The beauty of sport lies in its capacity for possibility.
The beauty of sport lies in its capacity for possibility.
Though only rarely is sport meaningfully memorable, there's always the potential that the game you're watching will matter historically. The batter walks to the box, knocking his bat on his cleats with that certain look in his eyes, and it's entirely in the realm of possibility that this is it, the home-run that goes farther than any ever has before.
In a time of frightening what-ifs, we could use the welcome and innocent unknown of sport more than ever. Alas, the seasons have been suspended or cancelled, and we are left with only our imaginations to fill in the blanks. But if our imaginations alone are going to decide the outcomes of such seasons, let's use that imagination to the fullest. Let's assume that every sport was going to have its most wild and historic season of all time. So, here are hyperbolic predictions for nearly all the major sports we won't actually get to see played this year.
National Basketball Association
The NBA never pauses play. Lebron James continues to lead the league in assists, continues to garner MVP-buzz over early-season favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo. With an eighth of the season left to play, however, many are still reluctant to cast their MVP vote for James. After all, Giannis had the highest PER (player-efficiency-rating) of all time. Of all time! Things look pre-decided.
Lebron holds a press conference with nine games left in the season, saying something along the lines of "I'm the best to do it. I'm no doubt the MVP. And I'm going to prove it." And then he proves it. Lebron goes at least 45-10-10 (points-rebounds-assists) every game until the end of the season, and copyrights the phrase Best To Do It, which gets immediately attached to shoe advertisements and Twitter bios alike. He wins MVP in a sudden landslide.
The playoffs are otherwise a wash. Nothing else matters besides the collision course between Lebron, on a warpath, and Giannis, out to prove the doubters wrong. Both Lebron's Los Angeles Lakers and Giannis' Milwaukee Bucks sweep their first two playoff rounds, embarrassing teams by 20, 30, even 40 points. In the Conference Championships, the Lakers drop their first game to the Clippers, only to come back and win four straight. In that last game, however, Anthony Davis of the Lakers takes a hard fall and strains his back. Will he be able to play in the Finals? All anybody knows is that Giannis just went off for 60-21-8 as the Bucks beat the Boston Celtics in six games, setting up a showdown of titans.
Davis isn't coming back. He won't be cleared in time for anything but game seven, if the series even gets that far. And it doesn't look like it will. The Bucks beat the Lakers 122-100, 130-126, and 118-117 in three consecutive games. Lebron just ain't got it. Nobody's ever come back from 3-0. Khris Middleton of the Bucks says something acerbic in a presser, and fans on Twitter start making death threats, claiming he's jinxed the team.
And he's seemed to. The Bucks drop three-in-a-row, all close games, two of which go to overtime. Davis comes back in the Final game, and he helps the Lakers take a 25-point lead by the third quarter. They never let it go. The narrative around Giannis becomes dark: is he a born loser? Will he ever succeed in the NBA ? Can he be the best guy on a Championship team?
Meanwhile, Lebron gets another ring, and another MVP, and another Finals MVP. The line between him and Jordan looks cloudier than ever. Best to do it? Maybe so, after all.
Major League Baseball
The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers (great fake season for Wisconsin), Cleveland Indians, and San Diego Padres all win 100 games a piece. It's the first time five teams have accomplished such a feat in League history. Meanwhile, the cheating Houston Astros lose six of their nine Opening Day starters to various injuries. Either they were intentionally hit by fastballs, or divine intervention saw fit to take them from the game: torn ACL's, hyperextended knees, groin sprains galore.
Actually, the violence surrounding the Astros becomes one of the League's great storylines. Never before has the entirety of the MLB been so united against a common enemy, and by mid-way through the season, any instance of hitting an Astros player with a pitch is punishable by a full year suspension, as per commissioner Rob Manfred.That stops most people, but not everyone. Astros game viewership skyrockets, highest in the League. Everyone wants to know who's going to get beaned next.
The Yankees break their own record for most consecutive games with a home-run, at the same time as the Dodgers' superstar pair, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, become an unprecedentedly efficient duo. The two coastal powerhouses meet in the World Series, which goes to seven games. Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees gives up a home-run in the top of the 9th-inning to put the Dodgers up by two. The Yankees get one more chance, however.
The first two batters go down swinging. Yankee Stadium is almost silent as Aaron Judge, the potential last out, comes up to the plate. Boom, he hits a solo home-run to bring the game within one run. Giancarlo Stanton, who only played half the season due to injury, does the same. And then Gary Sanchez etches his own name in Yankees history, hitting a third consecutive solo shot, lifting the Bombers over the Dodgers 6-5. It's their 28th title of all time, and perhaps the most dramatic.
The trio come to be known as the Tri-State Toreadors, and all stay with the Yankees for their next nine seasons, five of which result in championships. T-shirt sales hit unprecedented numbers.
National Hockey League
The abysmal Red Wings of Detroit don't win again for the rest of the season. With 11-games left to play, the 17-54 Red Wings just kind of roll-over and die. After their losing streak climaxes with one of hockey's longest-ever scoring droughts, the performance is deemed so bad by fans that after pouring out of Little Caesar's Arena, the Detroit crowd becomes riotous, flipping cars and breaking glass windows and looting wildly. Mike Duggan, Mayor of Detroit, declares a State of Emergency. The National Guard is called in. The NHL convenes a meeting of the owners. Citing "destructive fan tendency" but really just making good on a tacit promise made years ago to a pair of oil men in Little Rock, the league ignores the Red Wings' unprecedented 22-year-playoff streak in favor of the recency bias. The team is moved out of Michigan altogether. Stripped of city and name, they are re-christened the Arkansas Spartans. Their new logo is fittingly the omega symbol, as they are cursed by the Hockey Gods not to win another title for 75 years, when the NHL is finally splintered and moved off-planet.
Though still a spot out of the playoffs when the season briefly stopped, the Vancouver Canucks use the short break to recover from their multitude of injuries. Vancouver superstars Elias Petterson and Quinn Hughes combine talents with recently traded-for asset Tyler Toffoli, who spins his injury-replacement role into a full-time starting gig, and the team manages to squeak by into the playoffs. And they keep on squeaking by. They win series after series by late-game goals, by overtime magic, barely overcoming opponents. Yet despite Vancouver's best efforts, the Philadelphia Flyers (Flyers coach Alain Vigneault does incredible work with a young team and, especially, a young defense. Goalie Carter Hart proves himself one of the elite goaltenders in the sport, putting on a clinic night-after-night, helping the team remain nearly unbeatable at home) best them after six hard games in the Stanley Cup Finals. "Shockingly," Philadelphia also goes up in flames. Someone steals the Liberty Bell. Eight people die. A Ticker Tape Parade is still held. Cameras catch the deceased ascending to Valhalla.
The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics
Simone Biles performs a coterie of unseen moves that come to be known as the Simone Sequence. Each one she has created, innovated, and mastered. They're aptly named the Biles, the Biles II, the Biles III, and the Gymnast Formerly Known as the Biles. No other entrant dares attempt even a single one of them. Biles breaks her own record for gold medals won (they make a new category for her, Women's Domination, at her behest), but after the Games have ended, she bafflingly announces that she's hanging up the leotard, opting instead to focus on philanthropy. The Biles Brigade helps bring school supplies and talented teachers to under-served communities. Biles, through smart investments and evergreen accomplishment, becomes the first Olympic Billionaire. In 2036, she runs for Governor of Ohio.
The Tokyo Olympics elevate Competitive Rock Climbing to the world's stage. Niche climbers and amateurs alike fall in to watch the festivities, to see what was once a hobby become a sensation. There were more of them than even they thought. Led by a resurgent performance from American climber Brooke Raboutou (following in the footsteps of Phelps and Bolt), climbing enters the public imagination. A generation of kids dream of competing in the new events themselves, not least because it looks so fun, and the forthcoming, figurative Mt. Rushmore is in need of faces. Harvard announces the country's first climbing scholarships. Yale, steeped in tradition, defies the wave. Within five years, they're excommunicated from the Ivy League, replaced by Bard College. The number of climbing gyms triple in the United States, and professional climbers become household names. Watching the 2020 Games from her home in Upstate New York, eight-year-old Connie Rodriguez dreams of becoming the youngest Olympic-climbing qualifier ever. Four years later, she does just that, landing the cover of Time Magazine, with an interview titled "World Domination, and Home in time for Supper."
Professional Golf Association
Tiger Woods wins the Masters. Again. It's one of the greatest sports stories of all time, pulling him within two of Jack Nicklaus' all-time majors record. And the specifics of the feat are even more staggering. Tiger's first two rounds are so full of mistakes he nearly misses the cut, but then he plays the two greatest rounds in Masters history, shooting a 62 followed by a 61.
Simultaneous to Tiger's comeback, Brooks Koepka, world number three and then-leader, struggles in the final round, feeling Tiger's breath on his neck. After losing in a tense three-hole playoff, Brooks snaps his club on his knee, rips off his shirt, screams something in Latin, approaches and then assaults Tiger Woods on the green, bashing him in the face and arms repeatedly with the broken broad-side of a golf club. Koepka is sentenced to 20 years in Federal Prison for the crime, the televised trial of which draws O.J. Simpson-like press. Tiger is never able to play Golf again, but spins tragedy into accomplishment. He becomes an ambassador for the Sport, a role model for children, and a philanthropist. He sets a new record, delivering the most all-time College Commencement Addresses. The British Open is renamed the Tiger Cup. The PGA logo is changed to a silhouette of Tiger fist-pumping. He goes down as the consensus best athlete of all time. And if that weren't enough, he lives to become the oldest ever American, finally dying from heat stroke during a marathon at the age of 121. He is survived by 27 children mothered by 26 women.
NCAA Basketball Tournament
Baylor wins the women's tournament. Kansas wins the men's.