Defector’s Favorite Sports Moments Of 2022
2:20 PM EST on December 23, 2022
These are the sports moments from 2022 that the staff of Defector enjoyed.
The Nick Plummer Game
I have not asked my friends what it is like to go to a Mets game with me because I am not sure that I really want to know. I want to believe that I am normal, which is one of those things you don’t wind up typing if you actually believe it to be true; I asked my wife about the baseball game version of me and while she was positive, she also mentioned that I “have fewer hangups and rules than you might expect.” Again, this is the sort of praise that you generally do not get if you 1) are normal and 2) have been normal in the past. But I like to think I am improving, and I remember, when I was at the Mets-Phillies game on Memorial Day, at least feeling useful. When The Nick Plummer Game is happening, I will both appreciate it in the moment and be able to explain who Nick Plummer is.
This was May 30, and the Mets were already good, in a way that was obviously more likely to stick than during their hot start a year earlier. I would not write that they were good on the website until July—they were still the Mets, and I will never be normal, we’ve been over this—but if I sort of tentatively believed as much before that game, I believed it with my whole heart, or as much of it as I’m able to risk on this sort of thing, once it was over.
Nick Plummer was a minor league free agent that the Mets signed to a Major League contract before the season, a 25-year-old former first-round pick of the Cardinals who had not cracked the bigs with that organization. This is the sort of move that the Mets have had to make in recent years because they are incapable of developing Nick Plummers of their own—plausible fifth outfielders, useful middle-relief arms, the sort of contributors other organizations develop more or less by accident. There is no reason why any normal person, or even any normal-passing fan, would need to know who Nick Plummer was, beyond that he was someone who might get some at-bats during the season when more recognizable names were unavailable. You could look at his pedigree and minor league numbers and conjecture a number of possible futures for a player like Plummer, or you could plug him into the greater story of organizational stubbornness and proud incompetence, or you could be normal.
Earlier that night, Plummer misplayed a ball in the outfield about as badly as I have seen a Mets outfielder ever misplay a ball; this includes Lucas Duda, who ran like he was wearing one of those parking boots cops put on cars with too many tickets, and Daniel Murphy, whose routes had the stubborn angularity most closely associated with Google Maps. Plummer did not reach base in any of his first three plate appearances, and I will admit that I did not anticipate great things when he came to bat with the team down one in the bottom of the ninth, against the Phillies closer-of-the-moment Corey Knebel. You still stand up in situations like this, and clap, and say “come on” or whatever, but also you know, or you think you know. Plummer sent the first pitch he saw from Knebel, a fastball that seemed to break back into the kill zone, into the seats at 112 miles per hour. It was his first big league hit.
There are things that I remember about this and things that I didn’t. I know that I said “Hey hey” when he hit it; I have thought about that part often, because I had not previously considered that there was dormant in me a secret Krusty The Clown who could be awakened by a sufficiently improbable homer. I remember high-fiving my friends, and my wife, and then some people sitting around us who were looking for more people to high-five. I knew that the rest of Plummer’s stint with the Mets was brief, and that it peaked there; I did not know that it would end with a .138/.194/.379 line in 31 plate appearances, that he’d hit another homer but would get just two more hits and a walk before becoming a free agent after the season. I might have guessed it, but I didn’t know it. I definitely did not know, until I found video of the homer, that Plummer had what looked like a jumbo address book sticking out of his left butt pocket when he crossed the plate. The Mets would win it in the 10th.
What I remember about it best, and most fondly, was the sense that if The Nick Plummer Game was going to happen, then there was no telling the things that might follow. Not quite in a “the roof rolled back and I could finally see the stars” sense, although happy early summer nights have in them the sort of promise that can send even a wary aging goofus reaching for grandiose descriptive phrasings. The way that I know I am more normal than I used to be about all this, and a person with fewer hangups and rules than you might expect, is that I don’t think I really thought “If this is going to happen, the Mets could win the World Series.” I did think that, months later, but in that moment it felt like enough to know that I was going to have a lot of fun watching my favorite baseball team during the summer, and that there were months ahead that might be something like that. The season is going to go where it goes and end whenever and however it ends. I just appreciated the reminder of how much delight might still be hiding in it. - David Roth
South Korea’s Miraculous Escape From The Group Stage
Marrying into a solid World Cup team was my wisest move of the year, right up there with marrying full-stop. I spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws, and while I sometimes feel sheepish explaining my livelihood—and the deep interest in sports on which it rests—this time there was no explanation required. Old love of country did all the work for me. This time their passion fueled my own. All of us were fixated on every second of South Korea’s group-stage tussles, my father-in-law was asking about tactical points I was grossly under-qualified to answer, and we collectively howled at every half-chance. These were my guys now: Son Heung-min, of course, masked and strenuously marked by the opposition; that ornery hulk Kim Min-jae, gritting through a calf injury; and even Hwang Hee-chan, shaking off a Wolves stint so gruesome that his own teammates laughed at him. Sports fandom is double-edged, and I felt both halves of that in the tie with Uruguay (that felt like a spiritual victory) and the 3-2 loss to Ghana (that did not).
By the last gasps of Group H play I was rueing my new investment. For South Korea to escape from the group stage, they’d have to fit through a tight window. They needed to beat Portugal, foremost, which seemed a grim prospect as their attacks fizzled out again and again. Then they also needed the result of Uruguay-Ghana to not end in a Ghana win, and to not upset a precarious goals-scored margin. Somehow that window was creakily wrenched open. Son Heung-min ludicrously eluded the majority of the Portuguese squad just long enough to slip the ball to Hwang Hee-chan, who put it where it belonged, and I felt an ecstasy my own rooting interests do not often permit me. After we were done assaulting the downstairs neighbors with our howls and stomps, my wife, in tears (the good kind), translated the delirious local commentary—”It’s the miracle of Doha! It’s the miracle of Doha!”—and we hunted down every camera angle and meme of the goal and exultation. They secured their 2-1 win, and the other match shook out just right. Also Luis Suarez cried (the bad kind).
This one goal deposited enough joy in the bank that I didn’t even regret watching their round-of-16 ruin at the hands of Brazil, swilling the last drops of a Stella inside a dim K-town karaoke bar among crestfallen patrons in the middle of the afternoon. When Paik Seung-ho finally ripped one from deep, we joked about how my mother-in-law used to cry “Long shoot!” at my brother-in-law’s high school games whenever he cut through the opposing defense, urging him to fire away without conscience. It was a consolation goal for the South Korean squad, but I didn’t need much consolation. I have a team now. See you guys in four years. - Giri Nathan
The Door And The Kiss
I got a great deal of enjoyment out of two moments from this year's World Cup. The first was the door:
And the second was the kiss:
I don't think you can find two better representations of how sports can short-circuit the brains of anyone who watches or participates in them. You see a goal so unexpected that the thought I must remove this door just erupts into your mind. You see an opponent's head send a ball just clear of the goal and you are seized by one idea: Beautiful head! I must kiss it!
You watch those clips and you see all of it, everything that sports can do. - Tom Ley
Let's Go Aces
It was something to do in Las Vegas. There are many, many things to do in Las Vegas, but that’s why I began caring about the Aces—there was a gap in the itinerary during my trip to the city with Defector’s own Patrick Redford and some friends, and we wanted to watch live basketball. From reading the site I work for, I knew Becky Hammon coached the Aces; from further research, I learned that they were at the top of their conference. The opposing Connecticut Sun were at the top of theirs, too. This could be a Finals preview.
The atmosphere was what you’d expect from a newish team based in Vegas: loud, appealing to tourists and casuals, featuring a mascot that was more cuddly than mischievous. “Is that Tom Brady?” Patrick asked as he pointed to a tall man in light pants walking along the sideline during a timeout. It was Tom Brady. He was in town for some golf thing. Owner Mark Davis was there, his haircut recognizable from our second-level seats. The entire experience was fun, and the game itself was great. A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young had a combined 45 points; Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum chipped in for 31 more. Vegas won, 89-81, and I was convinced that this team was the truth.
After I left Vegas, I kept tabs on the team, which is easier to do when your job is reading sports news and you work with Maitreyi Anantharaman. While I’d like to pretend I was watching every game since May 31, that wasn’t true. It was a clear case of bandwagoning. The whole point of bandwagoning is that it’s rewarding without suffering. Also, this team hadn’t existed in its current iteration before 2017.
Over the summer, I’d chat often with friends about the team’s championship chances, how they were doing, and little details about the players. (Fun fact: A’ja Wilson’s middle name is “Riyadh” because her aunt was stationed there during the Gulf War. Well, not that fun.) This would happen in a couple of group chats, including one with Maitreyi, Patrick, and me. Often we (mostly Patrick and I) would repeat the most possibly banal motto: “Let’s go Aces, love my Aces.” This would later be shortened to “Let’s go Aces.” Maitreyi was kind enough to tolerate it.
I wish I could explain why this was fun, but there is not enough time left on Earth to dissect every group-chat in-joke. This dumb meaningless bit served as useful shorthand: The Aces are good, and we know this as longtime fans who’ve been watching the team since two months ago. There was some sincerity at the center of it. As the Aces kept dominating, I switched from scanning box scores to watching on TV. The playoffs were a blast. Gray was unreal. While everyone mourned the crushing end to Sue Bird’s career, I saluted our wonderful and talented Las Vegas Aces, who would surely win the championship. And they did, beating the same team I watched in May for their very first title.
My attachment to the Aces was pure; I had opportunities to put money on this team winning it all and chose not to. It was somewhat out of superstition—that if I sullied this nascent fandom with a wager, the title run I confidently yet half-ironically talked about wouldn’t come to fruition. My bandwagoning experience began and ended flawlessly. What more could I want? Another championship would be cool. Let’s go Aces. - Samer Kalaf
The Brooklyn Nets Eat Themselves
In the end, all stories die the death they cannot delay. As day dawns, the Brooklyn Nets are normal, seemingly content with themselves and a pending part of the Eastern Conference elite. They play good basketball, like they were supposed to when this whole mad scheme was hatched.
But it wasn't that long ago that Kyrie Irving decided to tests the limits of public endurance, deciding he'd rather be unvaccinated than employed. It wasn't that long ago that Kevin Durant, who was one of the architects of this team, wanted general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash to be fired, and in the alternative to be traded. It wasn't that long ago that owner Joe Tsai decided that a trade demand from a contracted player is actually not a demand at all and quietly told Durant to pound salt. It isn't that long ago that James Harden, fed up with the circus, demanded and received a pass to Philadelphia in exchange for the largely ethereal Ben Simmons. It isn't that long ago, in sum, that we concluded based on the mountains of evidence the principals uncovered themselves that the Nets had truly self-mutilated into a nationally detestable monument to self-indulgence. They had surely eaten themselves.
And now that narrative seems to be dead, or at least on hold. They have decided that the First Law of Dennis Rodmanism—that once you embark on a journey powered by weirdness, you either have to back away or spin off in to the sun—applied to them as well, and backed away from the pose-in-a-wedding-dress-and-visit-North-Korea frontier. They are now, well, normal, the one thing nobody thought they were ever capable of achieving.
This is not to say that Irving cannot re-achieve a sustainable orbit around our planet, or that Durant cannot revisit his trade desires, or that Tsai might just snap and sell the whole thing to Elon Musk, thus giving everyone involved the miserable fate they all deserve. The Nets could become the strangest and least functional team in history yet again, because they spent more than a year being that very thing. But for the moment, they have repaired themselves, at least as far as we can tell, and the only real casualty is Nash, who got fired seven games into the new normal for being tossed into a situation that would have eaten Gregg Popovich and used his femur as a toothpick.
This was a phenomenal sports story, far more bizarre than Cristiano Ronaldo or Tom Brady or giving Carlos Correa a 13-year contract, and now it seems done. Damn it. Everything regresses to the mean, and the mean can be a mean bastard indeed. - Ray Ratto
Kiki Rice Signs Autographs
My favorite sports moment of the year came courtesy of Kiki Rice at the semifinals of the 2022 D.C. State Athletic Association girls basketball tournament in late February. It wasn’t a shot or a pass from Rice that moved me most. It was her entry to celebrity, and how she handled it.
The state tournament brought the biggest crowds she’d played in front of all season, and the most worshipful. (D.C. is not officially recognized as a state and its residents have no voting representation in Congress, but by god we do have a state basketball tournament!) She came into the event with more star power than any other athlete in the city, boy or girl. Rice had been named as the winner of the Naismith Award as national player of the year hours before the semifinal matchup between her Sidwell Friends team and a crosstown rival, the Maret School, and would soon be tabbed as the next queen of women’s basketball.
Sidwell obliterated Maret, 70-26. As Rice was walking off the court after the game, a young boy approached her with a pen and paper and asked for her autograph. She obliged with a smile.
That inspired a group of preteen kids who were standing nearby to ask her to sign for them, too. The boys teams for the next state tournament game were beginning their warmups, so Rice got out of their way and signed for the group while standing beside the court. More kids kept coming, so Rice took a seat and kept signing. I hadn’t witnessed a prep athlete get hounded for autographs since Tamir Goodman starred for Talmudical Academy in Baltimore and meant probably more than a high school basketball player should to a generation of Orthdox Jewish kids there in the late 1990s.
The crowd of autograph seekers around her dissipated after several minutes, and Rice got up and began walking toward the locker room, where she might finally be able to join her teammates on the nation’s top-ranked prep girls team and celebrate the big playoff win.
But she was stopped on the way by more young admirers, and so she set up shop yet again at the baseline and signed for all comers.
Rice seemed to enjoy the impromptu signing sessions as much as the kids surrounding her did, and they were thrilled. The scene was impossibly wholesome and sweet. Sports are good. - Dave McKenna
Richarlison Grabs A Flare
I'm sure you'll remember the greatest soccer moment of the year. No no, not Messi and Argentina winning the World Cup in penalty kicks in one of the the best matches ever played, the other one. That's right: mighty Everton beating the relegation charges. My favorite moment from Everton's successful fight to stay in England's top league was the must-win match against Chelsea, when now-former Everton player and World Cup sweetie Richarlison scored the winning goal, and then picked up a flare chucked by fans onto the pitch and ran around like a Brazilian god. Look at this photo!
This is how I remember Everton this year: triumphant. It's all been said before, but this is why relegation rules. The teams at the bottom of the heap have as much to play for as the teams at the top, and when it comes down to it, sometimes not losing is just as sweet as winning. - Laura Wagner
The Spanish Women's National Team Walks Off
Back in August, three members of Spain's national women's soccer team went to their leadership with a simple request: They believed that they needed a new coach to achieve their international soccer goals. At the time, it was reported that the cause for this meeting was the team's underwhelming performance in the Euros. Later reporting would add more detail, pointing out that, until 2019, players could not lock their hotel room doors until given coach Jorge Vilda's blessing, and key players felt that Vilda and the staff were lacking in both tactical knowledge as well as how to physically prepare them for competition. When the three women tried to privately address this with the Spanish soccer federation, not only did nothing change, but their request was leaked to the press.
So the players called a press conference and explained why they had made the request. Said Patri Guijarro, as reported by The Athletic, "We have a group that can achieve big things. After what we went through at the Euros and the months after it, we wanted to share with the F.A. our thoughts as a group. We are an ambitious group and believe there are certain internal mechanisms that should be replaced. It’s about being brave. Sometimes you need to say things which sound unpleasant to make things change.”
The end results were what you would expect. Vilda got extremely angry, made cruel comments, blamed the women for speaking up, and doubled down on the bet that Spanish soccer leadership would choose him over the actual athletes. So far, he has been proven right.
On Sept. 23, 15 players said they did not want to play for the national team unless changes happened. They also released a detailed statement explaining why they would not play and the ways in which the federation was manipulating their story. In response, the Spanish soccer federation released a statement blasting the players. Vilda kept coaching, calling up different players to fill the gaps. And that team won, defeating the once seemingly unstoppable USWNT juggernaut in a friendly on Spanish soil.
The story has since faded from the headlines, but it is not resolved. As recently as this month, commentator Alicia Arévalo (the first woman to call a men's World Cup match for Televisión Española) was asked about it in an interview with El Confidencial. She rightly pointed out that the coach of the men's side, which achieved similar lackluster results, got swiftly sacked—and yet Vilda remained.
Sports moments are supposed to be memorable because they fill us with the big emotions that we want more of in life: happiness, joy, success, fulfillment, wonder, belonging, just to name a few. But they can also remind us of the battles that remain and of the terrain still left to navigate. A women's soccer team asking for a better coach who will get them playing to the best of their abilities for their country should not, in the year 2022, be a radical act—and yet it is. I do not know what will happen next for Spain's women's team. I can only hope that they receive the justice, and the quality of coach, that they deserve. - Diana Moskovitz
Francisco Lindor Homers Against The Brewers
I’m very, very quiet when I watch sports on TV, and that’s by design. I grew up around far too much unsettling, useless yelling at two-dimensional players to ever want to recreate those sounds in my own living room. So I stay very calm, and I pace a little when I’m not so calm, and if I’m not engaged in conversation maybe sometimes you’ll hear me go “oof” or “wow” or “offsides” in a voice barely above a whisper. (I do cheer at actual games, I promise.)
At this point I’ve forced everyone I know to hear about the love for the New York Mets that I discovered in myself as I watched them win 101 games this past summer, but I cannot overstate how charming, thrilling, and just plain important I believed this team was as the chase for first in the NL East went down to the wire. I tuned in as often as I could, learned the strengths and weaknesses of the lesser relievers, silently willed Mark Canha to keep his spot in the lineup in the second half, and loudly extolled the virtues of Daniel Vogelbach—an intelligent hitter hidden in the body of an oversized Tonka truck.
The Mets were up just one game on Atlanta when they played the Brewers in Milwaukee on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 20—the second of a three-game series that they’d begun with a 7-2 win. This one started poorly, with the Brew Crew tagging New York pitching for four runs across the first five innings, but a Pete Alonso dinger brought it back to 4-3 heading into the top of the seventh. Mark Vientos grounded out, Darin Ruf walked, James McCann walked, Brandon Nimno walked, Mark Canha wounded my soul with a strikeout, and then Francisco Lindor, the team’s highest-paid hitter, stepped up to Taylor Rogers with the bases loaded and two outs. He sent the first pitch he saw sailing over the fence in left field for a tremendous go-ahead grand slam.
It’s probably for the best that I was alone while I was watching this. When I saw Lindor make hard contact from my couch, dramatically aiding a team that just a few months ago I had not really cared much about, I heard a voice that was not mine rise up out of me and yelp “Get the fuck out! Yes!” And that’s how the Mets began their slow-burning, inescapable plot to ruin my life. - Lauren Theisen
J.T. Realmuto's World Series Homer
The Sixers had a playoff game, and I invited some friends over. I’d been doing this pretty much since the Sixers started making the playoffs again in 1999 with Allen Iverson, and when they started making the playoffs again again in the Joel Embiid era. I love basketball, and I love having a bunch of people over to watch my favorite team play basketball. I can remember flickers of them, embers from a past sports fandom that usually ended in defeat.
Anyway. Game 3 of the Sixers' first-round series against the Raptors, I had some friends over. It was a great crew: Two of my high school friends I hadn’t seen in a long time came by. We barely watched the game. The Sixers were getting killed. We basically just caught up all night. But as Philly squeaked back into it, the game caught our eye a bit more. It went to OT. We weren’t catching up anymore. And when the night ended with a Joel Embiid game-winning three, it was like being 18 again. I could’ve cried.
I didn’t think it could be topped in 2022. Sorry, high school friends: It was. The Phillies made an unlikely trip to the World Series this year, and I had different friends over for that Game 1. I don’t get to have friends over for Phillies playoff games too often—the Sixers are generally better, plus more NBA teams make the playoffs—and so I was happy to have a whole crew over for the first World Series game. Again, it started poorly. The Phillies were down 5-0. But they tied it, sent it to extra innings, and then this happened.
I don’t fully remember this home run. But what I will never forget is my wife jumping up and down as high as I’ve ever seen her, before I ran into her arms and high-fived all my friends. Sure, the Phillies didn’t win a World Series that was there for the taking. Whatever. I got this. It makes me tear up just remembering it. - Dan McQuade
Jason Brown's "Sinnerman" Routine
When I watch figure skating, I am only reluctantly interested in how many quads the beautiful athletes can churn out in rapid succession. (To be honest, I can only tell the difference between a quad and triple axel jump because Johnny Weir identifies them in real-time.) Rather, I am here for the vibes, which are often fun and chaotic: Madison Chock and Evan Bates skating to Daft Punk (yes I know this is ice dancing) or Mark Kondratiuk cosplaying Jesus Christ. So I found myself utterly unprepared for Jason Brown’s Winter Olympics "Sinnerman" routine, the vibes of which can best be described as …transcendent? Euphoric? Sublime? Part of this work comes from Nina Simone’s staggering rendition of the song, of course, but what a gift it is to watch Brown leap and dance to the propulsive jazz piece. The program made me, and probably many others, cry! I found myself holding my breath as the song kept ascending, Brown an unstoppable whirl of blades and arms and footwork.
The "Sinnerman" program stuck with me long after the 2022 Olympics ended. When I was worn out from work, the afternoon sunsets, or the relentless novelty of the accursed coronavirus, I would turn on "Sinnerman" and watch the whole thing, perched on the edge of my couch and inevitably gasping along with my favorite moments of the routine. Here they are (excuse the disgustingly non-technical language): when he gets into position and lets his arms slightly dangle (0:33), when he does a little backwards leap into a deep lunge (1:25), when he does two jumps as the song starts climbing out of a lull (2:05), when he spins like a top (2:14), when he does a wonderfully gay little smirk (2:23), when he does the spinning top thing again (2:31), and, of course, the way he ends the whole thing, capping off a twisting montage with a pose for each of the two final beats of the song. I love sports! - Sabrina Imbler
The Rangers' Kid Line Shift
There is a moment in the lifecycle of every well-run team where you believe you can see the future arriving. A moment when everything clicks, if just for a minute, and when everyone plays up to your fever dreams of their potential, and when you become convinced that all the grim years you put into this fandom thing are now absolutely guaranteed to pay off. It almost doesn’t matter if it proves a mirage: In that moment, everything is beautiful and nothing can hurt you.
The Rangers’ lone Cup of my lifetime is a semisolid childhood memory, and I would be hard-pressed to argue that memory was more tangible to me than the images of future championships that surfaced during this shift from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. It was dominant, and it featured a host of the young players the Rangers chose to build around, and it made the Lightning dynasty look old and slow, a dinosaur making way for the Cenozoic. There were Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller buzzing and swarming and controlling the puck—winning every chase and every battle and wearing down exhausted defenders, getting chance after chance after chance. It would have been a statement shift without a goal. With the goal, it was a declaration.
Of course, the future rarely arrives according to plan. The Rangers ran out of gas and lost the series, and have had an underwhelming start this season, and the young players have been maddeningly inconsistent. If sports were predictable, they’d be no fun. But when you truly believe the code has been cracked? That’s a high only an actual championship can rival. - Barry Petchesky
When All My Friends Adopted A Phillies Son
One of my firmest beliefs in sports is that you should adopt a terrible little son who you love very much on every team you want to root for. In this instance, "son" is a gender-neutral term. Mallory Pugh, for example, could be your adopted son. I've had this belief for years because I find it fun. Having an adopted terrible little son allows you to go full sports parent mode when watching games by yelling, "THAT'S MY SON," when your son does something good, and shaking your head when your son does something bad.
I blogged about this during the World Series this year, because it was my first year in Philadelphia, and my terrible, beautiful son Alec Bohm was (after making many defensive errors in the regular season) making several very good plays. I was proud of him, and wanted the world to know. Sometimes I forget that people I know can read the blogs that I write. Because I type them on my computer in my room by myself, and send them off into the ether, they don't feel real until someone I didn't send the link to references them.
I was at a big bar in South Philly with my friend Dana almost every night of the World Series. During Game 4, she brought up the blog I had written to explain to our other friend why she kept referring to Brandon Marsh as "my wet son." This led to a terrible experience: explaining a blog I had written. I was embarrassed because when you say "adopt a terrible little son who you love very much" six or seven times in a five-minute span, you feel very stupid.
But then something magical happened: Everyone adopted a son! First, it was everyone at our table. Then, buoyed by my success, and convinced that the reason the Phillies were failing was because some of them did not have adopted mothers to love them, I told people in the bathroom line about my theory, and people in line to get more beers. Suddenly, everyone had a son! That's what sports are about! Everyone yelling together, high off hope, begging the son I just introduced them to to please, please, get a hit.
In the end, there was only one Philadelphia Phillie who didn't have an adopted mother in the bar, and I blame myself for this. If I had only found him a parent, the Phillies would have won the Series. But now I know better. I will begin my cause earlier next year, and they will win. - Kelsey McKinney
Lionel Messi Wins The World Cup
When the call for these blurbs went out, I knew what I wanted it to be. There were plenty of cool things that happened in sports this year, but there was only one possible answer, so long as it came to happen. On Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, it did happen: Lionel Messi, my favorite athlete of all time, won a damn World Cup.
I already wrote about what winning the 2022 World Cup means for Messi’s legacy, and my own personal feelings about his eternal struggle to live up to Diego Maradona’s myth. So, I won’t do that again. Instead, the singular best sports moment of the year came right at the end of the penalty shootout against France. Messi had already stepped up and scored his opener in the shootout, which meant that the fate of his career-long dream rested in the hands of his teammates.
In years past, this would be cause for concern, but this Argentina team believed in each other to the very end. So when Gonzalo Montiel stepped up to the spot, one tally away from winning the World Cup, Messi watched on in nervous excitement, in the arms of Lautaro Martínez and Nicolás Otamendi. He even appeared to whisper a prayer to the sky, something that I can’t quite read but which more than one person said was for Maradona himself: “Let’s go Diego, from heaven.” Whether that is what he said or not is irrelevant. What matters is what came next, as soon as Montiel scored his penalty:
In that moment, the weight of expectations, legacy, achievement, and failures all lifted off of Messi’s shoulders. As Leandro Paredes hugged him, and then more of his teammates, you can make out the widest of smiles on the face of the greatest soccer player of all time. I’ll remember all of his passes and goals and dribbles for a long time, but I might never forget the look of pure joy that came across the face of Lionel Andrés Messi as soon as Argentina won the World Cup. - Luis Paez-Pumar
Justin Jefferson's Catch (You Know The One)
I could've been creative and picked some non-homer moment for this year's top prize: the Mariners reaching the postseason, Judge's 62nd, etc. But that would have been both a needless effort and an outright lie. Nothing this year got me more excited, and nothing made me happier, than the Vikings' miracle escape from Buffalo. It was their best win since the Minneapolis Miracle in 2018, and they had to endure 15 different endings to this game before they could finally leave Buffalo assured that they had won the fucking thing. Pick any moment you want from this game and I can tell you exactly how many tears of joy I shed when it transpired.
As for Jefferson's catch, I have taken to triumphantly crying out "JUSTINNNNNNNNN!" any time he does something awesome during a game (often). I'll never get tired of it, just as I'll never tire of him willing every ball coming his way into his waiting hands. This one on fourth-and-18 was the greatest catch of his career, and yet something I utterly expected of him. He's my favorite player since Randy Moss, and fuck you if you mention the Vikings' current point differential. - Drew Magary
Steph Curry Scores 43 In Game 4
There is a reactionary, incurious strain of basketball criticism that scoffs at the NBA’s increasingly spread-out meta-game and considers the discovery that the number three is 50 percent larger than the number two to be a crutch invented by nerds who never played the game, prompting unholy stylistic developments that sap the skill out of the game and turn basketball into an ugly, actuarial contest determined by which team gets lucky on any given night. Beyond the revanchism of this take, I find it wrong on its face. It’s fine, laudable even at times, to critique the statsier media coverage of the NBA for its artlessness. But there is nothing easy or pro-forma or boring about the process that goes into manipulating the defense en route to a 18-for-40 shooting night. The idea that all three-pointers are created equal, from either an aesthetic or skill standpoint, falls apart pretty quickly if you watch one whole NBA game.
The best example to pluck from last season's playoffs was Steph Curry’s Game 4 masterwork. His performance in the Finals obviously transcends the parameters of a claustrophobic debate about what Real Basketball is, though I find this framing to be useful because it highlights the aesthetic achievements of Curry’s 43-point night. That’s far from the most important axis to judge it on—it quite literally won them a championship they otherwise would have lost—yet six months later, I’m struck most of all by what a beautiful performance it was, how unimaginably difficult his shotmaking was. The Warriors are not my No. 1 Favorite NBA Team, but I moved to the Bay Area right before Steph’s rookie year and my actual favorite team has spent 16 straight years drinking its own urine, so I have come to identify as a Warriors fan largely because I’ve had more fun watching Steph Curry profane the laws of geometry. Sometimes, when I am cooking dinner and all the night’s West Coast games have wrapped, I will put Game 4 on and watch it again like a beloved movie. The more I watch, the more otherworldly it seems.
The Celtics really should have won the Finals. By Game 4, the physical advantage Boston had over Golden State was starting to compound, and Boston had just spent Game 3 tightening the screws and holding the Warriors to 11 fourth-quarter points. Klay Thompson wasn’t hitting, Draymond Green appeared to be unfamiliar with both the theory and practice of scoring the basketball, and Jordan Poole, playoff darling, was fast becoming straight-up unplayable. Game 4 is the sort of stage on which up-and-coming champions, budding dynasties, the superstars of tomorrow announce themselves. A hungry, feverish home crowd urged the equally hungry Celtics to seize their moment and grab a fateful 3-1 lead over the Warriors, and for most of the game, it seemed they would. A mega-injured Robert Williams managed to log a playoff-high 31 minutes, and the Celtics shot 40 percent from three. Golden State, meanwhile, had shuffled its starting lineup in a desperate bid to stay in front of Boston’s stable of killer wings, and Draymond Green played so poorly in the fourth quarter that he got benched. Every sign pointed to a Boston win, except the Warriors still had the best player in the series, and he rose to the moment, like the all-timers are supposed to do.
Look at this shit! What stands out, aside from Boston blowing it, is the clear sense of fear. The Celtics are afraid, correctly so, when Curry starts dancing, or when he gets he rock in transition. The defense tenses, reactive, when Curry pokes his head up. I will give the old-schoolers this: Nobody who’s followed in Curry’s wake is close to the ball-handler he is, and the absurd sniping sets the table for some nifty finishes at the rack. The bump move past Derrick White that sets up the up-and-under around Robert Williams late in the first quarter is sublime, and all that driving is mere prelude to the climax, a pair of hilarious threes from the top of the arc while he's fouled. Neither is called, of course, yet he rips the net while actively protesting his case. It’s absurd and gorgeous. I watched this game with Tommy Craggs and he kept squealing and fidgeting and putting his face inside his shirt as it happened. - Patrick Redford
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