Brady, Durant and LeBron feature in Sport360's 2017 US Sports Awards

Jay Asser 27/12/2017
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It's been a memorable year across the pond.

In a year that rocked America’s foundations and challenged its ideals, sports continued to be a source of joy and often a relief from the divisive political landscape.

But if nothing else, 2017 will be characterised as the year when the ‘stick to sports’ narrative officially died as athletes from different backgrounds used their lofty platforms more than ever to take a stand for what they believe in.

On the field, court and ice, there were performances, games and moments that took our collective breath away and pushed the boundaries of drama.

While some familiar faces furthered their legend, a new crop of young and exciting athletes came to the fore and proved that the future is bright.

Here is our recap of a memorable year in the world of US sports, which will be difficult to top going forward.

Athletes of the year

Tom Brady

Father Time is undefeated, but he may be coming across his most formidable opponent yet in Tom Brady.

In the same year the New England Patriots quarterback has turned 40, he’s captured a record fifth Super Bowl ring and put together an MVP-worthy campaign while once again powering one of the best teams in the league.

There’s little reason to believe one of the greatest athletes of all-time will decline anytime soon.

Tom Brady

Jose Altuve

Big things can come in small packages and few are a better example of that than Jose Altuve. The diminutive slugger, standing at just 5-foot-6, dominated the baseball world this year by powering the Houston Astros to a World Series title and earning American League Most Valuable Player honours.

Jose Altuve

LeBron James

The king stays the king, even in another year where the Larry O’Brien trophy eluded him. LeBron couldn’t overcome the daunting Golden State Warriors in the Finals, but his greatness and reputation remains in tact.

Now, at the age of 32, he’s having arguably his most impressive statistical season yet.

LeBron James

Sidney Crosby

Sid the Kid is no longer a phenom in his 20s, but his impact on the game hasn’t diminished as he’s aged.

His leadership was once again on display as the Pittsburgh Penguins became the first team since 1998 to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, with Crosby earning a second Conn Smythe Trophy.

Sidney Crosby

Moments of the year

World Series, Game 5

From start to finish, there was perhaps no single game more entertaining this year than the instant classic that was Game 5 of the World Series.

The Astros and Dodgers combined for seven home runs, while eventual champions Houston erased a deficit three different times en route to pulling out a 13-12 extra-innings win on Alex Bregman’s walk-off hit. What more could you ask for?

Alex Bregman

College Football Playoff National Championship

Regardless of how far Deshaun Watson goes in the NFL – and early signs in Houston indicate it could be far – his heroics to beat a dominant Alabama team that hadn’t lost in 26 games to win the National Championship will always live on.

Deshaun Watson

Super Bowl LI

Arguably the greatest Super Bowl ever played took place more than 10 months ago, but no one will forget what transpired – or how – anytime soon.

In a game that had it all – outstanding performances, sensational plays and scintillating drama – the jaw-dropping catch by Julian Edelman in the New England Patriots’ 25-point fightback stands out.

A phenomenal moment in a phenomenal game.

Julian Edelman

NBA Finals, Kevin Durant’s 3 in Game 3

There was a moment when it appeared Cleveland might make a series out of the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant had other ideas, however.

His clutch 3-pointer in the final minute of Game 3 gave Golden State an insurmountable lead and all but sealed a title.

Kevin Durant

Storylines of the year

Big Baller Brand takes over

Lonzo Ball may not be lighting the NBA world on fire in his rookie season, but there’s been no shortage of attention paid to him and his family, thanks to his father.

The brash LaVar certainly talks the talk, whether it’s pumping up Lonzo or either of his other two sons, and like it or not, we’ve tuned in for the show.

LaVar Ball

NBA’s wildest offseason

T he NBA has truly become a 365-day sport, with the drama not stopping when the season comes to a close.

Unpredictable player movement has made the summer just as fun as the actual games and in this past offseason, it was taken to another level as seven 2017 All-Stars switched teams.

National anthem protests divide NFL

Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been on NFL sidelines this season, but the movement he started by kneeling during the national anthem in protest spread like wildfire among his peers.

Players across the league took a stand by taking a knee, which caught the attention of American president Donald Trump, who harshly criticised the gesture. Rather than back down, players continued to proudly express their beliefs.

national anthem

Sports world helps heal wounds of Hurricane Harvey

When tragedy struck Houston with the devastating Hurricane Harvey, the damage done was difficult to fathom and harder to mend.

But as the sporting world often does, it came together in the wake of disaster as local teams and athletes gave their time, money and energy to restoring the city, with Houston Texans star J.J. Watt at the forefront by raising more than $37 million for those in need.

J.J. Watt

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Los Angeles Dodgers star Chase Utley believes baseball Umpires' days are numbered

Alex Broun 17/12/2017
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Six time All-Star and four time Silver Slugger Award winner Chase Utley believes it’s just a matter of time until computers replace umpires in baseball.

The legendary second baseman was speaking in Dubai after playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in a thrilling 2017 World Series against the victorious Houston Astros, which many have described as one of the greatest Fall Classics of all time.

“I think we will get to that point where a computer will be calling balls and strikes,” said the free agent. “The way a lot of sports are moving, eventually –I don’t know if it’s a good thing – but I think it will happen.”

Although not infallible Utley believes Major League Baseball umpires add a welcome human element to the game.

“I love umpires, not all the time because sometimes they don’t make the right call but that’s what makes it interesting,” he said. “Umpiring has been part of the game for a long time and I enjoy having a rapport with the umpire, it makes it interesting but… they are human. They are going to make mistakes.

“There’s a lot of money involved now in a lot of these sports so to get the call correct I think at the end of the day that’s what everyone is looking for.”

Utley rejects the theory that umpires treat certain players differently.

“Once in a while you think yeah, I like this umpire, we have a good relationship,” he said, “and then he’ll make a call on you that is not in your favour – so no, I don’t think that is the case (that they can be biased).

Utley forces out Josh Reddick of the Houston Astros during the seventh inning in game six of the 2017 World Series.

Utley forces out Josh Reddick of the Houston Astros during the seventh inning in game six of the 2017 World Series.

“(But) there’s some catchers nowadays that do a great job of framing the pitch. So a pitch comes in and they can catch it in a way that makes it look like it’s there (a strike) and obviously there’s guys where it’s a good pitch and the guy is not as gifted and he’ll make it look like a bad pitch.”

Utley, who won the World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, said despite celebrating his 39th birthday today he is keen to play on with the Dodgers.

“I still enjoy the competition,” he said, “I enjoy the grind, I enjoy putting in the effort – I enjoy every single day driving to the baseball stadium and I look forward to that.

“When that day comes when I don’t enjoy that drive that’s when it’s time to shut it down.”

The Pasadena-born left-hander says there is no fixed date as to when a decision will be made on his immediate playing future: “(It’s a) flip of the coin. We’ll see.”

Popular Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers talks in the dugout before game seven of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium.

Popular Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers talks in the dugout before game seven of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium.

He also strongly rebuked reports that he is considering taking up a bench coaching role with the Phillies.

“That’s not accurate information,” he bristled. “I’m still enjoying playing and I have two boys, three and six, and when I’m done playing baseball I don’t see myself coaching.”

Utley, along with popular third baseman Justin Turner, were in Dubai courtesy of partner Emirates Airlines to hold a clinic at Dubai Little League Park.

The Dodgers stars hosted the clinic for local players followed by a question and answer session before staying on to sign autographs for grateful Little League members.

Spring training begins for the Dodgers in February before the 187-day MLB season starts on March 29.

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Has the World Series helped boost baseball’s stature?

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Young guns: LA’s Corey Seager is one of the bright talents in the World Series.

The Houston Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 13-12 in a thriller on Sunday to take a 3-2 lead in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven World Series.

A competitive finale to the playoffs has seen plenty of drama between Houston and LA – with the Astros bidding to win the title for the first time with victory in game six on Tuesday.

With this in mind, we ask: Has the World Series helped boost baseball’s stature?

What side are you on in our debate?

Share with us your thoughts by using Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

ALEX BROUN, SAYS YES

The 2017 World Series is baseball at its very best. In terms of quality the baseball has been breathtaking, as you would expect in the first matchup between two 100-win teams in the Fall Classic since 1970.

But it also packs all the tension and drama of a good novel – fascinating characters and a suspenseful story with lots of subplots and epic symbolism.

And what characters they are: Jose Altuve, the Astros’ power-hitter and the smallest man in baseball; Yasiel Puig, he of the blue mohawk, who if he’s not licking his bat, is hitting homers; Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation who had never before thrown in a World Series; and Evan Gattis who walked away from baseball in 2006 and found himself begging for money in New York City before giving baseball another try.

The Astros have galvanised a city left reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, and have come to epitomise the rallying cry “Houston Strong”, even wearing the “Strong” logo on their jerseys.

Clayton Kershaw.

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation.

Yes, baseball has its challenges: a greying fan base, increasing competition from other sports and a general apathy brought on by a long season. But with this extraordinary World Series, coming on the back of the Cubs’ 100-year drought breaker last season, and it’s not surprising baseball is starting to win back the fans it lost and create some new ones.

The Dodgers’ 6-2 jaw-dropping win in Game 4 led to celebrations in packed establishments all over L.A., more than a few Halloween parties being sparsely attended and some even taking a rest from their Stranger Things 2 binge to watch the ball game.

Game 5 was up against Sunday Night Football, and with this enthralling WS don’t be surprised if baseball finally knocks the NFL off its perch.

Jose Altuve is congratulated by his teammate during game five of the World Series.

JAY ASSER, SAYS NO

Even to the biggest baseball detractor, the MLB playoffs have been difficult to downplay.

From the Wild Card round to five games through the World Series, we’ve seen no shortage of excitement and entertainment.

And there’s no doubt the star power has been compelling, with some of the game’s brightest stars – Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers – showcasing their talent on the grandest stage.

As impressive of a display as the league is putting on right now, there’s still more to do if outsiders are going to be drawn to the game.

That speaks less to any lack of quality regarding these playoffs and more to how much work baseball has to do in order to close the gap with the NFL and the NBA.

Jose Altuve.

Astros star man Jose Altuve.

You could point to the NFL’s event-like nature, or the NBA’s year-round cycle – which reached a fever pitch this summer when several All-Stars switched teams – or pace of play as to why those two leagues appeal more to the younger generation than the MLB.

Some of that may be subjective, of course, but what isn’t are the television ratings.

Game 4 of this year’s World Series actually topped Game 4 of the 2016 edition, with the former netting a rating of 10.6/20 (percentage of US TV households that watched the game/percentage of TV sets in use that were tuned to the game), edging the latter’s mark of 9.3/18 (16.7 million viewers).

That’s encouraging, but still lags the 20.38 million viewers on average this June’s NBA Finals drew.

The MLB is going in the right direction, but one or two playoffs won’t change things overnight.

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