by Julian Spivey
Best Athlete: Stephen Curry
A couple of months ago I was fairly certain I was going to give Athlete of the Year to a horse – American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in almost 40 years, which I’m sure would’ve caused some virtual eye rolling. Then NBA MVP and maybe the most liked athlete currently in the entire country Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) somehow got even better during the offseason. After a month and a half of the 2015-16 season Curry is averaging 32 points per game and his team started the season 24-0 before losing. He’s surpassed LeBron James, at least temporarily, as the best player in the game and seemingly can’t be stopped at the moment.
Honorable Mention: American Pharoah
Best Coach: Ned Yost
Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost is berated quite frequently by baseball media and fans alike for his managerial style and decisions. Yet, Yost has led the Royals to back-to-back World Series appearances and the team’s first championship in 30 years. Yost’s Royals are an absolute pleasure to watch play – in 20 years of watching this game I’ve never found a team to be more entertaining or fascinating. The Royals play a perfect team game utilizing every single man on their 25-man roster (which they proved in the five game World Series in which all 25 members played) and make their gains with fundamental baseball of solid hitting, excellent base running and the best shutdown bullpen in baseball. Yost’s use of all of these things has been postseason excellence. By the way, this award wasn’t even close… Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is my honorable mention and Luke Walton’s interim coaching while Kerr’s been out with a back problem has shown NBA coaching might not be all that important.
Honorable Mention: Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors)
Best Team: Kansas City Royals
This is the hardest year-end sports award I have ever had to give out because both teams deserve it more than just about any team I’ve ever awarded the honor. The Kansas City Royals in Major League Baseball and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA both exemplify exactly how I feel sports should be played – as a complete team game where the entirety of the team shines more gloriously than any of its parts singularly. I’m giving the honor to the Royals because they reached the pinnacle of their sport in two consecutive years and came out on top the second time after heartbreaking defeat the year before. The Royals play a style of baseball I’ve never seen before – basically a version of small ball with a dominant, shutdown bullpen at the end of games. I’ve been a baseball fan my entire life and I’ve never had more fun watching a team than the Royals of the last two seasons.
Honorable Mention: Golden State Warriors
Best Breakthrough Athlete: Jordan Spieth
Anybody who followed the sport of golf knew before 2015 that Jordan Spieth was a good golfer who would compete to win many tournaments and quite possibly a major here or there – but I’m not sure people expected a surge like he had in 2015 where he proved himself as the sport’s next great golfer. Spieth came out on fire winning the first two majors of the golf season – the Masters and U.S. Open – and had some thinking a calendar Grand Slam (winning all four majors) was possible. Spieth wouldn’t go on to win either the British Open or PGA Championship, but he did have top four finishes at those capping off one of the greatest seasons in the history of the PGA Tour and giving the sport something to cheer on for many years to come.
Honorable Mention: Jake Arrieta (MLB – Chicago Cubs)
Best Game: World Series Game 5
It would seem impossible that a World Series that only went five games (meaning the losing team only won once) could become a classic one, but that’s exactly how the 2015 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets felt. Despite the Royals ultimately winning the series, both teams had a chance to win just about every game and when game five went to the ninth inning with Mets ace Matt Harvey pitching one of the all-time great World Series games and three outs away from forcing a game six the series really turned into an instant classic. The Royals had proven themselves to be the comeback kings all postseason long, being behind or even on the brink of elimination for most of October. Harvey was pretty much unhittable in game five, but the Royals somehow managed to scratch out two runs (with the game tying run coming in as my “Best Play of 2015” below) in typical Royals fashion. The game would go into the 12th inning when the Royals stunned the Mets bullpen for five runs and their first World Series title since 1985.
Honorable Mention: Belmont Stakes (American Pharoah wins Triple Crown)
Best Moment: Jeff Gordon’s final win
This is admittedly the most biased choice I’m going to make all year as a life-long Jeff Gordon fan, but the NASCAR legend truly went out on top at the greatest racetrack of his career Martinsville Speedway winning his 93rd and final career race in early November, which clinched a spot for him in the championship race (which Kyle Busch won). It was the feel-good sports moment of the year and watching him celebrate like a young gun who’d never done it before was enough to put a smile on even the most stringent of Jeff Gordon haters’ faces.
Honorable Mention: American Pharoah winning first Triple Crown since 1978
Best Play: Eric Hosmer taking home on infield out to tie World Series Game 5
The best play in sports in 2015 turned out to be the most important one, the riskiest one and had it gone the other way might have been one of the dumbest plays of the year. New York Mets ace Matt Harvey couldn’t be touched in game five of the World Series. Mets manager Terry Collins infamously (but really it was the right decision) left Harvey in for the shutout in the ninth inning. The Kansas City Royals in their typical scrappy fashion made the Mets life hell in that inning. This culminated with Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer on third base with one out. Royals catcher Salvador Perez hit a grounder to Mets third baseman David Wright for an easy second out, but then Hosmer broke for home for either the tying run or the game ending third out, which would’ve forced a game six and given the Mets real life in the series. Hosmer had bet on Mets first baseman Lucas Duda being incapable of making a perfect throw and when the throw sailed over the catcher’s head and Hosmer scored he was proven right. The Royals would go on to beat the Mets in 12 innings in the game to clinch the title.
Honorable Mention: Malcolm Butler clinches Super Bowl for New England Patriots with goal line interception
Best Upset: Holly Holm over Ronda Rousey
There were a couple of mesmerizing upsets in the world of sports that nobody seemingly saw coming and I’d like to award them as A & B, but if I’m only choosing one I’m going with Holly Holm thoroughly obliterating Ronda Rousey in their title bout in November. Rousey had never lost a UFC fight and had never really even come close. She was the most dominant fighter – male or female – in the sport. And yet from the start of their bout together Holm came out looking like the better fighter and eventually knocked Rousey unconscious early on in the second round. It wasn’t just the biggest upset of the year, but really put an end to the whole Rousey is unbeatable mystique. Holm over Rousey is my choice, but Roberta Vinci ending Serena Williams’ shot at a calendar tennis Grand Slam at the U.S. Open was right there with it.
Honorable Mention: Roberta Vinci upsets Serena Williams at U.S. Open
Most Overrated Sporting Event: Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao
If you surveyed 100 people on what was the most overrated sporting event of 2015 I’m almost 100 percent certain every single one of them would say the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao title fight. It was a fight that some, now laughably, deemed “Fight of the Century.” In reality it wasn’t even the best fight of the year. Basically what happened was Mayweather danced around the ring, like he always does, for the majority of the fight, landed a few punches and then won the event when it went to the judges. Mayweather/Pacquiao was supposed to save boxing. Instead it hammered home the final nail in its coffin.
Honorable Mention: National League Championship Series: New York Mets embarrass Chicago Cubs
Most Overplayed Moment: Deflate-gate
I’d be highly shocked if the answer to this year-end question was any different if you asked 100 people. The NFL “Deflate-gate” scandal involving the New England Patriots deflating footballs in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts was the biggest story made out of a non-story potentially in the history of sports. It was a nine-month long saga that quickly made everybody roll their eyes in annoyance. The NFL-led witch-hunt culminated in a four game suspension for living legend and Patriots QB Tom Brady before a judge using some common sense overturned it. The whole incident thoroughly embarrassed the NFL.
Honorable Mention: Floyd Mayweather’s Perfect Career Record