I'm still not sure the proper way of counting a decade. Is it 2000-09? Or 2001-10? I reckon it's the latter, but again I'm not quite sure. But for argument's sake, let's just assume I'm correct--cos writing this wouldn't make sense if the decade ended last year.
During the 10-year span, we saw the rise social networking sites (Friendster in the early part, Facebook in the latter); Youtube; the Lord of the Rings and Spider-Man trilogies, the Batman reboot and the two Iron Man movies; Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, The Departed, The Aviator, Juno, and Slumdog; the Ipod and the Iphone; Windows XP, Vista, and 7; the end of the Harry Potter, the god-forsaken Twilight series, and the underrated Hunger Games Trilogy; death of John Paul II; 400+ chapters of Bleach and 500+ chapters of Naruto; the Aniston-Pitt-Jolie triangle... well, you get the drift. A lot of things happened this past decade, sports included.
But different events impact people in varying degrees. When Barack Obama won the US Presidency, it didn't matter to me as much as it did to African-Americans. In the same manner, the Lakers winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 didn't mean a tiny rat's ass to me. Nonetheless, there are events that mattered to everyone. World War II. 9/11. Those events effectively changed the course of the world. So I've decided to divide my list into two: (1) a short list of sporting events that mattered to every and all sports fans; and (2) a list that impacted my life in one way or another.
The Events That Mattered Period
1. The Boston Red Sox wins the 2004 World Series
Down 3-0 in the ALCS against arch-rivals Yankees, the Bo Sox pulled off perhaps the greatest comeback in the history of team sports. And it's not just because they became the 1st team in baseball to win a series after falling behind 3-0. It's how they did it in that pivotal Game 4. People tend to forget that the Sox were down 4-3 in the 9th inning of that game, and they had to face the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera. The odds of them winning? Not so good. So they literally pulled off a comeback within a comeback (damn, I forgot Inception in the list above).
They went on to sweep the Cards in the World Series for their first pennant win in 86 years. Eighty-six years. We're talking about Babe Ruth-era baseball right there. The championship was so historic that a Hollywood movie had to completely change it's ending (Fever Pitch) just cos the Red Sox won.
2. Liverpool beats Milan in the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final
The Miracle of Istanbul. Down 3-nil at the end of the 1st half, Liverpool equalized in the 2nd and then went on to win in the penalty shootout. It probably wouldn't mean much if you just look at the numbers; after all, it's just 3 goals, right? Wrong. This is football we're talking about here. Watch a football match between 2 very good teams and you'll be lucky to see both teams score 3 goals between them for the entire game. To put things into perspective, the 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and Netherlands finished 1-0. So 3 in 45 minutes is amazing. And to do so coming from behind, against the 2003 European Champions, a team which is more talented on paper, a team trying to protect its lead--now, that's stuff of legends.
Also consider that the Reds struggled domestically--they didn't finish in the top 4 of the Premier League that season. And their last Champions League trophy was in 1984.
3. The Nadal-Federer Wimbledon championship match (2008)
Nadal defeated the 5-time defending champion in the longest championship match in Wimbledon history. Perhaps this signified the changing of the guards. Not long thereafter, Nadal ascended to no. 1 in the world rankings and has been the best player since. But that's not why it made the list. The match was significant not because of what the outcome meant; its significance is in the match itself. It was a classic. A match befitting of the billing of No. 1-versus-No. 2. The power, finesse, and technique that both exhibited were topnotch. More than that, the will to win of both guys: unparalleled. Whenever you see two guys exerting themselves beyond their physical limitations to win, then you know it's special. If you'll watch just one tennis match in your lifetime, then watch this. If you'll watch two, then also watch the 2009 Wimbledon Finals between Federer and Roddick (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NRo7FxYO4g).
4. Pacquiao decimates Oscar de la Hoya in "The Dream Match" (2008)
When Pacquiao destroyed Barrera in 2003, he proved he was world-class. When he annihilated Morales a second time in 2006, he became the greatest Filipino boxer of all-time. When he climbed up in weight and absolutely demolished the legendary Oscar de la Hoya, he entered the pantheon of boxing legends.
5. Michael Phelps wins 8 gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics
Phelps already won 8 medals in Athens 2004. But only 6 of those were gold. So he came back in 2008 and made sure that everything was golden. Legendary.
The Events That Mattered To Me
I wouldn't be ranking this one cos it'd be too damn hard.
2002 World Basketball Championships, Serbia wins gold beating Argentina in the final and USA in the quarters
The 2nd best international team of the decade behind the 2008 USA national team. Vlade, Peja, 'Euro Magic' Bodiroga, Jaric, Vlad Rad, Drob-N-Jak... this Serbian team was pretty good. And the final game against Argentina went into overtime. It's always good when the finale goes overtime.
2002 World Cup Finals, Brazil beats Germany 2-0
For me, it's not about Brazil's 5th World Cup. It's about O Fenomeno's redemption. See, in the 1998 final against France, Ronaldo suffered a convulsion right before the match. He took a lot of heat for it--perhaps justifiably so. Nothing could be sweeter than to score all the goals at the same stage 4 years later. They should make a documentary of it. And that performance probably cemented his place in the Top 15 (if not Top 10) of all-time greats.
40-year old Michael Jordan scores 43 in 2003
Should MJ have stayed retired? I guess so. After all, there couldn't be a more perfect ending than the "Last Shot" against Utah. But as a fan, it was my duty to support him whatever his decision was. So every little good thing that came out of the 2nd comeback made me feel good. Especially that 43-point game. I remember the sports headline reading something like 'MJ scores his age' or something. Damn, I couldn't even score my age when I was younger.
2003 UEFA Champions League Semifinals 2nd leg, Juventus beats Real Madrid 3-1 (4-3 on agg.)
This was one match worthy of a final. The defending European Champions versus the Italian Champions. Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo, Roberto Carlos, and Casillas for Madrid; Nedved, Del Piero, Buffon, Davids, and Trezeguet for Juve. Top quality football match.
But I remember the match not because it's the best ever (I haven't seen enough matches to form an intelligent opinion). It mattered because of two words: Pavel Nedved. He dominated the game from midfield. He provided the lob that led to the opening goal. And then he scored himself. He wasn't flashy but he was brilliant. That was when I matured as a football fan. Football was more strategically complex than I thought. My theory before was that the player who scores the most goals is the best (cos that's what O Fenomeno did). Not necessarily so.
Watch how Nedved cries at the end of the match because he would miss the finals due to an accumulation of yellow cards. I mean, how many sportsmen would show that type of emotion nowadays? Men that would care so much about winning? It would prove to be ominous, as Juve would lose to an inferior Milan team in the finals. Nevertheless, that's why I've decided that my first son's 2nd name would be Pavel.
Greg Maddux wins #300 in 2005
At his peak: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3LLXqi95eQ
Greg Maddux is my favorite player in baseball history. Just like my other faves (like Duncan and Nedved), he's a substance-over-style kind of guy. He doesn't throw as many strikeouts, but he gets the outs nonetheless. Precision and control. He wasn't nearly as dominant this decade as he was in the 90's. But winning 300 games is quite a feat in itself.
The Near-Quadruple-Double, 2003 NBA Finals
The most dominant playoff performance of the decade courtesy of Timmy D. (Well, if LeBron had stayed with Cleveland, I would've put the 48-Special right up there). Check out the statline: 21 points, 20 boards, 10 assists, and 8 blocks. All that in a closeout game. Wow.
2006 Western Conference Semifinals, Dallas wins series against San Antonio 4-3
The best playoff series the past decade. Yes, better than the past two Lakers-Celtics trysts. Not as hyped, but way better. It sucks that San Antonio lost, but it was basketball at its finest. They had the two best records in the West but had to meet in the 2nd round because of the stupid seeding methodology that the NBA used then, which automatically granted the top 3 seeds to each division winner (which has been scrapped since). Dirk was already MVP-material. Timmy was still in his prime. The Spurs were the defending champions. The Mavs were looking to get over the San Antonio hump that had derailed them so many times before. This was the de facto Finals (except that the Mavs couldn't keep their end of the bargain when they inexplicably collapsed against the Heat). Game 7 went into overtime. Five of the games were decided by 5 points or less. And the two teams genuinely disliked each other. What more can I ask for? (I know what, I wish the refs hadn't called that dubious foul on Manu in the 4th quarter of Game 7.)
2007 NBA Finals, Spurs win 4th title in Duncan era
This cemented the Spurs' status as a dynasty team. And elevated Duncan as the best player in the post-Jordan basketball world. I know Kobephiles would vehemently disagree, but wait till April. I'll prove that Duncan is better and destroy all Kobe arguments.
2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals, Pittsburgh Penguins over Washington Capitals 4-3
Nobody watches hockey in the Philippines. Except for those wealthy enough to play hockey in MOA's Olympic-sized rink. Or those who grew up thinking Mighty Ducks was the best sports movie ever... like me. While we might never see a Kobe-LeBron final--well, at least not with both as alpha dogs anyway--this series featured Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin. The two best hockey players in the world. Ovechkin had 14 points in the series; Crosby 13. Now, that's what a superstar showdown is like. I rooted for Sid the Kid but at that time Ovi might have been better individually. Speaking of, you should take time to watch HBO's 24/7 special on the NHL Winter Classic featuring the Pens and the Caps. Good watch. Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/user/247NHL#g/p
The Decision, 2010
Cop out. Narcissism. Officially took me off the "LeBron could be the greatest of all-time" bandwagon. http://cesc-pistol.blogspot.com/2010/07/lebron-greatest-letdown-of-all-time.html
Sebastian Vettel wins 2010 F1 Driver's Title
Almost forgot this one. It effectively saved the 2010 sporting calendar for me, which had not been very kind--except for the Ateneo 3-peat.
I'll remember this one because this was Seb Vettel's first title. I assure you, when he finishes his career, he'll have at least 3. But the first is always the most special. Add to that all the drama, the ups and downs, the "this can't be happening" moments, and the fact that he never led the standings until after the final race. These are the things that make me tick. The most talented guy coming from behind and dominating down the stretch--I like this story better than all the Cinderella/underdog stories. Reminds me of something from high school.
Flashback 2007: I was watching the Japanese Grand Prix and heard Steve Slater mention that this rookie driving a Toro Rosso had just become the youngest man to lead an F1 race. It immediately grabbed my attention because this guy was actually racing for a podium spot; it's not as if all the front-runners have made their pitstops and he's the only one on track yet to make his. What made it improbable was that he was driving a Toro Rosso. It's Red Bull's B-team. I could instantly give you 7 teams that are better than Scuderia Toro Rosso, which would account for 14 drivers with better machines. He would crash out of that race but I distinctly remember muttering 'Vettel' to myself just to make sure I won't forget the name of the next Schumi. That was the year everyone kept talking about Lewis Hamilton. It never really caught on with me. I had convinced myself that this 'Vettel' guy was better. "Just wait when he joins Ferrari," I said. Turns out, he didn't have to.
Ateneo Blue Eagles wins the UAAP Season 65 men's basketball plum
I know I said I wouldn't rank the second list. But this is number 1. Hands-down. Why? Two reasons: (1) I was a student and (2) I was at the Araneta for the two most important games: the "Jec Chia shot" in the winner-advances Final Four game against UE; and the clincher, Game 3 of the Finals. It's just different when you go to school everyday, talk UAAP for a good 3 months, and, honestly, just to have the Ateneo school spirit running through your veins. There's nothing quite like it. When my buddy Benjoe and I watched the Blue Eagles win this year's crown, we weren't as ecstatic as 8 years ago. Maybe it's because the 2002 series was against La Salle; or maybe because Ateneo had to wait 14 years for the 2002 crown; or maybe because the entire 2002 season was a Cinderalla story; or maybe because we had to line up at dawn to buy tickets; or maybe we were just getting older. But it's different. It just is. We couldn't even jump to courtside after the victory--which we did in '02 with Benjie, Jek, Mau and Perocho. Nothing could ever replicate that part of my life. It's something that I'll proudly tell my grandkids about.