The year in sports pictures: Ranking 2018’s best photos from the Olympics, Super Bowl, World Cup and more

It was a busy sports year in 2018, to say the least. In the NFL we had not one, but two miracle last-second finishes. In the NBA we saw a dynasty continue. In MLB we witnessed one of the better seasons in league history. As the final days of 2018 wind down, it’s nice to take a bit of time to reminisce on the year that was, and there are few better ways to stroll down memory lane than to take a look at some photographs.

There’s a lot to look at in sports. It could be a great play, or a particularly emphatic reaction. Everything happens so fast that you need to know which moments are worth capturing almost before they occur.

It’s not easy to get a good shot, so we need to celebrate the people who are able to. Sometimes it’s a beautiful action shot or sometimes it’s the perfect encapsulation of a certain emotion — whether that be happiness or heartbreak. There’s no “right” way to make a great photo, so here are 20 of the best from 2018.

20. You should always watch your back

This year marked the last installment of LeBron James vs. the Warriors in the NBA Finals, with him leaving for the Lakers in free agency. However, James wasn’t even part of the best photo in the series. This photo of Tristan Thompson coming up behind Stephen Curry for the swat is gorgeously lit. It looks like Thompson is emerging from the darkness to swat Curry at the rim.

19. See? We weren’t kidding

You’ve got to love the water cooler douse. This one with Brock Holt during the ALDS against the Yankees is pretty great, if only because of how ridiculously nonchalant and happy he is. This was one of the many major celebrations the Red Sox had in 2018, and Holt came up huge in the ALDS, going 4 of 6 in Game 3 with a cycle.

18. Max Air

Chloe Kim’s breakout was years in the making. The 18-year-old became the youngest snowboarder to medal at the Olympics with a gold medal in the women’s snowboard halfpipe. At just 17 years old, she put together some immaculate runs that captivated viewers. Kim, whose rise to prominence started in the 2014 X Games, finally was able to show her stuff at the Olympics, and did she ever. This shot is an indicator of just how high she got — snowboarding among the trees.

17. Burning out

The best part of being a NASCAR driver has got to be the burnouts. Hanging triumphantly out of your window with your fist pumping after kicking up a giant cloud of smoke must be so satisfying. Chase Elliott got his chance after winning the Gander Outdoors 400 in Colorado this year. It’s safe to say he’ll need some new tires on the No. 9 Chevy.

16. Always remember your first bike

Gareth Bale had the most ridiculous goal in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over Liverpool in the Champions League Final. This bicycle kick was easily the goal of the day and gave Real Madrid a 2-1 lead in the 63rd minute. This was almost immediately after he was subbed in, so you could say he made an impact. Bale is an absolute monster, and this freeze frame as he makes contact captures that pretty well.

15. Nick Foles, baby

These pictures are a staple of Super Bowl teams. Nick Foles, a backup, led the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship against all odds. This picture most closely resembles Drew Brees after he won the Super Bowl in 2010, and it’s a recreation of sorts of the iconic shot of him holding the confetti with his son in his arms.

14. Look out below!

What’s amazing about this picture is knowing what happened immediately after: He landed it. Chris Carson got submarined by Panthers safety Eric Reid, and he was vaulted into the air. The Seahawks running back landed on his feet looking like Spider-Man and scrambled forward, but he didn’t get far afterward. The hangtime on this felt like an eternity, and it was one of the more athletic plays we’ve seen all NFL season.

13. A moment of silence

All great pictures need a theme — even if it’s a sobering one. There were displays for the Humboldt Broncos around the NHL on April 7 after a bus crash killed 16 people and injured 13 more, but few were more moving than when the Blackhawks and Jets made a ring around center ice in jerseys that simply read “Broncos” across the back. The crash hovered over the rest of the NHL season, as teams continued to pay tribute and survivors of the crash were invited to events.

12. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be

You have to appreciate the symmetry of this shot of Russian skier Mikhail Nazarov. This picture comes from the Men’s Normal Hill Individual Final during takeoff. Seeing everything behind him lends some perspective into the perfect balance that these skiers have to maintain. It’s an incredibly difficult sport, but Nazarov looks like he knows what he’s doing.

11. Welcome to the West, LeBron

LeBron James’ first game as a Laker was met with a lot of fanfare. As the Lakers played the Trail Blazers, James gave us one of his signature cockback tomahawk dunks, and his face says it all. Even though you can tell he’s having a good time being “the man” in Los Angeles, he’s still here to win, and this emphatic finish was his coming-out dunk with the Lakers.

10. Allez les Bleus

France looked like a juggernaut this year at the World Cup. Between Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, they had one of the best attacking lines of any team. After France won the Cup, this shot of Pogba alone on the pitch was special. Pogba was relatively quiet during the Cup with just one goal, but he was part of a much larger collective.

9. Return to Wade County

Dwyane Wade’s first game back in Miami after the Cavaliers traded him was a party. The game came against the Bucks, and it was Wade’s first time rocking the Miami Vice jerseys that sold out almost immediately upon his return. Wade is in the midst of his swan song, but the Cavs traded him for basically nothing to the Heat to “do right” by him. Wade had just three points in his return — a Heat win — but as you can see here before the game, his leadership played a pivotal part in helping Miami get back into the playoffs.

8. When the Saints come firing in

The Superdome does a lot to pump up the crowd, but setting its own players on fire is new. This remarkable shot of Manti Te’o coming out of the locker room against the Browns is some incredibly slick photography, but Te’o should really try to put that out.

7. A career in the making

Alex Ovechkin ruled over Washington D.C. after the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup. During the victory rally, this shot of him hoisting the trophy over his head in front of the city was a career in the making. The Capitals were able to beat the Golden Knights for Ovechkin’s first Stanley Cup at 33 years old, and thus began the Summer of Ovi. It’s an amazing photo that almost looks superimposed, but it’s real. And it’s spectacular.

6. Miracle in Miami

We had to wait for December to get one of the best NFL plays of the year. Kenyan Drake cutting into the end zone with Rob Gronkowski and his robot arm stumbling after him could be an image that haunts Patriots fans for a long time. The Dolphins beat the Patriots 34-33 with a lateral play that ended with Gronk taking the wrong angle to Drake, who beat him into the end zone, continuing the Patriots’ woes on the road against the Dolphins.

5. And another Miracle in Minneapolis

In the same vein, but ranked slightly higher because of the gravity of the moment, Stefon Diggs’ game-winning touchdown against the Saints has an iconic call attached to it. You can’t see this photo without thinking “DIGGS. SIDELINE. TOUCHDOWN. UNBELIEVABLE.” The Vikings won on this play to get into the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles, where they ran into a buzzsaw, but this play will get run on the replay reel for a long time nevertheless.

4. Can you tell who won the US Open?

A lot of emotion in this picture. Naomi Osaka had just beaten her idol Serena Williams to win the US Open, as Williams fell just short of what would have been a record-tying Grand Slam. During the match, Williams was penalized a game for yelling at the umpire, and she took issue with the way the match was officiated. For Osaka, the moment was clearly bittersweet — the 21-year-old star was just excited to play against Williams — but even with Williams looking dejected across from her it’s clearly the beginning of a bright young career for Osaka.

3. All alone in the end zone

DaVonta Smith was the unlikely recipient of the game-winning touchdown against Georgia in overtime in this year’s College Football Playoff championship. Smith was all alone heading to the end zone on second-and-26 with Georgia up three. It’s the game that wrote Tua Tagovailoa into the record books forever, but as always, he couldn’t have done it without some help from his friends. This photo from above captures the fallout from one of the most entertaining title games in quite some time.

2. Big Cat is back on the prowl

Was there a bigger moment in sports this year than the resurgence of Tiger Woods? His following through the final hole of the Tour Championship was insane, and while it felt like he was knocking on the door of a championship all year, it seemed like we’d have to wait. Woods raising his arms triumphantly with an entire gallery following suit for his first win since 2013 is the culmination of five years of struggles and injuries. That gallery would follow him to the clubhouse in one of the craziest scenes golf has ever seen.

1. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat

The jubilation of victory. The agony of defeat. Jordan Poole’s reaction after hitting a wonky-looking game-winner for Michigan against Houston in the NCAA Tournament says it all. With his whole team behind him, him bearing down on a dejected Houston player caught up in his own triumph is the essence of sports, and more specifically, it’s why we love the one-and-done insanity that is March Madness.

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