Historic and memorable sporting events occur every year and there is no doubt 2016 was a monumental one. From multiple all-time greats retiring to supposed jinxes and curses being wiped away, the past 12 months saw some great achievements made by teams and individuals alike. From the Chicago Cubs breaking a 108-year-old curse to Michael Phelps breaking a more than 2,000-year-old Olympic record, these are the moments in which sports enthusiasts look forward to each year. On the other hand, 2016 was the year in which we said farewell to some of the greatest athletes to have ever played, from Kobe Bryant walking off the court one last time to Steven Gerrard leaving the pitch, these are the athletes that have helped to define decades of sporting memories. As the end of 2016 quickly approaches and we prepare for another year of magical sporting milestones, let’s take a look back at some of the events that helped to define the year.
Kobe Bryant Retires
For 20 years, the Black Mamba symbolized the NBA, transcending the sport to unprecedented levels. Remaining loyal to the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant took the baton from Michael Jordan in becoming basketball’s flagship player. At the age of 37, the five-time champion and 18-time All-Star ended his career against the Utah Jazz in April of this year, having scored 60 points. And to top it all off, Bryant amassed 33,570 career points, the third highest in NBA history. Entering the NBA straight from high school, Bryant was the 13th overall pick during the NBA’s 1996 draft by the Charlotte Hornets, who then went on to trade Bryant to the Lakers. The rest is history and April 13 forever lives on as “Mamba Day.”
The Chicago Cubs Win the World Series After 108 Years
After 10 innings, the Cubs came back from a 3-to-1 series deficit to defeat the Indians 8-7 in Game 7 of the World Series, winning the Championship crown for the first time since 1908. Though the Chicago Cubs were the lovable losers of North American professional sports for over 100 years, life as a Cubs fan has not been so enjoyable, and yet they remained some of the best supporters in all of sports. Having built up a strong and versatile lineup for the 2016 season, the Cubs ended the drought finally being able to say goodbye to “someday.”
Portugal Wins First EURO Championship Title
On July 10, 2016, Portugal took home their first prestigious title ever when they beat out France during the European Championship finals in extra added time. Though captain and poster boy Cristiano Ronaldo was forced off with an injury just after 25 minutes of play, a late goal from substitute Eder helped A Seleção rewrite history. Portugal fans from all over the world celebrated and Ronaldo broke down into his signature tears.
Usain Bolt Gains “Triple-Triple” Status
The fastest man on Earth brought his spectacular Olympic career to a thrilling close by completing his “Triple-Triple” mission. Bolt brought home nine gold medals in which he swept the 100m, 200m and 4×100-meter sprint relay events in three successive Olympic Games. Stating that this would be his final Olympic appearance, we’ll need to wait awhile before another athlete is able to fill his shoes, going down in history as one of the greatest runners of all time.
Michael Phelps Breaks a 2,000-Year-Old Olympic Record
Usain Bolt may be the fastest on land, but Michael Phelps definitely dominates the water. As the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, Phelps’s gold medal count sits at 22. What’s more impressive is his individual victories have broken a more than 2,000-year-old Olympic record, set by Leonidas of Rhodes in 152 B.C. After his victory in the 200-meter Individual Medley at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Phelps has claim to an unprecedented 13 individual Olympic victories compared to Leonidas’s 12. Phelps is now also the only swimmer to have won the same event, the 200m medley, in four consecutive Olympic Games.
Cleveland Cavaliers Win Their First NBA Championship Title
Despite facing a 3-1 deficit against the record-setting Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, LeBron James and the Cavaliers found a way to prevail in Game 7. The team eventually brought home Cleveland’s first NBA Championship title and the first major professional sports title for the city since 1964. The emotional game on the road saw a unanimous vote for James as the Finals MVP for the third time.
Leicester City Win the Premier League Title
Just one year removed from earning promotion into the English Premier League, Leicester City went on to win one of the unlikeliest titles in the history of professional sports. After starting the season at 5,000 – 1 odds, fans saw the Foxes take down the best teams in England and Jamie Vardy’s rags to riches rise all the way to the finish. Though Leicester City won its games from across the pond, its unprecedented run made for good theater stateside as well.
Villanova’s NCAA Buzzer Beater
We all knew we were in for a historical National Championship Game this past March, and it sure didn’t disappoint. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige led the dramatics with an impossible, off-balance three-pointer with just six seconds left in the fourth that forced the game into overtime. However it was Kris Jenkins buzzer-beating three-pointer in OT that gave Villanova the national title, securing the Wildcats’s first NCAA title since 1985, while becoming one of the greatest college basketball games of all time.
Peyton Manning Retires With a Super Bowl Win
As one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Peyton Manning lead the Broncos to a 24-10 victory in Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers. By doing so, Manning became the first in NFL history to win two Super Bowls with two different teams, ending his Hall of Fame career on a glorious high note.
Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz Set New UFC Record for Pay-Per-View Buys
On March 5, UFC lightweight fighter Nate Diaz handed megastar Conor McGregor his first loss in the octagon by forcing him to submit to a rear-naked choke hold at UFC 196. Five months later the two met again at welterweight and McGregor avenged his loss to Diaz by defeating him in a majority decision at UFC 202, earning McGregor a redeeming victory. The August 20 show, headlined by Conor McGregor’s win over Nate Diaz, has been named the most successful non-boxing pay-per-view event in the history of the genre, with estimates of 1.65 million buys.
Sid the Kid Lifts Lord Stanley’s Cup Again
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby regained his title as the best player in hockey this past year. Becoming a two-time Stanley Cup champion, Crosby lead the Penguins to a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Leading the Pens to their first Championship since 2009, it marked seven years to the day when Crosby won the Cup for the first time.
Skateboarding, Surfing and Baseball Become Olympic Sports
2016 marked the year The International Olympics Committee (IOC) ruled five new sports to join the extensive list of events that define the Olympic Games. Adding in less traditional sports such as skateboarding, surfing, karate, sports climbing and baseball/softball, the IOC hopes to “take sport to youth.” Look forward to the new categories which will start at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Summer Games.
Michael Jordan Is Awarded the Medal of Freedom
The G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan – along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – received a Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor from none other than The POTUS himself. President Obama personally selected Jordan for his contributions to the United States, also adding in “he’s more than just an internet meme [...] he is the definition of someone so good at what they do that everyone recognizes it; That’s very rare.”
Serena’s Wimbledon Win Ties Steffi Graf’s Record for 22 Major Wins
Four years prior, Serena Williams looked further from Steffi Graf’s Open-Era record 22 Grand Slam titles than she had in a decade. At 30 years old, and older than Graf was when she’d won her 22nd major, Williams defeated Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 in the Wimbledon Final finally winning her long-awaited record-tying Grand Slam.
Lionel Messi Misses a Penalty Kick, Retires Then Unretires
There’s no doubt that Lionel Messi is one of the best players on the planet, if not the very best. Though he is able to translate his success with Barcelona, his national home team of Argentina has seen otherwise. Seeing a fourth straight finals loss at the Copa América Centenario, and a missed penalty shot from himself (Chile would go on to win), Messi decided to retire from the international stage at 29 years of age. Two months and platinum hair later, Messi returned in full force to his National side.
8-Year Old Sky Brown Becomes the Youngest Female to Skate the Vans US Open
Despite her young age, Sky has made a name for herself on the international skate scene. Hailing from Miyazaki, Japan, Brown is the youngest female to skate the Vans US Open Pro Series at just 8 years old. The young prodigy picked up a board at just 3 years old and has since become an internet sensation. Don’t be surprised when you see Brown competing at an upcoming Olympic Games.