The 2010s were a wild decade in sports—nobody knew what was coming, except the Astros. Conferences expanded, the amateurism myth shrank, extra points moved back, gay athletes moved forward, and the Guinness World Record for Standing in Place was broken by James Harden's teammates. It was a time when everything was under review, from plays at first base to Roger Goodell's decisions, and so let's tip back one of Stan Van Gundy's Diet Pepsis, clap for no apparent reason like Jason Garrett ... and look back.
LeBron James proved that if you and your first love go through a nasty, bitter divorce, you can always go back and divorce each other amicably. James was the athlete of the decade, not just because he made eight NBA Finals, won three titles and ended Cleveland's championship drought, but because he also found time to become an activist, use social media incessantly and change teams three times, all while fulfilling his lifelong dream of writing for Sports Illustrated. James ended the 2010s in Los Angeles, along with the Rams and some other NFL team.
In the seventh month of the decade, George Steinbrenner died; the Yankees have not won the World Series since, which means that somewhere in the afterlife, Steinbrenner just fired your grandmother. This was the first decade since the Yankees acquired Babe Ruth that they did not win a pennant. Meanwhile, the Cubs—the Cubs!—won the World Series.
The Royals also won the World Series, an event that, like Halley's Comet, was maybe something we should have watched instead of falling asleep on the couch. The Mets went to the World Series, apparently to see if anything was on sale there. Well, timing is everything—in life, comedy and sports. Ask the Giants. San Francisco averaged an 82–80 record for the decade yet won three titles.
While baseball remained the quirky and charming favorite of the over-78 demographic, other champions looked quite familiar: Alabama in college football; Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky in men's basketball; Connecticut in women's basketball; Connecticut again and again and again and again in women's basketball.
We were treated to history's best swimmer (Michael Phelps), gymnast (Simone Biles) and sprinter (Usain Bolt). Stanford student Katie Ledecky achieved this paradox: She made her races so boring that long-distance swimming became exciting. The U.S. women's soccer team did an incredible job of stirring interest in women's soccer, and the U.S. men's soccer team did an incredible job of stirring interest in women's soccer.
At the start of the decade, the first few notes of the national anthem inspired most people to wonder if they had time to get nachos before kickoff. By the end, nearly everything an athlete said or did could be construed as a political statement. Colin Kaepernick knelt, and the NFL told him to stay there.
Coaches got smarter about going for it on fourth down, abandoning the bunt and forgoing midrange jumpers–though not about taking the Knicks' job. Athletes found new ways to tell their stories: on Facebook, on Twitter, on The Players' Tribune, on Instagram and occasionally even to an actual reporter. Courts ruled that it was O.K. to bet on sports, but not on the Browns.
Scandals? We had some big ones (Russia doping), wild ones (Bobby Petrino's crashing a motorcycle with his mistress on it), sickening ones (Ray Rice's assault) and hilarious ones (Ray Lewis's deer-antler spray).
The 2010s ended with Google claiming it had achieved quantum supremacy, and by 2020, so will Lamar Jackson. In the meantime, let's bid adieu to the decade. Gosh, it seems like just yesterday that 2009 became 2010, and we were sure the end was coming for the Patriots, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. I wonder what they are up to these days.