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Best Of 2011

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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best Dolphins Player

All Miami football fans have watched Cameron Wake find a way to get to quarterbacks, but most don't know how the sudden Pro-Bowler got into the NFL. It was a long road. For starters, he sat through the entire draft after graduating from Penn State as a linebacker in 2005 and never heard his name called. The New York Giants picked him up as an undrafted free agent but soon released him. Then, inconceivable as it may sound considering his enormous talent, Wake spent nearly two years out of football. What did he do? Well, he was a stockbroker, of course. He got a chance in the Canadian Football League in 2007, and it was immediately apparent he was meant to be not on the trading floor but the football field. Wake was 25 when he played in his first-ever professional game in British Columbia — and he quickly began to make up for lost time, getting 16 sacks and becoming the first player in CFL history to be named both Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. He repeated the latter award in 2008, ringing up another league-leading 23 sacks. Coaches in America, slow as they apparently were, began to catch on that this guy was special, and in 2009, he signed with the Dolphins. The rest is now part of the history of another place he clearly belongs — the NFL.

Best Addition by Subtraction

It's not just that the team has won a lot more games since he's been gone than when he was here. That wouldn't be fair — the Miami Heat is better for a lot of reasons. But one of those reasons is certainly the absence of Michael Beasley. And it's not that he's a bad player — he's young, and it's yet to be determined whether he's worthy of pro ball. But the six-foot-ten power forward wasn't a good player down here, that's for sure. He wasn't ready for South Florida, for the nightlife, for the attention that comes with being a number-two-overall draft pick going to a marquee franchise. When Chris Bosh and LeBron James came into South Florida, Beasley got shipped to Minnesota, where he's averaged more minutes, more points, and fewer embarrassing off-the-court incidents.

Best Sports Bust

No, he doesn't have the quickest feet or the strongest arm or the most accurate passes. No, he doesn't always throw it to his own team, and he doesn't always make the best decisions — or any decision at all sometimes, staring blank-faced into a viscous blitz. As a matter of fact, Chad Henne really isn't a very good pro quarterback at all. But damn, can that boy stuff some balloons down his shirt and dance! In case you didn't see it, Henne took a little vacation to the Bahamas during the first few weeks of the NFL lockout, and while there, he was spotted dancing at a bar, using balloons to look like boobs. It was spectacular. If nothing else, Henne truly brings new meaning to the word bust.

Best Heat Player

Since the moment LeBron James made "The Decision" — an obnoxious, hourlong paean to himself (with profits going to charity) in which he famously told the world he was "taking [his] talents to South Beach" — his popularity has hovered somewhere around the Tiger Woods area. And he certainly makes it easy, what with the self-titled cartoons, the self-monikered "King" T-shirts, the commercials and ridiculous birthday cakes, and the overall sense of entitlement he has seemed to exude since he was a senior in high school. He misses shots at the end of games, he sends out Tweets that seem to mock his old team, and he has an entourage bigger than the cast of the show Entourage. But there's also this: LeBron James is already, at age 26, one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He's a standout on a team of stars, an MVP candidate despite everything else. Watching him at his best — he defies the laws of physics the way Picasso defied the traditions of paint — is something akin to a religious experience.

Best Sports Enigma

It had never been done — three of the game's top players taking fate and free-agency into their own hands, joining forces to create a superteam right here in South Florida. And ever since, the Miami Heat, with a cast of characters that seemed almost Shakespearean, have been the most watched, most discussed, most reviled team in America. And to the delight of millions of sports fans, the team got off to an inauspicious start. Then, after a throat-ripping in Cleveland, came an incredible, nearly two-month run in which the team lost only one game. The way it swept into towns, created such a stir, then moved right along, LeBron compared the team to the Beatles. Then a Tweet about "karma" and — wouldn't you know it? — some injuries. There was a rough stretch, then another run of victories. Then five big losses in a row, some talk of crying, a solved custody dispute, a funny song about Chris Bosh, and another great run. And that's the story of this team: winning or losing, on the court or off, intentional or not, there's always something. Will the Heatles accomplish their stated goal of multiple championships? Only time will tell.

Best Rookie

The Marlins might not have a recent history of winning, but the team sure can find sensational rookies. The Marlins had a terrific trio of first-year players in 2010. Mike Stanton, who has the makings of a superstar, was electrifying but inconsistent. Logan Morrison came on as the season progressed like a ton of bricks and may prove to be the best pure hitter of the three. But first-baseman Gaby Sanchez was the mainstay, hitting .273 with 19 home runs and 85 RBIs. His most memorable moment, though, had everything to do with his heart, which may be the Miami native's best attribute. When Phillies wild man Nyjer Morgan charged Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad on the mound late in the season, he clearly had designs of landing a haymaker on the side of Volstad's head. But just before Morgan could land his punch, a blur streaked to the mound and put the Philly on his back. The blur was Sanchez, who came from first base and clotheslined Morgan in one of the most memorable scenes of the entire baseball season. Sanchez has said he wants to be known for his playing rather than his fighting. That's a player with heart. That's Gaby Sanchez.

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Best Dolphins Player: Cameron Wake

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