2016 will go down in the history books as one of the most memorable years in sports history. Just about every sport had incredible stories following them into the playoffs. Peyton Manning retired after winning his second Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos defeating the 15-1 Carolina Panthers to win Super Bowl 50. The Cleveland Cavaliers came back from down 3-1 in the NBA Finals to defeat the record breaking 73-9 Golden State Warriors. Kobe Bryant retired by scoring 60 points in his final night as a Los Angeles Laker, including hitting a game-winner in the final seconds to end it in fitting fashion.
The Chicago Cubs came back from down 3-1 in the World Series to defeat the Cleveland Indians. It was the Cubs first World Series victory since 1908 and officially ended the “Billy Goat’s Curse” forever. The Summer Olympics featured some of the brightest stars shine in sports we otherwise take for granted. Villanova defeated North Carolina in NCAA Basketball with a thrilling buzzer beater and Alabama defeated Clemson to win the College Football National Championship. The NHL had another exciting postseason with the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup.
No matter what sport you’re a fan of, there were memories you’ll never forget. Some of the stories weren’t as positive with many athletes having negative moments follow them. We’ll look at every aspect of 2016 with the most impressive athletes and the most disappointing athletes of the year.
16. Impressive: Tom Brady
The legend of Tom Brady continues to grow. Roger Goodell saw his suspension for Deflategate force Brady to sit out the first four games of the regular season this year. The New England Patriots gritted their way to a 3-1 record without Brady and went on to once again dominate the AFC East when he returned. Brady is averaging over 300 yards and almost three touchdown passes per game as of this writing.
Logic dictates an athlete has to decline as he grows older, but Brady manages to remain consistently superb. The Patriots are the clear favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It will take a huge effort for an opposing team to get past New England with Brady at quarterback. Brady would be the leader in the MVP race right now if he didn’t miss the four games due to suspension. The controversial quarterback managed to have another tremendous success despite the league trying to take him down.
15. Disappointing: Draymond Green
Draymond Green making the negative side of this list is rather sad considering he had an outstanding season to start 2016. The intense defense and unselfish play on offense made him a huge contributor to the Golden State Warriors breaking the regular season record to finish 73-9. Green could have easily been named the Defensive Player of the Year but finished second to Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs.
The playoffs are where Green started to fall apart. Under the microscope of the world watching, Green was caught kicking opposing players in the groin area during the postseason run. It resulted in a one-game suspension in the NBA Finals when kicking LeBron James. That allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers to get back in the series and make the miraculous comeback to win the NBA Championship. The start of the current season has Green continue to make dirty plays. Another embarrassing moment in 2016 saw Green get arrested on assault charges to further damage his name.
14. Impressive: Michael Phelps
The 2016 Summer Olympics delivered quite a few noteworthy stars. Many of them were American and Michael Phelps was one of the biggest names to represent the United States. Phelps was already a legendary swimmer with the reputation as the best of all time. He further cemented that by giving it one more attempt and showing a new generation of fans what he could do.
Viewers watched in awe as Phelps added more gold medals to his collection. Phelps scored five gold medals and a silver medal at the Rio Games. The total medal count for his career is at 28 with 23 of them being gold. Phelps proclaimed this was the final Olympic Games for him and he plans to retired as the most decorated swimmer of all time. We were all treated to the story of a legend coming back for one more run and absolutely crushing it again to end it on a high note.
13. Disappointing: DeAndre Hopkins
The Houston Texans appeared to have a superstar wide receiver for the foreseeable future following DeAndre Hopkins outstanding season last year. Hopkins totaled an incredible 1521 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. Pundits and fans alike expected him to keep it up as an elite wide receiver in the NFL for years to come. The 2016 season has stunned us all with his regression making him a huge disappointment.
Hopkins is unlikely to hit 1000 receiving yards or an impressive touchdown reception total unless he absolutely dominates the final month of the season. Fantasy football players to draft Hopkins in the first round of their drafts are paying the price for it now. Hopkins is still young enough to rebound back to a higher status in the league, but this season is a crushing blow. The Texans are in contention for the AFC South division title. Sadly, Hopkins has not been a big help to their chances.
12. Impressive: Mike Trout
At the young age of 25, Mike Trout has completely dominated the world of baseball. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have benefited from the star tapping into his incredible talent. Trout won the second American League MVP of his young career in 2016. This marked history as the third youngest player in MLB history to win multiple MVP Awards behind Hal Newhouser and Johnny Bench.
Trout’s 29 home runs and 100 RBIs weren’t the best numbers of his career but anyone visually watching the game could see he was the best hitter in the sport. The amazing .441 OBP of Trout saw him reach base 44% of the time. The Angels failed to make the playoffs and had a poor season but you can’t truly help make your teammates better players in baseball unlike other sports. Trout’s teammates let him down but he managed to win another MVP Award.
11. Disappointing: Hope Solo
One American representative at the 2016 Summer Olympics that left a negative impact was Hope Solo. As the goalie of the United States women’s national soccer team, Solo could have been viewed as a hero. Instead, she chose to make herself come off as a complete jerk. Solo made some negative comments about Rio regarding the Zika virus scares going around. The one specific Instagram post caused fans attending games to chant “Zika” at Solo whenever she touched the ball.
Solo got in hot water again when Sweden eliminated the United States in a penalty shootout. One of the Swedish soccer stars laughed at Solo’s mind games before hitting the shot to eliminate her. Solo responded by calling Sweden’s team “cowards” and trashing them in an interview. United States Soccer suspended Solo for the comments and terminated her contract with the team. Solo somehow managed to be a jerk before, during and after the Olympics.
10. Impressive: Stephen Curry
The NBA saw their first ever unanimous MVP winner when Stephen Curry dominated the 2015-2016 season. Curry led the Golden State Warriors to break the Chicago Bulls regular season record. He managed to set quite a bit of individual records as well including an unbelievable 402 three-pointers during the season. The next best number was 286 three-pointers made also by Curry in the prior season.
Golden State fell just one game short of repeating as NBA Champions in June. Curry was dealing with an injury that definitely impacted his game and allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers to pull off the upset. Despite the disappointing ending, Curry had one of the best seasons in NBA history. Curry is off to yet another impressive start to the current NBA season. With new teammate Kevin Durant, Curry’s numbers will likely go down but his chances at forming a dynasty are more alive than ever.
9. Disappointing: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick fooled the New York Jets fans into getting attached to a quarterback. The Jets have struggled to find a consistent quarterback since the days of Joe Namath. Fitzpatrick had a dream season in 2015 with a 10-6 record putting up impressive numbers. The calendar changing to 2016 officially ended the momentum. New York missed the postseason by losing their final game of the season January 3rd to the Buffalo Bills thanks to a Fitzpatrick stinker.
A long off-season of back and forth rumors saw the Jets finally budge in giving Fitzpatrick a new contract. The hopes were to contend this season with Fitzpatrick building on the chemistry he made with the wide receivers last season. It was for naught with him reverting back into a below average quarterback. Fitzpatrick has just 10 touchdown passes in comparison to 13 interceptions and may be the worst starting QB in the league today.
8. Impressive: Usain Bolt
Another fascinating Olympics star to dominate in his field was Jamaican star Usain Bolt. Track and field has always been one of the most high profile events in the Summer Olympics. Barry Allen would be proud of Bolt becoming the fastest man alive. Bolt made history as the first man to ever win the 100 meter race three times at the Olympic Games. The same history would be made when he won the 200 meter race for the third time as well.
Bolt ran the anchor leg of the finals in the 4 x 100 meter race earning his third goal medal of the 2016 Olympics. The Olympic career of Bolt sees him hold a flawless 100% winning record in the finals of track and field events. Bolt absolutely dominated the competition leaving them in his dust. You can’t mention the year of sports moments without celebrating the accomplishments of Bolt.
7. Disappointing: Alex Rodriguez
Most legendary careers end with fanfare and appreciation. Kobe Bryant retired this year by dropping 60 points in front of a loving crowd. Peyton Manning raised the Super Bowl trophy and hugged his loved ones. Tim Duncan saw peers, coaches and fans share their support of his career. One legend to likely leave the game he loves with less love was Alex Rodriguez. A long slump saw the New York Yankees desperately want to end his time on the field.
Rodriguez played his final game for the Yankees in August and that was it. The team released him and he was no longer playing. A couple of teams expressed interest but A-Rod decided to spend time away from the game. Considering he’s a below average 41 year old hitter at this point and can’t play the field, a break from the game likely means his career is over. Rodriguez has started worked for Fox as a broadcaster. The disappointing ending to A-Rod’s story is one of the sadder 2016 stories.
6. Impressive: Ezekiel Elliott
The Dallas Cowboys have become the best team in the NFL this season. Two drastic changes to the most exciting positions have seen rookies become the new faces of the team. Dak Prescott replaced injured Tony Romo at the quarterback position and has made the job his to lose. As impressive as Prescott is, he isn’t the best player on the team. Rookie Ezekiel Elliott has changed the landscape in Dallas completely dominating at running back.
Elliot is currently the favorite to win the MVP Award if he keeps up this pace. As of this writing, Elliot is averaging 134 total yards per game and the Cowboys have an 11-1 record. Dallas fans love being the center of attention in the NFL again. That is thanks to Elliot bursting on the scene with one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory. NFC East fears have to fear Elliott being in their division for many years to come.
5. Disappointing: Cam Newton
The beginning of 2016 was a great time for Cam Newton. Everyone was celebrating him coming off his MVP season in 2015 leading the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 regular season record and a trip to the Super Bowl. Newton unfortunately was figured out by the Denver Broncos defense in an embarrassing loss on the biggest stage. After the dream season and falling one game short of a Super Bowl ring, Newton has regressed.
Carolina is likely missing the postseason and Newton is a major reason why. The numbers of Newton have dropped dramatically from last year. Cam’s dynamic of being outstanding in both the passing and running game is no longer a dangerous threat as defences have limited him all season. Instead of repeating as MVP and getting another crack at the Super Bowl, Newton is the most disappointing NFL star of the season.
4. Impressive: Katie Ledecky
No one was as dominant at their sport as Katie Ledecky was during the Summer Olympics. The nineteen year old captivated Americans with her excellence in swimming. Ledecky made history with her gold medals in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle events. She was the first woman to win all three events in 48 years. Ledecky made more history as the third United States woman in history to win four gold medals in one Summer Olympics.
The way she achieved all of this is the reason she belongs towards the top of this list. Ledecky won all of her competitions with complete ease. The gap between her and the second place competitor would become laughable at a point. It was like watching a gaming expert play a video game on easy. Ledecky was the star of the Olympics and became an icon in the sport of swimming. The youngster has a chance to add to her legacy in the 2020 Olympics.
3. Disappointing: Ryan Lochte
The United States swimmers did their country proud for the most part, but one person embarrassed himself. Ryan Lochte did poorly in his only individual event for the 200 meter medley. That wasn’t as bad as his activities outside of the water. Lochte claimed he and a few of his teammates were robbed at gunpoint in Rio. The story would come out that he was lying about it to cover his own tracks.
Lochte and his teammates were drunk and vandalized the surroundings, including public urination. The armed assailants turned out to be security guards holding the swimmers and requesting payment for the damage done. Lochte turned out to be a complete liar. For all of the wonderful stories celebrating star athletes in the 2016 Olympic Games, Lochte’s name will be live on in infamy for the complete opposite reasons. Lochte was suspended from the swimming team for ten months.
2. Impressive: LeBron James
LeBron James cemented himself as the biggest star in sports in 2016. James was already the top name in the NBA for many years but the most noteworthy achievement of his career came in the playoffs. Following yet another outstanding regular season, James appeared in his sixth consecutive NBA Finals. James willed his Cleveland Cavaliers to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win three straight games defeating the Golden State Warriors.
The reason for James coming back to Cleveland following his four-year stint with the Miami Heat was the need to bring a championship back home. James did it and in the most dramatic of fashions. Sports fans will always remember his unbelievable chase down block on Andre Iguodala. James achieved the impossible and added the biggest accolade to his storied career. The 2016 NBA Championship and NBA Finals MVP Awards will always signify it being the year of LeBron.
1. Disappointing: Kevin Durant
The most disappointing sports tale of the year had to be Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors. Let’s go back to the NBA Playoffs. Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder eliminated the San Antonio Spurs and moved into a showdown with the Warriors. Oklahoma City had a 3-1 lead over Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder couldn’t hold the lead and the Warriors won three games in a row to break their hearts. Durant’s poor play in the final three games didn’t help.
Oklahoma City fans had faith Durant would look to build on how close they were to returning to the NBA Finals. Free agency showed that wasn’t true when Durant left the Thunder to join the Warriors. Instead of continuing to be the face of a thriving franchise, Durant opted to head to Golden State and form a super team. At the end of the day, he just wanted an easier chance at an NBA Championship. Durant is now the biggest villain in the NBA and it’s a shame given how he started the year as a beloved star.