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As we approach the new year, memories and moments from the year that’s passed flood our collective subconscious. From milestones in life to starting new jobs to beginning a new relationship, a new year can really mean starting a new chapter in your life.
Sports isn’t much different.
Every year there’s moments that make us pause and reflect on where we were the last time something like this happened. Moments that we look back on years later and think, “I remember when this happened.”
So which moments from 2021 were the best? Well let’s talk about it:
10. Bubba Wallace Finally Wins A Race
Since debuting in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017, there hasn’t been a more talked about driver than Bubba Wallace. First grabbing headlines when became the first African-American driver to run a cup race since Bill Lester in 2006, he would continue his pursuit of history. It wasn’t all pretty though, including an incident where he flat out quit an iRacing event during the Covid-19 pandemic by crashing his car intentionally and the infamous noose allegation.
After struggling for most of the season under the newly former 23XI Racing team, Wallace finally would get a win at Talladega on October 4th. He would become the first African-American driver since Wendell Scott in 1963 to win a Cup Series race. While the groans of overrated are still there, there’s at least some hope that Bubba may be alright.
9. Cleveland Browns Return To The Playoffs
Ever since their return to the league in 1999, the Cleveland Browns hadn’t been to the postseason since the 2002-03 season. In the time since, the team would go through more quarterbacks and head coaches than most of the league. Simply put, Cleveland had been terrible.
That all changed on January 3rd, when they would punch their ticket to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card round. A week later, Cleveland found themselves in Pittsburgh, somewhere they hadn’t won since 2004. That wouldn’t matter, as they upset the Steelers 48-37.
Cleveland would lose the next week to the Kansas City Chiefs, and seemingly fall down to earth the next season. But for one gleaming moment in January, Cleveland was able to celebrate the biggest win since their beloved Browns returned in 1999.
8. Steph Curry Passes Ray Allen
For many in the previous age of the NBA, Ray Allen was seen as the greatest three-point shooters of all-time. His record started at a time when the league saw more of a physical “get to the basket” type style, but was ultimately set when the times were changing and more players started shooting from three-point range more. That record lasted a decade, and was etched during the rookie year of one Steph Curry.
On December 16th, Curry passed Allen as the all-time three-point shooter. He would hit his 2,974 in style, as he did it against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Even more remarkable than the record being broken is that it took him 511 fewer games than Allen to set the mark.
7. Cincy Gets It’s Chance
Ever since the creation of the college football playoffs in 2014, the big question surrounding it was if a team outside the big conferences would be able to actually make it. While teams like Michigan State, Washington and Florida State made it in once, they were still a part of those power conferences. Even the two years Notre Dame made it, they were one of the biggest college football powers, and a temporary member of the ACC. For years, it looked like it was always going to be a combination of Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and either a Pac-12 or Big Ten school.
That all changed when the University of Cincinnati went 13-0 in the regular season, and 8-0 in conference play. With their victory of over Houston in the American Athletic Conference, it became apparent that they belonged in the playoffs. It was just a question of if it would happen.
Many believed that the college football governing body would find someone way to exclude Cincinnati and include Notre Dame. Instead, Cincinnati was included, making them the first non-power conference school to make the college football playoffs.
6. CM Punk Returns To The Ring
It had been over seven years since CM Punk walked out on World Wrestling Entertainment. The self proclaimed “Best in the World” had become burnt out and was dealing with health issues that the company doctors allegedly didn’t acknowledge, including a staph infection on his back. In his time away, he had tried everything from fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship to acting to writing comic books. It seemed like despite a massive demand, he wasn’t going to ever return to wrestling.
Then August came around and on the second episode of All Elite Wrestling’s Rampage, entitled “The First Dance,” the familiar “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour started playing and he walked out to address the crowd. CM Punk was officially All Elite. White the moment itself has ultimately been an appetizer for the matches he’s had so far and the potential matches to come, that initial moment get the nod, just for being the moment people won’t forget.
5. Atlanta Braves Win The World Series
At the beginning of the 2021 baseball season, people were predicting the Atlanta Braves to be good, but not necessarily championship caliber. While they saw 90 wins being the line, they faced stiff competition with a reloaded New York Mets’ team and a Washington Nationals’ team that was ready to surge. Then injuries mounted, forcing them to lose their best pitcher and all of their starting outfielders.
Despite having a 44-45 record at the All-Star Break and having a 0.3% chance at winning the World Series, general manager Alex Anthopoulos was able to make a flurry of moves to get the team back into contention. Manager Brian Snitker was able to do the rest, getting the team to the postseason.
From there, they went on a huge run, which resulted in them meeting with the Houston Astros in the World Series. Atlanta won the whole thing by a count of four games to two. While it’s drawn controversy from people like super agent Scott Boras talking about MLB’s “competitive cancer,” the feat was nonetheless remarkable.
4. Candace Parker’s Perfect Homecoming
When Candace Parker announced that she was not going to re-sign with the Los Angeles Sparks, the common question was, what’s next? That would be answered when she signed a two-year deal with the Chicago Sky. Citing the chance to play closer to home (grew up in Naperville, IL) and having a chance to win a championship, she took her talents to the Windy City.
They would go 16-16, which was good enough for second-place in the Eastern Conference. Their winning ways would continue in the postseason with wins over the Dallas Wings, Minnesota Lynx and Connecticut Sun before meeting the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Finals. They would ultimately win, only cementing Parker’s legacy in the league even more, and giving her the ultimate homecoming for a professional athlete.
3. Simone Biles Goes For Bronze
It’s very rare that you hear an Olympic athlete who has won gold say their proudest accomplishment was winning a bronze medal in the only Olympic event they competed in. That was the case surrounding gymnast Simone Biles and her case of the “twisties,” a term used to describe a gymnast getting lost while in the air. With it being the first Olympics she had competed in since the Larry Nassar sexual assault controversy, she faced a mountain of mental health issues that saw her drop out of many events leading up the annual games.
However, she would ultimately take part in the final event of the 2020 games, the balance beam. She would place in third, which gave her the bronze medal.
While it may not be the gold or silver, the fact that a 24-year old woman, who had been allegedly sexually assaulted by the USA Gymnastics physician was able to win a medal is something worth remembering. In a time when mental health issues are at a high, to see something like this is an inspiration. We may not know what the future holds for Miss Biles but until then, we can do nothing but watch and see what’s next for arguably the greatest gymnast of all time.
2. Jolly Roger Redemption
Going into the 2020-21 NFL season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were faced with several questions: could quarterback Tom Brady do well without Bill Belichick as his coach? Could head coach Bruce Arians finally win a Super Bowl? Could running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Antonio Brown shrug off their unceremonious departures and perform well?
The simple answer was yes to all the questions. Despite a second-place finish in their division, Tampa Bay would make a run all the way to the Super Bowl where they would flat out embarrass Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. It may have been a moment many did not want to see but it was a spectacle just the same.
1. The NBA Finals
The 2021 NBA Finals did not have LeBron James or Steph Curry, it didn’t have a “super team,” it didn’t have a major market team, and it didn’t have a legacy team. So what did the NBA Finals have? Well, other than Milwaukee Bucks’ star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the one thing it had going for it was that it was different.
Viewership of the NBA Finals went up 32% from last year. The storylines featuring either Phoenix Suns’ star Chris Paul or Antetokounmpo finally getting a championship ring, mixed in with Phoenix coming out of nowhere to make it to the Finals made this a must-watch series. It built the series up and it did not disappoint. Six games of hardly contested basketball lead to one of the most interesting match ups we’ve seen in a while.
Who knows what 2022 will hold for the sports world. We don’t know how they’ll find a way to top this past year. Whatever the case though, it will be fun to watch.
Have a safe and happy New Year!