SUMMING UP THE entire sports year of 2017 in one short essay is a daunting task, though it gets easier when you realize that LaVar Ball did nothing worth mentioning. So where do we begin?
In another city, apparently. The Golden State Warriors coaxed Kevin Durant out of Oklahoma City and won the NBA championship. The Houston Astros plucked Justin Verlander out of Detroit and won the World Series. The Nashville Predators yanked P.K. Subban out of Montreal and made the Stanley Cup finals. Oklahoma pulled Baker Mayfield away from Texas Tech, and he won the Heisman, and his team won the Big 12 and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
In 2017 everybody seemed to think that happiness was just an Uber away—or a private plane. The Cavaliers and the Celtics met in the Eastern Conference finals and then swapped star point guards. "Yankee for Life" Derek Jeter left for Miami, then threatened to make Giancarlo Stanton a "Marlin for Life" before trading him to New York, where fans will love him for life ... or at least until he strikes out.
As you may have heard once or a thousand times: Pro sports are a business. But we also have college sports, which are also a business. Remember the controversy about college football players skipping bowl games so they could stay healthy for the NFL draft? That was just last year, but it already seems quaint. This year we saw a national-championship-winning coach, Jimbo Fisher, ditch Florida State for Texas A&M with four weeks left in the season. Scott Frost chose Nebraska over Florida while he was still coaching—and winning—at Central Florida.
Even the heroes seemed to leave the podium quickly. Consider two of the most memorable plays of the year. Mississippi State's Morgan William ended the UConn women's 111-game winning streak in the Final Four, then she was benched two days later in the fourth quarter of her team's title-game loss to South Carolina. The Patriots' Julian Edelman made the year's most amazing catch in the Super Bowl but hasn't played in a meaningful game since because of a knee injury.
Serena Williams beat her sister in the Australian Open final, then skipped the rest of the year before giving birth to daughter Olympia on Sept. 1.
And of course, perhaps the most newsworthy NFL players this season were J.J. Watt, who only played five games before breaking his leg, and Colin Kaepernick, who played zero because of an unbendable conscience.
There were some familiar faces in the crowd of champions: the Patriots, the Warriors, Sidney Crosby's Penguins, North Carolina's men's hoops team. And then there were the champs we know so well but still didn't expect: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal swept the year's Grand Slam events for the first time since 2010. Speaking of familiar champions: Cristiano Ronaldo won his fifth Ballon d'Or as the World Player of the Year. Ronaldo makes greatness seem easy. Sergio García spent years showing us it is not, which is why his Masters triumph was such a joy. Even García had doubted García.
We have reached the point in this essay when the Atlanta Falcons probably figure we're done and stop reading. That is just as well. Then they won't read, yet again, about how they blew a 28--3 late-third-quarter lead in the Super Bowl, losing to the Patriots in overtime. It was Tom Brady's fifth title, and maybe his most memorable, though we should not render judgment until he retires, like many Americans, at age 65.
By then maybe Russia will be welcomed back into the Olympics. Consider how corrupt a country must be to be banned by the International Olympic Committee; it's like being kicked out of a hedge fund for being too rich. In 2017, Russia was banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics for a massive doping campaign.
So maybe the Russian ban is actually a 2018 story. Perhaps, that is the real story of sports in 2017: It was a bridge year. We may remember this as the year we transferred power—from Brady to Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Deshaun Watson; from Alabama to Clemson; from Nick Saban and Bill Belichick to Lincoln Riley and Sean McVay; from the Cubs to the Astros and then probably back to the Yankees, like always. As Belichick might say, "We're on to 2018."
Where do we begin? In another city, apparently. In 2017 everybody seemed to think that happiness was just an Uber away.
Straight wins for the 49ers under QB Jimmy Garoppolo, including a 25--23 victory over Tennessee on Sunday. Now 5--0 (two wins with the Patriots), Garoppolo is the first QB since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 to start his career with five wins.
Number of years John Skipper served as president of ESPN. Skipper, who joined the company in 1997, resigned abruptly Monday, citing a desire to treat a substance-addiction problem.
Career triple doubles by LeBron James after his fifth of the season in a 109--100 Cavs win over the Jazz last Saturday. Averaging 9.3 assists, James passed Larry Bird to move into sixth on the all-time list of triple doubles.
FACES IN THE CROWD