Where individual athletes shined in their respective sports, a few other stories about the triumph of a team or a collective spirit captivated the 2008 viewer. Whether it was Cullen Jones leading the improbable come-from-behind victory in the U.S. bid for Olympic gold, or the Jamaican sprinters doing what their bobsled team had done years before in shocking all the front-runners, a deep well of inspiration rose up in anyone who watched the highlight reels throughout. Essentially, sports has been boiled down to the Winners and the Losers, but the real gains come through the display of powerful spirits striving through unlikely obstacles. NewsOne presents the Best Sports Stories of 2008.
U.S. Dream Team reclaims top spot in the World – The world was quick to dismiss America as a basketball power after their disappointing performances in the 2004 Olympics (3rd) and then an even more lackluster showing in the 2006 international tournament. With teams like Greece, Argentina and Spain becoming ever stronger (and manned with NBA stars like Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol respectively), the United States had to re-examine its strategy of overpowering the world with NBA athleticism and adopt team play as its center. Having Kobe Bryant and LeBron James on the same team didn’t hurt either.
Cullen Jones wins first gold for Blacks in Olympic swimming – After a near drowning incident during his childhood, the 24-year-old Olympic swimmer made it his point to become a strong swimmer. As a native of the Bronx section of New York City, Jones had to tread an unlikely road to realize his dream. He attended St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey, where his coach Lou Pettrizello helped propel his rise through the amateur ranks. At North Carolina State, Jones then set and broke several 50M freestyle swim records before making the Olympic team in 2008. Cullen Jones was instrumental in securing the 4X100M freestyle medal for the U.S. Men’s Olympic team, despite being the accepted underdog to a boasting French squad. Jones and Jason Lezak led the team’s surge at the end, securing their teammate Michael Phelps’s most difficult of the eight medals he won.
Kevin Garnett and the Celtics – The man known simply as “KG” has been the subject of intense scrutiny since he entered the NBA as a professional at a fresh 18 years of age. Although his effort and competitiveness never came into question, he often took the blame when his lowly Minnesota Timberwolves did not perform to the level of his $100M+ contract. Ray Allen had a similar plight to face as the season started: an old veteran who had great ability but never won the prize at the end of the road. Paul Pierce also craved the kind of respect that comes with a ring. Just the year before, he had been on the bench at season’s end, watching as his teammates eked out one of the worst records in the league. The Boston Celtics acquired Garnett for a slew of young players, and he began with the trio a new quest for the championship he so longed for in the Land of 1,000 Lakes. With Paul Pierce as the Celtics backbone, and Ray Allen acquired in a trade, the Big Three met and surpassed the expectations of such a highly touted group of players. Paul Pierce had been vindicated as a Celtics franchise mainstay to reach the heights of their greats like Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson and Bill Russell. Ray Allen was more than just a smooth shooter; he was a champion.
Adrian Peterson’s breakout season – The NFL running back for the Minnesota Vikings made his first impression as a player for the University of Oklahoma Sooners. Peterson earned Associated Press First Team All-American honors as the school’s second leading rusher of all time. Drafted in 2007, Peterson awed his fans with incredible speed and power, a rare combination for an NFL runner. Not one to rest on his laurels however, Peterson won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors before then becoming the Pro-Bowl Most Valuable Player just weeks later. Peterson’s career holds promise, and he stands as the NFL’s leading rusher with two weeks of play remaining.
The Williams Sisters – Serena Williams waited in the backseat for the first stretch of her legendary career as sister Venus Williams made her name a fearsome bell rung in the ears of her tennis opponents worldwide. But, competitive fire runs in the family and, while Venus tended to struggle with injury in her twenties, Serena began to rack up Grand Slam titles and defeat the same opponents who had intimidated her in the past. This year was another peak for Serena as she captured the U.S. Open Single’s title for women by defeating Jelena Jankovic, capping a year where she contended in most of the Grand Slam tournaments. It was her 9th title. Venus captured her 5th Wimbledon title in seven tries. Only Serena beat her in 2002 and 2003.
Freddy Adu leads the Olympic charge for soccer – The U.S. Men’s Olympic soccer team was in need of a serious revamp. Freddy Adu was only 15 when they made their unsuccessful run in 2004 to make the Athens games. Four years of professional play and rigorous training later, Adu stood ready to create a new stir, and inject some of his youthful energy. Adu became a pro at 14, signing with the MLS in 2003. Since then, he has become a player of interest in the world. Freddy Adu scored 4 goals in the Olympic qualifier, and had a stunning performance in a 3-0 win over Spain. The team was later eliminated by Nigeria, but Adu had already cemented himself as a player to watch.
Jamaican sprinters beat the favorites – The Jamaican Track and Field team was no stranger to success by 2008. Their athletes had made individual stamps on the Olympics in the 70s, and 90s but the U.S. team had always swept the relays and the attention of the media. Usain Bolt changed that with one historic run. His 9.69-second record time was the pillar performance in an astounding run by the Jamaican sprinters. The women’s and men’s 4X200M teams won the gold for their events, even as American Tyson Gay worked to become the leader in endorsements. Jamaica left the Games with 11 medals, all won from Track and Field.
James Blake beats Roger Federer – In James Blake’s professional career — like the majority of his peers — he had never beaten Roger Federer. Roger Federer entered the Olympic tournament as the Number One seed, with Blake as a Number Eight. When they faced off, with Federer holding a cool twelve titles, it was deemed a foregone conclusion. But Blake’s resolve is the lynchpin of his career. In 2004, he suffered a crippling injury by breaking his neck during a practice round, only to then fall ill with shingles. His father died of stomach cancer in the same year. When he finally returned to the game, however, he made an impressive showing at the U.S. Open before falling to Agassi in a five-set thriller. Blake didn’t win the Gold after defeating Roger Federed on that day, but he continues to make the improbable matches worth watching, toppling Number One players along the way.
David Tyree makes “The Catch” in Giants Superbowl win – David Tyree is still not the premiere receiver on the New York Football Giants. All the same, he made the most memorable catch in Super Bowl history in the 4th quarter of a close game. With the Giants’ hopes of catching up hanging on to a thread, Eli Manning threw down field to a barely open Tyree. Tyree leapt and caught the ball against his helmet, securing it as he went down. Tyree had struggled with drug abuse in the two years prior before giving himself to religion and regimen. His transformation paid off.
LeBron James dominates the NBA – NBA superstar LeBron James is the league’s best individual performer and, perhaps, one of the best teammates there is. He is a relentless scorer, a capable defender, a superb passer, and helps to raise the level of play whenever he takes the court. After a season of statistical highs in every category, James entered the playoffs with an improved Cleveland Cavaliers team ready to make another run at the Finals (where they were swept in 2007). Despite being derailed by the Boston Celtics in seven games, he scored a spectacular 45 points in the Game 7 loss, dueling with Celtics Finals MVP Paul Pierce (41 points) throughout. James was crestfallen after the loss, but managed to channel his energy into Olympic basketball, where he assisted the U.S. Dream Team Redux in winning the gold medal.
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