As the University of Maryland, Baltimore Country basketball team walked off the Spectrum Center court in Charlotte, North Carolina they were winners. The UMBC Retrievers had knocked off the No. 1 overall seeded Virginia Cavaliers to become the first 16th seeded team to defeat a one seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Retrievers had taken the Cavaliers out in blowout fashion winning by exactly 20 points. The significance and dominance of the Retrievers victory is an iconic sports moment in itself, and could have made this list if it was longer. However, the focus of this moment is on Virginia and how they responded to their historic loss.
Entering the 2019 NCAA tournament the Virginia Cavaliers were very aware of the disappointment they felt the year before. Coach Tony Bennett referred to the upset as “a scar” that forever reminds him and his team of that moment. However, Virginia would use that scar to fuel them through the tournament and to the national championship.
After easily handling 16th-seeded Garder-Webb in the first round as well as 9th-seeded Oklahoma, the Cavs reached the Sweet 16 in a matchup against Oregon. A low scoring affair saw Virginia sneak past the 12th-seeded Ducks by just four points. By their next matchup against Purdue the Cavaliers offense had returned as they put up a tournament high-80 points en route to a regional title.
The southern bout against Auburn in the Final Four would be Virginia’s biggest test of the tournament. With just five minutes remaining Cavalier’s guard Ty Jerome dropped in a three to give Virginia a ten point lead, but Auburn wasn’t ready to lay down just yet. A barrage of threes from Bryce Brown allowed the Tigers to take the lead back with under two minutes to go. Trailing by four with 8 seconds remaining Kyle Guy nailed a corner shot cutting the Tiger’s lead to just one with the score 61-60. Auburn would be fouled and after going one for two from the line Guy would be fouled on another three point attempt giving him three shots and a change to take the lead with .6 seconds remaining.
With ice in his veins Kyle Guy clutched all three free throws making the score Virginia 63, Auburn 62. Virginia had advanced to its first ever National Championship.
The Cavaliers faced the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the championship game, a match-up predicted by only .3% of brackets. Over 10 times as many people had predicted UMBC to beat Virginia in the first round the year before despite the one-sided relationship between number 1 and number 16 seeds.
After 40 minutes in lock-step the Red Raiders and Cavaliers headed into overtime. This would be the seventh time overall and first time in over a decade in which a national title game would be decided in overtime. Despite the back and forth of regulation overtime was all Virginia and as the final buzzer sounded it was the Cavaliers on top.
Described by broadcaster Jim Nantz as “the all time turnaround title” the Virginia Cavaliers went from being the first number 1 seed eliminated in the first round to securing their first ever national championship victory.
“Forget last year,” said Ty Jerome.
“It bought us a ticket here. So be it,” said Tony Bennett responding to a question on how last season’s disappointment prepared his team to win.
Virginia’s “turnaround title” serves as the only time in NCAA tournament history that a team seeded 5th or higher two years in a row was eliminated in the first round the year before winning the tournament.
LeBron Wins for The Land
Michael Jordan and the 1996 Chicago Bulls had held the NBA record for wins in a season for 20 years. That is until the Golden State Warriors, in 2016, broke that record by just one game giving them a season record of 73 wins and 9 losses. The playoffs on the other hand were a struggle for the Warriors. After losing just two games in the first two series Golden State found themselves looking up at the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder held a 3-1 series lead over the Warriors but before they knew it they were facing off in a game seven on the road, a game the Thunder would end up losing.
On the other side of the league there was LeBron James and his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs, much like the Warriors, had taken care of their first two series opponents with relative ease, and although the East Finals was against a deep Toronto Raptors team, the Raptors were simply intimidated and outmatched by James.
The Warriors vs LeBron’s Cavs was not a matchup foreign to the NBA landscape. In 2015, The Warriors had faced an injury riddled Cavs team. After losing Kevin Love in the first round Cleveland was down to just two of its big three, and once Kyrie Irving suffered an ankle injury in the game one of the NBA finals LeBron was left to fend for himself. The Warriors, led by MVP Steph Curry took care of the Cavs in six games securing their first championship since 1975.
For the Cavs, their last championship was…well…never. The Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland, in general, had suffered a drought with no professional championships for fifty two years, the longest drought by any city in America. As James and the Cavs stared down the barrel of the record setting 73-win Warriors they knew there would be a big hill to climb if they were to end the Cleveland sports drought.
By the fifth game of the series the Cavs found themselves trailing the Warriors three games to one which was a lead no team had come back from in the history of the NBA Finals. The Warriors had been on the other side of a 3-1 lead in their previous series, but mounted the comeback in order to beat the Thunder and reach the finals.
After winning both in Golden State and at home the Cavaliers had made it to a Game 7. Everything had culminated to this moment. The potential to snap the sports curse, the ability to beat the team that set the wins record in a single season, and the possibility of being the first team to make a comeback from down 3-1 in the finals.
With both teams locked at eighty nine with just three minute remaining in the deciding game, the pressure in the building had stifled the offenses of both teams. The scoring would remain at a stand still until the Warriors found themselves on a fast break. Curry fired a bound pass to 2015 final’s MVP Andre Igoudala who went up for a contested layup. The Warriors were about to take a two point lead, but LeBron who was hustling back from the other end of the floor skyed up to pin Igoudala’s layup against the backboard thus saving the Cavs from falling behind.
While it was James on the defensive end it would be Kyrie Irving with the ball in his hands with under a minute remaining. Irving isolating on Curry took a side step three-pointer and knocked it down, scoring the first basket for both teams in over two minutes.
The score after the final buzzer sounded in Oracle Arena was Cleveland – 93 Golden State – 89. LeBron had delivered on his promise to bring a championship to his home state thus breaking the more than half century drought for Cleveland sports.
James, overcome with emotion in his post game interview with Dorris Burke, gave his Kevin Garnett, “anything’s possible” moment, yelling “Cleveland this is for you!”
LeBron James gave everything he could for the city of Cleveland, and despite his roller coaster career and relationship with Cavaliers’ fans, he was able to deliver them the best basketball moment of the 2010’s.
The Tiger King
Tiger Woods’ reign as king of golf in the early 2000’s has been unmatched ever since. Twelve major wins over the 10-year period put him second all-time in total major wins. In 2001, Tiger held all four major championships at once winning the U.S open, British open, PGA Championship, and Masters the only player in history to do so.
After a myriad of controversies stemming from infidelity to a DUI, and battling a series of back injuries, Tiger’s fall from dominance came just as quickly as his ascension. The king had relinquished his throne and many around golf wondered if they had seen the career of the greatest golfer of all time come to an end.
As the 2019 Masters came into view Tiger had still been searching for his first major win in over a decade. Despite this drought, Vegas odds for Tiger were set at 14/1, putting him ahead of more recent winners like Jordan Speith, Bubba Waton, and reigning Masters’ champion at the time Patrick Reed.
The day of the final round saw Tiger at 11-under par and tied for second overall. He was just two shots behind the leader Fransico Molinari. In Tiger’s previous 14 major victories he was either tied or leading after the first 54 holes. If he was going to win he would have to do so in come from behind fashion unknown to a player as dominant as Woods.
As Woods approached the final hole he had regained the cushion he was so familiar with throughout the major victories in his career. The final shot of the 2019 Masters would be from Tiger as he sunk the putt to place him back on top.
In his traditional Masters garb, a red Nike polo and black cap, a jubilant Tiger Woods hoisted his club into a conventional victory pose.
Woods’ redemption arc is perhaps the greatest in history of sports. Beginning his career draped it success, it would be hard for many to imagine just how derailed Woods’ career and life would become. A public divorce and DUI mixed with a multitude of back injuries and surgeries appeared to result in not just the end of Woods’ reign in golf, but the end of his golf journey entirely. But as Tiger received his fifth green jacket none of the drama or pain he had endured was on the forefront of anyone’s mind.
The king was back on top, and he had given new life to the future of his career.
Cubs Break the Curse
A parade in Chicago celebrating the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 was for one simple reason. The Cubs had done it. Done what, you ask? (Foolishly) They had snapped their century-long drought without a championship. One hundred and eight years ringless. The last appearance for the Cubs in a World Series was in 1945, over 60 years before they would win.
The history of Chicago sports is a history as rich as any major American city. The Bears hoisted their first and only trophy in 1986. The Blackhawks boast six Stanley Cups, their most recent being just the year before the Cubs in 2015. The ultimate winner, Michael Jordan, is an honorary Chicagoan who gave the Bulls and the city six titles throughout the 90’s. Even the White Sox, known as the “other” baseball club in town with their controversial history, had won the Series as recently as 2005. The Cubs were simply left behind.
Except in 2016 the Cubs were back in the spotlight. The Bears had finished 3-13; good for last in their division. The Bulls had finished 9th in the Eastern Conference and missed a playoff appearance by two games. The White Sox finished their season 78-84, 16.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians for first place in the AL Central. The Blackhawks were competitive in 2016, but still fell in the first round to the St. Louis Blues. The Cubs may have been left behind, but this year with Chicago sports coming up short everywhere else, all eyes were on them.
The Cubs were dominant in the regular season finishing first in the NL Central. They won 103 games, their first season with a triple digit win column since 1935. The playoffs weren’t a particular challenge either as they put the San Francisco Giants to rest in five games and the Los Angeles Dodgers in six.
After whacking back to back California teams the Cubs were gearing up for a midwest showdown in the World Series. Their opponent, the Cleveland Indians, had won 94 regular season games and only suffered one loss through their first two post-season series.
The midwest grit and grind DNA was apparent throughout the series and after clawing back from down 3-1 the Cubs had tied the Indians at three wins a piece.
The Cubs had battled back in the series overall but at the start of the deciding game it would be the Indians who needed to mount a comeback. They had fallen behind 5-1 by the 5th inning at home, and it appeared their once commanding three games to one series lead had been squandered. But the scoring swung like pendulum and just as the Cubs had outscored Cleveland, the Indians would do the same, putting up five runs to Chicago’s one over the next three innings. After a scoreless 9th they headed into extras locked at six.
The top of the 10th saw the Cubs score twice, but the Indians answered back with a run of their own to make the score 8-7. It wasn’t until a chopping ground ball with two outs found the glove of National League MVP Kris Bryant, and as he fired a strike across his body to first base to secure the final out, the curse was lifted. The Cubs had done it. They had won the World Series. One hundred and eight years ringless and not a moment longer.
— MLB (@MLB) November 3, 2016
Just two days later a parade was held in downtown Chicago. The parade was to celebrate the Cubs and what they had done for Chicago baseball not just that season but for all the seasons lost before. The battle for victory, fought for one century, by one city, in one season, in one series, makes the lifting of the Cubs curse truly the greatest sports moment of the last decade.