Victory and defeat are only the beginning: Our games can inspire, unite and be a balm for communities in pain. The best photos of 2015 celebrate the spirit as well as the beauty of sports
PHOTOPhotograph by Simon Bruty for Sports IllustratedJULY 5: VANCOUVER The celebration was no different from the tournament itself: All hands joined in when the U.S. raised the trophy after winning its third Women's World Cup. PHOTOPhotograph by Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesSEPT. 13: JACKSONVILLE Cameras—if not the Jaguars—had quarterback Cam Newton covered from every angle of the Panthers' season-opening 20--9 win. PHOTOPhotograph by Greg Nelson for Sports IllustratedAPRIL 4: INDIANAPOLIS The look on the face of Willie Cauley-Stein (15) said it all: Kentucky's dream of a perfect season died with a 71--64 loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four. PHOTOPhotograph by Robin Alam/Icon SportswireJUNE 15: CHICAGO Another year, another championship moment for Jonathan Toews: The Blackhawks' captain hoisted the Stanley Cup for the third time in six seasons. PHOTOPhotograph by Robert Beck for Sports IllustratedJAN. 12: ARLINGTON, TEXAS On the shoulders of a giant: Ezekiel Elliott (15) carried Ohio State to a title-game rout of Oregon in the first College Football Playoff. PHOTOPhotograph by Al Tielemans for Sports IllustratedNOV. 1: QUEENS, N.Y, Unfinished business, finished: A year after losing Game 7 of the World Series, the Royals took their first title in 30 years by beating the Mets in five. PHOTOPhotograph by Robert Beck for Sports IllustratedAUG. 16: SHEBOYGAN, WIS. Jason Day's 3-year-old son, Dash, prepared for liftoff after his dad won the PGA Championship. PHOTOPhotograph by Fred Vuich for Sports IllustratedNOV. 1: CLEVELAND Even though the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald couldn't come up with this circus catch, it's no stretch to say that, after several down years, the 32-year-old was again among the NFL's top receivers. PHOTOPhotograph by Carlos M. Saavedra For Sports IllustratedSEPT. 20: BUFFALO Pass catcher and ride giver: Patriots receiver Julian Edelman took Bills DB Aaron Williams with him into the end zone. PHOTOPhotograph by Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesNOV. 14: PALO ALTO, CALIF. Stanford wideout Devon Cajuste got his Odell on in a 38--36 loss to Oregon. PHOTOPhotograph by Mike Groll/APNOV. 14: WEST POINT, N.Y. A day after terrorist attacks in Paris, defensive back Caleb McNeill flew the French flag in support as Army took the field to face Tulane. PHOTOPhotograph by Greg Nelson for Sports IllustratedMAY 20: ATLANTA LeBron James soared in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals and the Cavaliers followed, sweeping the Hawks. PHOTOPhotograph by Robert Seale for Sports IllustratedFEB. 7: HOUSTON The year reflected well on shooting guard James Harden: He finished second in the NBA MVP voting, and his Rockets reached the Western Conference finals.