Who and What Defined Sports During the 2010s Decade

James Simpson II
Jan 22 · 13 min read
Brady, Serena and LeBron were the biggest American sports stars of the 2010s.

The 2010s decade of sports has come to a halt and the 2020s is upon all sports enthusiastics. Every decade stands out in its own way and means something different to every person, including yours truly.

For me (who lived the majority of the ’10s in my twenties), what engrossed and kept my attention the most this decade was the high consumption of quality and tremendous TV dramas, sitcoms, miniseries and documentaries viewers could consume — with some of my personal favorites being Homeland, True Detective, Snowfall, The Americans, Suits, Under The Dome, Timeless, New Girl, Black-ish, O.J.: Made in America and Sinatra: All or Nothing at All — to the new infusion of pop music (my favorite music genre) mainly by female artists/groups led by Taylor Swift, Lorde, Carly Rae Jepsen, Katy Perry, Paramore, Haim, Adele, Halsey, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey and Ariana Grande to lastly athletes that are or can make the case as the G.O.A.T. of their respective sports from Tom Brady (NFL) to Serena Williams (Women’s Tennis) to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (European Soccer) to Men’s Tennis’ Big Three (Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal) to Mike Trout (MLB) to LeBron James (NBA) to Usain Bolt (Track-and-Field sprinting) to Simone Biles (Gymnastics) to Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky (Men’s and Women’s Swimming).

So with that, here are the 10 most amazing things I saw in sports this decade.

10. UConn Women’s basketball team gets knocked out in the Final Four in back-to-back years by buzzer-beaters

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale hits a buzzer-beater to defeat UConn in the 2018 Final Four. Photo Credit- ESPN

Connecticut women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma has built a women’s hoops powerhouse in Storrs, Connecticut that has been terrorizing women’s college basketball for more than two decades now. Their dominance was on display even more this decade as UConn won four consecutive national titles from 2013–16 and amassed an NCAA record (for men’s and women’s hoops) 111-game winning streak. They headed into the 2017 Final Four against Mississippi State with a 36–0 record, as the clear favorite to win title No.5 in a row.

As a big-time follower of women’s college basketball over the years, I was plain sick of the female Huskies running roughshod over the sport in a period when the opposition’s level of talent had clearly dropped off from the late 2000s-early 2010s when Candace Parker and Tennessee, Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame, the Ogwumike sisters and Stanford, and Brittney Griner and Baylor were challenging them. It was a forgone conclusion they would win the title in 2017.

In a shocker, Mississippi State knocked out UConn in the national semifinal 66–64 in overtime by a buzzer-beater shot nailed by Morgan Williams. I went total bonkers. Then Déjà Vu happened all over again.

Same scenario played out in 2018. 36–0. Prohibitive national title favorites. In the national semifinal against Notre Dame. This time the Lady Fighting Irish’s Arike Ogunbowale played spoiler and drained a buzzer-beater jumper to down the Huskies 91–89 in another overtime thriller.

I’m not a fan of parity in sports but it was quite nice seeing the giant go down…not once, but twice.

9. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt’s G.O.A.T. Coronation at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games

Phelps and Bolt at the 2016 Olympic Games. Photo Credit- Sports Illustrated.

Prior to the 21st century, track-and-field and swimming had never seen anybody quite like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. Both men conquered over their sport, broke records along the way and enthralled fans seemingly everytime they took center stage every four years at the Summer Olympic Games.

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games would be the last for both. Going into the Olympics, Bolt and Phelps had virtually already established themselves as the best ever in their craft — Bolt (greatest sprinter) and Phelps (greatest swimmer male or female) — but they also had a chance to leave their mark as two of the greatest athletes in sports history with another timeless showing.

They did just that.

Bolt took home three gold medals and made history by becoming the first and only sprinter to win a gold medal in the 100-meter and 200-meter events at three consecutive Olympics (2008, 2012, 2016). Phelps took home five gold medals and one silver and added to his record total of 23 Olympic gold medals. When he retired after the Olympics, no other Olympian in history was (and still is) even in the double-digit department (four are tied with nine) when it comes to gold medals won.

We’ll never see anything resembling those two for sometime.

8. Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series

The Chicago Cubs celebrate their 2016 World Series victory. Photo Credit- Tween Tribune

During the middle part of this decade (circa 2014–15), there were three things I wanted to see happen in my lifetime, even if there was a slim chance:

1. Tiger Woods break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors
2. The United States Men’s Soccer team winning the World Cup
3. The Chicago Cubs finally winning a World Series

The first one could still happen. Tiger ain’t finished yet, especially after a resurgent 2019 season. The second is probably a pipe dream but a fella can dream. At least we got the USWNT killing it. The third one came true.

FINALLY the Cubbies got their hands on the World Series trophy in 2016 and broke the 108-year drought!

I couldn’t have been happier for a fanbase. They were the best team from start to finish. The World Series against the Indians was epic. The drama of that Game 7 in Cleveland was easily one of the greatest sports moments I ever witnessed.

Well done Cubs. Just don’t put fans through another 108 years before another title.

7. Serena Williams’ Supremacy over Women’s Tennis

Serena Williams at the 2019 U.S. Open. Photo Credit- Lob & Smash

Over the course of Serena Williams’ career, she can be categorized as a fashion icon, cultural icon, entertainer, entrepreneur, activist, feminist, mother, wife, controversial, celebrity and one of the most empowering sports and culture figures of this generation. But where she’s made her mark has been on the tennis court, where she has blitzed her foes one by one.

Her impact can’t be overstated enough. There was no bigger draw in women’s tennis than this woman. She stole the headlines. She transformed her sport, which few athletes throughout history have been able to do. Tennis players in their thirties usually decline. She only got better.

All in all, throughout the decade:

• 12 Grand Slam titles (the next closest player was Angelique Kerber at three)
• 37 WTA titles (most on the WTA Tour)
• Women’s Tennis Player of the Decade for a second straight decade (2000s)
• Four-time WTA Player of the Year
• Three-time AP Female Athlete of the Year
• Won the 2017 Australian Open and didn’t drop a set while eight weeks pregnant
• 236 weeks as the No.1 ranked player, including a record-tying 186 consecutive weeks at No.1
• Won an Olympic gold medal in singles at the 2012 London Games, joining Steffi Graf as the only women to complete a career Golden Slam (winning all four majors and an Olympic gold medal in singles)
• Clinched her second ‘Serena Slam’ (winning all four slams in a row) and doing it 12 years apart
• Reached at least one grand slam final every year this decade (no female or male player did that)
• Became the oldest woman in Open era to win a Grand Slam title
• Broke the Open era record held by Graf as the all-time grand slam leader, now currently at 23
• Only male or female player in history to win 10 grand slam titles or more in two different decades (2000s and 2010s)
• Named Female Athlete of the Decade by the Associated Press.

This is the decade where Serena firmly entrenched herself as one of the 10–15 best athletes (male or female) ever.

Hail to The Queen.

6. Tom Brady: From Greatest Quarterback of All-Time to Greatest Football Player of All-Time

Tom Brady fired up after winning his sixth Super Bowl title. Photo Credit- Hypebeast

Hate him or love him, there’s no denying that Tom Terrific was someone you had to pay attention to this decade. Not only is he the 2010s NFL Player of the Decade but over the course of this ten-year run, he stamped his name in football lore forever, especially for someone still killing it in his 40s.

No quarterback in the history of the sport has carved out a better career and he easily established himself as the finest postseason player and postseason quarterback of all-time surpassing Joe Montana this decade with his three Super Bowl crowns, five Super Bowl appearances, two league MVPs, two Super Bowl MVPs, eight consecutive conference championship games (NFL record), etc.

However, Brady’s G.O.A.T. status was solidified in the ‘10s.

When Brady won his fourth Super Bowl in 2014 over the Seahawks, he was arguably the best quarterback ever, right with Montana. When Brady won his record fifth Super Bowl over the Falcons in 2016, the title of “Best QB Ever” was his outright and you could make the case he was the best football player ever. When Brady won his sixth Super Bowl in 2018 over the Rams, he had officially no questions asked proved himself worthy as the “Greatest Football Player Ever.”

That’s right, over the likes of Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice, Peyton Manning, Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana.

Get over it people.

5. Finally getting the Superfights boxing fans craved for

Floyd and Manny finally stepped in the ring together in their mega fight in 2015. Photo Credit- Hypebeast

One of the best feelings as a sports fan is to be present at a mega boxing event featuring two pound-for-pound greats duking it out. Well, some long-awaiting bouts (I craved for), as well as other fight fanatics wanted this decade came into fruition.

This decade gave us:

Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez

Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquaio (The biggest fight of the decade and the fight I wanted to see more than anything)

Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev (twice)

Gennady Golovkin vs. Canelo Alvarez (twice)

Vasyl Lomachenko vs Guillermo Rigondeaux

Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder

Keith Thurman vs Danny Garcia vs Shawn Porter

Leo Santa Cruz vs Carl Frampton (twice)

Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko

Some of these matchups turned out to be memorable (Golovkin-Canelo I and II, Fury-Wilder) and some not so memorable (Mayweather-Pacquaio, Lomachenko-Rigondeaux) but the point is, boxing got these matchups.

Sometimes that’s all you can ask for.

4. NBA Superteam Era

The Miami Heat trio were the first superteam of the decade. Photo Credit- Bleacher Report

The Superteam Era didn’t begin this decade but the word “superteam” was magnified more than ever in the 2010s. Many fans loved it and many loathed the idea of superteams (three stars or more on one team) taking over the league and eliminating any chance of parity in professional basketball. The excitement, buildup and headlines created from discussions surrounding superteams only elevated the NBA and made it must-see TV for all sports lovers.

Even if you weren’t NBA fans, you were tuning in to see what all the hype was about. The 2007–08 Boston Celtics kicked off the superteam era (or maybe it was the 2004 Lakers of Kobe-Shaq-Payton-Malone) by putting together Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Then when the Miami Heat triumvirate of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh formed in the summer of 2010, led by the infamous ‘The Decision’ by James on national TV, the outlook of the league changed over the course of the next decade.

Basically every organization started developing a scheme to create their own version of a superteam. The trickle-down effect was massive.

Here were all the superteams or close to superteams the NBA had this decade after the Miami Heatles, whether they worked out or not:

2012 Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden
2013 Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
2014 Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson
2015–17 Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love
2017–19 Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green

Now the NBA is littered with super duos but don’t think be any mean franchises are done building superteams. There be back one way or another.

3. Implementation of the College Football Playoff

The College Football Playoff logo. Photo Credit- 104.3 The Fan

Well, it was about time.

College football for too long had been the one major sport/league that didn’t properly determine a champion on the field/ice/court. Since the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) was launched in 1998, the NCAA felt like it found a reasonable solution to deciding a true national champion. They came close but there was still something off about a damn computer dictating what two teams should square off in the national title game.

I mean, for the most part, every year the championship game matchups featured the two best teams or close to it. It was just the process of getting there that rubbed me and mostly every other college football supporter the wrong way.

Enter the four-team College Football Playoff in 2014 and things finally felt right. I couldn’t have been more psyched. I had been calling for a playoff since 2009 when I was in college (preferably an eight-team playoff) and the fact that the NCAA finally saw the light by creating a postseason/tournament that will rightfully pit the four best teams in the country against each other on the field made ideal sense years ago.

Now, the college football playoff is a sporting event that rivals the likes of the Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament, NBA Finals, World Series, World Cup, etc.

It was long overdue.

2. Men’s Tennis Big Three

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Quite possibly the three best men’s tennis players ever. Photo Credit- Tennis365

Novak Djokovic. Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer.

These are the three names that monopolized men’s tennis this entire decade from start to finish. When the decade started in 2010, all three were ranked 1–2–3 in the world (Federer at No.1; Nadal at No.2; Djokovic at No.3). When the 2010s ended, they were still ranked 1–2–3 (Nadal at No.1; Djokovic at No.2; Federer at No.3).

For the past 10 years (and longer), the sport has been centered around these three colossals. Three titans. Three mammoths. And the game has been better for it. Out of the 40 grand slam tournaments played in the decade, the three men won a combined 33 (Djokovic 15; Nadal 13; Federer 5).

All three, unique, fabulous and omnipresent in their own imaginative way individually but it’s collectively where they have elevated the competition and provided viewers with some of the most thrilling sports moments of this decade.

They gave us endless classics.

2010 and 2011 U.S. Open semifinals (Federer-Djokovic). 2011 French Open semifinal (Djokovic-Federer). 2012 Australian Open final (Djokovic-Nadal). 2013 French Open semifinal (Nadal-Djokovic). 2014 Wimbledon final (Federer-Djokovic). 2017 Australian Open final (Federer-Nadal). 2018 Wimbledon semifinal (Djokovic-Nadal). 2019 Wimbledon final (Djokovic-Federer).

You simply can’t tell the story of sports throughout the ’10s without mentioning the exploits of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the same sentence.

The three-way chase for title of the Greatest of All-Time will continue in the 2020s.

1. Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo Duopoly

Messi and Ronaldo going at it during the 2014–15 club season. Photo Credit- Soccer Laduma

Soccer’s Magnificent Two.

There was no greater team rivalry in sports throughout the 2010s than Real Madrid vs. Barcelona (Warriors-Cavaliers, Clemson-Alabama, Notre Dame- UConn women hoops come close) and yet, a part of what made the rivalry between the two Spanish giants so grand and exalted was the rivalry and constant debate between Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was a tug-a-war. A back-and-forth affair. Two kings duking it out for every individual and team accolade over the last ten years, in which they captured numerous honors. Best of all, was that in nine of the ten seasons this decade, they each competed in the best and strongest league in Europe in La Liga, where they went head-to-head on the field, while dazzling us all.

It was a battle for the throne of “Best Player in the World” literally every season…and it was glorious to watch.

European soccer had never witnessed anything like this before. The Messi-Ronaldo duopoly represented pure ownership, jurisdiction and reign over their sport unlike we’ve ever seen from two players before and probably never will again.

From 2010–2019, the two combined to win nine of the ten Ballon d’Or’s (Messi 5; Ronaldo 4).

I won’t dive into all their unreal stats and accomplishments this decade — believe me, it’s a ton — but just know the beautiful game of soccer was never played better in any era in history than in the one where the Portuguese and Argentine operated in.

They redefined what a footballer looks like when there operating at the peak of their powers. They reset what greatness and the unthinkable looks like season after season. Together, they rewrote the goal scoring record books in club football.

The Messi-Ronaldo individual rivalry was to the ’10s what the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning and Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry was to the 2000s; what the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird and Chris Evert-Martina Navratilova rivalry was to the 1980s; what the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier rivalry was to the 1970s and what the Willie Mays-Mickey Mantle rivalry was to the 1950s.

All those rivalries transcendented their sports and crossed over into the mainstream of the worldwide landscape of sports.

Leo and Cristiano reached those heights too. Maybe even to a higher degree.

James Simpson II

Written by

Sports Journalist, Columnist and Author. Totally dig sports, pop culture and history. https://twitter.com/JamesSimpsonII

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