The ESPYs may not be the most prestigious awards for athletes, but in terms of concentrated star power, no event can match the annual midsummer showcase.
The collision between sports and entertainment provided plenty of lighthearted laughs, highlighted by Drake's opening monologue, as well as serious and inspiring speeches from Michael Sam and Stuart Scott.
Ultimately, though, the awards ceremony is about recognizing the most important moments from the past 12 months in sports. Inevitably, there will be players, games and teams that get jilted in any vote where fans effectively stage a popularity contest.
Though losing an ESPY is no grave matter, it still reflects how some worthy winners did not quite reach the full glare of the mainstream spotlight. Looking back, here are some of the most surprising victors from Wednesday night's proceedings.
|Male Athlete||Kevin Durant||Jockey||Victor Espinoza|
|Female Athlete||Ronda Rousey||MLS Player||Tim Cahill|
|Moment||USMNT vs. Ghana||Male U.S. Olympian||Sage Kotsenburg|
|Team||Seattle Seahawks||Female U.S. Olympian||Jamie Anderson|
|Comeback Athlete||Russell Westbrook||International Athlete||Cristiano Ronaldo|
|Breakthrough Athlete||Richard Sherman||WNBA Player||Maya Moore|
|Championship Performance||Kawhi Leonard||Male Golfer||Bubba Watson|
|Game||Auburn vs. Alabama||Female Golfer||Michelle Wie|
|Upset||Mercer over Duke||Male Tennis Player||Rafael Nadal|
|NFL Player||Peyton Manning||Female Tennis Player||Maria Sharapova|
|NBA Player||Kevin Durant||Male College Athlete||Doug McDermott|
|MLB Player||Miguel Cabrera||Female College Athlete||Breanna Stewart|
|NHL Player||Sidney Crosby||Male Athlete with a Disability||Declan Farmer|
|Driver||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Female Athlete with a Disability||Jamie Whitmore|
|Coach/Manager||Gregg Popovich||Male Action Sports Athlete||Nyjah Huston|
|Fighter||Floyd Mayweather||Female Action Sports Athlete||Jamie Anderson|
|Bowler||Pete Weber||Play||Chris Davis in Iron Bowl|
|Pat Tillman Award||Josh Sweeney||Record-Breaking Performance||Peyton Manning|
|Arthur Ashe Award||Michael Sam||Jimmy V Award||Stuart Scott|
Best Breakthrough Athlete: Richard Sherman
Sherman is not only the most loquacious cornerback in the NFL but also likely the best. Thus, many were scratching their heads after Sherman won an award that serves as the equivalent to a "Most Improved Player" type of honor:
Love Richard Sherman's game ... But how is he a breakout athlete? He was first-team All-Pro in 2012.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) July 17, 2014
Richard Sherman wasn't a "breakthrough athlete." He was a "good sports player normal people now know by name"— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) July 17, 2014
There's little doubting that Sherman was already a premier defensive star headed into last season. In 2012, he was Pro Football Focus' second-rated corner based on its widely cited play-by-play grading metrics (subscription required). He also made his first All-Pro team that year, a feat he repeated this season.
Conversely, Nick Foles went from a backup to the best quarterback in the league by certain advanced metrics (Peyton Manning's record-breaking season notwithstanding). Damian Lillard made his first All-Star and All-NBA team while hitting the most iconic shot of the season. Masahiro Tanaka's season took an unfortunate turn with his elbow injury, but he was virtually single-handedly keeping the New York Yankees' playoff hopes afloat.
Sherman is the best player of that bunch, and he already was headed into 2014. He may have won the award due to his vastly superior visibility among fans, but he really did not fit the criteria for the nomination in the first place.
Best Comeback Athlete: Russell Westbrook
Westbrook was at the center of one of Drake's best jokes of the night:
Russell Westbrook is FEELIN' the Russell Westbrook collection... pic.twitter.com/dJQWX7rwz0— SportsNation (@SportsNation) July 17, 2014
However, he then took part in one of the ceremony's most puzzling moments when he won the Comeback Athlete award. In this case, there was a heinous oversight of the inspiring story of New York Rangers forward Dominic Moore. Predictably, there was social media backlash at the lack of recognition for Moore:
R.Westbrook came back from minor knee procedure. Dominic Moore only came back from caring for his dying wife striken with cancer thats all.— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) July 17, 2014
One can't really blame Westbrook except for his wardrobe. However, we could also evaluate this from a basketball standpoint and see that Westbrook's points, assists, three-point shooting percentage and win shares all decreased from last season, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Westbrook deserves plenty of credit for coming back from multiple knee surgeries to post a season that was still extremely productive. Nonetheless, this award belonged to Moore, who likely would have received it had he played a sport more visible than hockey.
Best MLB Player: Miguel Cabrera
When Mike Trout won the All-Star Game MVP, some joked that Miguel Cabrera would snatch that away from the Angels outfielder after finishing ahead of him in each of the past two AL MVP races:
BBWAA walks onto field en masse, knocks down Mike Trout, steals MVP award, hands to a confused Miguel Cabrera.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) July 16, 2014
While Cabrera versus Trout has been labeled as "Traditionalists versus Statheads," the truth is that Trout is a better player by nearly every stretch. That includes hitting this season as well; per Fangraphs.com, Trout has delivered a higher slugging percentage, isolated power and overall offensive value. That says nothing of his superior baserunning or defense, which has him on a historic pace for wins above replacement:
Most career Wins Above Replacement thru age 22: 25.8 - Mike Trout 25.5 - Ty Cobb 23.6 - Ted Williams (Trout still has a half-season to go.)— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) July 16, 2014
Look, there is no arguing that Cabrera is a future Hall of Famer and one of the best pure hitters in recent history. His Triple Crown-winning 2012 season will stand out in the history books, and it would have been wrong for Cabrera to emerge from this historic stretch of excellence without a single MVP award.
Nevertheless, Trout has taken the mantle as the face of baseball. Cabrera may have snatched one more award, but the most important baseball hardware will belong to Trout soon.