Maybe it's my increased exposure to it since I'm copy-editing over at Bleacher Report, but 2009 appeared to have an unusually high amount of buzzworthy sports moments during its first half.
Not all of these will be considered among the most memorable when the year is all said and done, but for now they're all still strongly on the mind of sports fans.
A few guidelines first...
- This isn't a list of top performances for the year. A story could be almost entirely unrelated to what's on the field. Instead, it just generated so much attention, conversation, media buzz, etc. that it stands out among the athletic landscape this year.
- The mid-year caveat prevents a lot of usually compelling events (MLB playoffs, offseason NBA, the majority of the NFL season) from being considered.
- In general, the list is based on what I as a sports fan was genuinely interested and compelled by. Historical value, television ratings, the prize at stake can all be taken into account but they aren't necessary for a top sports moment.
Without further ado, in descending order..
5. The Cleveland Cavaliers are so damn compelling
It's easy to be a big draw when you have arguably the fastest growing athlete (in term's of popularity) on Earth playing for your squad. LeBron James is everywhere. The team was also very good last year. They finished with the league's best record and were considered a favorite to make the NBA Finals if not win them.
That's what really makes them interesting though. They didn't get there.
They Cavs had two NBA All-Stars, one NBA MVP and the NBA Coach of the Year but couldn't make it through what was perceived to easily be the weaker conference.Now LeBron has the infamous summer of 2010 looming.
The Cavs need to do whatever it takes to keep him in title-starved Cleveland and they started by signing the most media-friendly and genuinely magnetic center in NBA history. Shaq even took journalism classes because he's so natural in the spotlight.
Will it work on the court? No one knows with all the other major NBA contenders making big moves as well. Just remember this saga is far from over but it got its start in the early months of '09.
4. Great, yet meaningless, basketball games.
This quick list doesn't even include any of the HOU-LAL series, the LAL-DEN series, any NCAA tournament games, etc.
3. The rise of soccer and the U.S. National Team
This was unbelievable.
I never experienced a sports moment that elicited such a visceral, primal and immediate reaction from me. I ran out of my apartment, sprinted up and down the street on endless adrenaline and just screamed. My entire body was shaking when I returned to continue watching play.
Not everyone was that invested in the game (and that's good because you avoided an incredible punch to the gut), but everyone paid attention to U.S. Soccer that week.
The U.S. upset of Spain was a hot topic around the globe and their performance against Brazil only added to the intrigue. No one seemed to care about the sport or the National side until it took a miracle to get the U.S. out of the group stage, but after the Confederations Cup...
ESPN is picking up soccer, U.S. players are moving to premier leagues and teams, non-U.S. soccer news gains ESPN.com front page headlines, Jozy Altidore is popping up on sports programming everywhere, people are finally debating U.S. tactics (do you agree with Coach Bradley's defensive approach, did red cards cost the team a Fifa Cup?)
2. A-Rod, Manny and the looming death of baseball
Steroids in baseball has officially become the sports' story in my lifetime. First Mark McGwire broke the single-season HR record and was later found to test positive.
Barry Bonds then came along to break that and also pass the all-time HR record only to be heavily associated with steroids later on. Numerous potential Hall of Famers and current MVP-caliber folks followed suit (Sosa, Palmeiro, Gonzalez, Tejada, Giambi, Clemens, etc.).
Somehow baseball persevered. Largely, it seemed due to the hope that the young stars of today would soon make us forget the folks who unfairly rewrote the record books. Then the future HR king was brought down by a leaked report and the greatest right-handed hitter of our time was taking estrogen.
Honestly, there are only three players who immediately come to mind as individuals that if found guilty of steroid use would be worse for MLB (Griffey, Jeter, Pujols).
1. Fantastic finishes in "non-revenue" sports.
This list doesn't even include Joey Chestnut holding off the immortal Kobayashi and setting a new 10-minute hot dog eating record.
That contest was so dramatic the announcer was forced to admit, "I don't moisturize or watch Gossip Girls, but I'm very emotional right now." Chew-view debuted and that wasn't the biggest non-mainstream sports story of 2009 thus far. That's saying something.
Others in serious consideration: The Steve McNair tragedy | Phil Mickelson's perseverance | Michael Oher gets drafted | Roger Federer is the all-time best
(Links today from ESPN.com, BBC Sport, the NY Post, YouTube, Bleacher Report and the Cleveland Plain Dealer)