It's been a rough year for sports down here in South Florida. The Dolphins are an atrocity of a football team, the Panthers can never get their shit together, the Marlins are the epitome of an evil organization, like Spectre, and the Hurricanes are an atrocity. Sadness is lathered all over our local sports lately, and that's not fun at all.
But we're here to tell you that, if you look closely enough, things aren't so bleak. There's hope out there. And while Shawshank Redemption says hope is a dangerous thing, Star Wars tells us otherwise. And Star Wars is like, the I Ching.
So as you gather around the dinner table with family and friends this year and the arguments turn from politics to religion to sports, you can at least look to this list to teach everyone that hope is not lost. Because gratitude is everything.
Here are the seven South Florida sports things and people we need to be most thankful for this year:
7. UM Basketball
The University of Miami football program is a mess. This year, it suffered the worst loss in school history, it plays in a gaping maw of an empty stadium, it just fired its head coach, and disgruntled fans buy airplane banners to express their disgruntleness. But then there's Jim Larranaga's boys. Without much fanfare, the UM men's basketball team has been creeping up as not only a relevant team but a team to be reckoned with. They started off the season by putting a beatdown on 25th-ranked Butler in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament final and are starting the NCAA season ranked 15th in the AP poll, 19th in the USA Today poll, and ninth in the CBSSports rankings. So yes, what was once unheard of is now a thing. It's Great to Be a Miami Hurricane — but only on the basketball side. And it's going to be the balls to watch.
6. Giancarlo Stanton
Yes, the Marlins are an abomination of a baseball team run by bridge trolls and a toad-like owner who is more Bond villain than actual human person. They trade away their best players, make questionable decisions at every turn, and they just fired their popular TV analyst after 19 years of service for no good reason. And yet, even in the cauldron of misery that are the Marlins, we still have the most exciting hitter in all of baseball in Giancarlo Stanton. No one anywhere on any other team mashes the baseball like Stanton. His swing is gorgeous, his pectorals are sublime, and he has the strength of ten men. Every time he steps up to the plate, there's a good chance he can literally knock the ball out of the ballpark. Let's ignore the rest of the massive shitstain that is the Marlins, and let's just enjoy Giancarlo for what he is. Until, of course, he gets fed up and demands to be traded.
5. Jarvis Landry
Speaking of cauldrons of misery: The Dolphins! Yes, the Dolphins are redefining what it means to be mediocre. We've now seen nearly two whole decades of not just bad football but boring, terrible, abysmal football. Yet, mired in stew of perpetual suck is second-year wide receiver Jarvis Landry. In fact, we're pretty sure he's the only guy on the team who actually knows how to play football. He's fast and energetic and has a passion for the game that will most likely one day manifest itself in his blowing up over how bad the Dolphins are. Until then, however, he's busy crushing the spirits of opposing defenders with his great hands and thoroughbred speed. Jarvis Landry is everything the rest of the Dolphins are not. If only the scientists could hurry up on figuring out a way to clone people already.
4. Jaromír Jagr
They say Father Time gets everyone. This is especially true in sports. We've seen it down here in the latter days of Dan Marino's career, and we're seeing it with Peyton Manning in Denver and Kobe Bryant in L.A. No matter how great you were, how many records you've set, how many titles you've won, how dominant you were, Father Time comes calling, and it all vanishes pretty quickly. Unless, of course, you're Jamir Jagr, who has basically taken a hockey stick to Father Time's balls so many times, Father Time threw up his spleen. At 43, Jagr is doing for the Panthers what dudes half his age wish they could do. He's scoring goals, checking guys into the wall, and leading the Cats into relevancy. They might even make the NHL Playoffs this year, which would be amazing in and of itself. Jagr ages like the rest of us. But he ages like a fine wine. A fine wine that can hit a hockey puck at a billion miles an hour and obliterate defenses with his magical mullet.
3. Justise Winslow
When the Miami Heat earned the tenth overall pick in the NBA Draft this year, the best the team was hoping for was getting a guy it can plug in off the bench and bring a little energy to the starters. A filler, really. Instead, as fate would have it, Justise Winslow fell right into their laps, It's like a winning lottery ticket flew into your window and, boom, now you own three houses. For the Heat, Winslow has become just what the team needed. Yes, he's coming off the bench (for now), and yes, he's a guy who the team plugs in when the starters need a breather. Except opposing teams aren't just dealing with a backup. They're dealing with a kid who defends like a blanket, can pass like LeBron, can shoot and can flush it down with authority. His very first points scored as a Heat went like this: Three-pointer, steal, earth-shuddering dunk. And here's the kicker: He's just 19 years old.
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2. Hassan Whiteside
Hassan Whiteside came out of nowhere and landed with the Miami Heat. Now he's blocking shots, dunking in people's faces, and entreating the world with his Snapchat. Much like Winslow, Whiteside sort of stumbled into our arms. And now, like Winslow, he represents the future of the Miami Heat. And the future is bright. At first, people weren't sure if his ability to block a shot into orbit and dunk on guys with ferocity was a fluke. And his character has always been in question. But not only has Whiteside kept his composure and not only has he not flaked back into a mediocre player but he's basically destroying opposing offenses nearly singlehandedly. The Miami Heat currently has the best defense in the league, and that's due mostly to Hassan patrolling the basket and then swatting anything away that comes near it into a fine powder. Hassan Whiteside is like Godzilla, and the rest of the NBA are thousands of fleeing Japanese.
1. Pat Riley
Pat Riley has done what was once thought to be impossible in South Florida. He's turned our region into a basketball town. And the reason is simple: He's frickin' amazing. While the Dolphins have flailed their way to 7-9 seasons year, after year after year, and the Hurricanes' football team has morphed into a bucket of shit and the Marlins are, well, the Marlins, Riley has managed to build an empire. Three championship banners hang in the rafters of the American Airlines Arena now, thanks to his ability to build super teams and Jedi Mind Trick other teams into handing him Shaquille O'Neal and getting LeBron James. He's so money, Riley even has the Fates by the balls as guys like Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside have just fallen into his lap. So take solace, South Florida. No matter how bleak football season gets or how awful the Marlins make you feel, understand this: Pat Riley is here, and he's going to always make everything OK with his awesomeness.