home in Game 5 of World Series
Best Sports Media Personality: Charles Barkley (NBA on TNT)
Charles Barkley could easily be my Best Sports Media Personality every single year. There is nobody in sports broadcasting like him and unfortunately there may never be anyone else like him (though I sincerely hope I’m wrong). What makes Barkley the best at his job is he simply does not give a damn. He will always say what’s on his mind and it’s always entertaining and often hilarious – even if he’s wrong. He’s the biggest reason for why TNT’s Inside the NBA preshow, halftime show, and postgame show are must-watch sports television – even if you don’t actually watch that night’s games. They truly broke the mold when they made Charles Barkley.
2018: Not Awarded
2017: Jeff Gluck
2016: John Smoltz
Lifetime Achievement: Dirk Nowitzki & Dwyane Wade
Two of the 50 greatest NBA players to ever lace up sneakers retired after the 2018-19 NBA season: Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade. Nowitzki, who spent his entire career with the Dallas Mavericks, ended his career as the sixth leading scorer in NBA history, was a 14-time All Star, four-time All-NBA First Time member, 2007 league MVP and led his Mavs to the first title in franchise history in 2011. Wade returned to the Miami Heat, as the team’s greatest player in franchise history, for his final season. Wade won three championships with the team, including the first in franchise history in 2006 with Shaquille O’Neal and then back-to-back in 2012 and 2013 with LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Wade was a 13-time All Star and two-time All-NBA First Team selection. He’s Miami’s all-time leader in scoring and assists. Both Nowitzki and Wade will be no-brainer first ballot Hall of Fame selections.
2018: Adrian Beltre (Baseball)
by Julian Spivey and Eric Fulton
40. Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald was selected 13th overall by the then St. Louis Rams in the 2014 NFL Draft and has been a staple on the team, even after their return to Los Angeles. Donald has been one of the most feared defensive players in all of the NFL this past decade, making five Pro Bowls and being named a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. EF
39. Ronda Rousey
For a while during the decade Ronda Rousey was the most dominant female athlete in the world and was the most significant factor in not only helping to build women’s mixed martial arts, but the UFC in general. Rousey won the first 12 UFC matches of her career from 2011-2015 and these events weren’t even close with the majority of them ending in under a minute. Unfortunately, Rousey’s stardom quickly fell bac down to earth when she lost the final two matches of her career to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes in the same quick fashion in which she was used to dispatching opponents. Her impact on MMA was immeasurable and she became the first female inductee of the UFC Hall of Fame in 2018 as a result. JS
38. Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth took the PGA Tour by storm in 2015 when he won the Masters Tournament going wire-to-wire for his first career major title at the age of 21. Then two months later Spieth would win back-to-back majors by taking the U.S. Open title at Chambers Bay outside of Seattle, Wash. Those two major victories, a second-place finish in the year’s fourth major at the PGA Championship and winning the Fed Ex Cup playoffs led to Spieth winning the PGA Tour Player of the Year honor. In 2017 Spieth won his third major title of the decade winning The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale Golf Club. Spieth won 11 PGA Tour tournaments over the decade. JS
37. Sidney Crosby
After the NHL returned from a season long lockout in 2005, Sidney Crosby became the face of the new NHL and he continued to be that face for the decade. Despite some injury setbacks, Crosby has led the Pittsburgh Penguins to three Stanley Cup champions (two in this decade). He is also a two time Conn Smythe winner (Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP), a regular season scoring champion and a league MVP. EF
36. Allyson Felix
Allyson Felix has been one of the most decorated track and field athletes of all-time. In her career, Felix has won six Olympic Gold Medals, an Olympic Silver Medal and 7 World Championship Golds as one of the greatest sprinters Team USA has ever seen. EF
35. Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon was the most successful IndyCar Series driver of the decade with three championships in 2013, 2015 and 2018 to go along with the two titles he won in the previous decade. Dixon is always one of the main threats to take home the IndyCar title driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon won 24 races during the decade, which was second most to only Will Power’s 33. Power may have won nine more races than Dixon, but he also won two fewer championships. JS
34. Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera has been slowed by injury and age a bit in his last few seasons, but at the beginning of the decade he was the best hitter in baseball bar none. In his historic 2012 season Cabrera won the Triple Crown of hitting in the American League for the Detroit Tigers leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in, something that hadn’t been done in Major League Baseball in 45 years since Carl Yastrzemski had done so in 1967. Baseball has gone a decade longer without a Triple Crown winner than horse racing had. Cabrera won two MVPs in the decade in back-to-back seasons of 2012 and 2013 and won four batting titles in the decade, including three straight years (2011-2013) and was named an All-Star seven times. JS
33. Carli Lloyd
Carli Lloyd has become one of the most decorated players in United States Soccer history. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA Women’s World Champion with the United States. In 2015, Lloyd scored a hat trick in the gold medal game in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final leading the United States to a win over Japan. Lloyd has seen 288 appearances with the US Women’s National Team scoring 121 goals. EF
32. Marit Bjorgen
Marit Bjorgen is the most decorated Winter Olympian of all-time, male or female, with 15 medals in Winter Olympic games dating back to the Norwegian cross-country skier’s first Olympic glory at the Vancouver games in 2010. Bjorgen would win three golds in 2010, three golds in Sochi in 2014 and two golds in her final Olympics appearance in 2018 in Pyeongchang. Bjorgen captured four Olympic silver medals and three bronze medals during her run, as well. Bjorgen added to her trophy case this decade with 14 more gold medals in the World Ski Championships. JS
31. JJ Watt
JJ Watt has become one of the most respected defensive players in the NFL since Lawrence Taylor. He already has a Hall of Fame resume thanks to being a five time Pro Bowler and a three time Defensive Player of the Year. Watt has also been a pillar in the Houston Community winning the 2017 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He’d likely be higher on this list had he not run into major injuries during the second half of the decade. EF
30. Russell Westbrook
If you can do something in a major professional sports league that hasn’t been done in more than half a century than you’re really doing something. That’s what Russell Westbrook did in the 2016-17 NBA season when he averaged a triple-double (double digits in points, rebounds and assists) for an entire season, the first to do so since Oscar Robertson (the only player who’d ever done it) in 1962. The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard rode his triple-double average and his record 42 triple-doubles in a season to a MVP Award. More impressively Westbrook would average a triple-double in the next two seasons, as well, becoming the first player in NBA history to do so more than once. Westbrook was named to eight All-Star games this decade, winning the MVP in two of them, and was voted onto the NBA All-First team twice in 2016 and 2017. Westbrook was also the NBA’s scoring champ in 2015 and 2017. JS
29. Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka has become golf’s version of the big game hunter. He’s only won seven PGA Tour tournaments since his career began in 2012, but four of those wins have come in major tournaments. Koepka won the U.S. Open back-to-back in 2017 and 2018 and then won the PGA Championship back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. Koepka came very close to winning a career grand slam in the span of a year with a runner-up at the Masters and a fourth-place finish at The Open this year. Koepka was also the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2018. JS
28. James Harden
Over the last few years Houston Rockets superstar James Harden has proven to be the most prolific scorer in the NBA winning two consecutive scoring titles. The seven-time All-Star has been a five time NBA All-First Team selection and win he won the MVP award in 2018 after winning the 6th Man Award with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 he joined Bill Walton as the only players in NBA history to win both honors. The only thing Harden has yet to do in his hall of fame career is win the championship. JS
27. Eliud Kipchoge
Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge is certainly the greatest long-distance runner in the world and arguably could be the greatest of all-time. In the past decade Kipchoge has won nine major marathons worldwide, including the London Marathon and Berlin Marathon four times apiece. The 35-year old runner also won the gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and holds the world record in a marathon at just barely over two hours, which he set in Berlin in 2018. JS
26. Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander is fresh off his second Cy Young Award of the decade with his second different team after winning the honor with the Houston Astros this season. Verlander previous won the Cy Young in 2011 with the Detroit Tigers in the same season he was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player. Verlander’s Cy Youngs coincided with the two seasons he pitched no-hitters this decade (he has another than came in 2007). Verlander was a six-time All-Star this decade, led the A.L. in strikeouts four times, in wins twice and in ERA in 2011. After a last second trade deadline deal in 2017 sent Verlander from Detroit to Houston the ace would lead the Astros to their first ever championship in franchise history and the first title of his career. JS
25. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch has made certain that he’s going to go down in history as the winningest driver in NASCAR history when it comes to competing in all three of NASCAR’s upper-series. He already has the record when you combine his career wins in all three series and at just 34-years old he may have another full decade of racing ahead of him. Busch won the most races this decade in NASCAR’s premier Cup Series with 40, while notching two championships in the series in 2015 and 2019. Busch also compiled an almost unbelievable 106 wins in the lower NASCAR Series of the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series. JS
24. Max Scherzer
Max Scherzer proved to be one of Major League Baseball’s most intimidating pitchers during the decade in both leagues while pitching for the Detroit Tigers (where he teamed up with Justin Verlander, who’s also on this list) and then Washington Nationals, where he would help lead the team to their first World Series title in franchise history in 2019. Scherzer won the Cy Young Award three times this decade with the Tigers in 2013 and in 2016 and 2017 with the Nationals. He led baseball in wins in four different seasons and the National League in strikeouts in three straight seasons from 2016-2018. Scherzer made the All-Star team seven times in the last decade and in 2015 became one of just a handful of pitchers to pitch two no-hitters in the same season. JS
23. Usain Bolt
Usain Bolt continued his run as the fastest man on Earth this decade with more track & field dominance at the Olympics and the World Championships. The Jamaican sprinter, widely considered the greatest of all-time, won six more Olympic gold medals this past decade. Bolt won the gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100 meter relay in both the 2012 London Summer Olympics and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. Bolt would add eight more World Championship gold medals to his career total of 11 this decade, as well. JS
22. Inbee Park
Inbee Park was the LPGA Tour’s greatest player of the past decade and has already put together quite the hall of fame resume at just 31 years old. Park won six major titles this decade, including three alone in 2013 when she became the fourth LPGA golfer to win three majors in a season. She also won the first ever women’s golf gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro representing her home country of South Korea. JS
21. Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy burst onto the golf stage in the early part of this decade, winning his first PGA Tour event in 2010. Between 2011-2014 McIlroy was the most dominant force in golf’s major tournaments winning four of them, including the 2011 U.S. Open, the 2012 PGA Championship and both The Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2014. If there’s been one downfall of McIlroy’s career thus far it’s that he hasn’t won another major tournament since 2014. But, he’s undoubtedly been one of the most consistent golfers in the world with 18 PGA Tour wins and being named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year in 2012, 2014 and 2019. McIlroy also became just the second golfer to win multiple Fed Ex Cup title in 2019, after previously winning it in 2016. McIlroy is only 30 years old and should be a star in the world of golf for at least the next decade. JS
20. Alexander Ovechkin
Alexander Ovechkin was already one of the NHL’s best players of the previous decade after being selected first overall by the Washington Capitals in the 2004 NHL Draft before heading into this past decade where he added to his future Hall of Fame resume. Ovechkin is one of the greatest scorers in NHL history with at least 50 goals in a season eight times totaling 673 goals in his career. Ovechkin was a seven time NHL all-star this decade, a six time goal scoring champion, a MVP winner and he led the Capitals to their first ever Stanley Cup championship in 2018. EF
19. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson has struggled a bit of late not winning a race in his last two seasons, but the record-tying seven-time NASCAR champion was the winning championship driver of the past decade in NASCAR with three titles (2010, 2013 & 2016). Johnson’s 36 wins in the last decade are the third most in NASCAR’s premier series (behind Kyle Busch’s 40 and Kevin Harvick’s 38). Johnson is, without a doubt, one of the five greatest drivers in the history of NASCAR. JS
18. Drew Brees
Drew Brees began the decade by becoming a citywide hero in New Orleans leading the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl win on February 7, 2010 restoring a lot of happiness to the city just half a decade after the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. Brees would be named to eight Pro Bowls during the decade, while leading the NFL in touchdown passes. Brees was named Associated Press’ Athlete of the Year in 2010 and led the NFL in passing yards in half of the seasons of the decade. JS
17. Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers may have been the most fun quarterback to watch sling the ball around this past decade, as he showed on multiple occasions, he could literally throw the ball from anywhere and succeed. Rodgers won his lone Super Bowl in 2011 at the beginning of the decade, in a year in which the Associated Press named him Athlete of the Year and he won the first of his two NFL MVP awards. The six-time Pro Bowler this decade would win his second MVP in 2014. Only Drew Brees and Tom Brady had more TD passes than Rodgers this decade. JS
16. Clayton Kershaw
Despite his struggles when it’s come to the MLB postseason, there’s little doubt that Clayton Kershaw was the best pitcher in baseball during the past decade. The Los Angeles Dodgers ace has already done enough to clinch a future bust in Cooperstown. Kershaw was a five-time ERA champ this decade and led the National League in wins and strikeouts on three occasions. Kershaw was an eight-time All-Star this decade and won the N.L. Cy Young three times, while also being the league’s MVP in 2014. JS
15. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant was much maligned by some sports fans during the second half of the decade for deciding to join the already superpowered Golden State Warriors team for a run at a championship. In Durant’s first two seasons with Golden State they did just that – and he proved to be the best player on the team dominating two consecutive NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and winning the NBA Finals MVP both times. Durant won the NBA MVP in 2014 with the Oklahoma City Thunder and led the league in scoring in four different seasons for the Thunder before making the move to California. Durant was an All-Star every year of the decade, named to the NBA All-First team six times and won two gold medals in the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics. JS
14. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has become one of soccer’s greatest players of all-time. He led Real Madrid to two La Liga titles, two Copa Del Reys, and four UEFA championships. He is also Real Madrid’s all-time leader in goals scored with 450. He has also been recognized as the best soccer player in the world winning Ballon d’Or four times this decade (five overall). EF
13. Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky was doing things in a pool this last decade that we’ve never seen from any other woman ever in her sport. Ledecky became the Michael Phelps of women’s swimming at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in 2016 with a massive performance claiming four Olympic gold medals and setting record after record. She also won a silver medal at the event making her the most decorated U.S. female athlete at any one Summer Olympics. Ledecky had previously won a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle at the 2012 games in London at just 15-years old. Ledecky’s 15 World Championship golds during the decade are the most all-time by a female swimmer. JS
12. Rafael Nadal
Known as the “King of Clay” for his record 12 French Open titles, Rafael Nadal has ended the year as the world’s number one player five times. He also has won four US Opens, two Wimbledon titles, and an Australian Open. In 2010, Nadal became the youngest male player to achieve the singles career Grand Slam. His 13 major wins this decade trailed only Novak Djokovic’s 15 for most during the decade. EF
11. Mike Trout
Mike Trout was Major League Baseball’s best player of the past decade and there’s little doubt about it. Trout won three American League Most Valuable Player Awards manning center field for the Los Angeles Angels, while winning seven Silver Sluggers and being named to eight All-Star teams. Trout was the Sabermetric king of baseball this decade leading the game in WAR (Wins Above Replacement), while hitting .305 with 285 home runs, 752 RBI and stealing 200 bases. In early 2019 Trout signed the richest contract in the history of North American sports when the Angels signed him to a 12-year, $426 million contract. There, however, is one blemish on Trout’s career and it’s his team’s inability to get the game’s best player into the playoffs. Through eight full-time seasons Trout has only played in three playoff games and hasn’t won one yet. This star who can’t compete on his sports’ biggest stage is the prime reason he’s fallen as low as he has on this list. JS
10. American Pharoah
American Pharoah did something in 2015 that hadn’t happened in sports in nearly four decades. The thoroughbred won the Triple Crown win he came in first the Belmont Stakes after previously winning the Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in horse racing history. Later in 2015 American Pharoah became the first horse ever to win the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. JS
9. Serena Williams
Serena Williams is likely the most successful and greatest female athlete of all-time. Her second decade as a tennis superstar was even more successful as her first. Williams won 12 major titles this decade, one more than the 11 she won in the previous. Williams won Wimbledon four times this decade (2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016), the U.S. Open three times in three straight years from 2012-2013, the Australian Open three times (2010, 2015 and 2017) and the French Open twice (2013 and 2015). In 2015 Williams just missed out on winning the Grand Slam in one year when she was upset by Roberta Vinci in one of the biggest upsets of the decade. Williams one two gold medals this decade to go along with her 12 major titles, winning both singles and doubles at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. She was also named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year three times this decade (2013, 2015 and 2018). JS
8. Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton was clearly the most dominant driver in any professional motorsports league during the last decade. Hamilton won nearly 40 percent of the Formula 1 races he entered during the decade taking 73 total wins while leading his team to five championships, including the last three in a row. Having won a championship in the decade previously, Hamilton is only one title behind Michael Schumacher’s all-time F1 record of seven, which he’ll surely be the favorite to tie in 2020. JS
7. Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic hasn’t always gotten the same attention as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but his 15 major wins this decade were the most of any tennis player – male or female – in the world. Djokovic is one of eight men’s tennis players to achieve the Career Grand Slam and also one of three men to win all the Grand Slams at the same time. Djokovic also won a Davis Cup title for his country of Serbia. EF
6. Stephen Curry
Rarely do you see an athlete come along in professional sports that basically changes the way the game is played, but that’s what Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry did this decade when his proficiency from beyond the three-point line. Curry’s greatest at shooting the three essentially made the game a three-point shooting one with much of the league mimicking his and the Warriors style of play. Curry led the Warriors to three championships (all against the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James) during the decade and won the league’s MVP in back-to-back seasons in 2015 and 2016. Curry was an All-Star six times this decade and led the league in scoring in 2016, while being named to the NBA’s All-First team three times. It won’t be long before Curry sets the NBA’s all-time record of three-pointers made and he’ll have done so in warp speed. JS
5. Lionel Messi
Some people would say that Cristano Ronaldo is the best soccer player in the world. Others will say that it is Lionel Messi. Our list gives the nod to Messi. Messi recently passed Ronaldo with his record sixth Ballon d’Or, as the world’s greatest soccer player (his fifth win of this decade). Throughout his time with Barcelona, Messi has 438 goals in 492 appearances. In addition, Messi has scored another 49 goals in 112 appearances while playing for his home country of Argentina. EF
4. Michael Phelps
We all thought Michael Phelps was done after a stellar decade previously in which he won 14 Olympic gold medals, especially after getting into some legal issues and seeming to be overtaken by celebrity. But Phelps came back in the 2012 London Summer Olympics still looking like the greatest swimmer in the world and winning four gold medals. After those games he retired. But retirement didn’t last long as Phelps returned, once again, for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and still proved to be the best in the world. Phelps won five gold medals in his final Olympic games, besting his appearance four years earlier by one. Phelps’ 23 career Olympic gold medals is a record that likely will never be beaten … hell, the nine he won this decade alone are hard enough to beat. JS
3. Tom Brady
Tom Brady has to be a machine. The fact that he’s still one of the game’s best quarterbacks and leading his New England Patriots team to Super Bowl rings at the age of 41 (he’s now 42) is pretty much unheard of. Brady threw the second most touchdowns passes in the NFL (behind only Drew Brees) this decade while leading the NFL in TD passes twice and passing yards once. Brady was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2010 and 2017 and was a Pro Bowler every year of the decade. Most importantly Brady won three Super Bowls with the Pats this decade (and made the event in half of the years of the decade) to go along with the three he’d won in the prior decade, including leading his team in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons. JS
2. Simone Biles
Simone Biles was the greatest athlete of the decade and possibly the single most dominant athlete of her particular sport during the decade. Biles made gymnastics cool as hell in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics when she won four gold medals in Team, All-Around, Vault and Floor Exercise. Biles also took home the bronze medal in Balance Beam during those games. Biles has absolutely annihilated her competition at the Gymnastics World Championships winning an almost unbelievable 19 gold medals this decade. Her combined 30 medals at the Olympics and World Championships since 2013 makes her the most decorated American gymnast of all-time and she still has at least one more Summer Olympics appearance in her career in 2020. JS
1. LeBron James
LeBron James was the best male athlete in the world in the last decade. Up until last season, his first with the Los Angeles Lakers, James had led every team he’d been on to the NBA Finals – both with the Miami Heat and his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers after a highly publicized break-up and then reunion with the franchise. James won three championships during the decade, the first two coming as a member of Miami’s Big Three with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2012 and 2013 and then most gloriously leading the Cavaliers to an upset of the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in 2016. James was named the NBA Finals MVP all three years in which his team won the title. James won the league’s MVP award in 2010, 2012 and 2013 after having won it once in the decade prior. He was named to the NBA’s First-Team in nine of the 10 years during the decade, named to the Defensive First-Team four times (his defense has always been underrated) and made the All-Star team every year of the decade. Perhaps the most honored athlete in all of sports James was named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year three times and Sports lllustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year twice during the decade. On top of all of this James also won an Olympic gold medal in the 2012 games in London. JS
by Julian Spivey
40. NASCAR Legends Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart Final Wins
NASCAR saw two of its all-time greatest drivers and champions hang up their steering wheels this decade with Jeff Gordon retiring after the 2015 season and Tony Stewart retiring after the 2016 season. Both drivers had struggled a bit toward the end of their careers, but each also saw a glorious moment in their final seasons that fans would never forget. Late in the 2015 season at Martinsville Speedway (arguably Gordon’s best career track) the four-time champion was able to take advantage of some on-track carnage by Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano to drive his way into Victory Lane and qualify for the championship race (Kyle Busch would win the title that year). The next season Stewart would crack a multi-year winless streak in his final season with an amazing final lap move on Denny Hamlin at the Sonoma Raceway road course to win his final race in typical Stewart fashion with some contact. Both wins were incredibly fitting of these legendary drivers.
39. Albert Pujols, Pablo Sandoval Go Deep Three Times in World Series Games
Coming into the decade the only men who’d ever hit three home runs in a single World Series game were Babe Ruth (who did it twice) and Reggie Jackson. It would take long to double that number. In game three of the 2011 World Series St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols went into the Texas Rangers home field and popped three homers. The Cards would go on to win that series in an amazing seven games. Ruth, Jackson and Pujols are all no-brainer hall of famers, but in the very next year’s World Series in 2012 the unlikely Pablo Sandoval would add his name to that trio with a three-home game in game one against the Detroit Tigers, with the first two of those bombs coming off future hall of famer and one of the best MLB pitchers of the decade Justin Verlander.
38. Decade of the Perfect Game
Professional baseball has been played for more than 150 years and in that span, there have only been 23 perfect game recorded. It’s still possibly the rarest feat not only in baseball, but all of pro sports. No decade in baseball history saw more perfect games than this one with a total of five and no single season saw more perfect games in MLB history than the three pitched in 2012. Oakland A’s pitcher Dallas Braden threw the first of the decade on May 9, 2010 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Hall of Fame Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay would add the second of 2010 just a few weeks later on May 29 against the Florida Marlins. Maybe the most unlikely pitcher in MLB history to ever have a perfecto was Chicago White Sox hurler Philip Humber on April 21, 2012 against the Seattle Mariners. He’d be out of the league completely less than three years later. On June 13, 2012 San Francisco Giants ace Matt Cain would complete a perfect game against the Houston Astros. Then on August 15, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez would throw the third perfect game of the season (and final one of the decade) against the Rays.
37. Peyton Manning Goes Out On Top
Peyton Manning’s final NFL season wasn’t a stellar one and it seemed like one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time was limping out on a sour note. In week 10 of the season Manning was benched by Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak in favor of back-up QB Brock Osweiler. Osweiler would finish the regular season as QB as Manning was listed with an injury. Manning returned to the Broncos in the postseason, in a move that some people found controversial based on how Osweiler had performed in his absence. Manning’s Broncos made Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers, where despite Manning not having his best game (going 13-for-23 with 141 yards, no touchdown passes, one interception and five sacks) the team’s defense shut down the Panthers and the Broncos won the game 24-10 sending Manning out on top as the oldest QB to ever win the big game.
36. Mississippi State Snaps UCONN's Streak
The University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team was riding a wave of 111 consecutive wins, more than two perfect seasons and an NCAA women’s basketball record. They hadn’t lost a game since Nov. 17, 2014 until meeting the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Final Four of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 31, 2017 when Bulldogs player Morgan William’s shot at the buzzer in overtime put an end to the Huskies’ historical run and sent Mississippi State to the national title game. Unfortunately, the celebration for Mississippi State would be short-lived as they would lose the title game to fellow SEC competitors South Carolina two days later.
35. Philly Special Propels Eagles to First Super Bowl Title
The Philadelphia Eagles hadn’t won a championship in 57 years and had never won a title in the Super Bowl era. That all changed in Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018 when they rode quite the Cinderella story of backup quarterback Nick Foles (after starter Carson Wentz was injured late in the season) to a 41-33 victory over the mighty New England Patriots. Foles would be named the MVP of the game as he threw for 373 passing yards and three touchdowns. But, the most memorable play of the game wouldn’t be one of the three touchdowns Foles threw, but the one he caught. On a trick play on a fourth-and-goal play late during the second quarter that’s become known as “The Philly Special” the Eagles snapped the ball directly to running back Corey Clement. Clement then pitched the ball to tight end Trey Burton who would throw a pass to a wide open Foles for the score. Foles would be the first QB in Super Bowl history to both throw and catch a touchdown pass.
34. Baseball's Wild Season Ending Day in 2011
The final day of the 2011 Major League Baseball season was potentially the wildest single day in the long history of baseball. Multiple playoff spots were on the line that evening and just within the span of 129 minutes some teams would celebrate, and others would see their seasons end in heartbreak. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci would write: “This will go down as the most thrilling 129 minutes in baseball history. Never before and likely never again – if we even dare to assume anything else can be likely ever again – will baseball captivate and exhilarate on so many fronts in so small a window the way it did September 28, 2011.” The whole thing would be capped off with the Tampa Bay Rays all-star third baseman Evan Longoria hitting a walk-off homer against the New York Yankees to send Tampa to the playoffs. For the rest of the exciting day you can watch this documentary:
33. Dan Wheldon Wins Indy 500, Tragic Death in 2011
Dan Wheldon’s 2011 IndyCar season was a fairytale that ended in tragedy for the former series champion. The 2005 champion was out as a full-time driver in IndyCar after the 2010 season due to lack of sponsor, but the former Indianapolis 500 winner signed with the small Bryan Herta Autosport team for the 2011 Indy 500. Wheldon looked like he was going to secure a second place finish in the sport’s biggest race when shockingly rookie leader J.R. Hildebrand, the driver who’d replaced Wheldon on his previous team, wrecked leaving the final turn of the track. Wheldon passed the wrecked car of Hildebrand to win his second career Indy 500 and become the first driver to ever win the race by only leading the final lap. Wheldon would enter the season finale race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16 and things were looking up for the British driver, who had just signed a full season contract that morning with Andretti Autosport to replace the NASCAR-bound Danica Patrick in 2012. On lap 11 of the race one of the worst wrecks in IndyCar history took place with a 15-car accident in which Wheldon’s car was launched into the air and into the track’s catchfence where he would suffer life-ending injuries. It’s a moment none of us who were watching that day will ever be able to forget.
32. Houston Astros Win 2017 World Series, Help City Heal After Hurricane, Flooding
For the first half of this decade the Houston Astros organization underwent a complete rebuild that saw the team lose more than 100 games in three straight seasons from 2011-2013 and then lose 92 games in 2014. The complete rebuild through building the team’s farm system paid huge dividends in 2017 when the team found itself as a 101-win ballclub and won its first World Series title in franchise history on a thrilling seven-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not only was it a great run for the franchise, but the entire city of Houston that was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey during August that led to catastrophic flooding and forced the Astros to play home games temporarily in Tampa Bay. When the Astros returned to home after just missing one home series the whole city rallied around the team and when they won the World Series just over two months after the hurricane and flooding it truly helped the city heal much like the Boston Red Sox run to a World Series title helped Boston heal after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
31. Michael Phelps Becomes Most Decorated Olympian
In 2008 Michael Phelps had likely the greatest Olympics of all-time winning eight gold medals at the Beijing Summer Olympics. In between the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics Phelps seemed to lose his drive a bit and had some controversies but returned to the 2012 London Summer Olympics with a chance to become the winningest athlete in Olympics history. With a gold medal in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay on July 31, 2012 Phelps passed Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina for most Olympic medals. Phelps would go on to win four gold medals and two silver medals in London before announcing his retirement from swimming. Of course, Phelps would come out of retirement for the 2016 Rio deJaniero games where he would continue to dominate the games before retiring for good after the event.
30. Michael Sam Comes Out
Michael Sam was an important player for the NFL when it came to diversity as the first openly gay player ever drafted into the league. Sam had a stellar collegiate career at the University of Missouri and was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. Sam came out as gay to his Missouri team in 2013, but it wasn’t public knowledge until an interview in early 2014 on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” Sam had been projected as a third or fourth round draft pick in the NFL, but after his coming out an anonymous NFL executive told Sports Illustrated that his coming out would make him slide in the draft. Sam would slide all the way to the draft’s seventh and final round where he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Unfortunately, Sam would never play in a regular season NFL game and announced his retirement from the sport in 2015.
29. USA Women's Soccer Repeats at World Cup Midst Unfair Pay Gap
Imagine being so much better at something and yet making less money at it than the person or people who are worse at that thing. That’s exactly what’s faced the United States Women’s National Soccer team for quite a while now. The U.S. women are often among the best soccer players in the world, where as the U.S. men’s team didn’t even qualify for their most recent World Cup. It’s this ridiculous pay gap between the two that was at the forefront this summer when the U.S. women’s team won its second consecutive World Cup title when they defeated the Netherlands on July 7. These women are among the best athletes in the world – pay them justly.
28. Jimmie Johnson's Fifth Straight Championship
In NASCAR history there had never been a driver win more than three championships in a row. Jimmie Johnson had already gotten to four titles in a row before the end of the previous decade but decided four wasn’t enough and won his fifth straight NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2010 with six wins and 17 top fives. Johnson would win two more titles after 2010 to tie the all-time NASCAR record of seven career titles held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. I don’t think Johnson’s five consecutive championships will ever be replicated or beaten.
27. Roberta Vinci Upsets Serena Williams' Grand Slam
Maybe the biggest shock in tennis history happened on September 11, 2015 when Italian Roberta Vinci defeated number one ranked Serena Williams in the semifinals at the U.S. Open in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Vinci’s Cinderella moment kept Williams from having a shot at winning the calendar Grand Slam after she had already been victorious at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon that year. Vinci would go on to lose to fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta in the U.S. Open finals.
,26. Holly Holm Shocks Ronda Rousey
One of the most stunning upsets of the decade came in the cage at UFC 193 on November 14, 2015 when Holly Holm stunned champion Ronda Rousey and the entire mixed martial arts and sports world. It was already a surprise to many when Holm took Rousey past the first round (something that had only been done once before), but everybody’s jaw dropped when Holm’s high kick in the second round connected with Rousey’s head and knocked out the greatest female fighter the UFC had ever seen.
25. Roy Halladay Pitches Second Postseason No-Hitter in History
In more than 100 years of baseball postseason the only no-hitter ever thrown in the playoffs was Don Larsen’s iconic perfect game for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. That all changed on October 6, 2010 when Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay, who had pitched a perfect game during the season, no-hit the Cincinnati Reds in game one of the 2010 National League Division Series. It was Halladay’s postseason debut and he became the first in MLB history to pitch both a perfect game and no-hitter during the same season.
24. Dallas Mavericks Stun Miami Heat Superteam
The Miami Heat were supposed to have a cakewalk to the NBA title after forming the super team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh during the offseason. The plan wasn’t just to win a title but form an all-time great dynasty and it was supposed to start in season one. Everything looked like it was going to plan for Miami as they made the NBA Finals and faced the Dallas Mavericks, who had always been around the title talk, but had never won a championship. The Mavs played all-around great team ball led by future hall of famers Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, as well as great play from role guys like Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler and stunned the super team in six games.
23. Clemson Beats Alabama in Epic College Football Championship
Clemson and Alabama went back-and-forth this decade as the most dominant team in college football with each winning two championships since the NCAA went to a playoff format in 2014. The two teams matched up on three different occasions in 2015, 2016 and 2018 with Clemson being the victor twice (’16 and ’18). The most exciting of these was arguably the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship with the Tigers and Crimson Tide going back-and-forth in the fourth quarter after Clemson had a huge comeback in the fourth quarter to get things a bit closer. The game would be decided on essentially college football’s version of a buzzer beater when Clemson’s quarterback Deshaun Watson would throw a touchdown to receiver Hunter Renfrow for the title.
22. Ray Allen Sinks Spurs with Big Shot
If you needed just one person in NBA to make a clutch three-pointer to win a big game you wouldn’t get to many names before Ray Allen, the NBA’s all-time leader in made threes. The biggest shot of Allen’s career came in the closing moments of game six of the 2013 NBA Finals. The Miami Heat were losing to the San Antonio Spurs 94-89 with 28 seconds remaining and a loss for the Heat would give the Spurs the championship. In fact, NBA officials had already moved the Larry O’Brien Trophy courtside in preparation for a celebration. With 20 second remaining LeBron James hit a three to get the Heat within two points. The Heat fouled young Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, who made one of two free throw attempts to put the lead back to three for the Spurs. On the next possession James missed what would have been a game-tying three, but Chris Bosh collected an offensive rebound and passed the ball out to Allen behind the arc. Allen made the shot to send the game into overtime. The Heat would take care of business in OT and go on to win the series in game seven.
21. Villanova's Game-Winner to Win National Title
It’s not often a national championship is won at the buzzer, which makes the bonkers ending of the 2016 March Madness tournament one of the biggest jaw-droppers of the decade. North Carolina Tarheels player Marcus Paige had just hit an unbelievable three-pointer to even the game up with 4.3 seconds remaining. The Villanova Wildcats had to go the length of the floor to win the game. Villanova inbounded the ball, got it to an unbelievably wide-open Kris Jenkins behind the arc and Jenkins just absolutely buried it to give Villanova its second all-time NCAA men’s basketball championship.
20. Russell Westbrook Averages a Triple-Double
Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double for the Cincinnati Royals during the 1961-62 NBA season and no player had done it again … until Russell Westbrook for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2016-2017 season. It was thought to be something that might never happen again … and then Westbrook went and did it three consecutive seasons. In the 2016-17 season Westbrook also broke Robertson’s record with 42 Triple-Doubles during the season. He would be named the NBA’s MVP.
19. Derek Jeter's Final Game
Few sporting legends ever get the opportunity to go out on top, but that’s what Derek Jeter did in his final home game with the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium at the end of the 2014 MLB season. At 40, Jeter had only had a so-so farewell season, but it all turned into a fairytale on the evening of September 26 against the Baltimore Orioles. To set up this great moment the Yankees had to almost blow the game in the top of the ninth inning as closer David Robertson gave up three runs to tie the game at 5-5. Jeter would be up third for the Yankees in the home half of the inning. The bottom of the ninth began with Jose Pirela hitting a single. Pinch runner Antoan Richardson would move to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Brett Gardner. This brought Jeter to the plate with a chance to do something that every kid dreams of when he’s younger – going out with a game-winning hit. And, that’s exactly what “The Captain” did when he laced the first pitcher from Orioles reliever Evan Meek through the hole between first and second base to score Richardson from second. The Yankees players celebrated with Jeter like they had won the World Series and it was truly the most memorable walk-off hit of the decade.
18. NASCAR's Crazy Final Lap at Watkins Glen
I’ve seen a lot of fantastic NASCAR finishes over the years, but the final two laps of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International on August 12, 2012 is the greatest bit of racing I’ve ever seen. There was a three-way battle in the final two laps between Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose. Busch and Keselowski had the best rivalry in NASCAR and simply did not like each other and Ambrose was the best road course racer in NASCAR trying to defend his win at the track from the previous year. Words cannot do what happened in these two laps justice, so here’s the video:
17. Golden State Warriors Take Over the NBA
The Golden State Warriors took the NBA by storm during the 2014-2015 season with their run-and-gun style that saw player like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson tossing up and making three-pointers left and right. The team thoroughly dominated the season and beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, with a returned LeBron James, in the NBA Finals in six games. The championship ended a title drought of four decades for the Warriors and more importantly the team changed the way the NBA was played almost over night with teams molding themselves after the three-point shooting style of the team.
16. Seahawks Don't Give Marshawn Lynch the Ball
One of the closest Super Bowls of the decade came on February 1, 2015 when the Seattle Seahawks matched up against the New England Patriots. The Seahawks looking to repeat as champs took a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter. The Patriots scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take a 28-24 lead, but the Seahawks had the ball with a drive to win the game in the final two minutes. The Seahawks had the ball on the Pats one-yard line with 26 seconds remaining in the game when coach Pete Carroll made what could be the most controversial coaching call of the decade when he decided to call a pass play despite having arguably the best and strongest running back in the entire NFL in Marshawn Lynch, who had already rushed for more than 100 yards and a touchdown in the game. The play call backfired big time as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s pass was picked off by Pats defensive back Malcolm Butler to seal the victory for the Patriots.
15. Armando Galarraga's Non-Perfecto
There were two perfect games in baseball during the 2010 season (and five overall for the decade), but probably the most memorable moment in baseball revolving around a perfect game was the one that wasn’t. Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga just needed one more out for a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians when Indians batter Jason Donald hit a ground ball and was incorrectly ruled safe by first base umpire Jim Joyce on a close play. Replay showed the runner was clearly out, but this was before Major League Baseball instituted replay in game. Galarraga would finish with a one-hit shutout victory. Upon realizing his mistake after the game Joyce was teary-eyed and apologetic to Galarraga knowing he had single-handedly cost the pitcher a shot at history with his mistake. Galarraga graciously accepted Joyce’s apology in a great showing of sportsmanship and the two men developed a friendship and went on to write a book together titled Nobody’s Perfect. This was maybe the biggest on-field reason for MLB instituting replay before the end of the decade.
14. Star-studded 2016 Rio Olympics
The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil were the most memorable in quite some time. The first ever Summer Olympics in South America provided a historical swan song for possibly the two greatest male Olympians in history: Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. Phelps won four golds to extend his Olympic record to 23 and a silver, making him the most successful athlete in a fourth consecutive Olympics. Bolt continued his run as “fastest man alive” with gold medals in the 100 meter, 200 meter and 4X100 meter relay. The games also were star making ones for two young women who might be the greatest their respective sports have ever seen with Simone Biles in gymnastics and Katie Ledecky in women’s swimming. In her first Olympics appearances Biles won five total medals, with four golds in Team, All-Around, Floor and Vault. Ledecky notched five total medals and four golds of her own in the pool with the most impressive performance we’ve ever seen from a female swimmer.
13. Penn State Scandal
One of the darkest moments of the decade in sports broke into the news in November of 2011 when it was uncovered that the Penn State football program’s assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had committed child sexual abuse over a period of at least 15 years and that head coach Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in college football history, had known about these allegations as far back as 1998 and turned a blind eye to the allegations. When all was said and done Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of child sexual abuse and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison, the NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, banned them from postseason play for four years, and vacated all of the school’s victories from 1998-2011, which wiped away Paterno’s wins title. Paterno died two months after the uncovering of the scandal at age 85, with his wins being stripped months after his death.
12. The Decision
I don’t think anybody who saw The Decision live will ever forget it. It was a moment when a superstar became larger than life and then kind of backfired on him. The Decision was the made-for-TV free agent announcement of LeBron James on July 8, 2020 live on ESPN, in which the network and NBA’s biggest star took over the airwaves for more than an hour just to announce where he’d be spending the next few years playing. Around 13 million people watched the announcement where James announced he’d be leaving his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat with the infamous line, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” That line and the fact that James was heading to Miami to create a super team with Dwyane Wade and fellow free agent Chris Bosh would harm James’ reputation in the eyes of some and it would take a return to Cleveland years later to rebuild it for some.
11. Wildest Iron Bowl Ending Ever
If there was one play of the decade that you could mark as the craziest, most unbelievable one we saw I think it would have to be the shocking way the Auburn Tigers beat their in-state rival Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2013 Iron Bowl. With just one second remaining on the clock Alabama coach Nick Saban had his team line up for a potential game-winning 57-yard field goal – it was essentially a “well, the worst thing that can happen is we go to overtime call.” The kick was rather unsurprisingly short, but the thing that happened next is one of the most surprising things I’ve ever seen, the kick was caught by Auburn’s Chris Davis who attempted to return it (again the worst that can happen is overtime). Davis somehow managed to run the ball back the entire way – 109 yards – to win the game for Auburn and end Alabama’s undefeated season.
10. Boston Marathon Bombing, Red Sox Help City Heal
The biggest tragedy in the sports world of the decade – and one of the biggest in general in the United States – was the bombing that took place at the 2013 Boston Marathon. The terrorist attack on April 15, 2013 would kill three people and injure several hundred others with 16 of those injured losing limbs. It as a nightmare scenario that affected the greatest day of the year for Bostonians. Before the end of the day one of the perpetrators of the bombing would be killed and another would be captured, but it was a moment that rocked the country for days to come. One of the things that helped the city heal was the success of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox would dedicate the rest of the season to the victims of the bombing and this run wouldn’t end until October 30 when the team defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in game six of the World Series to give a city that had gone through so much another championship to celebrate.
9. Madison Bumgarner Single-Handedly Wins World Series
In my 25 years watching baseball I’ve never seen a better performance than Madison Bumgarner’s in the 2014 World Series for the San Francisco Giants against the Kansas City Royals. I never would’ve thought a single player could dominate and truly win a championship in the team oriented sport of baseball, but Bumgarner pretty much single-handedly did that year. Bumgarner’s 0.25 World Series ERA is the lowest in MLB history and a bulk of that work was done against the Royals. Bumgarner only allowed nine hits in 21 innings pitched during the 2014 World Series, a series record, essentially keeping the Royals off the basepaths completely. Among the other World Series records he set in that series were becoming the first pitcher to ever pitch a shutout with no walks and at least eight strikeouts in game four of the series. Then in the deciding game seven of the series he entered the game midway out of the bullpen and pitched a record five shutout innings in the longest save in a winner-take-all game in MLB history. Bumgarner looked that series like you could’ve thrown Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ty Cobb against him and he wouldn’t have faltered.
8. American Pharoah Snaps Triple Crown Drought
One of the few things I hadn’t seen in the sports world coming into 2015 was a horse winning the Triple Crown of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in the same year. No horse had won a Triple Crown in nearly 40 years since Affirmed in 1978. That all changed in 2015 when American Pharoah, owned by Bob Baffert and ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza, put himself into the record by dominating all three races. American Pharoah would end up becoming the first horse in history to win the grand slam of horse racing when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic later than year.
7. LeBron James Wins Cleveland a Title
After the controversy of The Decision in 2010 when LeBron James jilted the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, he became a villain in his own home-state. James would win two NBA championship in four seasons with the Heat before once again becoming a free agent. James pretty much shocked the NBA world when he announced he’d be returning home to re-join the Cavaliers and instantaneously became a hero in the city once again. James led the Cavaliers to the Finals in his first season back but fell to the Golden State Warriors in the series. The next season he would lead the Cavs back to the Finals again to face the Warriors, but this time it felt even more unlikely the Cavs could win over a 73-9 Golden State team that was the best regular season team in NBA history. The Warriors got out to a quick 2-0 lead in the Finals and a 3-1 lead after four games. No team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals and the Cavs were faced with trying to do so against the greatest team of all-time. History is made to broken, though, and the Cavaliers took care of game five in Oakland and game six at home forcing a winner-take-all game seven. In one of the all-time great NBA playoff games the Cavaliers stunned the Warriors with a 93-89 win that went down to the wire. It was the first championship in Cavaliers franchise history and LeBron James had set out to do what he’d always wanted to – bring a title to Cleveland.
6. Colin Kaepernick Takes Stand by Kneeling
The most divisive sports moment of the decade began in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided it was time to take a stand against the spate of police brutality instances in this country. Kaepernick took a stand by taking a knee during the performance of the National Anthem before the start of NFL games. Many applauded the QB’s protest and many more derided him for disrespecting his country. It even got to a point where the President of the United States was calling out Kaepernick on social media. When Kaepernick became a free agent after that season no team would touch him, despite the fact that he was only a few years removed from leading a team to the Super Bowl and undoubtedly better than many QBs with jobs in the league. More than three years later it still remains a great controversy in the NFL.
5. 16 Seed Finally Wins in March Madness
The one major sports moment I think that many of us thought we might never see in our lifetime actually happened during March Madness in 2018. For the first time in NCAA men’s college basketball tournament history a sixteen seed upset a number one seed when University of Maryland – Baltimore County didn’t just beat the Virginia Cavaliers, but crushed them by 20 points. Virginia wasn’t just a number one side on its side of the bracket, but the number one seed overall in the entire tournament. There is literally nothing you can compare this upset to in the history of sports. There’s no telling when or if we’ll ever see it again, either.
4. Tiger Woods Wins Again
It just didn’t seem like it was ever going to happen again. Tiger Woods hadn’t won a PGA Tour event in more than five years since 2013 and hadn’t played much at all in the years since then and had just undergone a major medical procedure the year before in have back fusion surgery. But here he was in the final round of the Tour Championship on September 23, 2018 in command. The entire golf and sports worlds were watching that afternoon as Woods coming to the 18th hole with the lead was being followed by a swarm of fans in a scene unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Woods would win the tournament by two strokes and the moment gave us hope that he might actually have a shot at winning a major tournament again, something he hadn’t accomplished in more than a decade. He wouldn’t make us wait too long.
3. Tiger Woods Wins Again ... Again
When Tiger Woods won the season-ending Tour Championship in 2018 it rejuvenated the world of golf and gave even his strongest of critics who thought he’d never win again some hope that his tournament win might lead to his first major victory since 2008. Many believed if Woods were to ever win a major again it would come at the Masters in Augusta because he’d had so much success there before with four previous wins and it’s the one golf major that remains at the same golf course year-after-year. After the first round of the tournament Woods was tied for 11th and had himself in a good place. In the second round he rose up to sixth place and was looking good for a run during the weekend. After the third round of the tournament Woods was tied for second two strokes behind leader Francesco Molinari, who had beaten him in an entertaining showing in the previous years Open Championship. If Woods was to win the Masters he’d have to do something he’d never done before in his previous 14 major victories – he’d have to come from behind on Sunday. Molinari looked in control for the first 11 holes of the final round, but when his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole ended up in the creek he found himself in a quick tie with Woods. On the 15th hole Woods would take his first lead when once again Molinari put a shot into the drink. Woods almost aced the par-3 16th hole and took a two-shot lead into the final two holes. Needing just a bogey or better to win the Masters on the final hole Woods bogeyed the hole and took home his fifth career green jacket and his 15th career major title, his first in almost 11 years since the 2008 U.S. Open. More importantly the Masters win for Woods was the greatest single individual comeback in the history of sports.
2. Patriots Record Setting Super Bowl Comeback
28-9. It seemed Super Bowl LI was completely over after three quarters. Hell, it seemed over at halftime when the Atlanta Falcons, on the verge of their first ever championship, took a 21-3 lead into the locker room against the New England Patriots. Many fans likely turned the game off right after Lady Gaga’s halftime performance. Then the Pats went on the greatest comeback run in the history of the NFL, and potentially pro sports altogether. Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski made a 33-yard field goal with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game to make the score 28-12, but New England still had a long way to go. The Patriots took advantage of a fumble by Falcons QB Matt Ryan with Patriots QB Tom Brady connecting with receiver Danny Amendola on a touchdown. The Pats converted a two-point conversion to get within eight points of the lead. With 3:30 remaining on the clock the Pats got the ball back with a chance to tie the game. On a drive that included an incredible catch by receiver Julian Edelman the Pats ended up on the Falcons’ one-yard line with 58 seconds on the clock when running back James White punched the ball into the end zone to get the team within two points of the lead. On maybe the most important two-point conversion attempt in NFL history Brady completed a pass to Amendola to tie the game. The Patriots had completed the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, but still had work to do. Super Bowl LI would become the first overtime game in Super Bowl history and the Pats won the coin toss to receive the ball first, meaning if they could score a touchdown the game would be over. Brady carved up the Falcons defense on the overtime drive and then a pass into the end zone was called for passing interference on the Falcons giving New England the ball on two-yard line. The Pats would have three attempts to win the game. The Pats first down play was an incompletion, but on the second-and-goal play call the ball would be pitched to White who would be contacted by Atlanta defenders at the one-yard line but was able to stretch the ball across the goal line for the game-winning touchdown. It capped off the most unbelievable comeback many of us NFL fans had ever seen.
1. Chicago Cubs Break the Curse
The harshest losing streak in professional sports history was the Chicago Cubs lack of a World Series title since 1908. Years of futility and heartbreak had built up and in the span of seemingly just minutes in game seven of the 2016 World Series it was on the verge of being released, and then more heartbreak added on top and then released again. After the top half of the eighth inning in game seven the Cubs had a 6-3 lead and only needed six more outs for the curse of the Billy Goat to be broken. Cubs ace Jon Lester was in the game out of the bullpen and retired the first two batters of the inning, but when Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez singled off him Cubs manager Joe Maddon opted to go with his closer Aroldis Chapman, who had been a bit overworked in the series. Brandon Guyer immediately hit a run-scoring double to get the Indians within two. Up to the plate came light hitting center fielder Rajai Davis, who had hit just 55 home runs in an 11 season career at that point. Of course, Davis would launch a shot into the left field bleachers to tie the game up. Neither team would score in the ninth inning and the game would enter extra innings, but rain began coming down too intensely to continue and the game was halted for 17 minutes. During the brief rain delay Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward gathered his distraught team and said, “We’re the best team in baseball for a reason. Stick together and we’re going to win this game.” When the game resumed Kyle Schwarber led off for the Cubs with a single and was replaced by pinch runner Albert Almora Jr. Almora in a bit of the decade’s best baserunning tagged up from first on a long fly ball by Kris Bryant to get into scoring position. The Indians intentionally walked Cubs power hitting first baseman Anthony Rizzo to face Ben Zobrist with two on and one out. Zobrist would hit a double to give the Cubs a 7-6 lead in extras. Later in the inning Cubs catcher Miguel Montero would add another run with a single. In the bottom of the half the Cubs had a two-run lead and needed three outs for the title. Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. retired the first two batters of the inning easily before walked Guyer and giving up an RBI-single to Davis, who was clearly trying to be Cleveland’s hero in the same year that already saw LeBron James lead the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team to a championship. The Cubs brought in Mike Montgomery to replace Edwards. Montgomery would face Michael Martinez, who hit a soft grounder to Bryant at third base. Bryant picked up the ball and tossed it over to Rizzo for the final out and the horrible streak was finally over.
What do you think was the most memorable sports moment of the decade? What did we leave out that should've made the cut?