Chicago’s purge of ‘the curse’ tops 2016

Cubs’ World Series ti­tle edges Ali’s death and Cavs as AP’s story of year

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By ASSOCIATED PRESS

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-

Score­board

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.”

AP FILE

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.

AP FILE

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.

AP FILE

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.

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