by Julian Spivey
20. Simon Pagenaud
Simon Pagenaud pretty much dominated the IndyCar Series in 2016 on the way to his first career championship. The Penske Racing driver from France won a series high five races, including three in a row.
19. Nico Rosberg
Nico Rosberg had a hard fought battle all season long in Formula 1 with his teammate and two-time reigning champion Lewis Hamilton before clinching the title in the series’ season finale in late November. Rosberg won eight poles and nine races in 2016. The 31-year old from Germany announced his retirement from the sport just five days after winning the title.
18. Andy Murray
No disrespect to Serena Williams, the greatest female tennis player of all-time, but Andy Murray takes 2016’s honor as the greatest tennis player of the year. Murray won his career Wimbledon title this year, a huge honor for the Brit. He also defended his gold medal from 2012 in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil and is currently the No. 1 ranked men’s tennis player in the world.
17. Dustin Johnson
2016 was finally the year that Dustin Johnson, known unfortunately for a few years as a choker, lived up to his high expectations. Johnson finally got that golf major championship people had been expecting from him for years winning the U.S. Open. Johnson would also win two other tournaments and be a part of the USA’s Ryder Cup champion team on his way to being named 2016 PGA Player of the Year.
16. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has always been one of the NBA’s best and most exciting players, but it feels like he’s currently working on a MVP season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook is averaging a triple-double thus far this season and has many thinking he might do that for the entire season, which has only been done by Oscar Robertson in league history.
15. Sidney Crosby
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is arguably the best player in the National Hockey League (NHL) and helped lead his team to Stanley Cup glory in 2016, also winning the Conn Smythe Award for postseason MVP. The two-time NHL MVP was also the World Hockey Championship MVP this year for Team Canada.
14. Von Miller
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller is arguably the best defensive player currently in the NFL. Miller hounded Carolina Panthers QB and MVP Cam Newton all Super Bowl 50 with six tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on his way to being named MVP of the game. This season Miller has 13.5 sacks, which is second in the league.
13. Conor McGregor
It would seem the world of mixed martial arts and the UFC currently belongs to Conor McGregor. The brash and abrasive Irishman became the first fighter in UFC history this year to hold titles in two different weight classes: Featherweight and Lightweight. McGregor is also the UFC’s highest pay-per-view draw.
12. Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott (and his fellow rookie teammate Dak Prescott) has been the talk of the NFL this season as a rookie, leading the Dallas Cowboys to a current NFL best record of 12-2. Elliott leads the league in rushing with around 1,500 yards and has a chance at breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record. He should be a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year (unless his teammate steals votes) and has a shot at MVP too.
11. Mike Trout
Mike Trout is the greatest player in Major League Baseball and has been since the day he entered the league, it’s just a shame he plays for the consistently disappointing Los Angeles Angels. Trout won his second career American League MVP in 2016, but if you ask Sabermetricians he should have won the honor all five years he’s been in the big leagues.
10. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson totaled five wins and his NASCAR record-tying seventh championship in 2016 and the strange thing about it is that for the bulk of the season people were wondering what was wrong with Jimmie Johnson due to a 24-race winless streak. It’s highly likely Johnson will finish his career as the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time.
9. Matt Ryan
Recently ESPN asked the question “Who’s the NFL’s MVP?” and gave four options: New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr, Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford and Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. The people who prepped that question might want to look at the numbers of Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan is having a better season all-around than any of the three QBs (of course Brady missed four games) and is seemingly getting no love. He’ll get some here as the highest ranked NFL player on this list.
8. Stephen Curry
It’s funny sometimes how things work out. If the Golden State Warriors had finished off their historic 73-9 season by winning the NBA Finals then Steph Curry would almost certainly be No. 1 on this list and LeBron James would be sitting here at No. 8. But, the Cavs won it all and the two-time reigning MVP and best shooter in the NBA – maybe ever – finds himself sitting right here.
7. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo could arguably be the most popular athlete in the entire world as the best athlete in the world’s most popular sport. Ronaldo won just about all there was to win in soccer in 2016: Ballon D’or (Best Player), Champions League title, Euro 2016 title and Club World Cup, in which he scored a hat trick.
6. Lamar Jackson
University of Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson kind of came out of nowhere during the 2016 college football season to dominate the sport and win the coveted Heisman Trophy. The sophomore was an incredible dual threat for the Cardinals totaling an amazing 51 touchdowns with 30 through the air and 21 on the ground in one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history.
5. Simone Biles
It was a fantastic 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil for the Americans as the next few selections on this list will prove and one of those making noise in Rio was gymnast Simone Biles. Biles, who was already being hailed as an all-time great gymnast before her first Olympics, proved her worth with four gold medals and a bronze. Look for her to return in peak form in 2020 too.
4. Katie Ledecky
At the young age of 19, Katie Ledecky proved herself to be the most talented woman in sports in 2016 with a star-making Summer Olympics in Brazil. Ledecky won five gold medals and a silver medal in a performance that was miles ahead of her competition and had many calling her the Michael Phelps of her gender. But, with numbers like hers Phelps might have to watch his back as the greatest swimmer in Olympics history. Speaking of which …
3. Michael Phelps
It’s definitely at the point where tests need to be done on Michael Phelps to determine whether or not the all-time medaling Olympian is actually human. Phelps, no doubt the greatest swimmer of all-time, silenced those who believed he’d passed his heyday during the Rio 2016 Olympics this summer with five gold medals and a silver medal upping his Olympic records to 23 gold medals and 28 total medals, two honors that’ll likely never be broken.
2. Kris Bryant
Major League Baseball clearly has a new star on its hands with Chicago Cubs third baseman and 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant, becoming just the fourth player in MLB history to follow up a Rookie of the Year award with a MVP. More importantly Bryant led the Cubs to the team’s first World Series title in more than 100 years.
1. LeBron James
LeBron James accomplished the last thing in his career he needed to accomplish in 2016, winning a championship with his home state Cleveland Cavaliers. He did it in dramatic fashion too in a historical NBA Finals performance leading his team back from the first ever 3-1 deficit to win the title.
by Julian Spivey
Best Team: Chicago Cubs
Sometimes you just get a no-brainer. When a team is able to break the longest championship drought in the history of sports for its franchise there’s no doubt it’s deserving of “team of the year.” The Chicago Cubs, led by manager Joe Maddon and National League Most Valuable Player Kris Bryant, were finally able to break the Curse of the Billy Goat in 2016 backing up their league best record with a miraculous comeback from being down 3-1 in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. With the bulk of the team remaining intact for the future this could be the beginning of a dynasty.
Best Athlete: LeBron James
There was only one last thing LeBron James had to accomplish in his legendary career – win a championship with his home state Cleveland Cavaliers. After winning two titles with the star-studded Miami Heat he came back to Cleveland to do just that and in 2016 the dream was realized in a history making turn as the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA Finals history to comeback from a 3-1 deficit to clinch the title … and to make things even sweeter James led his Cavs to this history over the record 73-9 Golden State Warriors, who had beaten the Cavs the year before in the Finals.
Best Coach: Joe Maddon
I cannot tell you how many times I cursed Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s name during the 2016 World Series and MLB Postseason. There’s little doubt in my mind that Maddon was actually out-managed by Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona during the series. But, despite Maddon’s managerial mistakes the Cubs still managed the historic World Series win. And, despite these mistakes I still couldn’t find a better option for Coach of the Year than Maddon, generally considered one of the best managers in baseball and likely the most popular among the players. He was tasked with bringing the Cubs to glory and he accomplished it.
Best Game: World Series Game 7
There were some great games and sporting events in the sports world this year from game 7 of the NBA finals to the NCAA Men’s College Basketball championship, but the Game of the Year also kind of seems like a no-brainer with the way game 7 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians played out. It’s the greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen and some were calling it the greatest baseball game of all-time. The Cubs after winning two games in a row just to force a seventh game looked to have things in hand until a late and stunning comeback by the Indians. Then as the game was about to head to extra innings the sky opened up and rain caused a delay. The delay was exactly what the Cubs needed as their rejuvenated lineup came back out about 40 minutes later hacking and led to the end of the longest championship drought in sports history.
Best Moment: Chicago Cubs Championship Comeback
I understand that this end of the year best in sports recap is getting redundant with so many of the honors going to the Chicago Cubs, but honestly did anything else in sports this year come close to the story that was the Cubs breaking 100-plus years of futility? The Cubs being on the brink of snapping the streak, seeing it destroyed late with an unlikely homer by Cleveland Indians outfielder Rajai Davis, having a rain delay before the beginning of extra innings, coming out red hot after the rain delay and winning the game in the tenth only to find out how a rain delay pep talk by veteran Jason Heyward got the team re-energized has to be the moment of the year. It’s a moment more than a century in the making – how often can you say that?
Breakthrough Athlete: Ezekiel Elliott
The Dallas Cowboys are having quite the surprising season, currently 12-2 and tied for the best record in the NFL, on the backs of two amazing rookies in running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. Honestly, both rookies could’ve taken this honor this year, but I’m going to give it to Elliott, who leads the league in rushing at over 1,500 yards and has a shot at breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie record for rushing yards with two games remaining. Sure, the Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL and it helps Elliott’s numbers, but he might be looking at the first ever Rookie of the Year and MVP season in NFL history.
Best Play: Tony Stewart's Bump & Run Win
There were truly some great sports plays of the year: LeBron James’ block of Andre Igoudala in game 7 of the NBA Finals, Miguel Montero hitting a pinch hit grand slam in the NLCS for the Cubs, Kris Jenkins’ game-winning three to win Villanova the NCAA men’s basketball title. But, the play that stood out to me the most was NASCAR legend Tony Stewart’s winning move at Sonoma this summer for what would be his final career win. Stewart missed the first few months of the NASCAR season with a back injury, but looked like vintage Tony at the road course in Sonoma. Stewart actually screwed up at the beginning of the final lap of the race and was passed by Denny Hamlin. Stewart then ran one of the most fascinating laps of his career culminating in a textbook bump-and-run on Hamlin for the race win. It was the perfect way to win his final career race.
Best Upset: Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals Comeback
In the history of the NBA no team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win the championship. Not only did the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by terrific performances from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, manage to make NBA history this season by doing just that, but they managed to do it against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, the greatest team in NBA regular season history. That makes this selection a no-brainer.
Best Announcer: John Smoltz
The Chicago Cubs were no doubt the talk of the Major League Baseball postseason in 2016, but the playoffs also saw an unlikely superstar in the making – and it’s a guy used to superstardom. For years and years fans have complained about the color commentator doing high profile baseball games for Fox Sports whether it was Tim McCarver for many years or Harold Reynolds during the last couple of postseasons. This year Fox Sports made the terrific decision to pair hall of fame pitcher John Smoltz with play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and it completely changed the Fox broadcasts. Smoltz has quickly proven himself to be one of the most knowledgeable announcers in the game, especially when it comes to pitching scenarios and is way more affable and way less annoying than anybody else Fox has had in that seat over the last two decades.
by Julian Spivey & Preston Tolliver
#1. LeBron James
Steph Curry may have won the last two MVP awards and the most recent of those two unanimously, but King LeBron James proved to the world during last season’s NBA Finals that he was still the best basketball player alive. The 2016-17 season could easily be James’ fifth MVP season with the Warriors studs taking votes from each other. He could also be scarier than ever with absolutely nothing to lose having now won three titles and doing so last year with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. JS
#2. Stephen Curry
Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is not only, without a doubt, the greatest shooter in the NBA, but he very well could be the greatest pure shooter to ever grace the hardcourt. His scoring is likely to go down a bit this season with the addition of Kevin Durant, another top five player in the league, and he’s almost assuredly not going to be able to threepeat as MVP with the talent that starting lineup will have, but nobody in their right mind could argue he’s not one of the two best players in the game right now – even with his struggles in big NBA Finals games over the last two seasons. JS
#3. Russell Westbrook
Over the last few years, while Kevin Durant was out with his injuries, Russell Westbrook made a habit of carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder when he needed to. He was iffy with his shot selection at times, but he was still consistent enough to give his team a shot at a deep playoff run. This year, though, expect Westbrook to go full Rambo – and not like “First Blood” Rambo who was kind of timid and didn’t want to kill anyone. He’s going to pull a “Rambo 4” and basically roll up in a truck and start blasting arms and legs off with a giant ass machine gun. PT
#4. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant’s going to have to learn to go from the number one guy on a team to a number two or three guy. It’ll be an adjustment, but the way the Golden State Warriors will be spacing defenses, expect him to just rain threes. PT
#5. Kawhi Leonard
Kahwi Leonard might be the best two-way player in the NBA. He’s the reigning two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, which isn’t an easy feat for a small forward. He’s also turned himself into quite the offensive threat averaging more than 20 points a game on a team that doesn’t always need him to do that with LaMarcus Aldridge, who just narrowly missed this list, and Pau Gasol. JS
#6. Kyrie Irving
Sorry Chris Paul, but you’ve been surpassed as one of the three best point guards in the NBA (although you’re probably still the best natural one because you still know how to pass the ball). You’ve been replaced by Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers who rode an incredible NBA Finals performance last season to this high spot on this list. It didn’t seem like Irving could miss anything in the Finals and that has to have done a lot for his confidence. If he wasn’t a teammate of LeBron James I think we’d be looking at a potential MVP this season. JS
#7. Chris Paul
Chris Paul is quickly becoming the NBA’s saddest story. Sure, he’s young, but he’s already falling into that Allen Iverson/Karl Malone/John Stockton category of guys who never won who should’ve. The Los Angeles Clippers have always had a decent team, but have never been serious contenders. Expect Chris Paul to look to give the Clippers that push over the edge that they need this season. PT
#8. Klay Thompson
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Klay Thompson is the second best pure shooter in the NBA, but with Steph Curry as his teammate in Golden State he’s not even the best shooter on his own team. Thompson might have some struggles this season on the court, but it won’t be due to his abilities, but rather because Kevin Durant has joined the team and he’s going to lose the most shot attempts as result. Thompson might have to go from All Star to role player and it might not sit well for him. The Warriors likely win a title, but Thompson knows he’s the best player on more than half of the teams in the league and he might want that shot before too long. JS
#9. Draymond Green
Draymond Green is arguably the second-to-fourth best player on a team that includes Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. That’s nothing to scoff at, and neither is his stat line from last year: 14 points per game, 7.4 assists, 9.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.5 steals. PT
#10. James Harden
James Harden might be one of the top 10 players in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean I respect him. The Houston Rockets star shooting guard might lead the NBA in scoring this season, as he did the last averaging 29 points a game, but he’s not a complete player and it’s really not even close. It seems Harden is allergic to playing defense and he’s a piss poor leader, as well. He can enjoy his top 10 selection on this list, because it’s about the only accolade he’s going to be receiving this season as his team likely fails to make the playoffs. JS
#11. Paul George
Last year was Paul George’s comeback year after a grueling injury that left him sidelined for about a year. He came back from recovering from a broken leg to a depleted team that looked nothing like it had during the Indiana Pacers’ glory days just two years earlier, and he still managed to get his team into the playoffs. Sure, it was an early exit, but now with point guard Jeff Teague there to help, Paul George will be sure to get the Pacers back into the postseason. PT
#12. Damian Lillard
Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is one of the most exciting, young players in the NBA. His two most important statistical categories – scoring and assists – were both at career highs last year and it seems like his ceiling might continue to rise. His team isn’t a real threat to go deep into the postseason, but put some more talent on the roster and Lillard could be the next Steph Curry. JS
#13. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony for me is just an older version of James Harden. He’s a fantastic scorer, but don’t ever expect him to win a championship unless he goes searching for one through one of the free agency superteams that are so popular these days. He still scores enough and has a big enough name to make this list, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. JS
#14. DeMarcus Cousins
Say what you will about his attitude off the court, DeMarcus Cousins’ play on the hardwood earns him a spot on any top 20 list. Last year, he averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, and with the Sacramento Kings looking desperate for some leadership on the court, it’s a safe bet he’ll start easing into that role soon, provided he can get past some of his maturity issues. Regardless, he’s easily one of the top three centers in the league. PT
#15. Kyle Lowry
The Toronto Raptors are going to come into this season with a chip on their shoulder. They went deep in the playoffs last year, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This year, Lowry, along with DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, will look to prove everything wrong about how far the North with LeBron’s juggernaut in front of them. PT
#16. Anthony Davis
Are you tired of seeing Anthony Davis make top five NBA player lists, too? Than you might be happy that we only have him at No. 16 on this one. He might have the talent to be much higher on these lists, as he has before, but he hasn’t done a thing yet and he can’t keep himself on the court. His offensive and defensive numbers might both look nice, but you can’t bank on him to play more than 60 games a season. His team has never even finished higher than dead last in its division since he joined the team. JS
#17. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has been one of the most popular players in the NBA since he joined the league, primarily because he’s a human highlight reel. He’s also largely been a disappointment. The Los Angeles Clippers have had teams over the last few seasons that have looked like borderline All Star teams and have done absolutely nothing. A lot of this goes on the back of Griffin who’s caused chemistry issues with his attitude. He might be one of the most exciting players in the league, but I wouldn’t want him on my team. JS
#18. Al Horford
Not only does Al Horford have a new city, but he has decades of Bostonian legacy to live up to. Horford will join point guard Isaiah Thomas on the Boston Celtics, who will likely be feeding the big man and helping him make waves on the scoreboard. With both Horford and Thomas leading the charge, the Celtics are looking at being a major player in the east this season. PT
#19. Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol’s career is winding down. He spent a spell out with injury last year, and the Memphis Grizzlies are looking like they’re going to be in rebuilding mode within the next couple years. That means we’re about to see the last hoorah of Gasol, and don’t expect him to fade out quietly. PT
#20. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is the last of an old breed, but of the four players from the 1998 draft who are still active (along with Paul Pierce, Vince Carter and Nazr Mohammed), he’s the only one who will start for his team this year. That’s because he’s the only one who’s consistently carried his team through the years, without seeing a significant decline in production. Last year, Nowitzki averaged 18.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. With the Dallas Mavericks stretched thin and Dirk headed into what will possibly be his last season, you can count on more of the same. PT
by Julian Spivey
After 20 seasons and more than 1,600 baseball games Turner Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves, is hosting its final baseball game today as the Braves play the Detroit Tigers at 2:10 p.m.
Twenty years isn’t exactly a long life for a professional baseball stadium, but the stadium originally built to host the 1996 Summer Olympics and then Braves baseball has never been an optimum home for the Braves ownership, who site traffic problems in downtown Atlanta and lack of public transportation around the area as factors to why the team often struggles in ticket sales. The Braves have always had kind of fair-weather local fans, anyway, even when they were in the middle of winning 14 straight division titles.
Turner Field is a special place to me, even though I’ve only been to three games at the location. Not only has it been the home of my favorite baseball franchise for the majority of my life, but it’s where I attended my first ever Major League Baseball game – a key moment in any baseball fan’s life. For that reason, I wish Turner Field, named after former Braves owner Ted Turner, could stand forever. But, they tore the House That Ruth Built down in New York, so nobody is exactly going to save a 20-year old ballpark that didn’t really have any special significance in the history of the game beyond the Braves franchise.
I’m sure Sun Trust Park, that just doesn’t sound right, the Braves new ballpark being built in the nicer suburbs of Cobb County will be a nice home for my favorite franchise and will surely pack in loads of fans at least in its first season of operation, which begins next April. But, I’m not sure it’ll ever mean as much to me as Turner Field, the somewhat boring cookie cutter park that was partially built to please a terrific rotation consisting of now hall of famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Sun Trust Park will never see a Bobby Cox ejection, it’ll never see a Chipper Jones home run, it’ll never see a Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz strikeout, or a dazzling Andruw Jones defensive play or a number of other things. One of the things I’ll miss most about Turner Field isn’t even at Turner Field, but outside in one of the parking lots where they have a monument commemorating the spot where Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record at the old Fulton County Stadium in 1974. They will probably demolish that with the field, but I hope not. Most importantly it’ll never be the first place my parents took me and my brothers to see our first Major League game, all the way from Arkansas.
That’s us in the photo attached to this piece - I’m the one in blue. It was August 2, 1998 and the Braves were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals, a team I was quite familiar with listening to on the radio in Arkansas. The Braves mascot, Homer, looks like a meth addict – luckily he’s cleaned up his act today. Seriously, my parents probably shouldn’t have allowed us around that dude.
I don’t think I’m a normal person. I don’t really remember a whole lot of things from my childhood. I remember plenty of sporting events and moments I’ve seen, but not a lot of lived in things – things I did or experienced. I remember that day well. I remember Kevin Millwood was the starting pitcher for the Braves. I’ve attended six Braves games in my lifetime and not once did I see Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz start a game. I hate that. I remember Mark McGwire went 0-for-4 for the Cardinals and this was just a month before he’d break Roger Maris’ single season home run record that we all know now was bogus. I remember the Braves won 4-3 and they did so on a RBI double by Greg Colbrunn, who started that day in place of the Braves usual first baseman Andres Galarraga. I think Colbrunn means more to me from this one at-bat than he does to most anybody who ever saw him play. This would be the only time I ever saw the Braves win at Turner Field. I’ve seen them win twice at the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Maybe I should just stay close to home and watch them win?
The second time I went to Turner Field was during a family reunion in the summer of 2001. They would go on to lose to the New York Mets and we’d have to leave before the last out because my brother couldn’t keep down an overpriced ballpark hot dog, but the best part about this trip was we got to take a tour of the stadium. I stepped foot on the same field that my childhood heroes did. I even got to sit in the same dugout they did. I don’t believe my family has photos of this. I wish they did.
My third and final time at Turner Field was in the summer of 2005 when they got beat pretty badly by the Oakland A’s in an interleague game. This was more than a decade before now and I had no way of knowing this would be my final trip to The Ted, as many affectionately or sarcastically depending on the person call it. I so badly wanted to go to Atlanta this season and wish it farewell, but life is too busy and that never happened. Seeing a game here or there on television this season showed me that many, even those much closer than I am to the ballpark, must’ve had the same thing happen.
I’m going to watch the game this afternoon and I hope the Braves win one final time at Turner Field. As previously mentioned, there was really nothing too significant about the ballpark. At the same time, it holds an awful lot of significance to me.
by Preston Tolliver
I didn’t start really paying attention to basketball until 2009.
Sure, I have memories of sitting at my grandma’s house with everyone while we watched the Jordan Bulls keep Stockton and Malone from entering the Naismith Hall of Fame with rings on their fingers. But I didn’t really pay attention. I’m pretty sure I just played in the floor with my wrestling toys.
I would keep up with little tidbits here and there. I knew Allen Iverson was pretty good, that LeBron James was some sort of basketball prodigy and that there was something about Kobe that was impressively unlikeable. But I wasn’t paying attention.
Then, sometime in the 2008-2009 season, I started paying attention. I’m not sure what the exact sequence of events were, but the gist of it was that before moving off for college, I lived with my brother, he sometimes watched games and I sometimes watched them too. I knew I needed a team, and I particularly enjoyed watching the Boston Celtics, who were coming off a championship season. Everything between that is hazy, but a few months later in June 2009, I was forcing discussions about the NBA Finals with customers who were unfortunate enough to come through my checkout lane at Hastings (the Lakers would go on to beat the Celtics that year). The next year, my brother took me to see the Celtics play in Dallas, which was my first professional basketball game. I’ve been to seven games since.
There were probably several things that held my interest in basketball, but in the beginning, four players specifically gave me reason to tune in: Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Allen effectively retired two years ago, Garnett announced his retirement last Friday, Pierce announced on Monday that this will be his final season, and Rondo, who will play this season for the Chicago Bulls, has what I’m pretty sure is the basketball equivalent of the Benjamin Button disease.
Truthfully, I don’t know a lot about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s basketball ability. I came in when they were still pretty good, but not at peak performance. Most of what they’d proven on the court had come to pass by 2009. I did know that Kevin Garnett was kind of a jerk to other players (I cannot stress enough how much I love that), that he was great in the post and that he was pretty funny when he ridiculed Craig Sager for his suits. I knew that Paul Pierce was clutch AF, could shoot threes, wore headbands pretty well and was good at being a person Nate Robinson did flips over.
Nevertheless, they’ll always be two of my all-time favorites (Allen doesn’t get this distinction after pulling a Judas and going to Miami in 2012).
I won’t say I was devastated when Garnett announced his retirement Friday. That would be dramatic. But something was amiss. Something that I had grown to love would no longer include one of the people responsible for me loving it. I had a similar feeling again Monday when Paul Pierce announced his farewell tour. Admittedly it wasn’t as bad a feeling as the day the two were traded to the Brooklyn Nets (a fate we can all agree is worse than death, let alone retirement), but both Friday and Monday were pretty bummer days because of it.
What I appreciate most about the two, though, will never be what they did on the court, but what they did for me, because mostly I’m selfish. Pierce and Garnett, along with Allen and Rondo, brought me an interest that’s done more for me in the last seven years than some of my best friends ever could. Because of that interest, I’ve logged hours playing basketball – both through video games and actually playing, like outside, like on a court – with family and friends. I’ve also won two fantasy league championships, which is still two more championships than Karl Malone or John Stockton ever won. More importantly, though, basketball also gave me an outlet following my mother’s death (I think I made four trips between Oklahoma City and Memphis to watch games that year). And for someone whose default when feeling overwhelmed by life is to get drunk, play video games and eat Doritos, that meant something.
I have a lot of people to thank for that interest. Pierce and Garnett aren’t the only reasons I watch basketball. But they were pretty influential in getting me there, and right now, I’m thanking them.
by Preston Tolliver
Gone are the boring days where you could buy a basketball game and focus on silly things like controlling a player whose primary focus is to play basketball, because “NBA 2K17” has realized that there are more important things than that. Finally, it’s come around to what I’ve believed for a long time – that the one thing basketball needs to make it entertaining is some daytime soap opera-level of drama.
In the game’s MyCareer mode, you’re a high school and college standout, nicknamed “Pres,” which is short for “President,” but could also be considered short for “Preston,” which, if you’ll look above here, you’ll see is my name and so that’s pretty dope. You declare for college – you can choose one of eight schools, and so I decided to take my talents to Michigan State, where I quickly cemented my place as the school’s best player to ever don a Spartan jersey (Suck it, Magic).
From there, you’re thrown into the draft, but don’t worry – you’ll still have plenty of time for things not revolving around basketball. For example, you have ample opportunity to set the controller down and watch the long, several minutes-long, one-after-another cutscenes of you and your college roommate playing video games (it’s almost surreal playing a video game in which you get to watch your player play a video game), or of you and your girlfriend sitting outside in the dark, talking about things that people in relationships usually talk about, or answering a million text messages after each practice, a task that feels almost like work, which is awesome because there’s nothing I like to do more while I’m at home than to field almost as many complaints from people as I do at the office. The game actually gives you the opportunity to ignore those messages, but half of them are from your mom telling you she loves you, so you really get to develop your player, right down to just how big of an asshole you are.
Now, because the game takes realism to a new level, prompting you to endure through practice after practice with Michael B. Jordan, there’s a lot I haven’t been able to check out on the game just yet. After all, the life of a basketball star is a pretty busy one, especially when 80 percent of that life is spent dealing with all the other crap. But I have a few notes:
The game obviously has its flaws. All games do. But there’s one thing 2K has proven with their latest installment, and it’s that damn, do they know their demographic.
by Eric Fulton
The National Football League’s regular season kicked off on Thursday (Sept. 8) right where it left off last season with the Denver Broncos defeating the Carolina Panthers in a rematch of Super Bowl 50. There are many storylines to follow as a new season enters: How will the Broncos fair now that Peyton Manning has retired? How many games will the New England Patriots win without Tom Brady? Will Robert Griffin III rediscover himself in Cleveland? What about the return of Andrew Luck? Can Luck lead the Indianapolis Colts back to the top of the AFC?
I would say there are over half of the teams I believe that have a strong case to make the playoffs. However, only 12 teams can make it. And only one will raise the Lombardi Trophy as champions of Super Bowl LI.
Here are the 12 teams I believe will make the playoffs in 2016.
East- New England Patriots
The Patriots will not have the services of Tom Brady for four games, but if they can win two or three of those games without Brady, they will be favorite all the way until the Super Bowl.
North- Pittsburgh Steelers
Even though they won’t have Le’Veon Bell for three games, the Steelers seem to be the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. If everyone, including Ben Rothelisberger can stay healthy throughout the season, Pittsburgh has a very good shot at making the Super Bowl.
South- Indianapolis Colts
The AFC South is the toughest of all divisions to pick who will win. Last year, the Texans won with only a 9-7 record. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are both young and should improve this season. However, this division will be decided on the health of Andrew Luck and his offensive line. If both things are a positive for Indy, they will return to winning the division.
West- Kansas City Chiefs
Now that Peyton Manning is gone, the AFC West seem to be open a little bit. The Oakland Raiders will be the team everyone will watch. The San Diego Chargers always seem to make things interesting. Right now, this is Andy Reid’s division to win. Kansas City should not have any problems winning the division. By the way, the only chance the Broncos have a shot at winning this division is if the defense can shut out everyone every week (Not likely to happen).
Wild Card: Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets
The Bengals should compete for a playoff spot once again. Can they finally win a playoff game under Marvin Lewis? The return of Andy Dalton should help tremendously.
The Jets got a huge confidence boost when Ryan Fitzpatrick re-signed with New York. Now with the addition of Matt Forte at running back, the Jets are poised to have double digit victories and this time get in the playoffs.
East- New York Giants
It seems as though the NFC East is a crap shoot every year. You never know who will win that division. This year, I will say the Giants should win the NFC East, but I won’t be surprised if they don’t win. You just never know about that division and the teams.
North- Green Bay Packers
With the terrible injury to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Packers are now the favorite to win the NFC North. Once again, Green Bay is led by Aaron Rodgers who gets his main target back in Jordy Nelson. But the Vikings defense under head coach Mike Zimmer will give it all they have when defending their division championship.
South- Carolina Panthers
The defending NFC Champions will return wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, which will help Cam Newton. The Panthers also have a great defense with a healthy Luke Kuechley leading the way. They will have a major target on their back, but Ron Rivera’s team seems to be built for the long haul of the NFL season.
West- Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer had the best year ever as a quarterback in his NFL career as the Cardinals made it to the NFC Championship game last year. Having safety Tyron Mathieu return from an ACL injury will be huge as he along with fellow LSU Tiger Patrick Peterson form the best defensive back duo in the NFL. Bruce Arians will have his team ready to go and poised to go back for the Super Bowl.
Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints
Seahawks – Seattle will once again try to return to the top of the NFL Mountain. However, it will have to do so without the services of running back Marshawn Lynch as he decided to retire. Quarterback Russell Wilson will once again try to lead the offense into another deep postseason run. Meanwhile the defense will try to prove themselves as still the best in the NFL.
Saints- There should be a handful of teams fighting for at one more playoff spot in the NFC. But I think the Saints will be the main team to take on the Panthers for the NFC South crown, but will ultimately be a wild card team. While the defense is not that great, they still have Drew Brees. With Brees now at the final stages of his career, the Saints are poised to make at least one more playoff run with their future hall of fame quarterback.
by Eric Fulton
With college football’s 2016 season kicking off this weekend, this is shaping up to be a fantastic year all around. Although last year’s Heisman winner Derrick Henry has moved on the to the National Football League, there is still plenty of star power in the college game.
Here are my 10 best players in college football, including the finalist who I believe will be invited to New York City in December.
1. Leonard Fournette (Running Back, LSU)
Through the first two years at LSU, he has been everything advertised. Early last year, he was the frontrunner until he ran into Nick Saban and Alabama’s Defense. This year he is ready to make a loud roar. In doing so, he will lead the Tigers to not only the SEC, but a berth in the College Football Playoff. That would cement his place as one of the greatest running backs of all-time in college football history.
2. Christian McCaffrey (Running Back, Stanford)
The Cardinal running back had an outstanding 2015 that compared him to another Stanford running back who was also a finalist for the Heisman, Toby Gerhart in 2009. McCaffrey is poised to make 2016 an even better season with him leading the charge for not only a Pac-12 title, but a national title as well.
3. DeShaun Watson (Quarterback, Clemson)
Watson and the Tigers had a magical season in 2015 until they lost to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Watson will have to be even more spectacular than the year before in order to lead Clemson back to the playoff. If he does that, he will make a return trip to New York.
Players who have a shot of going to New York- These are the players whose teams are in contention to not only win their conference, but also have the opportunity to lead their team to a College Football Playoff berth. That would make their case for an invite to New York City.
Baker Mayfield (Quarterback, Oklahoma)
Mayfield left after one season at Texas Tech and he probably does not regret making that choice. Mayfield helped the Sooners win the Big XII last year with high expectations of a repeat. Can Mayfield deliver once again in big games? If so, he and Oklahoma could have a date with destiny.
Chad Kelly (Quarterback, Ole Miss)
Kelly will likely be the first quarterback to be taken in next year’s NFL Draft. He came off an amazing season leading the Rebels to a Sugar Bowl victory. Now can he do something at Ole Miss that has not been done in a long time, win the SEC? I’d say he and the team have a chance. One major concern for Kelly is who will be his new best target with LaQuan Treadwell going to the NFL?
Dalvin Cook (Running Back, Florida State)
The Seminoles will open the season starting a freshman quarterback in Deondre Francois. Cook is one of the best running backs in college football. If he can take pressure off the young quarterback, he and Florida State will once again have a special year to remember.
Jabrill Peppers (Linebacker, Michigan)
Peppers is the only defensive player on my list. It also does not hurt to be versatile as he plays not only linebacker, but also defensive back and wide receiver. I believe there once was a guy who did the same thing for Michigan in the mid-to-late 1990s and ended up winning a Heisman. Does Charles Woodson ring a bell to anyone?
Players who probably won’t be invited to New York, but could make things very interesting with great individual and team seasons.
Joshua Dobbs (Quarterback, Tennessee)
Dobbs is one of the better athletic quarterbacks in all of college football. He has the size and speed to make a great quarterback on Sundays. Can he lead the Volunteers into the promise land of the SEC for the first time in a long time?
J.T. Barrett (Quarterback, Ohio State)
Last year, Barrett was a part of the three headed quarterback competition in Columbus. Now that Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller have both moved on, Barrett will be handling the starter duties in Urban Meyer’s offense for the Buckeyes, who are once again favorites in the Big Ten.
Nick Chubb (Running Back, Georgia)
Chubb was lost for the season after a devastating leg injury in last season’s loss at Tennessee. If he can be the explosive running back he once was prior to the injury, Kirby Smart’s first year as head coach could be a memorable one.
by Eric Fulton
It is hard to believe that the 2016 college football season is here. It only seemed like a month ago that Alabama was celebrating another national championship. Obviously, since then every fan in America has been ready for a new season of college football to start.
2016 will mark the third year of the College Football Playoff system. Through the first two years, the CFP has been something positive for college football. There are more games and matchups that matter in November and December. If a team is in the top four come November when the first College Football Playoff rankings are revealed, there’s pressure for those teams to keep winning. The last two national champions, Ohio State and Alabama, each lost their only games in the season in September and won their remaining games the rest of the way. Recent history has shown that if you lose two games then you lose any shot at winning the national championship.
Before the we kick off the 2016 season, I am going to reveal my top four teams who I think will be in the college football playoff. Once again, the two semifinal matchup will occur on New Year’s Eve (December 31) and the national championship game will take place on January 9th in Tampa, Fla.
These are my top four teams to play for the 2016 College Football National Championship:
The Sooners are major contenders to win the Big XII once again led by quarterback Baker Mayfield. However, the biggest downfall could be the fact they will likely beat a team within their conference twice even though the Big XII just has 10 teams.
2. Ohio State
Coach Urban Meyer will be looking to avenge missing out of last year’s playoff. There is no quarterback controversy in Columbus this year as once again the Buckeyes are the favorite to win the Big Ten.
Could you imagine the SEC being totally shut out of the College Football Playoff? Non-SEC fans would love to see this happen, but I don’t see it. On paper, this appears to be Les Miles’ best team in quite a while. Also having the best running back in college football does not seem to hurt at all. Will the Tigers be able to put it all together in 2016?
4. Florida State
The Seminoles are looking to return as the best team in the ACC. The good thing is that the ACC is getting better and proving it can be compete with the rest of the big boys. Coach Jimbo Fisher will have an experienced group of starters return in a what could shape up to be a really good year in Tallahassee.
Other teams that I believe will make a serious run in 2016:
Alabama- You never want to count out a Nick Saban coached team. However, they won’t have the services of Jake Coker, Derrick Henry and Reggie Ragland. A tough road schedule could prevent the Crimson Tide from defending their national championship.
Tennessee- 2016 could be the year the Volunteers return to the top of the SEC East. Head Coach Butch Jones has seen improvement from his team the first two years. Lead by quarterback Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee is one of the most experienced teams coming back in the SEC East, but they need wins over Florida and Alabama to finally get over the hump.
Oregon – There is not a lot of hype for the Ducks to not only win the Pac-12, but also be a serious contender for the national championship. However, Oregon always finds a way to be in serious contention in the Pac-12.
Houston – If the Cougars beat Oklahoma in week 1, the rest of the schedule sets up very nicely for them. Also Greg Ward, Jr. will be among the dark horse Heisman candidates.
Louisville – Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals will be a serious threat to Clemson/Florida State in the ACC. If they can beat one or both the Tigers and Seminoles, look out.
Clemson – The Tigers are a major player to once again be a serious contender for the National Championship. However, the rest of the ACC is catching up to Dabo Swinney’s team. The ACC race will be very interesting to watch.
Boise State – Seems like the better part of over a decade, the Broncos have been the Cinderella of college football. This year seems to be another case where if they can go undefeated, they could play themselves into a top four seed for the college football playoff.
Notre Dame – Coach Brian Kelly’s Irish is once again a great talk for college football. However, who will start the first game at Texas: DeShon Kizer or Malik Zaire? Once the quarterback situation is resolved, the Irish will be all business as they make noise to get in the final four of college football.
Best, Worst of Olympics First Week Includes Phelps, Gymnastics, Golf, Hope Solo and Over-Patriotism
by Julian Spivey
I’ve spent most of my free time over the last nine days watching the 2016 Summer Olympics from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and can honestly say it’s the most fun I’ve ever had watching the Olympics. While television statistics show fewer people are watching the Olympics these days I find myself enjoying and appreciating the athletic feats I see more and more, probably because many of these sports and events you only get to see once every four years. The games, which many in the press felt would be a disaster, have been mostly fine at the halfway point of the games except for some minor issues like the diving and water polo pools mysteriously turning green and Ryan Lochte and other fellow USA swimmers being held up by gunpoint late Saturday night. What’s happened on the playing courts, pools, courses and fields thus far has been riveting and I’d like to take the time to talk about some of the highlights and a few lowlights of the games thus far.
Swimming has seemingly surpassed gymnastics and track and field as the favorite Olympic sport among the masses in America and a lot of that has to do with the legendary feats of Michael Phelps, who certainly added to his historic resume this past week. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if Phelps had disappointed at Rio giving it’s his fifth games at age 31, older than most of his fellow competitors by as much as over a decade, and with all that’s happened to him since the 2012 games in London. But, Phelps seemed as good as ever medaling in all six of his events, including five gold medals to extend his Olympic record to 23 golds. He also surpassed the Olympic individual medal record with 16 total. Phelps simply solidified his position as the greatest Olympian in the history of the games.
While Phelps solidified his legendary status in Rio another USA legend was born with the efforts of 19-year old swimmer Katie Ledecky, who took home four golds – almost all of them in incredibly dominating fashion. There was a lot made about sexism in the media’s coverage throughout the first week of the games – some of it warranted and some of it much ado about nothing – but one of the great announcing moments came when NBC swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines mentioned that many people had claimed Ledecky swam like a man, but in fact she just swims like Katie Ledecky.
I have never been the slightest bit interested in gymnastics. But, that all turned around this week while watching the Team USA women compete. There was just something about the dominance and effortlessness of the team of Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian that couldn’t help but to put a smile on my face.
I will say that those already claiming Biles to be the greatest gymnast of all-time are being a little bit premature (this was written before the individual performances on Sunday night). She’s certainly the greatest active gymnast and I don’t believe that can be argued against, but this is her first Olympic appearance and I’d like to see what she’s capable of in 2020 in Tokyo first before giving her that prestigious honor. I’m glad a legend of the sport like Nadia Comaneci, the only competitor in Olympic history to have a perfect score in an event, came out to the press and said basically the same thing.
I’m a huge golf fan and can’t believe the sport, which last appeared in the Olympics in 1906 in St. Louis, went 110 years without being an Olympic sport. Golf is played virtually everywhere around the world and should’ve been a no-brainer all along for the Olympics. The games finally righted one of its biggest wrongs this year and couldn’t have been rewarded any better. On Sunday going to the final hole at the Olympic Golf Course Great Britain’s Justin Rose and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, both major golf winners, were tied. Rose would come out of the 18th hole as the victor to take gold, Stenson would settle for silver and American Matt Kuchar, tying the Olympic record with a 63 in the final round, jumped up to the bronze medal.
The on course golf was spectacular, but I’ve got two complaints anyway.
The first was the golfers who decided to skip this event and those include some of the biggest names in the world and the top four in the World Golf Rankings: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson. These four golfers along with a few others decided not to go to Rio for fears of security issues or getting the Zika virus. Those golfers frankly look like fools now after the event went off without a hitch, players who did participate gleefully cheered the event and NBC golf announcers like Johnny Miller claimed to have not seen a single mosquito during the entire event. At one point during the final round on Sunday one of the announcers claimed, “we’re not even missing those who chose not to come.” And while that statement was partially true in that it didn’t impact the on-course action or the excitement of the event going down to the wire it wasn’t completely true because you’d like to see the best field possible in an event that means this much and those four big name golfers chickening out did hurt it at least somewhat.
The other complaint from the first Olympic golf event in 110 years is something that certainly wouldn’t have been a problem for golfers a century ago and that’s the use of phones and cameras in the gallery distracting the golfers. I’m not kidding when I say “please put away the cameras/phones” must’ve been uttered more than a thousand times over the course of the four-day event by golfers and caddies. It got to the point where it somewhat took away from the viewing pleasure by the sheer annoyance of the repeated phrase. While many within the game – athletes and announcers – are chiding fans new to the sport on their lack of etiquette I’ve got to say that the golfers and announcers need to lighten up, a lot. It wasn’t so much an issue because people didn’t realize the etiquette, but rather because they don’t really care and golf shouldn’t either. Any sport needs new generations of fans to survive and today’s younger generations are attached to their iPhones as if it were an actual body part attached to their hands and one day through evolution it probably will be. Sure, those within the game could keep whining about these minor distractions and events may even consider banning phones altogether, but if the sport wants to attract young fans it’s going to have to learn to adapt. Imagine if a baseball player or basketball player refused to continue with their actions on the playing field because fans were snapping photos? Golfers need to learn to better focus on the game with these distractions or their sport will suffer.
While swimming was the biggest success during week one for the USA the biggest disappointment was, without a doubt, the women’s soccer team that was favored to win the gold medal coming in and ended up being eliminated by Sweden in the first round of eliminations. The poor play wasn’t really so much the biggest disappointment though for Team USA as it was the constant poor behavior by goalie Hope Solo, who became the villain of the Olympics with her disrespectful social media posts about Zika preparation, which led to the crowds constantly deriding her with cheers of “Zika! Zika!” The all-around disrespectful Solo showed her true colors yet again after losing to Sweden when she referred to the winning team as “cowards.” This shocking lack of sportsmanship is unbecoming of a member of the USA squad and based on her actions in Rio and previous actions including a domestic assault arrest which went unpunished by Team USA it’s probably time for the team to show Solo the door.
One of the greatest things about any Olympic games is cheering on the athletes from your country. But, sometimes this patriotism can go too far into the realm of jingoism and it seems to happen more with American sports fans than those of other countries or maybe that’s just because living here makes us more aware. Two moments of over-patriotism stood out from the first week of the games. The first came when the USA women won gold in gymnastics and Gabby Douglas in a Flag Code faux paus didn’t place her hand over her heart, which is a completely honest mistake. Douglas was bullied for this ruthlessly by people on Twitter many declaring that she should move to another country if she hates the USA so much.
The other moment of over-patriotism that led to an abundance of stupidity was when Ashton Eaton, American gold medalist in the Decathlon at London in 2012 and competitor later in these games, wore a Canada hat in the stands while watching his Canadian wife Brianne Theisen-Eaton perform in the Heptathlon, where she would win bronze. Eaton was also ruthlessly attacked on social media for wearing a hat representing another country, when he was merely doing so to show support for his wife.
Sometimes rooting for one’s country can bring out the worst in a person. It’s important to remember that these are just games and nothing more. Argentinian basketball player Luis Scola knows this and had one of the best statements of the game when he told the crowd before the Argentina/Brazil (heated rivals) basketball game that it’s just a game, not war. It’s great to root for those representing your country to win honors, but it’s stepping over the line when you attack these athletes because you don’t believe they are representing you the way you want them to do.
GOOD GUYS vs. BAD GUYS:
One of the greatest moments of the first week of the Olympics was when American swimmer Lilly King called out Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova for her past use of performance enhancing drugs and said PED users should receive a lifetime ban from competing in the Olympics. King then backed up her statement by beating Efimova in the pool for the gold medal. The talk of the Russians frequent use of performance enhancing drugs has been one of the biggest talking points of the first week of the Olympics and it should be. Use of these drugs is cheating – there’s no way around that – and I agree with King in that any athlete caught using should be banned for life. Americans rallied around King’s statement and her rivalry with Efimova became something of a swimming Cold War in that it was the good Americans against the bad Russians. Here’s the only issue with that … As we move into week two of the Olympics some of the American favorites for the track and field events include sprinters like Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, athletes who have been punished in the past for using performance enhancing drugs. If you’re like King and believe these athletes should receive lifetime bans, as well, then good for you. I know that’s what I believe. But, if you’re going to bash the Russian dopers and then turn around and root for Americans who’ve done the same thing that makes you a hypocrite and probably is another sign of over-patriotism. Don’t be that person.