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.