On Tuesday night, the NBA will begin its 75th season with the Milwaukee Bucks opening their title defense against the Brooklyn Nets in a rematch of last season's thrilling playoff series. It's fitting that this will be the first matchup in a season expected to have many teams contend for a championship. Over in the East, all eyes will be on the Bucks and Nets while the door is wide open for any team to contend in the West.
Regular Season Awards:
MVP - Luka Dončić
Defensive Player of the Year - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Rookie of the Year - Cade Cunningham
Sixth Man of the Year - Derrick Rose
Most Improved Player - Micheal Porter Jr.
Coach of the Year - Michael Malone
Eastern Conference Western Conference
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4
#8 Bulls 0 #8 Grizzlies 1
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4
#4 Hawks 1 #4 Jazz 3
#4 Hawks 4 #4 Jazz 4
#5 Heat 3 #5 Clippers 1
#1 Bucks 2 #2 Nets 4 #1 Suns 1
#2 Nets 4 #3 Nuggets 1 #3 Nuggets 4
#3 Knicks 4 #3 Nuggets 4
#6 Celtics 1 #6 Warriors 1
#2 Nets 4 #2 Lakers 2
#3 Knicks 2 #3 Nuggets 4
#2 Nets 4 #2 Lakers 4
#7 Sixers 1 #7 Mavericks 2
If there's one takeaway from this year's NBA playoffs, it would be the increased use of the midrange shot. Despised in the world of analytics as an outdated shot, it's important value was evident this postseason. Players such as Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Khris Middleton took and made these shots.
When the Golden State Warriors were at their peak, they showed how valuable the three point shot can be, prompting everyone from guards to centers to add that shot to their arsenal. As a result midrange shots became a shot that players were advised not to shoot. During Mike D'Antoni's tenure in Houston, any player on the Rockets that didn't shoot a layup or three pointer on a possession would be called out during film sessions. The only player that still took these shots was Carmelo Anthony and while he still made those shots, teams despised it so much that he went a year unsigned. However, the Portland Trail Blazers picked him up in November, 2019 and he is once again proving how valuable it is to have a midrange shot.
In this year's playoffs, Anthony wasn't the only player knocking down midrange jumpers. The teams that won the most in the playoffs had guys that could knock down crucial midrange shots. The Brooklyn Nets had Kevin Durant who despite being the only healthy player out of their big three, literally knocked down midrange shots at will. Durant gave the Celtics nightmares in the first round and nearly eliminated the Bucks single handedly. Overall, he shot an incredible 59% on all midrange shots during the playoffs.
Devin Booker and Chris Paul feasted on midrange shots throughout the postseason while guiding the Suns to their first Finals appearance since 1993. Paul always had the ability to knock down midrange shots, connecting on 52% off those jumpers. But it was Booker who's midrange game took a jump. In his three best games of the playoffs (game 6 WCQF, game 1 WCF, and game 4 Finals), Booker shot an efficent 24/44 off midrange jump shots.
Although he missed the end of the semifinals and all of the conference finals due to an injury, Kawhi Leonard still had a terrific postseason. He helped the Clippers rally from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 against the Mavericks before putting them in a position to beat Utah. In the eleven games before the injury, Leonard was efficent from the midrange shooting 62%.
The Milwaukee Bucks won the championship mainly because of Giannis Antetokounmpo's heroics, but Khris Middleton also played an important role in their run. He established himself as one of the more clutch players of the playoffs hitting big shots on many occasions: his game winner against the Heat, a turnaround putting Milwaukee ahead for good in game 7 against Brooklyn, shots down the stretch to cap a 40 point Finals performance, and a fallaway to dash any hopes of a Suns comeback in game six.
In the regular season, teams never play defense as intense compared to the postseason where a midrange shot can be a useful weapon against tight defense. People who watched the NBA playoffs were reintroduced to the midrange shot. While the heavy use of analytics diminished its value, this shot was reborn during the playoffs. Expect an increased usage of these types of shots next season.
It has been over a week into the NBA transaction period and the offseason has already been wild. Many teams have already been active in the market whether it's through trades or free agent signings. And while there are still high profile moves that might take place, here are my four teams that improved this offseason.
After an offseason that backfired in their quest to repeat as champions, the Lakers decided to go in a different direction: trade Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and a first round pick to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been one of the top point guards in the league for a long time thanks to his athleticism and playmaking ability. He's the all time leader in career triple doubles. His decision making is another story. He has the tendency to force shots or passes in the closing moments. These flaws can be avoided if Westbrook would be willing to defer to a guy like LeBron James or even Anthony Davis in crucial moments down the stretch. If he does this, he could finally win his first championship In addition, they signed another future hall of famer in Carmelo Anthony. While Anthony might not be the dominating scorer he once was, he's still a reliable asset who remains dependable in clutch situations. The only question about this team will be their age. They have a record five players 35 or older on an NBA roster, which could catch up later in the season. Nonetheless, any team led by LeBron has a chance to win it all and this is one of the more talented rosters he's been a part of.
The Heat went into the 2020-2021 with high hopes after a surprising run to the Finals in the previous year. However, they had a down year and were swept in the first round by the eventual champion Bucks. Going into this offseason, they wasted no time taking advantage of the available cap room they had. They signed P.J. Tucker who's a rugged defender and solid three point shooter for only $17 million, but their big move was signing all star point guard Kyle Lowry from the Raptors via a sign and trade. While he lost a step last season Lowry is still a stellar floor general who can create his own shots and set up his teammates. On the defensive end, Lowry's a scrappy defender who puts his body on the line and should form a tough defensive backcourt with Jimmy Butler. Speaking of Butler, Miami awarded him with a $184 million contract extension along with a five year $90 million extension to Duncan Robinson. While both were key contributors in their run to the Finals, Butler will be 32 years old going into next season and Robinson, while an excellent 3-point shooter, isn't a great defender or passer so it will be interesting to see how both deals work out.
Following a season in which the Knicks made their first playoff appearance in eight years, many wondered if they would be able to re-sign some of the upcoming free agents who got them in that position. When free agency began, they wasted no timing re-signing Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Derrick Rose. Bringing back Rose in particular was a smart move since there were other teams who recognized his value and wanted to sign him. While they did lose Reggie Bullock, their short term replacement is Evan Fournier who can score in off the dribble and from three. He's not as good a defender as Bullock is but that could be improved under Tom Thibodeau. They also acquired Kemba Walker after he reached a buyout with the Thunder. Although Walker was clearly not 100% last season, he's usually one of the more crafty point guards in the league and is a good fit for the Knicks since he stabilizes their point guard rotation going into this season. Finally, they extended their best player Julius Randle for four years and $117 million. Although Randle had a subpar postseason, he helped get them there and he's worth every penny. In fact, Randle actually took less money to allow the team to improve other areas of the roster.
The Bulls entered the offseason with money to spend on improving their roster and wasted no time in doing so. They added two skilled perimeter players in DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball via sign and trade. While they already have a talented scorer in shooting guard Zach LaVine, Ball and DeRozan both bring useful skillsets to the table. Ball is a strong defender who's averaged over one steal each year of his career. On offense, he brings playmaking to the Bulls. His scoring has slowly progressed, but his passing will most likely be the difference. Since entering the league, Ball has had 40 games with 10 or more assists; thirteen more games than anyone on the Bulls roster combined throughout that span. DeRozan might not be the player he was with the Raptors, but he's still a solid player. He converted 49.5% of his shots and averaged a career high seven assists. How he'll fit next to LaVine is going to be interesting given that they play the same position and still need time to develop chemistry.
These are the moves that I believe will pay the most dividends this upcoming season. As mentioned earlier, the offseason isn't over yet and there might be major moves in the making as we speak. However, these teams that I mentioned have had the best off-seasons and fans should feel good about their situation.
,The Atlanta Hawks were up by three points in the final minutes of game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons caught a pass on the block and had the chance for a wide open dunk, only to pass it to Matisse Thybulle who got fouled. Thybulle, a 44% shooter from the foul line, went one of two and the 76ers would later lose the game and the series. As soon as the series ended, extensive criticism was aimed at Simmons who will be a big question mark for the team's future.
Ben Simmons is a very unique basketball player. At 6′ 11, he can bring the ball up court and run in offense, something that only Giannis Antetokounmpo can also do at that height. Simmons is also a great ball handler and is able to set up teammates in transition. On the defensive end, Simmons' long wingspan has made him a menace. He can defend different positions on the court and it shows in his accolades of back-to-back First Team All Defense selections. The one weakness in his game is his shooting, particularly from three, which is an important skill to have in today's game.
While Simmons can hide these problems in the regular season, they make him vulnerable in the playoffs. Come postseason time, teams will look to attack a player's weakness, and this was never more evident than in this year's playoffs. In the first round, the 76ers dispatched the Washington Wizards in five games, but in Washington's game 4 victory, they were able to expose Simmons' free throw problems by hacking him down the stretch. Although Philadelphia won the series, Simmons had lost his aggressiveness. Against the tougher Atlanta Hawks in the semifinals, Simmons would only score a combined 19 points in the final three games. His passed up dunk in game 7 perfectly represents his reluctance to attack the basket in fear of shooting free throws.
Although coach Doc Rivers noted that the team has a plan to improve Simmons' shooting, it might be too little too late. A 76ers fan and close friend of mine in Philadelphia recently gave me his perspective on the situation: he believes that time is up. As good a regular season player as Simmons is, he is very easy to out-coach during the playoffs. When asked about trade possibilities, he believes it's worth trading Simmons because for one, they could acquire a talented perimeter player such as CJ McCollum or Damien Lillard. In addition, they can get rid of Simmons' big contract to add other pieces around Joel Embiid. Simmons may be a highly talented player, but his shooting struggles are too much to overcome in order to win a championship.
If game 7 turns out to be Simmons' last game as a 76er it would symbolize a complicated tenure for Simmons. While his unique play style put the 76ers in a position to succeed, it also resulted in many playoff disappointments. Don't be surprised if that game turned out to be his final one.
At 26 years old, he's had all the accomplishments an NBA player can dream of. Giannis Antetokounmpo has gone from selling CDs as a kid on the streets in his hometown Athens, Greece, to winning a championship. He's a representation of the American Dream that goes beyond the sport of basketball. On Tuesday night, he and his team overcame previous playoff disappointments by defeating the Phoenix Suns in four straight games after losing the first two.
Leading up to the Finals against the Phoenix Suns, people didn't even know if Giannis would play. He suffered what appeared to be a painful knee injury in game four of the Conference Finals against the Hawks and it looked like he would miss the beginning of the series. However, Giannis suited up for game one and played pretty well during the first two games, but the Bucks faced an 0-2 deficit. When the series shifted to Milwaukee they tied up the series sealed after Giannis delivered one of the best blocks in finals history to preserve the Bucks lead at the end of game four. The Bucks then proceeded to steal home court advantage in game five by fighting off a late Suns rally, and in game six, it was clear Giannis wasn't going to let this series head back to Phoenix right from the jump. On offense, he scored at will every time, whether it was layups, dunks, his new-found turnaround and even free throws. On defense he intimidated every shooter on the Suns, and would end up blocking five shots. His final stat line: 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks.
Loyalty played a big part in Giannis' journey toward a championship. Many people wondered why Giannis wanted to continue playing in a city that didn't have the celebrity lifestyle compared to New York City or Los Angeles. Yet he believed he owed a championship to the Bucks as well as the city of Milwaukee for taking a chance on him when he was just 18 years old. After every loss, he would take criticism and improve his game. Early in the finals when he was asked if the fans are are affecting his free throw shooting, Giannis acknowledged that was the case and vowed to improve his focus on making the free throw. This became a strength toward the end of the series, as Giannis went 17-19 in game six. Most players would've tried to avoid such a question concerning a flaw in their game. Finally, he fully established himself as a closer during this playoffs. With home court advantage on their side against Phoenix, Giannis delivered one of the greatest closeout performances of all time. His 50 points are tied for the most ever in a closeout game.
If there's anything that can be taken away from Giannis' playoff run, it's that you don't have to play in a marquee city to win a championship. You can play in a small market in the midwest and still be successful. Giannis proved that you don't have to chase super teams in order to win a championship. Guys like Kevin Durant and James Harden chose to create super teams in hopes of winning a championship and while the results have been mixed, Giannis won the hard way. He had a pretty good roster of Kris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Brook Lopez, but not the roster compared to the Nets. You can say injuries prevented other teams from advancing but that is part of the game. The attention Phoenix paid to Giannis helped him to get the best out of his teammates in the Finals. Whether it was Middleton's 40 point outing in game four, Holiday's clutch steal in game five, or even Bobby Portis' 16 points in the closer, you could see the Giannis effect during those last four games.
If Giannis wasn't already one of the greatest stories in all of sports, he certainly is now, To win a championship after years of falling short with the same team is super impressive given the fact that most players would've left had they been in Giannis' situation. Even if he never wins another ring, this year's championship will always be remembered for what Giannis accomplished.
It seems hard to imagine that there are only four NBA teams left standing. The energy in Madison Square Garden, along with the first round performances of Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, and Jayson Tatum seem like a year ago. But there are now four teams remaining in the playoffs with the best chance of breaking their championship drought.
Despite spending plenty of money this offseason, the Hawks found themselves six games under .500 entering all-star break. They decided to cut ties with coach Lloyd Pierce and promoted Nate McMillan to head coach. After that, the Hawks finished the season 27-11 clinching the fifth seed. They defeated the Knicks in five games thanks to the heroics (and foul hunting) of Trae Young. But perhaps more impressive was their second round series against the 76ers where they won game seven on the road. Young's last second winner in game 1 against the Knicks, has set the tone for a postseason in which he's averaged 29 points and 10 assists. McMillian also deserves a ton of credit for turning around Atlanta's season. With their confidence sky high, there's a real possibility they might sneak into the Finals.
Once again, the Bucks had another impressive regular season finishing as the third seed, but appeared to have a difficult journey as they opened the playoffs against a familiar Miami Heat team that defeated them in five games last year. The Bucks convincingly swept the Heat after nearly blowing game one. In the semifinals against the Brooklyn Nets, the Bucks overcame deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to win in seven hard fought games despite Kevin Durant's brilliance. Giannis Antetokounmpo's stepped up in a big way, scoring 40 points in the deciding game through smart decision making. Moving forward, he should stay in the post because Milwaukee's offense is more efficent that way. They should also run more plays for guys such as Jrue Holiday and Kris Middleton, to get more involved in the offense. If the Bucks want to get over the hump, this is their recipe.
In November, the Suns boosted their playoff chances by acquiring future hall of famer Chris Paul. With an already promising core of Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, and Miles Bridges, this proved to be the missing piece they needed as Phoenix won 51 games during the regular season. Their first playoff opponent in 11 years were the defending champion Lakers who were favored by some (including myself) to win. They came back from a 2-1 deficit, winning the next three games with Booker capping the series with a 47 point masterpiece. They then followed this with a sweep of the Denver Nuggets to advance to the conference finals. Currently, they are up 1-0 thanks to Booker's 40 point triple double. Booker has balled out in his first postseason appearance, even though Paul hasn't been healthy throughout this postseason. With a healthy Paul, I think Phoenix has the best chance of winning their first championship.
Los Angeles Clippers:
It's crazy that the Clippers are finally in the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history after years of blown leads. It seemed like it would be another failure as they fell behind 2-0 to the Mavericks in the first round. Led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they overcome that deficit as well as a 3-2 lead to defeat them in seven thrilling games. Against the top seeded Jazz, they once again tied the series at two games apiece after falling 2-0. George changed the course of the series, with signature performance despite no Leonard to send the series back to L.A. up 3-2. The Clippers capitalized on this opportunity to win the series. Right now, they are down 1-0 to the Suns and must grab home court advantage by winning game two. Leonard's health is still a question mark and it's possible he'll rest of the playoffs with an ACL injury.
My Updated Predictions:
In the Eastern Conference Finals, I'm picking the Bucks to defeat the Hawks. Atlanta is coming into the series with supreme confidence, but if the Bucks play Giannis in the post, and run plays through Middleton and Holiday, they should win the series. Holiday can also be counted upon to shut down Young. Holiday is one of the better perimeter defenders and he'll be everything the Bucks invested in him if he shows up. However, Atlanta's offense is more efficent and with their improvement on the defensive end, Giannis could be headed home again.
As for the Western Conference, the Suns will probably win the series if they win today. The Suns have played exceptionally well together from a coaching to a playing standpoint and it has shown in their play. The Clippers can't be counted out after what they've done, but they must win game two to prevent Paul from returning with the Suns up 2-0. If the Clippers lose, it's difficult to envision a comeback, which is why this upcoming game has major implications on the outcome of this series. That being said, I think Phoenix wins this game as well as the series.
If the Bucks and Suns face off in the Finals, it's going to come down to who's the better coach. Both teams have talented rosters and defend the basket well. However, Mike Budenholzer hasn't seemed to unlock the Bucks offense while Monty Williams has the Suns offense playing extremely well. Therefore, Phoenix wins their first NBA championship.
Last Wednesday, the Knicks' dream season came to an unfortunate end against the Hawks in game 5 of the first round in the NBA playoffs. As tough as it was, the team gave fans a reason to smile for the first time in years. They went from being one of the worst teams in the league over the last five years, to winning more games this season than the last two combined. Let's look at how successful their season has been.
Despite the praise the Knicks received for hiring head coach Tom Thibodeau, expectations were low to begin the season. It looked like the losing would continue when the Knicks lost their first two games. But then they showed signs of what was to come with a stunning blowout over the Milwaukee Buck, which set the tone the season. Every game, the Knicks looked like they might've peaked, only to prove fans wrong and go on another winning stretch. In early April however, it seemed as though their magic was out after losing five out of six games. But like earlier in the season, New York wasn't done yet and proceeded to go on an amazing nine game winning streak. Even after their streak ended, they ended the season on an impressive note, winning three straight games to clinch the fourth seed before Atlanta ended the dream.
There are many people who deserve a ton of credit for the Knicks' success, starting with president Leon Rose. He made some smart, low-profile free agent signings, such as Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel, that significantly helped the team. Trading draft bust Dennis Smith Jr. as well as a second round pick for Derrick Rose was another fantastic move that brought more scoring and leadership to the team. His best move however, was hiring this season's Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, the primary reason for New York's success. Night in and night out, Thibodeau always got the Knicks to play hard through working together on offense and defense. Their defensive in particular was amazing all season because all five players worked together to stop their opponents rather than one guy making a defense better. It's why they were the number one defense in points allowed. Thibodeau also got the best out of his players, most notably Julius Randle. After a rocky first season with the Knicks, Randle responded by leading the team in points, rebounds, and assists. He was rewarded with his first career all star appearance and the Most Improved Player award. RJ Barrett became a more polished player in his sophomore season, upping his scoring average from 14 to 17, while improving his shooting percentage from 32 to 40. Derrick Rose was a great midseason acquisition who gelled immediately and added more scoring. Other players were key contributors such as Noel, Burks, Immanuel Quickly, and Reggie Bullock.
As for the team's future, they don't have to rely on the draft lottery anymore. They have two first round draft picks, and with Quickley looking like a reliable scorer, fans can trust management to draft wisely. In addition they have lots of cap room to sign free agents. While most upcoming free agents have been extended by their teams, there are still some available free agents such as Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley, and Demar Derozan who could make a difference.. They should especially be interested in signing with the Knicks after the Garden crowd was rocking in every home playoff game. The Knicks can also use the money they have to bring back Rose, Noel, Burks, and Bullock among others. Giving Julius Randle an extension is another important priority. While they don't have to rush it, and his play fell off in the playoffs, he deserves the money for getting the Knicks in that position to begin with. The only exception might be giving him the max, but any other deal would work for both sides. Randle has previously said that he wants to stay in New York so there seems to be little obstacles in the way.
Although the Knicks season came to an end, this teams has a lot to be proud of. They finally look like a competitive team with players who play for one another, and got more out of this season than anyone could've thought. Fans have also taken notice and are excited to watch a good team for the first time in awhile, with celebrities such as Spike Lee. Fat Joe, Tracy Morgan, and Chris Rock filling the front rows. Although the Knicks didn't win a playoff series, the fact that some people predicted they'd win says a lot about their season. This team was fun to watch and more importantly, they have the foundation to be a great team.
This NBA season has seen a drastic change in the standings compared to last year. Teams who have missed the playoffs for years, but are back in the mix include the Knicks, Suns, and Hawks. The return of fans after last year's hiatus, also adds to the excitement of this postseason.
Eastern Conference: Western Conference:
#1 76ers 4 #1 Jazz 4
#8 Wizards 1 #8 Grizzlies 1
#1 76ers 4 #1 Jazz 4
#4 Knicks 2 #4 Clippers 3
#4 Knicks 4 #4 Clippers 4
#5 Hawks 1 #5 Mavericks 1
#1 76ers 2 #3 Bucks 4 #1 Jazz 4
#3 Bucks 4. #1 Jazz 2 #6 Lakers 2
#3 Bucks 4 #3 Nuggets 2
#6 Heat 2 #6 Blazers 4
#2 Nets 3 #6 Blazers 4
#3 Bucks 4 #7 Lakers 3
#2 Nets 4 #2 Suns 2
#7 Celtics 0 #7 Lakers 4
This year has been a exciting surprise for Knicks fans, as the team finally holds a strong spot in the standings. One of the main contributors toward their success is Immanuel Quickley who should be mentioned among league's top rookies. Despite being drafted at 25, he is a big reason why the Knicks are in this stellar position, and here's how he got them there.
Quickley is already good at running the floor in the early stages of his career. He knows how to set his teammates up for assists or make the pass toward an assist. Perhaps the most impressive skill he has, is his ability to get in front of his man. He usually puts some kind of move on his opponent and once Quickey gets a step, he getting back in front of him by putting putting his on his hip pocket. By doing that, Quickley has the option to kick it out, which he's not bad at doing, but he's better at drawing the foul or shooting his floater. In addition, Quickley runs the pick and roll better than most guards. That's when his passing is at its best. https://www.instagram.com/p/CKKLt3PHHly/ utm_source=ig_web_copy_link. His kind of play style has been a major reason why he's one of the top rookies.
When it comes to scoring, Quickley can get the job done in numerous ways. His floater game is his bread and butter. As previously mentioned, Quickley will usually rely on his floater once he gets in front of his man, which is something he has practically perfected only four months into his career. https://twitter.com/sny_knicks/status/1355951688159526913?s=20. He also knows how to get to the foul line. When it comes to shooting free throws, he's money foul line, demonstrated by his 89% free throw shooting. Quickley's outside shooting is also a strong aspect of his game thanks to his respectable three-point shooting. He can shoot off the catch or create for himself as shown below. https://twitter.com/MikeVorkunov/status/1374516153544962060?s=20.
On top of that Quickley sometimes gets the defender jumping and then drive where to the basket where he can use his floater.
Quickley's game is resulted in a significant amount of production on the offensive end for a team that mainly wins through defense. He averages 12 points in only 20 minutes. His three point shooting is respectable and hovers just under 40%. Per 36 minutes, his stats jump up to 23 points and 4 assists, which is really impressive for a rookie drafted late in the first round. His play has earned the respect of peers such as Lou Williams and Paul George following a 26 point performance against one of the league's toughest defenses. Perhaps the greatest thing to come out of Quickley's season, is the fact that the Knicks are in the fifth seed as one of the league's most surprising teams.
Whether or not the Knicks will be able to persevere through the second half of the season, Quickley has established himself as a fan favorite through his positive energy. He has already had a terrific start to his career and should only go up from here.
This year was filled with uncertainty that extended to the world of sports. It started during March, when all of sports shut down due to concerns over COVID-19. Then, social unrest began to erupt prompting many athletes to stand up not just for themselves, but in support of others. Sports eventually resumed but that didn't stop notable sports figures from meeting these challenges head on. Here are some notable people who made a big influence in the sports world.
1. LeBron James
On the court, LeBron James made his mark. After being derailed by injuries last year, he put up MVP numbers, led the Los Angeles Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference, and won his fourth NBA championship as well as Finals MVP. When James retires, this will be remembered as one of his most impressive seasons. To maintain the same skills and still have a winning effect on his team in his mid 30s is really amazing. James has almost made as big an impact off the court as he has on the court. He spoke out on police brutality through social media and during press conferences in the bubble. This included a video in which he concludes, "This is why we can't just stick to sports. Do you understand now?" In addition, he launched a website More Than a Vote, which focuses on giving Black people access to voting. By the time of the election, James had successfully prevented many people from having their voices suppressed, Last month, James's efforts of social activism were rewarded with the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, and the Time's Magazine Athlete of the Year.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Throughout his career, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar established himself as one of the most dominant big men in NBA history. His accolades include a record six MVP awards, the most career points at 38,387, and six championships. Along with his success, he is one of the first basketball players to speak out against social issues. Last July, he delivered a powerful message on the fight for social justice in an edition of the NBA on TNT. He reflected on the turning point toward using his voice when he, along with other athletes, supported Muhammed Ali's refusal to fight in Vietnam. During the video, he stated "To witness Ali's unwavering integrity even as the government spent years trying to destroy him was a turning point for me. How could I do any less? How can any American do any less? How can any American athlete do any less?" That same month, Kareem also cited the importance of fighting against other forms of discrimination amid the Black Lives Matter movement such as anti-Semitism. Although his playing days are long passed, his voice is still as important as it was over 50 years ago.
3. Patrick Mahomes
Despite only having three full seasons under his belt, with two as a starter, Patrick Mahomes is already on top of the football world. He has already become the fastest quarterback to reach over 10,000 career passing yards, as well as over 100 touchdown passes which took him only 44 games to surpass that milestone. Earlier in February, Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to their first Super Bowl championship in 50 years, in a game where he led what turned out to be the game winning drive. After the game, he was announced as the Super Bowl MVP, the youngest to ever win the award. When it has come to social justice, Mahomes has put his accolades to the side and has been an advocate. In June, he participated in a Black Lives Matter video with fellow athletes, pushing the NFL to publicly condemn racism. He was also one of the high-profile athletes to join James' More than a Vote campaign. A month later, Mahomes signed the richest contract extension of any athlete at over $500 million. With the Chiefs currently aiming toward another Super Bowl, Mahomes is slowly becoming an icon.
4. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
For his first six seasons, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was a regular starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. Like Mahomes, he won his first Super Bowl with the Chiefs in February. However, it was off the field where Duvernay-Tardif wanted to make an impact. During July, he became the first NFL player to opt out of the season because of COVID-19. Duvernay-Tardif wanted to join the front lines in the fight against the virus. He did this by working long term at a healthcare facility in his native hometown of Montreal. Weeks ago, Duvernay-Tardif's impact was recognized by Sports Illustrated who named him as one of their Sportspeople of the Year. In addition, he was awarded the Lou Marsh trophy, which is given to the top Canadian athlete every year. This is well deserved for Duvernay-Tardif, who decided to give up football for a year to help prevent COVID-19 off the field.
This was a year that presented different challenges beyond sports. From COVID-19, to the fight for social justice for Blacks, there has been a lot of uncertainty and unrest in the world. Everyone has taken on these challenges in their respective ways. These current and former athletes not only faced these problems, but have done so in a way that should continue to inspire people into the new year.