Chicago’s purge of ‘the curse’ tops 2016
Cubs’ World Series title edges Ali’s death and Cavs as AP’s story of year
Everything changed for the Chicago Cubs on a rainy November night. A centuryplus worth of heartache washed away by a wave of pure joy.
There were hugs, cheers and tears — and bottles and bottles of booze, sprayed everywhere from Cleveland to the shadow of Wrigley Field.
Lovable losers no more. The story of so many lifetimes was Associated Press’ Sports Story of the Year.
“The burden’s been lifted,” said manager Joe Maddon after the Clubs banished the famed billy goat curse.
The Cubs’ first World Series title since 1908 was the runaway winner for 2016’s top sports story, collecting 48 of 59 first-place votes and 549 points in balloting by AP members and editors.
The death of Muhammad Ali after a long battle with Parkinson’s was second with 427 points while LeBron James leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the franchise’s first NBA title took third with 425 points.
It was a year that seemed to be more about what we lost (Ali, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, Pat Summitt, Jose Fernandez and the plane crash that killed most of the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense) than the winners on the field.
However, the Cubs provided a feel-good moment that warmed at least Chicago’s north side well into the city’s notoriously brutal winter.
They drew huge ratings throughout the playoffs, with millions watching across North America and beyond to see if it finally was the year. It was. “A lot of casual fans were initially drawn to the Cubs in the postseason because of the 108year drought and the curse narrative,” said club president Theo Epstein.
“But when they tuned in, they saw a talented team full of young, exciting players who are also team-first, high-character people.”
As baseball stories go, the 2016 Cubs had it all. One last stand for David Ross, a retir-
ing catcher who became a key figure in the clubhouse. Loads of bright young stars, with Kris Bryant turning in an MVP performance. An eccentric personality in Maddon, who cemented his status as one of the game’s best managers.
There was history, for the franchise and for Epstein, who helped end Boston’s decadeslong championship drought as GM of the Red Sox in 2004.
An epic finish only added to the luster of Chicago’s third championship.
The Cubs dropped three of the first four games in the World Series against the Indians, then rallied to force Game 7 in Cleveland.
After Chicago blew a 6-3 lead in the finale, outfielder Jason Heyward got his teammates together during a rain delay before the 10th. The Cubs caught their breath and notched an 8-7 victory that will live on in Wrigleyville bars for years to come.
“The players-only meeting during the rain delay was emblematic of this team,” Epstein said. “Instead of lamenting the blown lead or pointing fingers, the players rallied around one another and picked each other up.”
Ali was mourned all over the world after his death on June 3, aged 74.
US president Barack Obama called the three-time world heavyweight champion’s wife, Lonnie, to express his condolences, and a public memorial in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, drew celebrities, athletes and politicians.
“He was a tremendous bolt of lightning, created by Mother Nature out of thin air, a fantastic combination of power and beauty,” said longtime friend, comedian Billy Crystal said.
Cavaliers captain James called Ali “the first icon”, and announced last month he will donate $2.5 million to support a museum exhibit honoring the ring icon. He is also producing a documentary on Ali for US network HBO.
It was quite a year for James, who powered Cleveland to its own comeback from a 3-1 deficit against Golden State for the city’s first major professional sports championship since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964.
The 31-year-old superstar tried to cheer the Indians to a second title for Cleveland, but the Tribe fell just short.
A day after Game 7 of the World Series, a hungover and hungry crew of Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and a couple friends were back at Wrigley Field when they decided to get something to eat. The main dish was fitting.
“We enjoyed some warm goat and cold beer,” Epstein said.
“It was a nice way to celebrate and flush the whole curse narrative once and for all.”
Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs isn’t letting go of the MLB World Series trophy after his team beat the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game 7 on Nov 2 to end their 108-year wait for baseball’s top prize. Infielder Bryant was instrumental in the success and was later named the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
Cleveland Cavaliers captain LeBron James celebrates with teammates after defeating the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on June 19 in Oakland, California. It was quite a year for James, who sparked the Cavs to overturn a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors to win the Ohio city’s first major pro sports championship since 1964.
Muhammad Ali warms up for one of the defining fights of his legendary career – his third meeting with Joe Frazier in the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ in 1975. The 74-year-old Ali was mourned all over the world after his death from Parkinson’s on June 3.