High profiles, low points

Sagas of Tiger, LeBron overshadow some memorable championships in '10

December 17, 2010|By Philip Hersh Tribune newspapers

1Tiger's lost year

Toward the end of the worst year in what previously had been a charmed life, the good thing for Tiger Woods was his shortcomings as a golfer were getting more attention than his failures as a husband, father and IMG-styled global icon.

When Woods squandered a four-shot lead in his last tournament of the year, it marked the first time in 29 occasions he had lost a lead of more than two strokes in the final round and the first time since 1995 — when he played only four events, as an amateur — he went through a year without a win.

Also gone: his wife (divorce), his No. 1 ranking, a reported $22 million in endorsement income, what TMZ.com referred to as "237 mistresses" and a reported $110 million in the divorce settlement.

2The LeBron Show

It was clear LeBron James would alienate Cleveland by taking his immense talents to another NBA team.

No one expected James to alienate everyone but fans of his new team by asking executives from several franchises to come to Ohio and fawn over him and by allowing his free agency to end in an embarrassing TV show called "The Decision" in which 59-plus minutes of inanity surrounded the second he would have needed to say, "Miami."

When Chris Bosh jumped to South Florida and Dwyane Wade decided to stay put with the Heat, there was immediate talk of the team breaking the Bulls' single-season victory record (72). So when the Heat struggled the first six weeks of the season, there was an outpouring of schadenfreude from everywhere but South Florida, where the initial reaction was angst.

3

Party in New Orleans

We often find our sports teams can do more than win games.

The Saints helped a city still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina feel that anything was possible. Their Super Bowl victory showed the last could be first, that there Ain'ts no mountain high enough, that a team so shameful for decades its fans wore bags over their heads could make New Orleans hold its head high.

4

Giant achievement

Perhaps the best thing about the Giants winning their first World Series since leaving New York for San Francisco after the 1957 season was Barry Bonds had nothing to do with it.

Instead of having an artificial giant personify the team, the Giants' poster boy was a wisp of a pitcher, Tim Lincecum, who ended the Rangers' World Series debut with eight innings of three-hit pitching in Game 5.

So there was a welcome element of pre-steroid and pre-free agent baseball in the Giants' victory, whose Series' rotation and the rookie who caught them all were homegrown.

5

Lakers reign

A franchise that made its reputation on the offensive displays known as "Showtime" added another dimension to its image by winning the decisive game of the NBA Finals despite shooting only 32.5 percent.

In winning their 16th NBA title — and second straight — the Lakers held their storied rival, the Celtics, to 67 and 79 points in the final two games as they rallied to take the series 4-3. It was a fifth title for Kobe Bryant and the 11th (six in Chicago, five in L.A.) for coach Phil Jackson.

6NFL uses its head

The NFL likely would have kept its head in the sand had New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz not done one exceptional story after another about the short- and long-term dangers of head injuries in a sport that celebrates violence and a league that repeatedly denied concussions were a significant problem.

Shamed into action, the NFL started a concussion awareness program this season and began fining players heavily for dangerous tackles, especially those involving either player's head.

7

Golden moment

During the previous two Olympics in Canada, Summer (Montreal, 1976) and Winter (Calgary, 1988), the home team did not win a gold medal. In the 2010 Vancouver Games, the only gold medal that counted in the Great White North wouldn't be decided until the final day.

So when the Canadian men's hockey team scored a dramatic overtime victory over the United States on a goal by Sidney Crosby to close the festivities, it was even better than expected. It was among a Games-leading gold total of 14 for Canada.

8

Spain drinks from Cup

Spain had been the country with all the great players and passionate fans and no world title.

Africa had been the only continent (other than Antarctica) where one of the great global sports events, the World Cup and Olympics, never had stepped foot.

Spain overcame its frustration and the Dutch team for the title in a World Cup in which host South Africa also was a winner, even if its team went out in the first round.

9

Jimmie's drive for 5

In the 61 years since NASCAR has been crowning sprint champions, 28 drivers have won. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt won seven each.

That leaves little space in the record books for distinctive achievements.

But Jimmie Johnson carved out a niche in his sport's history by becoming the first driver to win five consecutive titles.

10

National treasure

When Stephen Strasburg pitched his first major league game July 8, Sports Illustrated called it the "most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen."

The remarkable thing was the Nationals' Strasburg lived up to the hype (14 strikeouts, no walks, four hits in seven innings) and then kept proving he was a phenom of legendary proportions, and, oh yes, there were those niggling questions about what his delivery might do to his arm.

He would be on the disabled in July, done for the season in August and soon under the knife for elbow reconstruction surgery that may sideline him until 2012.

phersh@tribune.com

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