NFL players sparked controversy by protesting during the national anthem, the Warriors won the NBA championship with newcomer Kevin Durant and the Houston Astros raised the spirits of a devastated city by winning their first World Series. But all of that is so 2017.
As you reflect on the expiring year, I invite you to look forward as well. Here are the top 10 national and Bay Area sports stories of 2018:
10. MORE CONTROVERSY OVER BASEBALLS
Major League Baseball power numbers continue to explode in 2018 as virtually every team establishes a franchise mark for home runs. “It’s what the fans want, so let’s just roll with it,” Giants second baseman Joe Panik says en route to a career-best 48 dingers.
Not everyone is happy with the development, though. A record number of pitchers head to the disabled list with blisters on their fingers, blaming the raised seams on ever-harder baseballs. Several throwers have fingertips amputated during the season. The situation reaches a crisis in Game 6 of the World Series, when Clayton Kershaw takes the mound for the Dodgers in the ninth inning with what looks like a bloody squid at the end of his left arm.
9. FBI’S PROBE INTO NCAA BASKETBALL DEEPENS
Back in September of 2017, the feds had announced a sweeping investigation that resulted in several indictments and ultimately triggered the firing of legendary Louisville coach Rick Pitino. But the fun was just beginning.
If you found it shocking that shoe companies were sneaking money to NCAA hoops programs and the families of recruits, 2018 brings additional bombshells. The FBI’s ongoing probe reveals that some basketball players take easy classes and receive hours of free tutoring, that many coaches lie when they tell parents character is more important than winning, and that nine months of college actually produce no tangible benefits to “one-and-done” players headed to the NBA.
A tearful John Calipari steps down in September after admitting that “Introduction to Weakside Defense” was never an accredited class at the University of Kentucky.
8. LAS VEGAS RESCINDS OFFER TO RAIDERS
When the Raiders take a 2-6 record into their 2018 bye week, Clark County and the city of Las Vegas abruptly pull the unprecedented public subsidy they had offered the team to move to Nevada.
“This city was built on a compulsion to win,” Clark County Commission chairman Steve Sisolak says at a press conference. “We cannot associate with losers.”
Local politicians vow to take the tax revenue that was earmarked for the Raiders and redirect it to another entity in similarly desperate need of public money; suggestions include Wal-Mart or Starbucks. The site of the proposed stadium, which has been fully prepped for construction, will instead become Hot & Heavy, the world’s largest combination strip club and 24-hour gym.
7. NBA ADDS FIRST OVERSEAS FRANCHISE
Threatened with lawsuits and a wave of bad publicity, the NBA reluctantly introduces the Prienai Big Ballers as its 31st team. Team owner/coach/doctor/trainer/PR representative LaVar Ball immediately predicts a championship for the Lithuanian club.
Led by legit point guard Lonzo Ball, struggling shooter LiAngelo Ball, 17-year-old LaMelo Ball, former NFL players Jerry Ball and Eric Ball, the grandson of Lucille Ball and several graduates of Ball State University, the Big Ballers take an 0-35 record into the new year. At his final twice-daily press conference of 2018, LaVar announces the sale of playoff tickets.
6. BOXING CONTINUES TO PUSH THE ENVELOPE
The 2017 boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and MMA fighter Conor McGregor was such a financial success that the sport works overtime to draw more nontraditional fighters to the ring. Promoters hastily set up other pay-per-view bouts that include Manny Pacquiao vs. Jon “Bones” Jones, Wladimir Klitschko vs. LeBron James and Canelo Alvarez vs. Sidney Crosby.
The trend peaks in August when Oakland’s Andre Ward agrees to come out of retirement to fight an orangutan at Caesar’s Palace.
5. SPORTS UNDO TRUMP
The nation is roiled by political unrest when the U.S. Senate votes to impeach President Donald J. Trump on Aug. 15, 2018. Trump, mired in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and stuck at around 18 percent in favorability polls, had been on shaky ground for months. But he survived it all, until initiating a dispute with 49ers savior Jimmy Garoppolo.
When Trump invites Garoppolo for a weekend of golf and shoulder rubs at one of his branded courses, the quarterback politely declines. This draws a rebuke from the president, who tweets: “Pretty Boy Jimmy G should be grateful for a chance to meet me. He’s only won 7 games! Everyone says he shapes his eyebrows. Sad!!”
A week later, Trump is driven from office.
Garoppolo, meanwhile, directs the 49ers to a 16-0 regular-season record and becomes the first player ever to throw touchdown passes right-handed and left-handed in the same game.
4. US MEN’S SOCCER TEAM IN DECLINE
It felt like rock bottom when the U.S. men were eliminated from World Cup qualifying under recycled coach Bruce Arena in 2017. It wasn’t, though. The beleaguered program suffers additional embarrassments in 2018, failing to qualify for Medicaid, a Target REDcard and mortgage refinancing at the USMNT Soccer House in Chicago.
Arena resigned shortly after his team was bounced by Trinidad and Tobago in October of 2017. He applies for unemployment benefits in 2018 but fails to qualify.
3. A’S ANNOUNCE NEW BALLPARK SITE
The Oakland Athletics bounce back from their 2017 setback at Peralta College and announce plans for a new stadium and retail development in downtown Oakland. Groundbreaking is set for sometime in 2024.
The new park is slated for property that currently includes Oakland School for the Arts, the historic Fox Theater, Oakland Ice Center and the popular restaurant Flora, among other businesses. All of them claim to know nothing about the A’s project. “No, really, it’s fine,” A’s president Dave Kaval says, honking the horn of the Korean barbecue truck he has driven to the proposed site for a pep rally.
2. WARRIORS SWEEP NBA TITLE, RELOAD FOR MORE
After giving their starters significant rest over the final three weeks of the season — Klay Thompson spends that entire period at a yoga retreat near Big Sur — the Golden State Warriors become the first NBA team to march through the postseason undefeated. They actually win the 2018 championship in 14 games after the New Orleans Pelicans forfeit Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round series, citing profound depression after consecutive 40-point blowouts.
During the summer, superstar Kevin Durant agrees to play for a stipend of $20 per game in 2018-19, allowing Golden State general manager Bob Myers the wiggle room to sign coveted free agents Paul George, Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins.
1. KAEPERNICK REMAINS UNEMPLOYED
More than a year after parting ways with the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick still is without a job. He claims to be in tip-top shape, and he posts a YouTube video in which he repeatedly throws a football through a tire from 60 yards. Yet the NFL has no room for him, despite a shortage of quarterbacks so severe that various teams offer contracts to Johnny Manziel, JaMarcus Russell and 54-year-old Vinny Testaverde.
Exasperated, Kaepernick abandons football and seeks other employment, but is rejected for positions such as movie usher, day camp counselor and a bit role as Colin Kaepernick in a movie about NFL sideline protests.
“We simply believed that Zach Galifianakis had a better look for the part,” explained the movie’s producer, Jerry Jones.
You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.