2020 in a nutshell: Sports stories that made headlines in the year of the pandemic

Published December 28, 2020, 8:50 PM

by Carlo Anolin

kobe bryant tenement
A giant mural of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna was made by Tenement Visual Artists at Tenement Building basketball court in Taguig city as a way of honoring their idol. (MB File Photo / Jansen Romero)

Is it safe to say that 2020 is one forgettable year?

With the majority of the sporting events put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 became a huge obstacle for many athletes who seek competitiveness and greatness and sports fans who miss cheering live for their favorite teams.

The death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant sent shock waves across the world while the postponement of 2020 Tokyo Games put uncertainty on future Olympic hopefuls.

On local shore, Kai Sotto and Thirdy Ravena made bold moves in their basketball careers and the controversial UST bubble became a puzzle to solve for many UAAP faithful.

As the year comes to a close, the Manila Bulletin looked back on the headlines that witnessed the ups and downs of one of the most challenging years, — if not the most — for athletes and sports aficionados.

10. Retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov
UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, right, and and his late father Abdulmanap in file photo (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

Undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov shocked the mixed martial arts world after announcing his retirement last October.

After dominating Justin Gaethje, winning by a second-round technical knockout, Khabib took the opportunity to tell the crowd that it will be his last fight.

Khabib fought for the first time without his father and coach Abdulmanap by his side, who passed away last July.

Khabib, who holds a perfect 13-0 record in the UFC and a 29-0 slate in his professional MMA career, kept the promise to his mother not to fight without his late father.

Following his victory against Gaethje, Nurmagomedov surpassed Jon Jones as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC.

9. The Last Dance a hit docu-series
the last dance
The Last Dance, an ESPN and Netflix documentary series about NBA legend Michael Jordan and the 90s Chicago Bulls dynasty, has won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.

The Last Dance is one of the go-to series by sports fans and athletes as the coronavirus pandemic put the sporting world at a standstill.

The 10-episode documentary-series by ESPN and Netflix narrated the journey of NBA legend Michael Jordan and the 90s Chicago Bulls dynasty.

It was originally scheduled to air during the NBA Finals set in June, but was released two months earlier — from April 19 to May 17 exactly — to fill the void of the sports calendar amid the pandemic.

Directed by Jason Hehir, The Last Dance bagged an Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series last September.

Per ESPN, The Last Dance became the most-watched docu-series of the sports network after averaging 5.6 million viewers throughout its run.

NBA legend Michael Jordan, the star of the show, had donated $2 million of earnings from the series to Feeding America, a Chicago-based charitable food network.

8. Retirement of ‘The Undertaker’
Photo from The Undertaker’s Twitter account

WWE legend “The Undertaker” said last June that he’d already gone for the “last ride” of his wrestling career.

Known as Mark Calaway in real life, The Undertaker announced his shock retirement in the final episode of “The Last Ride” documentary, saying that “he doesn’t intend to wrestle another match.”

The Undertaker defeated AJ Styles in WrestleMania 36 in a cinematic style “Boneyard Match.”

The Undertaker holds a 25-2 record in WrestleMania, making him one of the most decorated wrestlers in WWE history and only losing to Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns in 2014 (WrestleMania XXX) and 2017 (WrestleMania 33) respectively.

7. Former NCAA MVP Sudan Daniel passes away
sudan daniel
Photo from Chooks to Go via Sudan Daniel’s Instagram account

2020 is not yet done with all the distress and sad news as former San Beda University cager Sudan Daniel passed away just this Saturday.

Daniel, 33, reportedly had an asthma attack while having a vacation in Calatagan, Batangas owned by former teammate and long-time pal David Semerad.

The San Beda community, including the Semerad brothers — David and Anthony — mourned the passing of Daniel.

Daniel, NCAA Season 86 Most Valuable Player and Finals MVP, led the undefeated Red Lions to capture the championship in 2010 with a historic 18-0 record.

He, later on, became known for being the voice behind Chooks-To-Go Pilipinas 3×3 tournaments as a host.

6. Thirdy Ravena suits up for San-En in Japan B.League
thirdy ravena
Photo from San-En Neophoenix

Thirdy Ravena became the first player in Japan B.League history under the Asian Player Quota program, marking another milestone for his basketball career and bringing pride to the country.

After exiting the UAAP on a high note, Ravena decided to take his talent overseas instead of declaring for a draft in the PBA.

The former Ateneo standout joined the San-En Neophoenix, a cellar-dweller team in the Japan B.League.

On his debut game, Ravena had an explosive introduction after posting 13 points, two rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes of play for an 83-82 victory against the Susanoo Shimane Magic.

Ravena took a short break after testing positive for COVID-19. But prior to that, he is averaging 12.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in five games.

5. NBA, PBA hold successful bubble tournaments
nba lakers
AFP Photo

The NBA bubble — the first setup of its own — paved the way for most of the basketball leagues around the world.

It took months before the NBA bubble, also known as the Disney Bubble or Orlando Bubble, turned into a huge success.

The dilemma started when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert first tested positive for COVID-19 last March, prompting league officials to postpone the games.

With the creation of the bubble at the Walt Disney World in Bay Lake, Florida, the 2020 NBA season continued its testing, workouts and scrimmages with proper health protocols followed from June to July and eventually returned to play on July 30.

The Los Angeles Lakers, led by Finals Most Valuable Player LeBron James and Anthony Davis, captured their first NBA title in 10 years and the franchise’s 17th championship after beating the Miami Heat in a 4-2 series last October.

The season ended with zero cases of COVID-19 throughout the entire duration of the bubble.

The NBA also saw that activism is alive in America as players and coaches used their platforms to promote the Black Lives Matter movement following the continuous police brutality that involved black people, with George Floyd’s killing serving as the spark.

pba ginebra
PBA Images

PBA, meanwhile, adapted NBA’s blueprint to build its own bubble in Clark, Pampanga from October to early December.

The Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings became the first champion of the inaugural PBA bubble season after defeating the TNT Tropang Giga in a commanding 4-2 Finals series en route to the franchise’s first All-Filipino title since 2007 and 13th overall PBA championship.

Veteran guard LA Tenorio bagged the Honda-PBA Press Corps Finals Most Valuable Player after averaging 13.6 points and 6.2 assists and also took home his first All-Filipino crown since entering the PBA in 2006.

But unlike the flawless NBA bubble, the PBA was marred with several COVID-19 scares as a player from Blackwater and a referee initially tested positive for the coronavirus. It was later revealed to be a “false positive” after yielding negative antigen test results.

Seven long months have passed and the PBA resumed its operations since the league’s indefinite postponement last March.

The 45th season also saw the cancellation of its two more conferences, the Governors’ and Commissioner’s Cups, due to the rising coronavirus cases.

4. Kai Sotto signs with NBA G League
kai sotto
Photo from Kai Sotto’s Instagram account

Kai Sotto made a huge leap in his young basketball career after signing with the NBA G League and joining Team Ignite last May.

Many Filipino hoops fans rejoiced as Sotto made a step closer in becoming the first full-blooded Filipino to play in the NBA.

Sotto joined an elite prospect team in the NBA G League as part of the league’s new developmental program

He is joined by Filipino-American Jalen Green, Congolese Jonathan Kuminga, and Americans Daishen Nix and Isaiah Todd in Team Ignite under the helm of three-time NBA champion Brian Shaw.

The former Ateneo high school standout recently launched his clothing brand “Kaiju” and is set to open his sports academy “Kaiju Academy” at the Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill Complex, the largest indoor sports complex in North America late next year.

The 7-foot-2 Filipino basketball prodigy also declared himself available for Gilas Pilipinas in early December, making it his debut appearance for the men’s national basketball team.

3. Controversial UST bubble
Aldin Ayo
UAAP Images

The controversial “Sorgoson bubble” allegedly conducted by the men’s basketball team of University of Santo Tomas is one of the biggest headlines in Philippine sports history.

It received heavy criticisms which resulted to a major shake-up within the Growling Tigers, a squad that reached the UAAP Finals last Season 82 for the first time since 2015.

Former team captain CJ Cansino was the first to exit the team, but was later revealed that the management decided to let him go. Many players followed suit including Ira Bataller, Brent Paraiso, Rhenz Abando, June Ascunscion, Mark Nonoy, Deo Cuajao, and Bismarck Lina.

CJ Cansino
UAAP Images

Cansino and Lina moved to University of the Philippines while Nonoy and Cuajao transferred to De La Salle Univesity. Others decided to jump ship to counterpart collegiate league NCAA as Bataller, Paraiso, and Abando shifted to Letran and Ascuncion carried on with Mapua.

The Sorsogon bubble likewise led to the resignation of former coach Aldin Ayo, who was also slapped with an indefinite ban by the UAAP, and athletic director Fr. Jannel Abogado O.P.

The aftermath showed that the local police found Ayo “not liable for any health protocol violations” and that there were no prohibited basketball activities conducted.

2. 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed
Tokyo Olympics
(Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games left many future Olympic hopefuls in awe while others took the news patiently and went on with their training.

With several qualifying tournaments scrapped or shelved, the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Organizing Committee eventually reached an agreement to reschedule the Games next year from July to August.

Organizers said in early December that the delay would cost at least an extra $2.4 billion for operational costs, “contingency” funds, logistics, and transportation, among others with the implementation of strict health protocols.

An NHK poll showed that the majority of Japanese people oppose holding the Games in 2021.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents support to push it through next year, 32 percent backing cancellation, and 31 percent favoring another postponement.

In the Philippines, four Filipino athletes namely pole vaulter EJ Obiena, gymnast Carlos Yulo, and boxers Eumir Felix Marcial and Irish Magno have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.

1. Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna perish in helicopter crash
Kobe Bryant Gianna Bryant
(Stephen Gosling / NBAE via Getty Images / AFP)

Perhaps the death of the late NBA legend and Lakers star Kobe Bryant is the most shocking news that surfaced in 2020 not only for the sporting world but to the general public before the world completely turned upside-down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kobe, along with 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, perished in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, west of Los Angeles last January. The passengers were en route for a basketball game at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks.

The tragedy that Bryant and other victims suffered sent the people around the world in months of mourning as several sports stars extended their final farewell and sentiments to the five-time NBA champion with the heaviest hearts.

On February 24 — with 2/24 as a representation of Kobe and Gianna’s jersey numbers — a public memorial was conducted at the Staples Center.

Vanessa, Kobe’s widow, and another NBA legend Michael Jordan, Kobe’s mentor, idol, and long-time friend, left some heartful messages at the arena where the Black Mamba dedicated his 20 years in the NBA.

Bryant’s last tweet also became the talk of the town, congratulating current Lakers leader LeBron James for passing his mark for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

In the Philippines, one of the most iconic tributes made for Bryant was the black-and-white court mural, showing Kobe and Gianna hugging each other, by the residents of The Tenement in Taguig led by local rapper and artist Mike Swift.