Decade in review: a look back at our favorite sports moments

February 23, 2021 — by Jonathan Li and Nitya Marimuthu

Despite ending on quite the terrible note, the past decade has seen some of the greatest moments in professional sports. From basketball to swimming, stars have risen and fallen, dynasties have begun and ended, and we’ll do our best to cover the most relevant highlights. 

 (Disclaimer: these highlights are opinions, so we’re sorry if your favorite underdog NFL team didn’t make it to the list.)

Basketball

Basketball has by far taken the spotlight. The decade has seen the sport evolve into a game of three pointers and dazzling plays run by the Golden State Warriors and now the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James. Despite the years of greatness we’ve seen, nothing beats LeBron James’ block on Iguodola. The Cavaliers would go on to win Game 7 of the 2016 NBA finals, stunning fans of the Warriors and upsetting a 73-9 Warriors team — arguably the greatest team of all time — and coming back from a 3-1 deficit during the NBA finals. 

Even today, “Blocked by James!” is still a household moment that sends chills down your arms. 

 

Football

Even before his recent Super Bowl win starting the next decade, Tom Brady dominated the decade before. With three Super Bowl wins (2015, 2017 and 2019), and five total appearances, there is no denying that Brady is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).   

Russell Wilson, NFL’s highest paid quarterback for the decade, and the Seattle Seahawks hold the second spot for the most number of Super Bowl appearances with two total. Beating the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos in 2014, Wilson starred on the offensive while cornerback Richard Sherman played the part of a brick wall. In 2015, however, the team laid an egg in the Super Bowl when the Patriots intercepted the ball in the last minute after the Seahawks decided to throw the ball rather than run despite having unstoppable running back Marshawn Lynch (traded mid-season). Whether in infamy or not, these two Super Bowls made the Seahawks a prominent team. 

Another notable name, both on the field and off, was Colin Kaepernick, the backup 49ers quarterback who entered the game in 2012, soon leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance vs the Ravens (and a huge bandwagon movement in the Bay Area). As his career continued, Kaepernick struggled on the field but  became the face of racial injustice protests in sports when he kneeled during the national anthem starting in 2016. 

Of course, momentous plays were made throughout the decade, including the 99-yard touchdown run by Derrick Henry (the running back for the Tennessee Titans) which made for the longest touchdown run in NFL history. New York Giants’ receiver Odell Beckham Jr.'s one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys made for a shocking play, spurring middle schoolers around the country to yell “Odell” every time they attempted difficult catches for years afterwards. Beckham Jr. continued to make incredible catches throughout the rest of the decade. 

 

Swimming

Hey, it may not be the most popular sport to watch, but who doesn’t know Michael Phelps? As one of the most dominant and greatest athletes of all time and the most decorated Olympian athlete by far, Phelps has done it all. To top it off, in 2016, he swam his way out of retirement to get 5 gold medals and 1 silver one last time at the Rio Olympics. 

When his career ended, he finished with 23 gold medals, three silver and two bronze in the Olympics alone. For context, that means he has won more medals alone in swimming than 160 countries have in total. Across all major swimming competitions he’s taken part in, such as the Pan Pacifics and the World Championships, Michael Phelps has accumulated 83 medals: 65 gold, 14 silver and 3 bronze. 

It’s no surprise that this legend is often in the conversation for the greatest athlete of all time.

 

Combat Sports

Boxing has seen a sudden resurgence this past decade, especially the heavyweight division. Following the Klitschko brothers’ fall, the heavyweight division saw the rise of Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua, and Tyson Fury. Once considered a boring and rather obscure weight class, the division regained popularity.

70 pounds lighter, the lightweight division saw some of the greatest boxing the world has ever seen, particularly in Floyd Mayweather Jr. He’s arguably the greatest boxer of all time, with a stunning record of 50-0, and one scratch. Steaming past the era’s greatest competition, from Pacquiao to Maidana, Mayweather may not be the best person outside the ring, but his grasp of the sport and his absolute dominance puts him leagues above everyone else. Every fight of his was a highlight, a masterclass of defense and precise striking.

On the non-boxing side of things, The UFC saw the rise of middleweight Israel Adesanya, an elite undefeated kickboxer and arguably the best striker in the sport. Voted fighter of the year in 2020, Adesanya has steamed through all of his competition. Better yet, he’s a Naruto fan.

But as great as Adesanya is, he can’t quite match up to Khabib Nurmagamedov’s absolute dominance in the sport. 27 wins, 0 losses, all done without a single cut or close fight. After the death of his father, Nurmagamedov retired this year as arguably the greatest UFC fighter of all time, right next to Jon Jones. And let’s not forget how deliberately he crushed Conor McGregor (which set UFC pay per view records).

 

Soccer

There were two FIFA World Cups in the decade, each of which revealed new stars. In 2014, the German national team dominated, with a masterful lineup including Thomas Müller, Mats Humels, Andre Schurrle and game-saving goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Müller’s hat-trick against Portugal (not seen in a World Cup game since 2002) and six goals in the final four games of the World Cup pushed him to win the Silver Ball and Silver Boot, while establishing him as a player to watch out for. 

FIFA 2018 was the World Cup of France and Kylian Mbappe, the 19-year-old prodigy. Though young, Mbappe’s potential shone when he became the second teenager to score in a World Cup Final following Pele in 1958. 

In the Premier League, Mohamed Salah made his mark in the 2017- 2018 season, where he scored a record-breaking 32 goals in 36 appearances. Although Salah’s team of Liverpool only came 4th in the league, Salah himself took the spotlight.

Of course, consistent athletes continued to make their name known throughout the decade. Sergio Aguero’s league-winning goal in 2012 was unforgettable for two reasons — the circumstances of the goal itself, of course, but also the commentator’s call of “AGUEROOOOO” which continues to ring in fans’ heads today. 

Although men’s soccer had their iconic moments, the US women’s team continued to fight both on the field and off. Sweeping through one world cup after the next, the women’s team was practically unstoppable, with Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe leading the team. Their equal pay fight dominated sports news as well, as the iconic team fought to be paid the same way as the (inferior) US men’s team. 

 

An ending note

The past decade may have started terribly, with the United States just coming out of the Great Recession, and ended on an even worse note with the COVID-19 pandemic. But in the years in between, some athletes made their names ones we will continue to remember for decades. 

 

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