In a year filled with turmoil, 2020 still managed to deliver sensational performances and memorable moments in sports. Despite a pandemic that threatened to shut down the entire sporting world, athletes were able to persevere and provide fans with a much needed reprieve from the harshness of reality. However, unlike other rankings of this nature, the moments that made this list may not be the most heartwarming, but rather the most polarizing sports stories of the year. Here are our picks for the most influential sports moments of 2020:
10. Lightning win the Stanley Cup
Rivaling Los Angeles for the most successful city in sports over the past year, Tampa Bay has had its share of victories across major sports leagues. Most significant were the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, who won their second Stanley Cup in franchise history. It was truly a magical run for the second-seeded Lightning, as they won two playoff series on their way to the Stanley Cup final on game-winning overtime goals. Anthony Cirelli netted the overtime game winner in the Eastern Conference Finals to send the team into the Stanley Cup Final, defeating the New York Islanders 2–1. After a back-and-forth series with the Dallas Stars, the Lightning emerged victorious in six games, with defenseman Victor Hedman winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL playoff most valuable player.
9. Chiefs win the Super Bowl
For the first time in half a century, the Kansas City Chiefs hoisted the Lombardi trophy as they triumphantly defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. Led by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs and their high-flying offense were able to overcome multiple double-digit deficits throughout the postseason to emerge victorious from the AFC. And in the Super Bowl, trailing by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, the Chiefs were able to rally and outscore their opposition 21–0 to wipe away the deficit and clinch the victory. For his phenomenal performance, 24-year-old Mahomes was crowned Super Bowl MVP, becoming the youngest-ever quarterback to receive the honor.
8. Liverpool secures the Premier League title, its first since 1990
In a dominant performance, Liverpool F.C. won the English Premier League Title in a 2020 season highlighted by a pause in play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by electric wingers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, the Reds ended the season 18 points ahead of runner-up Manchester City, and just one point away from the historic century mark in points. Little could go wrong for Liverpool, as their lethal attack was supplemented by Dutch defensive anchor Virgil Van Djik, the elite fullback duo of Scotsman Andrew Robertson and Englishman Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker. The Reds conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League and did not lose a single match at their home stadium en route to their first championship in 30 years.
7. Dodgers win their first World Series in more than 30 years
Led by new signing Mookie Betts and reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger, the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed their first World Series crown since 1988. A combination of a stacked lineup, young pitching talent and a veteran core helped the Dodgers dominate Major League Baseball in a shortened season. After coming back from a 3–1 series deficit in the previous round, Los Angeles handled the Tampa Bay Rays in six games in the Fall Classic. Shortstop Cory Seager was named World Series MVP after an explosive offensive performance. Future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw finally won a ring and Los Angeles cemented itself as the city of champions in 2020.
6. Kim Ng: The first female GM in MLB history
In a revolutionary year for women in sports, Kim Ng became the first female general manager in the history of Major League Baseball. The Miami Marlins, despite a successful 2020 campaign that saw them win a playoff series, parted ways with Michael Hill to bring in Ng in November, who is also the first Asian American general manager in league history. Ng has worked in Major League Baseball front offices since 1991, and her years of hard work and resilience finally paid off as she now is at the helm of a franchise. Ng’s hiring is a light in the darkness of 2020, and while professional sports have progress to make in terms of inclusivity and equality for women, she is a symbol of change.
5. Khabib Nurmagomedov retires from the UFC as the undefeated, undisputed champion
In a feat never achieved before in the history of UFC, Khabib Nurmagomedov retired from fighting without losing a single bout in his professional career. By defeating American Justin Gaethje in October, Nurmagomedov defended his position as the undisputed champion of the UFC lightweight division. Hanging up the gloves with an incredible 29–0–0 record, Nurmagomedov, if he stays in retirement, will go down as the most successful fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. The Russian solidified himself as the most dominant fighter of his weight class, as he defeated Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Gaethje in his final three fights. Nurmagomedov announced his retirement immediately after his victory over Gaethje, citing his father’s recent passing from COVID-19 as the reason for his exit from the sport.
4. Sarah Fuller becomes the first woman to play and score in Power Five football
Sarah Fuller made history in the months of November and December, becoming the first woman to not only play but also score in a Power Five conference football game. A goalkeeper for the Vanderbilt Commodores women’s soccer team, Fuller was called up to kick for the Commodores football team after coronavirus concerns sidelined the rest of the kickers on the team. On Nov. 28, Fuller opened the second half of a game against the University of Missouri with a squib kick, becoming the first woman to play football for a Power Five conference team. Two weeks later, in a game against the University of Tennessee, Fuller successfully completed two extra point kicks, becoming the first woman to score in a Power Five football game. After cementing her spot in college football history, Fuller has become a sports icon and role model for female athletes.
3. Lakers win the 2020 NBA Championship in the Bubble
After three long, arduous months of playing in the NBA Bubble, the Los Angeles Lakers emerged victorious and secured their 17th championship. Led by the dominant duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers breezed through their competition in the West before putting away the Miami Heat in six games in the finals. LeBron was named the Finals MVP for the fourth time in his illustrious career, while also becoming the first player in NBA history to win the award with three separate teams. With their victory, the Lakers clinched their first championship in a decade, while also tying the Boston Celtic’s record for the most NBA titles won by a single team.
2. Bucks and Magic cancel their game, NBA boycotts three playoff games to protest police brutality, racial injustice
On Aug. 23, 2020, amid the Black Lives Matter protests, Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot multiple times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis. In response, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to come out of their locker room to play their scheduled playoff game against the Orlando Magic, citing that immediate action needed to take place with regard to the tragic shooting. The other playoff teams agreed to do the same, and the NBA boycotted three of their scheduled playoff games that day to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Several days later, players and team owners came together to discuss voting, police reform and other courses of action that needed to be taken before players were willing to resume the playoffs. Ultimately, the NBA boycotts were a significant tipping point in the fight for social justice, empowering athletes to use their personal platforms to bring about substantial change.
1. The death of Kobe Bryant
On Jan. 26, 2020, the sports world was shaken by the tragic news of Kobe Bryant’s passing. Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others were traveling to a youth basketball game when their helicopter suddenly crashed into a Calabasas hillside, killing all on board. Bryant’s death rocked the NBA world to its core, as he had profoundly influenced many current and former players throughout his historic 20-year tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers. To honor and preserve his memory, teams across the league started their games by intentionally taking on-court violations that paid homage to his renowned jersey numbers 8 and 24. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also renamed the All-Star Game MVP Award to the NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player in his honor. Bryant was a global icon both on and off the court, and his name continues to be synonymous with the beautiful game of basketball.