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2016: A Good Year For Sports

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You just think about 2016 and the storylines in the news - horrific terrorist attacks, relentless wars. A divisive presidential campaign. Commentator Christine Brennan is reflecting on something else.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren once said he always turned to the sports pages of the newspaper first. Why? Because they recorded people's accomplishments. The front page, he said, offered nothing but man's failures. If Warren was right - that we look to sports to escape the real world - then let's face it, we've had an awful lot of escaping to do this year. The good news is, in sports, 2016 delivered.

Where do we begin? With the Chicago Cubs, of course, the sports story of the year. One hundred eight years after they won their last World Series, they finally won another. And the way they did it was majestic, in a seven-game series with the Cleveland Indians, a team on its own 68-year hiatus between championships.

The two teams played a seventh game for the ages in which there were rallies by both sides, a rain delay, then, finally, victory for the Cubs in the 10th inning. The unending joy in Chicago was met by abject sadness in Cleveland, a sadness eased by the fact that their basketball team, the Cavaliers, led by hometown hero LeBron James, won the NBA title just a few months earlier. That gave Cleveland its first major sports championship in 52 years. Both the Cubs' and the Cavaliers' victories were unique in that both were as much - or even more - of a triumph for their long-suffering fans as they were for the players on those winning teams.

Speaking of sports cities, Rio de Janeiro made the headlines more than most this year. And against long odds, Rio pulled off hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics. It had a little help from some American friends, swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky and gymnast Simone Biles. Each of these multiple-gold medalists triumphed far beyond our wildest dreams - and perhaps theirs, too.

To be fair, there were some bad moments in sports this year. There was Russian cheating. I know who you're thinking of - no, not him. I'm talking about tennis star Maria Sharapova who was suspended for the year after admitting she took a newly banned substance. But it was more than Sharapova. It was an entire diabolical sporting nation, which has taken the art of winning world and Olympic medals while covering up the use of performance-enhancing drugs to a new high. Or is that a new low?

And there were epic retirements fitting of this memorable year, the NBA's Kobe Bryant and the NFL's Peyton Manning, who went out with one last, unexpected Super Bowl title. And then there were remarkable losses - the deaths of Muhammad Ali, Pat Summitt, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe and Bud Collins, a dear colleague and friend. What would the sports world have been without them?

Earl Warren probably never envisioned this particular year in sports, but it's proof that he was right. So thanks, 2016. We needed that.

GREENE: That's commentator Christine Brennan, a sports columnist for USA Today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.