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The sports memes of 2015, ranked from worst to best

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Memes are the lifeblood of the internet, these visually appealing objects of our affection. In this day and age, we are a society that lives and breathes on the internet, and memes are, in some strange way, a form of social currency. We create memes and share them in the hopes that someone out there enjoys our creations, and shares them, forming a social pyramid scheme, except everyone (hopefully) wins. In the world of sports, it was impossible to escape memes -- ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Some athletes shared memes they loved, others became memes, and one had no idea how to pronounce the word.

A future sociologist will look back on 2015, and the years before and after it, trying to figure out why the memes we shared on social media resonated with us so much. I am not that sociologist, but I do want to seek an understanding, however minuscule it'll be, of why memes ruled the sports world.

What better way to figure out why we love memes than by ranking the top 10 sports memes of 2015?

10. Left Shark

Katy Perry's halftime show at Super Bowl 49 was a spectacle we hadn't seen in a while. Practically everyone hung onto every detail during the show -- from her wardrobe that resembled a Hot Wheels car to the fact that entered her show on a robotic tiger that looked like it came out of Power Rangers.

But the one thing that lasted longer than Perry's "The More You Know" ending was Left Shark, a person in a shark costume who couldn't keep up with the rest of the dance crew (i.e. dancing bananas). Everyone on stage was focused and on beat while Left Shark went into "fuck it" mode and winged it. It was a performance that everyone could relate to -- you feel like you're Right Shark every day, but ultimately, you're endearingly lousy, like Left Shark.

Sadly, it's ranked 10th on this list because, hoo boy, that joke died off quickly (and mercifully). We will eventually forget about Left Shark, but at least 2015 got off to a good start when it awkwardly danced its way into our hearts.

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9. Pete Rose photobombs

Pete Rose threw his hat in the sports meme race late in 2015 -- unintentionally, I think. During a Fox Sports 1 broadcast for MLB's postseason, it looked like Rose was adjusting his seat and accidentally popped into frame. Innocuous, right? He meant no harm, but the internet always finds a way to take a minor incident and turn it into something huge. My SB Nation colleague Hector Diaz spent a good chunk of his night putting Pete Rose in places where he doesn't belong.

You'd think Pete Rose would be angry and confused at all this, but it seems like he's pretty happy that photobomb happened ... because it's his Twitter profile picture now:

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8. Tom Brady's courtroom sketch

DeflateGate was incessantly talked about through summer 2015 and chances are it's going to come up again when the 2015 NFL season ends. The peak of DeflateGate as a meme occurred in August, when an image of Tom Brady's courtroom sketch surfaced on Twitter. It, uh, did not look a lot like Tom Brady, which was unfortunate for both him and court artist Jane Rosenberg:

Once that surfaced, everyone had to get their jokes in. Credit to SB Nation's Nick Pants for dropping the best joke, using A-Ha's "Take On Me" as inspiration:

Rosenberg, on the other hand, didn't have the best time of her life, since everyone making jokes about the sketch meant that everyone was essentially mocking her skills as an artist. She actually apologized for not making Tom Brady look as handsome as he is in real life. She didn't know what DeflateGate was about. She doesn't use social media. She pretty much had no context for the case she was sketching, and she didn't know that her sketch was energy that Tom Brady's haters needed over the summer.

She actually is a great artist, and it's unfortunate that her lackluster sketch of Tom Brady is the one she'll be best known for. But Ms. Rosenberg -- if you are reading this -- if there's any consolation, it's that for one boring August day, your art brought so much joy to NFL fans around the world. That's why it was one of the best sports memes this year.

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7. Uncle Denzel

Denzel Washington is a handsome man, and has been for as long as he's been making movies. But on the night that Floyd Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao, Denzel attended the fight looking like the most un-Denzel thing imaginable.

I'm still not sure if the wardrobe and mustache were Denzel preparing for a role, or if that's Denzel in his most casual form. But honestly, I don't want to know, and I don't need to, because Uncle Denzel jokes are still great months later:

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6. Hotline Bling

Drake's "Hotline Bling" music video is not necessarily a sports meme, mainly because it didn't start out that way. It was four minutes of sweat pants-clad Drake dancing around in a James Turrell art museum. Before it became a sports meme, the internet set Drake to all sorts of things -- for my part, I made him look like he was dancing to the Frasier theme.

It became a sports meme once NBA teams started latching onto it. The Spurs coyote danced to it. The Toronto Raptors celebrated Drake Night by recreating his Hotline Bling set, and a dance from Toronto politician Norm Kelly and the Raptor:

It's in sixth place, because this had more impact than the other four memes preceding this, but I also don't expect this to last going into 2016. I mean, memes in general don't last forever, but this one especially won't.

At least, I hope not. Drake has to move on to releasing Views From The 6 instead of sticking with "Hotline Bling." That's just me as a music fan talking.

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5. Riley Curry

Riley Curry was one of the biggest surprises this year, simply because she was doing kid things while her MVP dad was busy doing press conferences in the postseason. While everyone was trying to be professional, Riley was the necessary goofiness that needed to bust through a quiet room full of reporters and cause a ruckus. Riley had her fair share of fans and haters, with the existence of the latter being the most perplexing. I get being angry at overexposure, and that's a valid complaint, but how can you say no to moments like this?

The older I get, the sadder I get that I don't have childlike wonder in me anymore. And I do have slight jealousy towards people younger than me, because of the whole "you kids have it better these days" sentiment. But when kids like Riley Curry show up on TV, it's a refreshing feeling. The most obvious reason why Riley Curry became so popular is that she was a wacky kid in a room full of uptight professionals. But a more probable reason is that she reminded us of what it's like to be a kid again, and deep down, we miss that. Childlike wonder isn't dead, it's merely passed onto someone else. That's a comforting feeling. Thanks, Riley.

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4. Nae Nae/Whip

Let's clear things up first: the Nae Nae existed years before it blew up in 2015, as a song/dance by We Are Toonz. It had some relative success in the sports world in 2014, with athletes like J.J. Watt and this Mercer dude dropping it during games. It wasn't until 2015 when, after We Are Toonz made it a hot line, Silentó made it a hot song. The sports world wasn't the same afterwards.

Here's a sample list of folks that asked the general public to watch them Whip, and watch them Nae Nae:

Jeremy Lin, Stephen and Riley Curry

Paul Finebaum

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy

Anthony Davis

Kolten Wong

Stephen Curry (again)

Children who would rather hit the Whip and Nae Nae instead of playing football

Children who wanted to teach J.J. Watt how to do the Nae Nae

It was an inescapable song that captivated so many athletes, and for good reason: it's fun. I gladly expect the Nae Nae to keep going well into the next year.

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3. Dabbing

Thank Cam Newton (or blame him, whichever) for exposing America to the Dab, a dance move where you stretch out one arm, and bend the other in the same direction, followed by a head bow on the bent arm. Simple move, right? NOPE. It seems as though the older generation can't figure out how to dab without making it look like they're sick. Ask your favorite sports personality to dab, and, uh, this happens:

Nah, Paul Finebaum:

Cris Carter called it "bapping":

But sometimes, amazing things happen. ENTER FRANK BEAMER:


So, why is it third on this list? The way I see it, it's probably the best example of a pop culture thing crossing generations. Younger generations know what a "dab" is, therefore dabbing should come natural to them. It's when the older generations do it that makes dabbing so funny, endearing and kind of cringe-worthy.

Honestly, it's the thought of old people connecting with the youth that makes me love dabbing more than the Nae Nae. Admittedly, the Frank Beamer Vine almost brings me to tears. Beamer's on his way to retirement, and instead of moping about the impending finale, he's celebrating the last days of his coaching career dabbing with his beloved players. He won't be the last coach to have that kind of relationship with his team.

Sure, you could argue that the dab died when NFL kickers started doing it. Or when Charlotte's city council did it. But the dab will never die. It will always be resurrected, whether it's because of Cam or ... this kid:

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The "too long, didn't read" version of the origin story: In June, a guy named Brandon Moore (aka Young Busco) witnessed his friend getting arrested for public drinking. He confronted one of the arresting officers with his phone, and instead of getting angry, he decided to hurt the officer's pride. In a loud voice, he asked the officer "WHAT ARE THOSE?," then pointed his phone at the officer's shoes. He posted the video on Instagram, the internet thought it was hilarious, and the meme grew beyond Moore's control.

It's now become a go-to insult for anyone who wears footwear that looks unattractive. And the perfect recipients for this insult? Basketball players and fans.

By now, shoes are inherently tied to basketball. It's impossible to think about basketball without analyzing which shoes would look dope during a game. It's impossible to think about basketball players without remembering the shoe deals they've signed or the brands they own. The two universes of footwear and basketball are forever intertwined, until someone invents a basketball version of five-toed shoes and modern society starts believing those are way cooler than regular shoes, which I hope is not the case.

Sometimes when a "WHAT ARE THOSE" is dropped, it's deserved. When Deron Williams somersaulted his way to a hapless man's shoes, he had a good point, because what are those, for real?

(They're Adidas-branded, but what's up with the studs on the seams?)

It's also gone beyond basketball, with the Astros' Hank Conger disparaging Eduardo Perez's shoes on live TV, and MMA fighter Michael Page using it as a victory taunt.

So, why is this No. 2 on the list? Well, something amazing happened over the summer. Michael Jordan had a Q&A session at his basketball camp, and some kid thought he was being slick when, in the one and only chance he got to talk to the greatest basketball player of all time, he yelled "WHAT ARE THOSE?" at Jordan. Jordan had no idea what the hell the kid was talking about. And chances are, the kid forgot Michael Jordan owns a shoe brand.

Jordan answered earnestly, and reminded that kid who he is by saying, "These are XX9 Lows."

That's when everyone realized "WHAT ARE THOSE" can backfire. It's no longer a one-way insult. You can counter "WHAT ARE THOSE" if you're super-rich, you own a shoe brand that has your name on it, and the person that insulted you is some kid who's too young to know why you're famous. Jordan and Kanye have timeless immunity to this meme.

Also, the real reason why it's No. 2: my nephews dropped a "WHAT ARE THOSE" on my shoes during a party and even though I was insulted, I countered that by threatening that they won't get anything for Christmas this year. I think it worked.

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1. Crying Michael Jordan

There really wasn't any competition for No. 1 here. Yes, the meme started way before 2015. Yes, its origin is even older than when people on the internet started using it as a meme (Jordan's 2009 Hall of Fame speech). Yes, it's been done a lot on Twitter this year.

The thing is, whenever someone puts a Crying Jordan face on an image, it never gets old. And that's Crying Michael Jordan's secret power: longevity. Even when you think you're over the meme, you see it being used again, and it pulls you back in.

The greatest basketball player spent the 1990s making people think he was immortal on the court. Arguably, with his statue outside United Center, he is. But nowadays, he's been reduced to a red-eyed, floating, wet head -- from now on, that's all the kids will ever know him for.

Not the clutch shots. Not the dunk contests. Not Space Jam. But a moment of vulnerability during a Hall of Fame speech. Jordan spent years dancing at the top, and now the rest of his life is dedicated to his sad face being plastered on moments of failure. (Also, still getting rich off shoe sales, endorsement deals, etc. ... and gambling.)

It's even better if you grew up hating Michael Jordan in the 90s, simply because he kept destroying your team, be it Knicks fans, Pistons fans, Hawks fans and so on. Crying Michael Jordan is their revenge for going through years of misery from how good he was. It's his comeuppance for being the best athlete that ever played the game. As long as long-suffering fans/enemies of Michael Jordan are still around, the meme will, too.

Here's the world's first crying Michael Jordan pancake

You've seen Michael Jordan cry, but have you seen him cry syrup?Courtesy of our friends at Dancakes and Eater.

Posted by SB Nation on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thanks for the tears, Michael.

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Reviewing 2015: It was a great year in sports

For more Nuff Said, check out SB Nation's Nuff Said playlist on YouTube, which includes Matt Ufford's takes on the Sportsman of the Year and the NFL's terrible catch rules. While you're there, be sure to subscribe to SB Nation's YouTube channel and look around our archives to watch Matt's Westminster Dog Show petting challenge.