2016 was quite the year in the sports world—which, of course, meant it was also quite a year for Twitter.
Whether it was Conor McGregor winning championship belts in two different weight classes, LeBron James leading his team from a 3-1 deficit for a historic championship, or Kobe Bryant and Marshawn Lynch ending their careers, sports was everywhere in the cultural conversation.
Here’s a look at the 10 times sports dominated social media this year:
10. Conor McGregor announces return to UFC 200 (88k retweets)
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 25, 2016
After a long back-and-forth between the most popular MMA fighter in the world and the UFC about promotional responsibilities, McGregor decided to step back into the ring—and dominated. There’s just one catch: McGregor didn’t return for UFC 200, yet another weird twist in the brief spat between The Notorious and his employer.
McGregor later buried the hatchet with UFC president Dana White and came back for UFC 202, winning over Nate Diaz in a five-round fight that’s arguably one of the best UFC rematches of all time. The whole ordeal gave McGregor the chance to prove why he’s the biggest trash talker in sports.
9. Mike Tyson pays his respects to boxing legend Muhammad Ali (89k retweets)
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) June 4, 2016
The boxer sent out a tribute on social media after Ali passed away—here are some of the most memorable and inspirational quotes from the champion from the course of his career.
8. Dee Gordon hits inspirational home run following the death of teammate Jose Fernández (102k retweets)
— MLB (@MLB) September 26, 2016
Gordon was the first player to step to the plate for the Marlins following Fernández’s tragic death—and he made his at-bat one of the most memorable of the year. Gordon belted a home run to lead off the game, breaking down into tears while rounding the bases. Adding even more emotional weight: Gordon was wearing Fernández’s batting helmet to honor the pitcher.
7. LeBron James addresses the social media haters (109k retweets)
Love me or Hate me but at the end of the day u will RESPECT me!!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 14, 2016
James has had his fair share of social media hate over the years (“The Decision” didn’t make anyone look good), but just ahead of his annual self-imposed “social media blackout” policy before the NBA playoffs, the ultra-fit Cleveland Cavaliers star sent a message out to his detractors.
All he did after that was lead the Cavs from a 3-1 deficit to win over the Golden State Warriors—making one of the all-time great plays in basketball history along the way—to bring home the first championship for the city of Cleveland in decades, firmly establishing himself as one of the most important athletes of his era. Blocks like this helped:
LeBron with one of the biggest blocks you’ll ever see pic.twitter.com/vu3UIUIBiH
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) June 20, 2016
6. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith hates on Kevin Durant for joining the Warriors (112K retweets)
Don't give a damn what anyone says: weak move by KD. You go to GSW, the team who beat you, when you're already on a title contender? Please!
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) July 4, 2016
Whatever your opinion of “Screamin'” A. Smith, you’ve gotta admit he knows how to generate conversation, as the ESPN pundit did when he took Kevin Durant to task for joining the Golden State Warriors. But one thing’s for certain: The Warriors have a “super team” that’s easily one of the most talented of all time. Durant—one of the toughest, most athletic players in the NBA—has shown just why the Warriors went after him so hard. Check out this teammwork with back-to-back MVP winner Steph Curry:
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) December 4, 2016
5. Shaquille O’Neal gets deep (118K retweets)
If u feel alone and by yourself, look in the mirror, and wow, there's two of you. Be who you are. Who are you. I am me. Ugly, lol. Shaq
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) December 16, 2009
The basketball Hall of Famer brought back an old tweet for 2016 and it seemed to strike a chord with the Internet masses. We’ll leave this one for you to interpret.
In the meantime, watch O’Neal get into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32 earlier in 2016:
4. Conor McGregor fakes out the MMA world (161K retweets)
I have decided to retire young.
Thanks for the cheese.
Catch ya's later.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 19, 2016
Man, Conor McGregor sure had quite the fun time messing with the UFC during the run-up to UFC 200. When McGregor enigmatically tweeted that he was retiring, the announcement was met with equal parts skepticism and surprise—which was totally justified. McGregor later revealed that the tweet was a stunt to generate attention, which he then used as leverage in a long, public feud with UFC brass ahead of his rumored UFC 200 appearance. McGregor and UFC boss Dana White made nice, though, and McGregor ultimately reappeared with a victory in UFC 202 over Nate Diaz and then another title belt win at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden against Jose Aldo. That’s quite the year.
The champ champ pic.twitter.com/iprUKL0Ldx
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) November 13, 2016
3. NBA star Kobe Bryant reflects on his final night as an NBA player (205K retweets)
Last night was the final chapter to an incredible story. I walk away at peace knowing my love for the game & this city will never be broken.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 14, 2016
As one of the biggest stars in NBA history, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was going to be the center of attention on his final night as a pro. After spending 20 seasons with a single team, Bryant played in his final game against the Utah Jazz—and he made it a memorable one. With teammates passing him the ball at every opportunity, the “Black Mamba” scored 60 points on 50 shots, the highest-scoring performance of any player in his final game in NBA history.
Just as Bryant was putting the finishing touches on his career, the future of the NBA, reigning MVP Stephen Curry, was finishing off one of the finest offensive seasons ever—becoming the first player to hit 400 3-point shots in a season. And just like that, the torch was passed.
Mamba out. https://t.co/xrUDRVceyB
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 14, 2016
2. NFL star Marshawn Lynch announces his retirement from football with a tweet – 207K Retweets
— Shawn Lynch (@MoneyLynch) February 8, 2016
The Seattle Seahawks running back didn’t have a flashy press conference or some big announcement when he decided to retire. Instead, he simply tweeted, and metaphorically hung up his cleats. As one of the most entertaining players in the league, Lynch got plenty of attention for the news—in honor of his great career, check out the top “Beast Mode” moments from Lynch in all their glory. This one’s pretty great, too:
Marshawn Lynch is back (and almost ran over the band). pic.twitter.com/MdqIBnJSUc
— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) November 6, 2016
1. Muhammad Ali’s official account memorializes the sporting legend (257K retweets)
— Muhammad Ali (@MuhammadAli) June 4, 2016
Ali, one of the greatest—and arguably The Greatest—sports figures in history, passed away in 2016. His loss was felt across the entire world, from athletes to politicians and fans of all ages. The legendary boxer always was ready with a great quote and the tweet from his official account was the most shared sports-related message in the U.S. in 2016. You can read more about Ali in the Men’s Fitness Special Collector’s Issue, Ali: The People’s Champion, and about how he got his fantastic physique.
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