Eight top sporting stories of 2008

As 48 hours remain of the year that brought us 8-8-8, here are, in my opinion, the world’s most celebrated sports stories….

8) 8-8-8: Beijing. Wasn’t it symbolic? Perfect? That their revered number “8” would be their land’s first-ever Olympics? At 8 p.m.? On the eighth day? Of the eighth month? Of the century’s eighth year? As we all look back at the 17 Olympic days, this we can conclude: No other event was bigger-spent, had a more overwhelming Opening Ceremony, and an almost flawless execution than in Beijing.

7) Boston vs. LA. Who’d have imagined such a finale to the NBA season? The Celtics-Lakers rivalry, to any sports fan, is unrivaled. And when they met for the 12th time in an NBA final, the entire basketball world was at awe. Boston won Games 1 and 2 at home. When the dribbling shifted to the Staples Center, the Lakers won Game 3. In the pivotal Game 4, LA led by 24 points—but lost; the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history. Deflated, Boston won the NBA crown in six games—it’s first title in 22 years.

6) Rafa not Roger. For much of his career, Rafael Nadal was famous for one statistic: the title, “longest-reigning No.2 in tennis history.” Not anymore. For, after Rafa demolished Roger Federer at the French Open, he beat the Swiss at Wimbledon in a match many consider one of the game’s best ever. Not finished, Rafa became world no.1 and won gold at the Beijing Games while Roger—down but not out—finished ’08 by winning the US Open.

5) Wounded Tiger. Woods’ US Open victory was one of the greatest of his 14 major titles. In an article I wrote the day of his playoff match against Rocco Mediate, I said: “Tiger is no athlete. He’s not a golfer. He’s no sportsman. He’s a showman. A performer. Like Michael Jackson during his prime, Tiger doesn’t play. He performs. And, in front of 50,000 spectators at Torrey Pines in San Diego, he held his putter like a microphone on stage.” Added Mediate: “It’s just the most amazing display of athletic, mental power that there is, there ever was. Look at him. He hasn’t played in 10 weeks. There’s no surprise to me, but he hasn’t played for 10 weeks!”

4) Filipino PacMan. In a country of 90 million in dire need of heroism, he is God-sent. Manny Pacquiao fought thrice in 2008 and won all three. But that’s a tiny segment of the story. Last March 15, he beat Juan Manuel Marquez in a controversial split decision. That was with the 130-lb. weight class. On June 28, he knocked-out another Mexican, David Diaz, in the 9th round—at the 135-lb. category. And, finally, last Dec. 6 against a man whom everyone believed would embarrass him, Oscar de la Hoya, the fighter from Gen. Santos City dumbfounded his third Mexican victim in a row—at the 147-lb. class.

3) Redeem Team. Was there a basketball team assembled that was stronger? One would argue that the 1992 Dream Team of MJ, Magic and Bird was the most star-studded ever—but, with a lineup that includes Kobe, LeBron, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Tayshaun Prince, this team went 8-for-8 games and snatched gold in Beijing.

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

2) Lightning Bolt. Doesn’t he own the perfect name for a sprinter, Bolt? At the Beijing Games, he won the 100-meter dash in 9.69 seconds—in world-record time. But, what’s most amazing was how he slowed down to celebrate meters before the finish (experts said he could have achieved a 9.55 time). Even more dramatic, his shoelaces were untied! On the 200-meter dash, he broke Michael Johnson’s record (19.30) and, to make it 3-for-3, ran the 4 x 100 meters with his Jamaican teammates for another gold—and world-record.

1) Phelps. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 200 lbs., he is considered the greatest Olympian—or, as some would say, athlete—in sporting history. His feat in Beijing (winning 8 gold medals in 8 events; 7 of them world records, one Olympic record) is so mind-boggling that, if Phelps were a country, he’d have ranked fourth in gold medals, behind only China, the U.S. and Germany.

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