Top 10 sports moments of 2021
Cameron Richardson ranks his 10 favorite moments from the sports world in 2021.
There was a lot to love about the world of sports in 2021 across the globe. From the return of major tournaments to a season-long motorsport title race that came down to one final lap, this year felt like a re-birth after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world for months.
To wrap up the year, let’s take a look at the 10 best moments 2021 provided for sports.
10. Crowds return
With the pandemic putting leagues into locked down bubbles throughout 2020 and a part of 2021, it was a good feeling to see fans back in the stands during the summer months to bring back the true feeling of sports atmosphere. Nothing topped this return of packed stands than Week 1 of the college football season between Wisconsin and Penn State when the student section jumped to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” No matter how you feel about packed stands during a pandemic, you have to admit it was good to see.
Down their superstar Ronald Acuña Jr., it looked like the Atlanta Braves would be down and out of the playoffs in 2021. However, thanks to an electric second half of the season from franchise player Freddie Freeman and breakout performances from Austin Riley and Eddie Rosario, Atlanta found a fifth gear that propelled them to NL series wins over the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers that culminated in a six-game World Series victory over the Houston Astros.
Not only was the 2021 NASCAR Championship Weekend a personal favorite of mine due to the connections I was able to make with other NASCAR media members, along with being joined by my colleagues in Flagstaff, but the on-track action delivered far more than that of 2020 with limited crowd capacity.
Ben Rhodes took the truck championship and delivered a post-race press conference to remember, Daniel Hemric took his first-ever NASCAR win and Xfinity Series championship on the same night and Kyle Larson capped a 10-win season with his first Cup Series championship. Especially with practice and qualifying, it felt like a true NASCAR weekend and the catalyst for a new era in NASCAR heading into 2022.
To understand why Charles Oliveira made this list, you have to understand the career he’s endured to get to this moment. After UFC 262, I wrote a piece on the roller coaster that is Oliveira’s professional career. From poor weight cuts to injuries, Oliveira overcame all the obstacles in his way to find a path in the lightweight division that saw him defeat the likes of Jim Miller, Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson before overcoming a first-round knockdown against Michael Chandler to then knock him out in the second round to earn the championship. After defending the title 19 days ago against Dustin Poirier, let’s hope Oliveira’s reign is here to stay.
If you told me at the start of the season that the NBA title would be contested between the Phoenix Suns and the Bucks, I would’ve smacked the taste buds out of your mouth. However, that’s exactly what we got as the NBA delivered one of its best postseasons ever.
Not only did we get an unlikely Finals matchup, but there were upsets and great series across the board.
You can’t talk about this postseason without mentioning the absolutely shocking upset of the No. 1 Eastern Conference seed Philadelphia 76ers as they were taken out by the young and hungry Atlanta Hawks.
After taking out the No. 1 seed Utah Jazz following the injury of Kawhi Leonard, the LA Clippers advanced to their first conference finals, but lost to the Suns in six games.
With Giannis Antetokounmpo not 100% after a leg injury against Atlanta in the East Finals, it appeared as though all hope was lost for Milwaukee. However, Giannis fought through the injury to not only provide a 50-point performance in the title-clinching game, but assurance that he is the No. 1 player in the world. The title for the Bucks also validated the superstardom of Khris Middleton and the trade for Jrue Holiday after many believed he was an offensive liability.
After a horrible 2020 without an NCAA Tournament, March Madness returned in wondrous fashion as teams like No. 15-seed Oral Roberts advanced to the Sweet 16 and after being the laughing stock of Power 5 conferences during the regular season, the Pac-12 had four teams compete in the Sweet 16.
UCLA wasn’t a team people expected to even make the tournament, but after winning their First Four game over Michigan State, the Bruins rallied behind their starting five to find their way to the Final Four. After a game-tying putback from Johnny Juzang, Jalen Suggs grabbed the ball with three seconds left and got all the way to the logo before the heave of a lifetime that bounced off the backboard and through the hoop 一 cementing one of the greatest moments in March Madness history.
This F1 season could’ve been No. 1 had the title race in Abu Dhabi been officiated fairly, but that’s a whole can of worms that doesn’t need to be opened again. Regardless of the final result, sports fans can’t deny how thrilling Sunday’s were as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen exchanged blows that saw the points lead swing multiple times.
From Silverstone and Baku to the United States and Saudi Arabia, almost every race had a massive storyline that affected the championship. It was truly a season that will never be forgotten.
Joining the likes of racing legends Al Unser, A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears was Castroneves as he wheeled a Meyer Shank Racing car to his fourth-career win in the Indy 500.
Not only was Castroneves the winner, but all 200 laps of the event were phenomenal in front of 100,000+ spectators at the famous Brickyard. The race even saw Indiana native Conor Daly take the lead at one point.
The event was one of the best of the year across sports and allowed for the entire world to tolerate full-capacity crowds.
I love college football. I haven’t truly loved a season since 2014 where the first college football playoff was up for debate until the final week. The dynasties of Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State took over the landscape and looked like the playoff would be the same four teams without changes.
Thank God that wasn’t the case in 2021 as Michigan, Cincinnati and Georgia will look to topple the Tide from the throne.
It wasn’t just Michigan finally knocking off Ohio State with Jim Harbaugh that puts this game as high as it is on the list, but the “Big Game” was the epitome of what makes college football fantastic. There hasn’t been a game like this where I felt like a little kid in the mid-2000’s sitting down on a Saturday afternoon watching college football. The game had everything with over 100,000 people, snow and great, individual moments. It was everything that makes college football great and that’s why it’s my No. 2 sports moment of the year.
Now, first reactions are going to say that this is bait, but I don’t really care because a moment like this was 18 years in the making.
I never watched anyone in NASCAR that had the same ethnic background as me until Wallace came around in the early 2010’s in the truck series. I didn’t start intently following him until his runs in the Xfinity Series prior to his first Cup stints in 2017.
While Bubba’s long-term sustainability in the series will be how he’s remembered, embrace his journey now. The win at Talladega Superspeedway in the fall validated myself and other Black people loving this sport and knowing that we fit in as well. It’s not just fans, it’s minority NASCAR media members as well as I rarely see any from the races I’ve covered in person.
If you are a person of color reading this, know that it’s OK to enjoy this sport and no one can take away from you having a good experience if you go to a racetrack.