The 2023 NY Sports Year: Thankful It Wasn’t All Bad
Generally speaking, 2023 was a year of bitter disappointment for New York City-area sports fans. The pro teams that began their seasons with the most hope crashed and burned.
Breaking the area’s 11-year tile jinx (for MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL leagues only)? Ha. We were lucky to squeeze in a few celebratory moments amidst the depression. The best-laid plans for those teams we expected to contend like the Yankees, Mets, Jets, and Nets were kicked to the curb by their mid-seasons. Even the WNBA Liberty, with their supposed Super Team, fell short in the Finals.
Otherwise, only the Giants, Knicks and Devils won a playoff round. That’s one single round each, with Big Blue’s Wild Card victory over Minnesota coming back in January as part of their 2022 campaign. No sense in rehashing what followed for them, right?
Finding the annual 20 such moments/players for this post has been a much more difficult chore than in recent years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and think of each passing season as one step closer to my ultimate demise. My hopeful “Wait til next year” battle cry from last year has evolved into the grumpier, “Are we there yet?”
However, I can put on an optimism mask when appropriate, so let’s look back at some of the fonder things we can remember about the 2023 sports season. I guess it wasn’t “all bad.” And with that rare note of positivity from me, I give you my 12th annual list of players and moments for which New York sports fans give thanks:
20. For the umpteenth time, I’m predicting St. John’s Basketball finally got their coaching selection right with Rick Pitino. Whether he can win in Queens remains to be seen, but he does have a fantastic recruiting record (if you ignore the extra-legal means in which he sometimes signs them) and his teams have qualified for the NCAA Tournament 21 times in his last 25 head coaching seasons, something the Red Storm hasn’t done since 2019.
19. Goaltending Isle. The most exciting aspect of watching a team that is 29th in the NHL in goals scored per game has been the elite netminding of Russians Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov. You certainly can’t blame them for the Islanders being stuck in the Land of Mediocrity in the last couple of seasons.
18. Sometimes, even the Devil deserves its due. Domingo German, whose Yankees tenure was rife with turmoil on and off the field, pitched the 24th perfect game in MLB history in June. Hey, Don Larsen wasn’t an angel either.
17. The Rangers hiring Peter Laviolette to replace Gerard Gallant as Head Coach, a move that I didn’t expect to pay this large a dividend this quickly, with the Blueshirts ripping through a 10-1-1 stretch as of this writing.
16. Mikal Bridges’ durability that reached 400 consecutive NBA regular season games played earlier this month. The Nets have been burdened by an injury curse for so long that their much-hyped Performance Team must be perplexed by how a player can suit up for all 82 games—actually, Bridges was on the court 83 times last season thanks to his trade from Phoenix in February as part of the Kevin Durant package.
15. Pete Alonso, the sole reason to watch the Mets play this past season, pounded 46 homers, placing him third in all of MLB.
14. The Jets’ defense. Though apparently wasted by the ineptitudes on the other side of the ball, New York held some of the top quarterbacks in the league to performances well below their standards.
13. Knicks two-point victories on the road in Miami and Boston to punctuate a nine-game winning streak. Normally, March basketball isn’t all that memorable above the college level, but behind Julius Randle’s combined 74 points, including a crazy game-winner to beat the Heat, these could have been deemed statement wins.
12. Jasson Dominguez, the 20-year old prodigy who gave Yankees fans an adrenaline shot in a lost-cause season when he was called up in September and proceeded to smash four home runs in his first seven games. Of course, this being a cursed year, his season was prematurely terminated after Game 8 when it was revealed that he required Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL tear; he won’t be back until the summer of 2024.
11. Speaking of short-lived thrills, let’s revisit the Aaron Rodgers trade. I know, Jets fans can have two minds about it now, because his ruptured Achilles on the season’s fourth snap will go down as the year’s lowlight. But if you go back to the Spring tapes, it shows that most of you were gaga about a future Hall of Fame quarterback choosing to join (and then surrendering about $35 million in guaranteed cash) this green gang who couldn’t shoot straight when it comes to evaluating the most important position in sports.
10. Garrett Cole, the embodiment of the terms “ace” and “stopper.” The unanimous choice to earn the sixth Cy Young Award in the Yankees’ glorious history.
9. Rangers star power. Crazy how owner James Dolan is perceived as an impediment when it comes to attracting the NBA’s top stars to the Big Apple yet his hockey team gets almost everyone they want.
8. The Rangers might have the better array of stars, but not even Artemi Panarin could shine brighter than the accomplishments of the Devils Jack Hughes this year. The brilliant center set a franchise record with 99 points last season and was atop the NHL’s scoring leaders with 20 points in the first 10 games of 2023-24 before a shoulder injury shut him down. And he’s only 22.
7. The Knicks’ patience. This may be the proverbial “high-floor, low-ceiling” roster as currently constructed, but they aren’t making rash decisions to overpay for Grade B stars that wouldn’t provide the boost to get them well past winning one playoff round to that elusive first title in 50 years. When the time and player is right, they have the assets to bring him in.
6. Aaron Judge. Yeah, it sucks that he gets hurt a lot, but this is an iconic Yankee.
5. The aforementioned Giants Wild Card victory in Minnesota. Back then, it sure seemed like they had the Head Coach/QB combo nailed.
4. Three miracles at MetLife Stadium. How many times has it been the Jets who have been on the demoralizing side of late-game collapses? In games against the Bills, Eagles, and “at” the Giants, the Jets somehow squeezed victories from the jaws of the defeat, the latter two with their opponent one snap from kneel-downs.
3. Because those Jets games are likely to be inconsequential in the big picture, for the New York Sports Moment of 2023, I’m going with the Devils’ 4-0 victory over the Rangers in Game 7 of their back-and-forth Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series. It put the cherry on top of a surprising (in a good way) season in New Jersey that saw them set a host of franchise records and epitomized why I sustain my fanaticisms through these lean periods.
2. The legions of New York sports fans, like you, who are so devoted to their teams and have continued to support my content in my third year using this forum.
And, as always,
1. My wonderful family--with extra thanks to my put-upon wife--who indulge me in my illogical passions for my favorite teams. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. May 2024 literally be a banner year and, more importantly, a safe one, in New York.