2011 In Review: Reliving The Most Important Sports Stories Of The Year

By now you've probably seen the biggest and best and most important stories of 2011, but how about the stories that everybody's forgetting? Take a look back at 11 stories that still make no sense, and remember why we loved them.

By now you've probably seen the biggest and best and most important stories of 2011, but how about the stories that everybody's forgetting? Take a look back at 11 stories that still make no sense, and remember why we loved them.

The initial plan for today's column was to rundown the biggest stories of 2011, but looking around, we reach two conclusions. First off, everyone's doing something like that, and you can only handle so many retrospectives in one week. Second, what's even left to say?

The top 11 stories of 2011 are here.

  • Rory McIlroy takes over the U.S. Open
  • The Women's World Cup takes over America
  • Game 162, and the craziest regular season night in MLB history
  • Novak Djokovic, the most dominant athlete of the year
  • The NFL and NBA approach the edge of a cliff, then turn back
  • Aaron Rodgers, The Green Bay Packers, and the Birth of a Dynasty
  • Tebow, etc.
  • The Miami Scandal and other NCAA anarchy
  • Dirk, Dallas, and the best NBA Playoffs in 20 years
  • The St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series
  • The atrocities at Penn State and Syracuse

We could revisit each of those stories, orrrrrrrr...... you could read about those stories literally anywhere else in the world, and instead, we can relive stories that really deserve a second look.

Let's go with option number two, and instead of running down all the nominally important stories, we'll take a look back at 11 of the strangest stories we saw this past year--the ones that you'd otherwise forget. Because here's the thing about sports in 2011. Particularly if you can tune out some of the awesome new debate shows surrounding them, watching sports is as good as it's ever been. But following sports--tracking your favorite teams and athletes on a daily basis--is so much more entertaining than ever.

It's not just that athletes (and team executives, and bowl commissioners, and coaches) keep things interesting by getting into trouble, but they do it so creatively. Only sports could give us a lede like this:

A man is claiming he was injured at a local church in an incident involving NBA superstar Kobe Bryant.

Police told 10News Bryant and his wife were attending St. Therese of Carmel in Carmel Valley Sunday when he thought 21-year-old Thomas Hagos was taking pictures of him with a cellphone.According to police, Bryant took the phone from Hagos, did not see any pictures on the phone and then left the church.

That story was eventually debunked, but even so. It's stories like those that make it fun to stay connected to blogs and Twitter every day; you just never know when some wire report will come through about Kobe Bryant getting into a scuffle AT CHURCH and wrestling over a camera phone. So with that in mind, here's a quick look back at a handful of 2011 stories, the details of which brightened our day when they happened. There are many more, so feel free to add your own in the comments.

11. Dez Bryant Will Not Pull His Pants Up

From the Dallas Morning News:

Off-duty Dallas police officers working security at NorthPark Center on Saturday issued Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant a criminal trespass warning. According to police reports, Bryant gave a profanity-laced response after he and three friends were asked to pull up their pants to cover their underwear. [emphasis added]

Bryant cursed at officers and said he wouldn’t leave until his representative or his attorney arrived, authorities said. After getting his car from valet parking, Bryant sat in the car in a fire lane until friends finally persuaded him to leave, according to police.

A police report said Bryant "has had a pattern of behavior at NorthPark Center involving security/off-duty police."

It's really a shame Dez Bryant couldn't play with the '90s Cowboys.

10. Andrew Bynum And Handicap Hysteria

This was actually a serious controversy in L.A. this summer. From NBC Los Angeles:

LA Lakers center Andrew Bynum has allegedly been caught on camera parking his black BMW in not one, but two parking spots reserved for the handicapped.

Scandal!

The photos, provided exclusively to NBC4, were taken by an LA Parking Enforcement official at the upscale Bristol Farms Market in Playa del Rey. NBC4's exclusive interview with the parking official who took the photos here.

An exclusive with the parking attendant? FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS. And the coup de grace comes from Bill Plaschke, who decided this needed to be a column about maturity. As Plaschke wrote, "His conscience is paralyzed." Sportswriters are the best.

9. An Orlando Magic Executive Drunk Dials Dwight Howard

Pretty self-explanatory, still the greatest. From Bright House Sports Network:

Vander Weide confirmed that he made a 1 a.m. phone call in recent days to Magic superstar Dwight Howard, and Howard thought Vander Weide may have been intoxicated. On that call, Vander Weide told Howard how much the Magic wanted to keep him in Orlando.

"I was playing paddle with friends and had a couple of glasses of wine," Vander Weide told BHSN. "Maybe Dwight thought it was inappropriate to talk business after a couple of glasses of wine... Maybe I should have waited until the morning."

And that's how "What is 'paddle'?" became the great mystery of December 2011.

8. Sam Hurd The Kingpin

You should really read the entire complaint, just because it's still surreal to think that an NFL player was personally making drug deals and meeting wholesale suppliers from Mexico.

HURD stated that he was interested in purchasing five to ten kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana per week for distribution in the Chicago area. HURD negotiated to receive the aforementioned amounts of narcotics at $25,000 per kilogram of cocaine and $450 per pound of marijuana. HURD further stated that he and another co-conspirator currently distribute approximately four kilograms of cocaine per week in the Chicago area, but that the supplier could not supply him with enough quantity.

This story's still developing, but for now just focus on the important questions -- what are Mexican cell phones? The police let him have $88,000 back no questions asked and he didn't get suspicious? How will an NFL scandal top this within the next 12 months?

7. You Probably Don't Want to Date Aqib Talib's Sister

This one's included just for the sheer insanity of the scene. From the Dallas Observer:

According to a GPD initial report about the incident and two sources familiar with the case Talib allegedly attempted to pistol-whip his sister Saran's boyfriend, Shannon Billings, and then, after a struggle, used his mother Okolo's pistol and fired several shots at Billings as he fled the scene on foot.

[...]

According to the report, Billings said Aqib produced a handgun and "attempted to strike him in the face." During the ensuing skirmish Talib dropped the gun and Billings picked it up and began runnning, prompting Okolo to produce a gun and fire three shots toward him. Billings told police that Talib then took Okolo's gun, said "I'll shoot him" and fired at least two shots before Billings safely ducked into nearby woods. Neighborhood witnesses corroborated Billings' story.

To recap: He pistol-whipped his sister's boyfriend, began firing shots in the air, dropped the gun, and his mother picked up the gun and kept firing. Again: You should probably stay away from Aqib Talib's sister.

6. "THINK OF THE UNWRITTEN RULEBOOK!"

This entire scandal was proof that sometimes sportswriters are the craziest ones of all. Even next to every piece of overwrought nonsense written in 2011, this one stands above the rest. From the Boston Globe:

While the seeds of failure were sown long before the shame of September, other foreboding signs emerged earlier. In springtime, there proved to be regrettable irony in the entire starting rotation - Beckett, Lackey, Lester, Tim Wakefield, and Clay Buchholz - donning Sox uniforms and hamming it up in front of the Green Monster for a video of a country music ditty, "Hell Yeah, I Like Beer.’’

Drinking beer in the Sox clubhouse is permissible. So is ordering take-out chicken and biscuits. Playing video games on one of the clubhouse’s flat-screen televisions is OK, too. But for the Sox pitching trio to do all three during games, rather than show solidarity with their teammates in the dugout, violated an unwritten rule that players support each other, especially in times of crisis.

"times of crisis" ... No really, sportswriters are the best.

5. Cliff Harris Gets Pulled Over On A Quiet Night In Oregon

A textbook example of where athletes can add a special dash of creativity to an otherwise straight-forward offense. Speeing in the middle of the night is pretty basic. But as Jon Bois summarized back in August, this arrest had all sorts of fun details:

  • Harris was allegedly driving 118 miles per hour.
  • Harris admitted that people in the car had been smoking marijuana.
  • Someone in the car claimed they had smoked it all.
  • Harris asked the officer to search the car; the officer did not search the car.
  • The officer asked Harris for I.D.; Harris said he did not have any.
  • The officer determined a passenger was legally able to drive, told him to drive, and let them all go.

Harris is was an All-American cornerback from Oregon, in case you're not familiar with the name. The best part of the story is what made it controversial. From an ABC affiliate in Oregon:

EUGENE, Ore. --- Records indicate the vehicle Oregon All-American football player Cliff Harris was driving early Sunday morning, when he was cited for driving 118 mph, was paid for by a university employee.

Yes yes, he was high and driving 120 mph at 4:30 a.m., but WHO PAID FOR THE CAR? As usual, the NCAA and its attending media keeps their eye on the ball.

4. Meet The McCourts

2011's reminder that for all the jokes you hear about athletes and their spending habits, it's important to remember that ALL rich people tend to be self-indulgent and reprehensible when it comes to spending habits. Nobody hammered the point home better than the Frank and Jamie McCourt, as documented by this scorched-earth profile in Vanity Fair. The best part:

Soon, the McCourts had an 11,637-square-foot villa in Holmby Hills, across the street from the Playboy Mansion, bought for $21.3 million, followed six months later by an adjacent French-country fixer-upper of 8,385 square feet, for $6.5 million. They bought land in Cabo San Lucas, for $4.7 million, as well as a $7.7 million lot at the Yellowstone Club, the super-exclusive ski and golf resort in Montana. For beach homes, they purchased a John Lautner-designed house in Malibu, called the Segel residence, from Courteney Cox and David Arquette for $27.3 million. They took the beachfront bungalow next door, too—after all, it was only $19 million. In court papers, Jamie said that they used the bungalow to house an overflow of guests from time to time and do extra laundry.

They spent millions on renovations, shipping the kitchen from the Brookline home to the bigger Holmby Hills house, at a cost of $180,000. They spent $12.4 million to rip out the tennis courts and build an Olympic-size indoor-pool complex, including a poolhouse, a sauna, and massage rooms. (The house already had an outdoor pool, as did the Lautner house, but Jamie felt those were not suitable for the kind of long-distance swimming she liked to do.)

That’s not all. They changed their Net-Jets account from Citations to the larger Gulfstreams, logging more than 250 hours a year on the jets over two years at $12,500 an hour. They hired a driver and a private security staff, at a cost of over $800,000 a year. In 2007, the Dodgers paid $400,000 to an employee to oversee one of the team’s charities, which had only a $1.6 million annual budget. (The Dodgers later repaid the money to the charity, after the California attorney general began an investigation.) An e-mail presented in court said the Bar Mitzvah the McCourts were planning for their son Gavin would cost $500,000. The organization paid a $400,000 salary to one of their sons, who worked at Goldman Sachs, and $200,000 to another, a student at Stanford University, to do jobs with rather elusive duties. (The couple has never been able to explain to the press what those jobs entail.) Perhaps most shockingly, Frank and Jamie spent as much as $10,000 a month on a haircutter who tended to their locks five days a week.

U-S-A! U-S-A!

3. Fiesta, Fiesta.

This was the forgotten story of 2011. Sure, it caused a minor stir when it came out, but the allegations within the Fiesta Bowl report (.pdf) gave us a cornucopia of corruption that puts all other NCAA scandals to shame. You had the bowl director spending $95,000 of the Fiesta Bowl's money on a round of golf with Jack Nickalus. You had free cars, free country club memberships, and lots of other fun expenses, like spending $33,000 on a birthday party at Pebble Beach, or a boss paying $13,000 for his secretary's wedding.

But the best, creepiest detail came here, from the New York Times:

Junker and other top executives used bowl money to spend lavishly, investigators found. In 2008, the Fiesta Bowl paid the $1,200 bill at a Phoenix strip club attended by Junker; Shawn Schoeffler, the former vice president for media relations; and Aaron Brown, a Maricopa County sheriff’s lieutenant who owns a company that provides security to the Fiesta Bowl.

According to the report, Junker explained to investigators: "We are in the business where big, strong athletes are known to attend these types of establishments. It was important for us to visit..."

"We spent $1,200 at the strip club because this is sports, and big strong sports players love strip clubs" said the sports executive. "It was important research," he added. <----- BEST EXPLANATION EVER

2. Will Hill Goes Harder Than A Russian

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Spencer Hall was kind enough to share the brilliance that was Will Hill's twitter account a few months before he published this, the fantastic compendium of his greatest hits. And I swear to God, every single day for the summer of 2010, I looked forward to Will Hill's tweets. They slowed down in-season, and disappeared once this story broke in 2011 (when he claimed he was hacked), but we will always have that glorious, glorious summer.

Img00058-20100531-1907_medium_medium

1. Sarah Palin An--Wait, What?

Yes, really.

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And really, it's all downhill from there. Just no way the internet can ever come up with a better story than Sarah Palin having an affair with Glen Rice at the 1987 Great Alaskan shootout. You can't even add any context. Just saying it out loud is still the best part. And of course Mike Tyson had to comment. It wouldn't be the best story ever without Mike Tyson.

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