2016 was a tumultuous year in many realms, but in the world of sports it was nothing short of epic.
With clutch performances on the biggest stages, notable retirements, tragic deaths and more than one quenched championship drought, 2016 goes down as an unforgettable year in sports.
Here are the sports moments from 2016 that we’ll still be talking about years from now.
1. Peyton Manning wins Super Bowl 50, his last game
After 18 seasons in the NFL featuring five NFL MVP awards and 14 Pro Bowls 39-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning called it quits in the most appropriate way possible by winning Super Bowl 50, the final game of his career. Talk about going out in style.
2. Villanova’s incredibly clutch shot
Though 2016 offered a handful of remarkable championship wins, perhaps none was as dramatic as this a buzzer-beater that sealed up an NCAA Championship for Villanova.
3. Leicester City becomes football’s fairytale
Leicester City overcame unthinkable 5,000-1 odds to win the Premier League, the world’s top domestic soccer league, in May.
It marked one of the biggest sports upsets in history, with Leicester City climbing the ranks after spending much of the prior season at the bottom of the league.
“The idea of Leicester winning the Premiership would be like the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl – unthinkable, and seemingly impossible,” Jeff Maysh, a British writer said, per BBC.
4. Kobe Bryant’s monster last game
Love him or hate him, Kobe Bryant is a stud on the court.
He proved it in the last game of his career, putting up an absurd 60 points before retiring. The monster night capped off a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, in which Bryant earned 18 All-Star nods, five NBA titles and an NBA MVP award.
5. America bids goodbye to “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali
2016 was not without tragedy in the sports world. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died in June after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
The remarkable rush of condolences and tributes in the days following Ali’s death showed just how legendary he was. A tremendous athlete, but also a political and civil rights activist, Ali often transcended sports altogether.
He was an American icon, in every sense of the word.
6. LeBron James delivers, Cleveland wins NBA Finals
LeBron James made a promise.
He left Cleveland in 2010 for the Miami Heat super team and a shot at his first NBA Championship. The move gave James two of those coveted rings, but critics called him a sellout for ditching his native Ohio in hopes of a championship.
In 2014, James came home. Returning to the Cavaliers, he promised Cleveland its first NBA Championship.
This year, he delivered when the Cavaliers overcame a 3-1 deficit and beat the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, handing Cleveland its first major sports championship since 1964.
7. Rio had no shortage of inspiration
Rio 2016 offered too many incredible moments to pick just one.
Simone Biles became the most decorated female American gymnast of all time. Katie Ledecky set two world records and left Rio with four gold medals. Michael Phelps said goodbye to Olympic competition with five gold medals.
After her disqualification in London four years prior, Rafaela Silva became Rio’s hero when she won Brazil’s first gold medal of 2016.
The Olympics are meant to be a spectacle of the world’s most incredible athletes, and Rio did not disappoint there.
8. Dee Gordon home run
Sometimes the most beautiful moments emerge from the darkest hours.
That was the case this September, when Miami Marlins star Jos Fernndez was killed in a boating accident. Two days later, teammate Dee Gordon stepped up to the plate in the Marlins’ first at-bat since Fernndez’s death. Gordon a left-handed batter entered the batter’s box right-handed and mimicked Fernndez batting stance to pay tribute to his fallen comrade for one pitch.
Then Gordon switched back to hitting lefty and smacked one out of the park.
Gordon, who is not known for his power, rounded the bases in tears and collapsed into the arms of his teammates. It will go down as one of the most surreal baseball moments ever.
9. Colin Kaepernick takes a stand by not standing
What started as a preseason anomaly quickly became one of the biggest stories of the 2016 NFL season.
49ers (then-backup) quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the pregame national anthem to protest police brutality and unjust treatment of the black community.
In a press conference back in August, Kaepernick said, “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
Kaepernick’s protest gained momentum, with fellow NFL players and athletes from other sports joining. Of course, Kaepernick endured tons of backlash for what many deemed anti-American behavior. Death threats, scoldings from Supreme Court justices and animosity from opposing fans ensued.
But Kaepernick never wavered. He stuck to his word and stayed on one knee throughout the season, even after being named the 49ers starting quarterback in October.
10. Fly the W, the Cubs are finally World Champions
This sports moment was 108 years in the making.
In November, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908, the longest-ever drought in American professional sports. And of course, the Cubs won it in long and grueling fashion, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the seven-game series.
The Cubs’s historic win turned Chicago into one gigantic party.
The Cubs put an exclamation point on 2016, a year full of epic, improbable and truly spectacular sports moments.