2016 has been a historical year in sports history because of contributions from two unlikely franchises: the Golden State Warriors and the Leicester City Foxes. Golden State, coming off its first championship in recent history, added to the resume the record for most wins in a season, snatching the glory from the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan. Leicester, on the other hand, a team happy to finish near the bottom of the Premier League table season after season, shocked the world this season by making a valiant run to win the league title. Both teams have accomplished seemingly impossible feats, but what is surprising the who similar their journeys have been.
Overcoming the Contenders
During Golden States dominance of the NBA this season, they have stacked up quite impressively against the league’s best. Against the Spurs, Thunder, and Cavaliers, the Warriors have gone 8-1, winning 4 of those 8 by a margin greater than 15 points. Leicester has also done well against the Premier League’s best, and have become the first club not named Manchester United, city, Chelsea or Arsenal to win the Premier League in the last 20 seasons. The Foxes have a compiled a respectable 4 draws, 3 wins, and 2 losses against historic clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and new title contenders Tottenham. Both clubs have faced fierce opposition from the title contenders in their respective leagues, and have made a name for themselves by overcoming them.
Golden State, known for their offensive brilliance, established their record-setting run in their efficient defense. The Warrior’s defense has quietly become the best in the league, leading in categories such as opponents points, assists, and fast break points per game. Because of their relentless defense, the Warriors style of play allows for players like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to find their 3-point stroke on the fast break, tearing opponents apart left and right. The Foxes have been equally dominant when it comes to defense, implementing a counter-attacking philosophy that kept opponents scoreless 15 out of 36 matches played against Leicester’s defense. Like Golden State, the Foxes led their league in many defensive categories including goals conceded, shots blocked, and passes intercepted. This focus on defense has left Leicester’s opponents vulnerable, with Jamie Vardy and Rihad Mahrez scoring the majority of their goals on the counter. Both the Warriors and the Foxes have stymied their opponents on the defensive side of the ball this season and prove that the saying, “Defense wins Championships” is true.
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have been vital pieces to Golden State’s incredible run thanks to their other-wordly 3-point shooting ability. The ‘Splash Brothers’ have quickly become the best 1-2 punch in the NBA and are a major reason that the Warriors remain favorites to defend their title. Leicester, on the other hand, do not lack young star power. As previously mentioned, Jamie Vardy and Rihad Mahrez have carried the Foxes all the way to the top of the Premier League with their outstanding goal records this season. Vardy, who set the record for most consecutive games with a goal scored, finished the term with 24 goals, second only to Harry Kane of Tottenham, while Mahrez poured in 18 of his own to go along with 11 assists. Both of these underdog teams needed the brilliance of their young players to sustain their roads to success.
2016: The Year of the Underdogs
2016 has been a remarkable year in sports due to the brilliance of Golden State and Leicester City. Their incredible feats, unlikely as they were, showed us what sports is all about: The Underdog. Who would have thought that a team that relied on 3-point shooting could go on to break the record previously held by the greatest team of all time? Who would’ve thought that a bunch of rag-tag veterans and inexperienced youngsters could go on to become kings of the soccer world? No one. The Warriors and the Foxes have reminded us that the story of the Underdog doing the impossible provides mystery, magic, and meaning to sports, and that is what makes it great.
“The fact of being an underdog changes people in ways that we often fail to appreciate. It opens doors and creates opportunities and enlightens and permits things that might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.”