Sports are a double-sided coin. On any given night, teams may clash in aggressive rivalries, embodying the competitive spirit many associate with athletics. Yet sports can also evolve into heart-warming stories that cross team lines. In 2017, we saw many of both, but here are three of the best underdog stories in sports from the last year:
- Isaiah Thomas
This one may be very special to some New Englanders in particular because of how beloved the so-called “King in the Fourth” was by Celtics fans. Although the love affair ended in the wake of the 2016-2017 NBA season when Thomas was traded to Cleveland, he gave fans performances that will last in the minds of many for decades. Thomas was drafted in 2011 with the 60th and final pick in the draft. Standing all of 5 feet 9 inches in a league of mountains, many questioned whether he could ever succeed. But after relatively moderate success in his first years in the league with the Kings and the Suns, Thomas moved to the Celtics in February of 2015. Then, his success exploded, becoming one of the feel-good stories in NBA history. Thomas’ sublime finishing skills and never-say-die attitude made him an easy fan-favorite. Last year, on top of everything, he had to contend with the heartbreaking death of his sister, Chyna Thomas, during the playoffs. Not only did he come back to play, but he returned only the day after to score 33 points and dish out 6 assists. This performance cemented him not only in Boston history, but in sports history too. He’s a player you truly can’t dislike.
- Case Keenum
Like many pro athletes, Keenum has a background of winning against the odds. Despite his just 6-foot-1-inch figure, relatively short for a pro-level quarterback, his dedication, speed and competitiveness has driven him for years. At Wylie High School in Texas, he led the varsity team to a state title game as a junior. Despite the numbers, however, colleges couldn’t get past his height. He was offered only one division one scholarship, from the University of Houston. When the draft came five years later (he injured himself senior year and was forced to redshirt another season), he had established himself as one of the best passers in major college history, with 155 touchdown passes and 19,217 passing yards. Yet he wasn’t picked, and his chance didn’t come until the Texans signed him as a free agent in 2012. Despite putting up great numbers when given a chance, his team couldn’t win, and he was waived. The Rams proceeded to sign and waive him, before Houston re-signed him and then traded him back to the Rams yet again. When he finally got to the Minnesota Vikings, it took the top two quarterbacks being injured for Keenum to get his chance. He proceeded to lead the Vikings to a division championship, 13-3 record, and defeated the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs. Through it all, he has shown that by working hard, you can overcome any obstacle and make your place in the pros.
- Spencer Dinwiddie
The NBA is an unforgiving mistress. The line between the top level and the one just below, the G League, is unbelievably fine. And every now and then, a player bouncing between the two leagues has a rare opportunity to get ahead, and takes it. Spencer Dinwiddie, a fourth-year point guard on the Brooklyn Nets, has done exactly that. Known by teammates as “Siri” because he has all the answers, the 6-foot-6-inch breakout turned down Harvard University to go to the University of Colorado to better his NBA chances. Injuries hurt his stock, and after falling in the draft and struggling on the Pistons, he was traded to Chicago. Yet he only played on their G-League team, before signing a cheap contract with the Nets in December 2016. Since then, things have taken a turn for the better. After injuries robbed the Nets of their two top guards, coach Kenny Atkinson handed Dinwiddie the keys. He has proceeded to average 13.2 points and 6.4 assists while owning one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the league. As smart as they come, his game has developed intensely over the course of this season. The Nets offense is majorly improved with him on the floor, and his large frame is the shape of the ideal defender. Though he has a ways to go before being a household name, Dinwiddie waited for his chance and is now taking it, and someday his talents may be known around the country.