The 2016 edition of New Times' Best of Phoenix is out now, making an argument for our status as a border town. Here's our list of the top people and accomplishments this past year in the world of sports.
Best Rookie Sensation: David Johnson
It's not as though Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson came out of nowhere. The Cardinals took him in the third round of the NFL draft, after all. But no one in the league foresaw the monster offensive season Johnson turned in during the 2015 campaign. He established himself as a versatile triple threat, able to confound defenses by running the ball, catching the ball, and returning kicks. The future of the Cardinals' backfield looks bright.
Best Female Athlete: MyKayla Skinner
Who would have thought that Chandler would have a world-class gymnastics gym? Well, MyKayla Skinner trains at Desert Lights Gymnastics, and she traveled to Brazil as an alternate for the U.S. team. The 19-year-old finished fourth at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials, even beating out 2012 medal winner Gabby Douglas, who finished seventh. Skinner, a Gilbert native, is now at the University of Utah on a full gymnastics scholarship, so look for her to be a top competitor at future competitions.
Best Male Athlete: Paul Goldschmidt
Paul Goldschmidt is the guy that pitchers' nightmares are made of. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds of solid muscle, he's got a killer eye for the strike zone and a habit of punishing pitchers who make even minor mistakes when facing him. He's one of those rare players who hits both for power and for a high batting average, and though the Diamondbacks might have whimpered through yet another disappointing season, Goldy was as productive as ever, named as a reserve in the All-Star Game.
Best Ageless Wonder: Larry Fitzgerald
Few sports are kind to the ravages of age, and professional football is certainly a young man's sport. But beloved Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has continued to dominate the league into his 30s. Not only is he able to stay competitive at age 33, he was, by any measure, one of the best receivers in the game last year. Just shows what talent, hard work, and winning the genetic lottery can do for you in the National Football League.
Best Redemption Story: Carson Palmer
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was the best regular-season QB in the league in 2015, and that season was an exclamation point on a career filled with many more downs than ups. Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003, he suffered numerous injuries and poisonous front-office politics before he requested a trade in 2010. Out of spite, Bengals owner Mike Brown refused to honor the request, but eventually relented and traded Palmer to the one franchise worse than hell — the Oakland Raiders. He spent two years playing awful Bay Area football before arriving in Arizona via trade. The ensuing seasons have seen Palmer blossom into an elite quarterback.
Best Sports Joke: Diamondbacks demand $187 million in stadium repairs from county
When the Arizona Diamondbacks' owners demanded that Maricopa County pony up almost $200 million for stadium repairs lest the team bolt for greener pastures, you'd have to forgive the average fan for at least beginning to swallow the bait. After all, there's precedent. When the Arizona Coyotes threatened to leave and demanded the Glendale city government give the team all but the mayor's firstborn daughter and the city council had the gall to balk, Coyotes fans nearly tarred and feathered their elected officials. But there's no serious way to look at this in which the Diamondbacks don't come off sounding entitled and whiny.
Best Compromise: Phoenix Suns get two power forwards in 2016 NBA draft
One shining star that appears when you go 23-59 in the regular season is you usually get a pretty good draft pick, and the Suns had more than a few needs when they landed the No. 4 slot in the lottery. Most observers had them looking for a power forward to replace Mirza Teletovic, and it seemed pretty likely that the team would draft either Croatian import Dragan Bender or University of Washington product Marquese Chriss to fill the outgoing Bosnian's shoes. But in a move that either shows maximum indecisiveness or brilliance, the Suns traded for the eighth pick and drafted both players.
Best Poetic Justice in Sports: Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr was part of a group that bought the Phoenix Suns in 2004, and up until 2010 he was the team's general manager. But he left after that season when majority owner Robert Sarver refused to give Kerr and the Suns' coaches raises, and Kerr sat on the sidelines until he became the head coach of the Golden State Warriors in 2014. Since then, Phoenix Suns fans have had to watch glumly as the Warriors became one of the most exciting teams in NBA history, with our former GM leading the team in 2016 to an NBA-record 73 regular-season wins.
Best Coaching Shakeup: Phoenix Suns
At the end of 2015, shortly after the holiday, the Suns fired two of head coach Jeff Hornacek's assistants, Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi, after the team had sputtered to a start that meekly flirted with respectability. The Suns then proceeded to win just three games out of their next 30. Naturally, team leaders then fired Hornacek, who had taken the reins of a promising roster two years earlier and then went on to steer the carriage into a lake. Owner Robert Sarver then promoted the lone remaining assistant coach, Earl Watson, to interim head coach, despite the fact Watson's sole head-coaching experience came in the NBA's developmental league.
Best Resurrection of the Color Teal: Arizona Diamondbacks
Sedona Red was cool and all, and frankly, we're glad it's not gone completely, but Lord, how we missed the teal! Sure, the Arizona Diamondbacks didn't do as well this season as everyone hoped they would, especially after shelling out more than $200 million to Zack Greinke and making one of the worst trades in baseball history to acquire Shelby Miller. But damned if those boys don't look good rockin' the ol' teal once more.
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