In 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, the Carolina Panthers lost the Super Bowl, LeBron James brought a title home to Cleveland and Villanova beat North Carolina on a last-second shot.
It was a year full of high-profile moments in the sports world – and my five most-read stories of the year didn’t include any of them. They were instead about small moments: The slow progress of a young man learning how to button his shirt; a family feud; an Olympic-sized flood of tears; a one-on-one basketball game between teenagers Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing that no one saw.
Strictly in order of page views, here were my five most-read stories of 2016 in the Observer.
1. Rae Carruth’s son will be at prison gates when father who wanted him dead goes free: Carruth, the former wide receiver for the Panthers, is scheduled to get out of prison in less than two years. Chancellor Lee Adams, who Carruth conspired to have killed, plans to greet his father at the door along with Chancellor’s caretaker and grandmother, Saundra Adams. This story from October was not only my most-read of this year but also my most-read of all time. It also made the “Best Journalism of 2016” list published this week by Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch.
2. Exclusive: Dale Earnhardt Jr. on racing, marriage and the latest Earnhardt family feud: This story from May included the first public comments from Dale Jr. about the feud between his half-brother Kerry and his stepmother, Teresa, over the usage of the Earnhardt family surname for business purposes. “Obviously, I’m in support of my brother,” Dale Jr. said.
3. On a recruiting trip to Chapel Hill, Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan once played a one-on-one game in street clothes. Ewing would end up at Georgetown and, 35 years later, he told me the story. For some reason, this very short excerpt from my longer “Q and A” with Ewing last March went viral – maybe because Ewing remembered dunking on a trash-talking Jordan?
4. TE Greg Olsen warned of Panthers’ worst case, and now.... In July 2016, Olsen had said the Panthers could easily start 1-4 if they became complacent and didn’t fight off the legendary Super Bowl hangover. In October, when the Panthers indeed had started 1-4, I revisited this issue.
5. Tears of gold: N.C. State swimmer Ryan Held helps U.S. win Olympic relay: Held, a virtual unknown, won an Olympic gold medal and then cried on the podium as Michael Phelps comforted him. I was in Rio covering the Olympics for The Observer and explained in this column what those tears were about.