The coronavirus pandemic caused chaos in the world of sports, but it was not all bad news in 2020. The year that no one will forget had Rafael Nadal, wearing a mask, lifting his 13th Roland Garros title, his 100th victory on Paris clay and tying the all-time record of 20 Grand Slam crosses held by Roger Federer. Lewis Hamilton came out as the most successful driver in Formula One history after beating Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 victories and then equaling the Kaiser’s seven title count. Title droughts came to an end when Liverpool became English soccer champions for the first time in three decades and the Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl in 50 years.
But also the sadness and shock caused by the deaths of Diego Maradona and Kobe Bryant, two legends in soccer and basketball.
KOBE IN MEMORY – January 26
“It doesn’t make sense,” LeBron James said. “But the universe puts things in your life … They’re not supposed to make sense, but they happen.”
This is how the Los Angeles Lakers star summed up the shock after learning that Kobe Bryant had lost his life when the helicopter carrying him crashed into the hills of Calabasas, California, on January 26. He started at a young age, at 41 and less than four years after retiring from the NBA. Bryant was heading with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna to a youth basketball game. They both died together with the other six passengers and the pilot.
Fourth top scorer in the NBA, Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, becoming champion five times.
SPORTS STOP – March 11th
There were only seconds left to kick off a Utah Jazz game against the Thunder at Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena when he was delayed for half an hour and then suspended. Confusion raged. Shortly after, it was confirmed that Rudy Gobert of the Jazz had tested positive for the new coronavirus. The NBA took that same night, March 11, the decision to suspend the season “until further notice.” Two days earlier, the French center had mocked fears of the incipient pandemic, touching the microphones placed on the table at a press conference.
The abrupt halt in basketball in North America was a precursor to the paralysis of all sporting activity around the world – with soccer leagues in Nicaragua and Belarus as exceptions. The Olympic Games, the Eurocup and the America’s Cup were postponed until 2021. Events like the Tour de France and the Augusta Masters had to wait until the autumn months.
LIVERPOOL CHAMPION, 30 YEARS LATER – June 25.
When it was played again, the environment was different. There was talk of sanitary protocols and bubbles. And it was most palpable in football. Banners that covered the rows of seats to cover up the absence of fans. Artificial noise to create an atmosphere in the face of silence. The Black Lives Matters protests.
But nothing and no one was going to stop Liverpool fans from celebrating their first certified English Premier League title in 30 years when Chelsea beat Manchester City 2-1 in London on June 25. It was a coronation that had been foreshadowed since December and they ended up with an incredible advantage of 18 points over the City, the previous champions. But it was not the celebration they would have hoped for, a mass display within their Anfield fiefdom. The pandemic altered plans, but the gathering of several hundred to light flares and climb the gates of the Klop was spontaneous in every way.
– September 6.
It was the shortest tennis season on record, with five months of inactivity and the cancellation of Wimbledon for the first time since 1945.
The US Open in New York was one of the first tournaments to be played after the restart, and it seemed all served for Novak Djokovic, then undefeated, to take his 18th Grand Slam title. After all, Nadal declined to venture out on the transatlantic voyage amid the pandemic and Federer was unable to do so after undergoing two operations on his right knee.
Djokovic was preceded by his status as an agitator of a new players’ union and having tested positive for COVID-19 after organizing an exhibition tour in Serbia and its Balkan neighbors. But it all went away when he suffered a serve break in the final stretch of the first set of his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreño Busta. Disgruntled by an adverse moment, he whipped the ball back. The Serbian could see the trajectory of the ball and his gaze betrayed terror. He had just hit a linesman in the throat, who collapsed and screamed in pain in a stadium without an audience.
As much as he tried to argue that he did not intend to hit her, the die was cast by regulation. He was disqualified for the first time in his career.
THE CONTAGIO OF JUSTIN TURNER – October 27th
The city of Los Angeles celebrated twice. His Lakers won their first crown in a decade and tied with the Boston Celtics for the most successful franchises with 17 titles. But the most longed-for celebration was in baseball. The Dodgers had not been consecrated since 1988. They had been knocking on the door insistently, winning their division in seven years in a row. They reached the 2017 World Series, which they ended up losing at home to the Houston Astros who were subsequently exposed as cheaters. Same story in the 2018 edition, falling at home against the Red Sox. The Dodgers subdued the Tampa Bay Rays in a Fall Classic that was played in Arlington, Texas.
It was an unusual ending. In the wake of the pandemic, they spent weeks in a bubble. And the coronavirus ended up impacting the celebration after the victory in the sixth game that gave them the title when it was revealed that his third baseman Justin Turner had been removed from the game in the eighth inning after receiving a positive result. In a surreal scene, Turner ignored the orders of the authorities and returned to the field to pose with his teammates with the trophy.
MARADONA DIED – November 25
The last year of Diego Maradona’s extraordinary life found him back in Argentina as a coach of Gymnastics and Fencing La Plata. Each club visit ended in acts of worship. For example, in Rosario to face Newell’s Old Boys, the locals gave him an armchair to direct. Carlos Tevez kissed him on the lips at La Bombonera before a game in which Boca Juniors would be crowned champions of the league.
In hindsight, all those gestures were a final tribute to the genius and leader of the team that won the 1986 World Cup, where the Ten were the author of two memorable goals against England.