This week, VICE Sports looks at the topics, people, and things that made news in 2015. You can read our collection of year-in-review stories here.
The order came down from on high: "Corbin, please, for the love of God, compose a list of the ten best highlights of the year, we need this right now." I let out a sigh so deep and powerful that it shook my very own bones.
This is the burden of the critic: to spend all year delving deeply into the delight and dreck of a medium, only to be tasked with reducing that bounty of fruit into a thick sweetened syrup that the wider unwashed bourgeois can slurp down without encountering the roughage of reasoning upon which good criticism is actually built. List-making is a bastardization of my noble craft; it makes me want to stick my head in a toilet every time it is pushed on me.
Naturally, I said yes.
I said yes because it is necessary. And, this year at least, I was excited, because I would be allowed to revisit a basketball highlight that means a lot to me.
But, as it turns out, that was a late 2014 clip, and did not qualify for this list or a brief parsing of my critical eye. Time truly is like ant-ridden dirt, slipping through fingers, and when you squeeze it leaves only dead ant guts strewn on your hands. Anyway, to the highlights!
JOSE BAUTISTA DOESN'T NEED THIS STUPID BAT
There is truly no way in which a person can take in the Bautista Dinger that isn't immensely satisfying. Watched it live? It was like seeing an amplifier break in half after nearly an hour of ticky-tack singles baseball tied the game up. Watching an extended clip of the whole at-bat after the fact?
You can really feel the pall of doom slowly descend on that poor pitcher.
Watch it in a GIF?
Look at that ball just get its ass rocked, over and over. A wave of power leveling everything in its path. Truly, one of baseball's most essential qualities is the simplicity of a dinger. A whole universe of walks and bunts and baserunning and good butts and other esoteric shit is washed right into the ocean of a homer. Truly the mightiest of all town-destroying tsunamis in sport.
What was as a rocking crowd and a very rowdy flip in motion becomes, in a still picture, almost a religious experience—the product of immense focus, a ballerina twirling on a leaf in the wind. We will not fully comprehend this work without building a small church around a marble statue of Bautista depicting the moment when the bat made contact with the ball.
Behind this statue, in an ENORMOUS window that faces east (so as better to catch the morning light), is that image rendered in stained glass. The windows of the north- and south-facing walls depict the chronology of the game, laid out like a giant stained-glass comic book. And, in the back, a series of humble wooden benches, so that the pilgrims can better know our place while we sit in silence, or perhaps listen to a radio broadcast of the game. There we will sit and contemplate the full depth of this, the greatest sports highlight of the year 2015.
You could also maybe print the picture on a blimp and fly it very low, through city streets, for a similar effect at about a quarter of the cost. I wouldn't recommend it, though. It's best just to build the dang church.
CARLI LLOYD SAVES AMERICA
Another trash year for America, as a reeking CHUD army of human garbage emerged from the sewers to seize the national platform and spew hateful yellow bile all over the public discourse and the very idea of our nation. Were it not for the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage and the United States Women's National Soccer Team, it would have been an unspeakably bleak time for a once promising union. Luckily:
Carli Lloyd, casting her rod from the middle of a fake-green ocean, saaaaaaaaailing the ball into the goal, right past the extended arm of Japan's keeper, to give the United States a DOMINANT lead in the World Cup final was, ultimately, the only thing that kept the United States together in 2015. Millions of people in wildly disparate situations, with wildly disparate values, united in common cause—this is a nice idea but right now it is dumb, it's stupid, no one is invested in it anymore. By any objective measure, it's time to break it up into 50 countries with some loose economic affiliations. South Carolina can finally have that hereditary monarchy they've always wanted. Idaho can appoint a handgun President For Life.
In this moment, though, for better or for worse, one of our finest sporting citizens dominated the world with the flick of her foot, and managed to keep everyone in this godforsaken grand experiment together through another round of bullshit national elections. I don't know if that qualifies as heroic, per se, but it's powerful. This more than any other is the Highlight That United, and it deserves a slot in this hallowed hall.
THE BOOKER SHOT
There are two kinds of highlight masterpieces. The first has a grasp on Traditional Mediums: the dinger, the nutmeg-intensive soccer goal, the nasty dunk right in some sad sucker's crying face. The second is an experiment so boundary-shattering that it redefines what it MEANS to score two points.
When Trevor Booker saw that a touch was all the ball would accept, he applied a gentle hurricane's worth of force and made it happen. Where our vision saw only two outcomes—an alley-oop tip-in, not very likely, or a shot clock violation—Trevor saw behind the forest and walked through to the crystal river beyond, bopping the ball as quickly as possible from a standing position. Even if the ball had just grazed rim, extended the clock, and made for an offensive rebound, it would have been worthy of inclusion on this list. But sinking into the net, as if by providence? Fit for ONLY the Hall of Eternals.
By all rights, figure skating should be North America's preferred sport. It has basketball's live-wire emphasis on skill, baseball's adherence to tradition, football's maddening arbitrariness, and hockey's ice. It even has theatrical elements, like those popular shows on Netflix.
Unfortunately, Americans are conditioned to loathe classical music and resent the success of Russian teens and their fur-coated parents. Anyway, here is Evgenia Medvedeva dominating in her first senior season with a spectacular free skate routine at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona earlier this month.
The only complaint you could possibly have is her not quite leaning into the swell that kicks in at about 2:48. I felt it was a time for extra power, maybe dipping the shoulder deep like a defenseman throwing Gretzky into glass. Aside from that, this is objectively more aesthetically interesting than literally anything that happened in popular sport, which, when viewed from this light, is truly barbaric and stupid.
THE VERY BAD FAKE PLAY
There was only one way it could end. A vicious, decisive sack and an illegal formation whistle. At every point leading up to this inevitable outcome, you expect someone will end this madness. Relief never comes. The Colts do not escape their absurd fate. Would that these Vladimirs and Estragons could just stroll off the stage, enter the lobby, and order a hamburger from the concession man at this County Fair production of "Waiting for Godot."
But they cannot. They are frozen in their stupid, stupid, fates, forever—gaping and doomed and waiting for the line to descend and the lights to go out. So much knowledge and wisdom about ALL of our fates, as we crawl slowly toward making the soil richer. So much for us to learn, and so little learned.
Allow this montage of Robert Lewandowski scoring five goals in nine minutes to stand in for all high-level soccer goals—including and especially your personal favorite—all of which invariably seem completely impossible when taken out of a broader context. The deck is stacked against all attempts, what with a giant invisible offsides wall following everyone everywhere, and they often seem pitiful and sad when they sail left, right, or right into the outstretched arms of a goalkeeper. To score five of these things, by providence and skill and luck, is an overwhelming, overflowing achievement.
If you have the means, open the video on a phone, strap it to your eyeballs with tape or elastic, and let it overwhelm you as much as you can allow. You deserve nothing less.
CHRIS AND STEPH
The NBA's two top point guards, made synecdoche in front of everyone:
Chris Paul dribbles around the arc, meets a doubling Tim Duncan, forces himself to become a floating stick pointing at a 45-degree angle, and banks the shot in, winning the series for himself and his teammates. The basketball appears at once a ball and a Sisyphean boulder, shoved for the last time and sent somehow rolling down the other side of the mountain. Chris breaks down and cries, for he has made it to the second round and he knows—he just knows—that the Houston Rockets will be easy prey in the near future.
Of course, they aren't. Or, more precisely, they totally are, and the Clippers are incapable of taking proper advantage. Poor Chris Paul: yet another triumph spoiled on the counter, a victory curdling to rotten milk. The world proceeds to laugh at his failures and his demeanor. The boulder reappears. Someday it will sprout a will of its own and crush him handily, his body having only climbed half of the perpetual mountain.
We must imagine Chris Paul happy. Steph Curry, on the other hand, we can just watch:
A charmed life. The ball just happens to fall right in front of him, he picks it up by instinct, throoooooows it into the hoop, no backboard or rim or any other assist. Three points for the Warriors and a cruelly broken spirit for the Grizz, who had spent the entire quarter patching up a giant deficit. That's just the sort of shit that happens when Steph is around. Food tastes better, music rocks a little harder, children are cuter. He just has that thing, you guys!
While Paul crushed charcoal briquettes out of frustration, Curry breezed through the Rockets and the severely depleted Cavaliers and hoisted the trophy above his head. Two men make highlights nearly equal in stature. One is powered by sinew and destined for failure; the other, magic, and success. They're both great. Only one of them gets to win.
THIS GOLF COURSE FIRE
Golf is a bad sport. All golf courses should, strictly speaking, be burned to the ground and given over to farmers who will use the land to grow food for people. In the city of Lebanon, Oregon, that wonderful dream manifested on the Earthly plane just a little bit in the last year, and no one got injured. Hopefully, in the flames, we can see a future in which ALL of golf burns (at least metaphorically), its acres of meaningless sand traps rightfully reclaimed by nature. It would be really easy to grow a lot of lettuce, for instance, on what are now golf courses.
Happy New Year.