The European Championships are still a month away and the Olympics are even further down the track, but 2016 has already been an amazing year for sport. Short of Michael Phelps winning another 72 gold medals, the two biggest sporting stories of the year have already been written. So, with the proviso that the NBA playoffs are still progressing, who won 2016: the Golden State Warriors or Leicester City?
The greatest player to set foot on a basketball court was Michael Jordan, and his greatest single-season achievement was the 1996 Bulls. But Jordan and the Bulls were this year bumped to the unfamiliar position of second after Golden State completed the regular season with single-digit defeats, finishing 73-9 to eclipse the Bulls' mark of 72-10. Leicester, meanwhile, were crowned champions for the first time in their 132-year history, becoming the first team outside of the traditional big four to win the Premier League since Blackburn in 1995. But their achievements are to these eyes slightly less impressive than Nottingham Forest's in the late 1970s.
Slight edge to the Warriors.
Golden State were defending champions, saw every key player from last year's roster return and won their first 24 games of the campaign. They didn't exactly creep up on anyone. The Foxes, of course, were 5000-1 outsiders when the season began, far more likely to have manager Claudio Ranieri sacked mid-season and be relegated than they were to win the league. Considering punters could have found better odds on Elvis being alive, I think Leicester have this one.
While Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante are better players, no one exemplified the rise of Leicester like striker Jamie Vardy. A man who was a few years ago languishing in semi-professional obscurity scored 22 goals, was in the running for the Footballer of the Year award (won by Mahrez) and could be starting for England at Euro 2016. Steph Curry, meanwhile, is the best athlete alive. Jamie Vardy may be having a party but this one's as straightforward as Curry draining a three.
Considering the NBA regular season is a six-month prelude to the playoffs, it's difficult to imbue too much meaning in one game, even in a season as historic as the Warriors'. But Golden State's double-overtime thriller in Oklahoma City, when Curry's ridiculous buzzer beater clinched it, was about as entertaining as sport gets. For much of the season, it was a matter of when and not if Leicester's bubble would burst. But in a February battle between first and second, the Foxes produced an absolute masterclass away from home to blitz Manchester City 3-1, going five points clear and, months later, winning this entirely objective category.
Those heights were rather rare for Leicester the longer the season progressed. A pure counter-attacking team, when the title race reached squeaky bum time, as Sir Alex Ferguson would put it, the eventual champions relied on their defence and ground out a series of 1-0 victories. The Warriors, on the other hand, were consistently invigorating viewing, inspired with a level of self-belief that left no deficit insurmountable. Playing with pace and spacing the floor, the Warriors were so efficient on offence that Klay Thompson ended the season with the third-most successful three-pointers of all time. Curry, naturally, took first place, and Golden State take this particular prize.
The grandkids test
The ultimate judge of who won a year: imagine, in a distant future, regaling your grandkids with tales of the most amazing sporting feats you had the privilege of watching. With respect to the Warriors, whose record may actually outlive those hypothetical grandkids, Leicester City are the story of 2016.