We are nine weeks into the new decade, and already we’ve seen the NFL’s brightest young star win his first ring and America’s grand old game threaten to blow up its playoff format.
In the NFL, preternaturally talented young quarterbacks are ascending just as Hall of Fame-worthy veterans are passing their primes. In the NBA, an exciting crop of dynamic international players is emerging to battle an aging LeBron James for titles, while the brightest young NHL stars are trying to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time in nearly three decades. And we are just months away from a new generation of runners, swimmers and gymnasts becoming household names after the Olympic Games.
Unless you have a sports almanac that you brought back from the future in a magic DeLorean, it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen in the world of sports. But keeping in mind that hindsight is only 20/20, here’s Yardbarker's vision for how the “Roaring” 2020s might shake out. Tongue in cheek. Maybe.
G.O.A.T. trades Beantown for Tinseltown: Tom Brady breaks Boston hearts by signing with the Los Angeles Chargers in the offseason. Worse for Patriots fans, Rob Gronkowski ends his retirement to join Brady in La La Land and becomes the first professional football player to also host a late-night show. The Chargers still don’t sell any season tickets because they still have no fans.
Pop finally makes it stop: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich misses the playoffs for the first time since he was tanking for Tim Duncan in 1996, and when he experiences the April menu at the French Laundry restaurant, he decides that NBA coaching is interfering with his true passion of gourmet dining. Pop starts a food blog, known for its terse, one-sentence reviews of fine restaurants, and he eventually opens his own diner on the Riverwalk, which will be known for its signature dish: the Greggs Benedict. Days after his retirement, Pop hands the reins of the Spurs to assistant coach Becky Hammon, making her the first female head coach of an American major professional sports franchise.
Simone Biles wows 'em in Paris: The American gymnast stuns the sports world at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo when she becomes the first female gymnast to perform the dangerous Yurchenko double pike. For kicks, she wins four gold medals. Although she planned to retire after Tokyo, Biles comes back four years later to medal again at the Paris Olympics. Hey, if Oksana Chusovitina can win a medal at age 33 and compete at age 45 in Tokyo, who’s to say Biles can’t still dominate at 27?
Raiders an immediate hit in Sin City: Professional football was made for the debauchery of Vegas, and the league finds immediate success in the desert. Sadly, the Raiders lose 11 games in Year 1, but it doesn't matter to their loyal fans from Oakland and Los Angeles, who can easily fly in for games. As a result, Southwest Airlines dramatically revises its policies about face paint and carry-on spikes.
The Dodgers break World Series drought, beat Yankees: Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger lead the Dodgers to their first World Series title since 1988. The key? Dave Roberts leaves Clayton Kershaw out of his playoff rotation, and the Dodgers ride the arms of Walker Buehler and David Price in a thrilling seven-game series. There’s bedlam in Echo Park when pinch-hitter Justin Turner takes Aroldis Chapman deep in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 to win it despite dislocating his shoulder in a beard-trimming accident midway through the series.
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Raptors win Greek Freak sweepstakes: After surviving the exodus of Kawhi Leonard with back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals runs, Masai Ujiri and the Raptors pull off the coup of the decade by landing Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks star shocks the world and the overconfident Golden State Warriors when he declares in a televised special, “I’m taking my talents to Tim Horton’s.”
Daryl Morey wins a Tony Award: After the Rockets let Morey go in 2020 in the wake of his disastrous tweet in support of Hong Kong, the former GM surprises everyone by becoming a Broadway producer. Using advanced metrics unknown to the theater world at the time, Morey puts together a wildly successful run of "Small Ball The Musical" and wins the Tony. Two weeks after the ceremony, he trades all his actors to sign Neil Patrick Harris to a max contract.
Miguel Cabrera is the new Mr. 3000: Miggy may have cratered in the final three seasons of the previous decade, but there’s no way he retires shy of 3,000 hits — not because of pride but because he’s owed over $90 million from Detroit. They’ll celebrate the milestone in the Motor City, but not as much as they’ll celebrate the expiration of his nightmare contract.
Albert Pujols smacks his 700th home run: After hitting 23 jacks in 2019, the Los Angeles Angel entered the Roaring '20s with 656 homers. In October 2021, he finally wallops No. 700 and then retires at No. 4 on the all-time list — behind Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron and Barry Bonds. The Angels put Pujols in the lineup for 120 games a season as he chases the milestone, and his average hovers around .220, Consequently, the Angels still miss the playoffs despite having Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani.
Steelers set Super Bowl record: In a duel of multiple Super Bowl champions, Pittsburgh defeats San Francisco, 33-30, in SB LV in Tampa, after Kyle Shanahan once again fails to protect a big fourth-quarter lead. Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger and Co. sail through the regular season, but when Big Ben goes down with a knee injury in the season finale, the desperate Steelers sign Colin Kaepernick to replace him. A rested and rejuvenated Kaep beats his old team with his arm and his legs, earning the Steelers' seventh Super Bowl win, breaking a tie with New England. And the only kneeling Kaepernick does is to run out the clock at the end of the game.
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Zion sets the broken backboard record: The New Orleans superstar dunks harder and more often than anyone in the NBA during the 2020s, and the baskets are as unprepared for his strength and explosiveness as defenders are. Breakaway rims are supposed to stop a backboard from shattering, but Williamson knocks the glass loose with an emphatic jam at the Staples Center, delaying the playoff game against the Lakers for 45 minutes. Zion also takes down basket supports on an NBA-record four occasions, though he maintains that the one he dislodges in Houston was flopping.
NBA switches to two shots for fouls behind the three-point line: The disproportionate reward for drawing a foul behind the three-point line led to an epidemic of leg kicking, desperation heaves from deep and endless debates about “landing areas.” When the NBA changes the rule in 2022, the league enjoys a revival of the mid-range game, previously believed to have gone extinct circa 2015, and Popovich is so delighted that he considers ending his retirement.
PEDs destroy the sport of curling: Russian curlers give back their medals after a doping probe at the 2018 Olympics, but that’s just the tip of the burned stone. A devastating tell-all book from the Russian team doctor on the eve of the 2022 Games exposes the dark underbelly of the sport, full of PEDs, brush manipulation and all-night meldonium parties. Curling is removed from the Winter Olympics but does become an underground cult sport among rebellious teenagers.
North Carolina's Sam Howell goes No. 1 to Buccaneers in NFL draft: After continuing the Jameis Winston Experiment for not one but two more years, the Buccaneers finally bottom out and turn to Pro Football Focus' top-ranked freshman quarterback of 2020. The Tar Heels tosser, who threw for 3,638 yards and 38 touchdowns with just seven interceptions in 2022, becomes North Carolina's first No. 1 overall pick. And like all young Buccaneers quarterbacks, Howell won’t find success until he goes to a different team.
Minshew II becomes gem of 2019 class: The 2019 NFL Draft class got off to a good start with the surprisingly productive rookie seasons of Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones, but Jacksonville's Gardner Minshew II, a draft-day afterthought, will go down as the best passer from the class. When the NFL announced the Jaguars will play four games in London in 2022, Minshew’s mustache-and-headband look is embraced by British youths all over. And when he wins the MVP, he’s awarded a seat in the House of Lords, where his name fits in perfectly.
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After he wastes another year of Russell Wilson’s prime by refusing to run the ball at the goal line in crucial games, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll gets gently nudged out the door at age 71, and he devotes himself fully to finding out what really happened on 9/11. ... A broken hand can slow Steph Curry's inexorable pursuit of the all-time three-point record for only so long. Midway through the 2021-22 season, the Warriors star lets it fly from just past half court to pass Ray Allen’s record of 2,973 threes. .... A late-March 2022 game is a showcase for LeBron James, who breaks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time scoring record of 38,387 points. The record-breaker, fittingly, comes on a sky hook in the Lakers' victory over — you guessed it — the Bucks, Abdul-Jabbar's first NBA team.
Saban leaves with great eight: After breaking Bear Bryant's record for most NCAA D-I championships, Saban adds one more before jumping to coach with Bill Belichick in his new pro lacrosse league. Alabama spends big to hire Dabo Swinney away from Clemson, but his return to the team where his coaching career started is soured by his inability to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
The Vikings finally win a Super Bowl: After 30 playoff appearances, four Super Bowl losses and six straight NFC Championship Game losses, Minnesota finally wins a title, thanks to two prominent sons: Thaddeus Moss, son of Randy, and prodigal son Teddy Bridgewater, who finally returns to the Vikings after a wandering journey through the league. They clinch the win over the Patriots on a two-point pass from Bridgewater to Moss, after the team runs a pass play out of the Swinging Gate formation called “Bounty Gate.” It’s also a big decade for the Timberwolves, who win a single playoff series.
Courtney Vandersloot sets the WNBA career assist record: Vandersloot, the John Stockton of the WNBA, breaks Sue Bird’s career mark for assists -- the same year she leads the Chicago Sky to their first title. Vandersloot shattered her own record for assists in 2019 with 300 dimes, and continued to extend the mark, in part thanks to her on- and off-court chemistry with her backcourt and life partner, the sharpshooting Allie Quigley. The two already had a wedding ring, but they finally add a championship ring as well.
No crowning the Kings: The Sacramento Kings are one of the oldest franchises in the NBA but haven’t won a championship since 1951 — and they won’t win one this decade, nor fire Vlade Divac, who has the job security of an actual king. In fact, the 2020s will be a shutout for the Kansas City Royals and the L.A. Kings too. Teams named after royal titles won’t win a single title that decade, though Taurean Prince will get a ring coming off the bench for the Miami Heat in 2023.
Dirk, Dwyane headline 2023 class: There have been some truly great Pro Basketball Hall of Fame classes in recent years, but in terms of sheer wattage, 2023 is going to be tough to beat. With Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade both eligible for the first time — and both surefire first-ballot picks — the class will have two headliners, who were pretty big rivals when they played. Let’s hope Wade doesn’t make fun of Dirk’s cough, or fake an injury on the way to the podium, so the officials let him give him free minutes in his speech.
Cade Cunningham drafted first overall by Knicks: Years of futility finally pay off for the woeful Knicks, as the ball bounces their way for the most hyped draft class in a decade. Cunningham, a star prep player in Florida in 2020, makes waves as he refuses to sign because of owner James Dolan, who is forced by the commissioner to sell the team to Jay-Z, who promptly installs Spike Lee as team president.
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College Football Playoff expands to eight teams; season lasts longer than NFL's. ... Seattle Kraken's Connor Bedard, top prospect of the 2023 NHL Draft and YouTube sensation, lights up the league like another Canadian, superstar Connor McDavid ... Tim Tebow is inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, where it doesn't matter if he can't hit a curve ball.
Paige Bueckers brings mix tapes to the WNBA: Bueckers arrives at the University of Connecticut as the nation’s top high school recruit and wins two titles with the Huskies. But it’s her swag that really makes her memorable — the no-look cross-courts dimes, the acrobatic layups and her absolute confidence going at much bigger players while standing 5-foot-11. Her spectacular game even makes Geno Auriemma loosen up his offense for her, and by the time she hits the pros, she’s known as the Pistol Pete of the WNBA.
Justin Verlander earns 300th win — MLB's only 300-game winner of decade: The longtime Astros right-hander had 225 wins through 2019, but he joins the elite group in spectacular fashion, tossing a no-hitter against the lowly Pirates (49-113) to clinch the AL West in early October. The 41-year-old hurler celebrates with a victory lap around Sunny Delight Park (Minute Maid long ago pulled its sponsorship), the sound of banging trash cans ringing in his ears.
Pac-12 expands to 16, adds Texas: Years after rumors spread that Texas was on the verge of joining what would've been the Pac-16, the Left Coast finally becomes the best coast with the addition of the Longhorns to its national footprint, along with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Of course, longtime bumbling commissioner Larry Scott forgets to negotiate the rights to the Longhorn Network.
Towns wins MVP...in Boston: In the summer of 2023, a frustrated Karl-Anthony Towns requests a trade out of the Twin Cities, and like most great Minnesota stars, he ends up getting shipped to Boston. Danny Ainge finally trades some of the future draft picks he’d been stashing for a decade to bring Towns to Beantown, and Towns thrives on a team where everyone else can cover for him on defense. The Celtics storm through the playoffs until MVP Towns stays up all night before Game 7 of the conference finals playing video games, and Boston falls to the Miami Heat, again.
Bronny + LeBron team up: In his 21st NBA season and at the ripe old age of 40, James comes back to play with No. 1 pick Bronny James, his son, on team president Spike Lee’s New York Knicks. After a terrific high school career and one phenomenal year at Duke, the younger James will seamlessly slide into dad's sneakers and win an NBA title, helping LeBron pay Giannis back for a 2020 Finals loss to the Bucks.
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Alex Rodriguez gets the call: While some of his PED pals never break through with Hall of Fame voters, Rodriguez shakes the stigma of the steroid era and is voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. J-Lo, still basking in the afterglow of her $50 million wedding to A-Rod, introduces her husband.
Harbaugh can't solve Buckeyes: Jim Harbaugh was supposed to bring with him the acumen and attitude to topple mighty Ohio State. But even the retirement of Urban Meyer didn't change the course of the one-sided rivalry, and the Buckeyes win 11 straight games against Harbaugh's Wolverines before new Michigan coach Mike Gundy arrives. Gundy will finally win the big one for the Big House and deliver his iconic, “I’m a man, I’m 14 and 0” speech after defeating Virginia in the national title game.
Gronk honored with first-ballot nod: Gronkowski becomes the 10th tight end to earn enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame...and the first player bust to feature shades and a beer helmet. He’s also the first inductee who doesn’t wear a shirt underneath his gold jacket and also the first to fight a WWE title match the same weekend as he enters the Hall.
NHL contracts back down to 30 teams: After the Seattle Kraken joined the NHL in '21, the league was up to 32 teams. But in the face of shrinking television rights deals and the reluctance of big teams to prop up struggling franchises, the NHL eliminates the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers. There are mild protests in Phoenix but not in Miami, as the residents were unaware they had a hockey team in the first place.
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Tiger Woods wins the Masters at 50: Seven years removed from his last Masters title, a resurgent Woods, now completely bald under his black Nike cap, dominates the Sunday back nine and collects his sixth green jacket. Woods' 19th major title breaks the record held by 86-year-old Jack Nicklaus, who watches from the gallery alongside Tiger’s new wife, Kendall Jenner.
Major League Baseball installs robo-umpires: It’s not even a response to inconsistent ball-strike calls; the owners simply want to bust the umpire’s union like they did with the players. The experiment lasts only one year because hackers from a certain team in Texas — give me an A-S-T-R ... — hack UmpOS during their title run.
Eli Manning elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: With Peyton already having locked up his bust in Canton, it takes little brother Eli an extra year to join the club. Voters will hold his .500 record against him in 2025, his first year of eligibility, but those two Super Bowl MVPs earn him the nod a year later. Unfortunately, the gold jacket is intercepted when he tries to toss it to Peyton after his speech.
XFL survives Year 1, folds in Year 6: Unlike the woeful Alliance of American Football, which was underfunded and underwhelming, the XFL boasts Vince McMahon's big bucks and a stronger infrastructure. The league survives until 2026, folding after 49-year-old Tom Brady — who reluctantly came out of retirement — leads the Boston Clam Chowders to XFL championship glory.
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MLB expands playoffs to 20 teams: After the first year of baseball’s expanded playoffs leads to record TV ratings, baseball goes all-in on expanded playoffs. With three division champions and seven wild-card teams in each league, the postseason stretches on until Thanksgiving, playoff records shattering along the way like the frozen bats in Northeast cities. Teams begin shutting down their aces at the All-Star break once they’ve clinched the playoffs, and Washington’s Juan Soto earns the nickname “Mister November” for his postseason heroics. In 2029, the 70-92 San Diego Padres win their first World Series.
IndyCar embraces driverless vehicles: In response to concerns about climate change, IndyCar switches to all-electric vehicles, but that fails when simple pit stops involve hours of recharging vehicles. When Elon Musk takes over in 2027, the Indy 500 is run for the first time with a full field of driverless Teslas, but the race is ruined when the cars pile up at a wholly unnecessary tunnel under the oval and burst into flames.
The Bills finally win a Super Bowl: Buffalo finally ends its curse, thanks to a tenacious defense and an improving Josh Allen, whose desperate lateral in the final seconds gets his team into field-goal range. Of course, most fans in Buffalo don’t actually see the kick that wins the Super Bowl against Minnesota, as they’re covering their eyes and imagining it drifting wide right.
The NCAA model finally breaks: After years of resistance and a new legislation from states, the NCAA ceded ground on the issue of college athletes using their own names, images and likenesses. Next came allowing athletes to get compensation for food and academic supplies. Then they are allowed to profit from their own YouTube channels, get endorsements and finally sign with agents. When the dust settles, the University of Alabama becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of the Alabama football program, with an undergraduate degree offered as a perk for buying season tickets.
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LeBron becomes King of ... err ... Governor of Ohio: After four titles, five MVP Awards, and the all-time scoring record, not to mention the blockbuster films "Space Jam 2-4," LeBron sets out to conquer the world of politics. Running on a platform of education reform and abolishing the traveling rule, LeBron easily wins the governorship of Ohio. Just as he does on the court, he’s a whiz at passing legislation, but the citizens are stunned when he leaves after one term to run for governor of Florida instead.
Indians break their drought: Cleveland does win a title this decade, and no, it’s not the Cavaliers. The Indians finally get rid of Chief Wahoo and ditch the nickname itself, going back to the name the Cleveland baseball team had back in 1899: the Spiders. Maybe it’s good karma from the name change that gets them over the hump, or maybe it’s new minority owner LeBron James, who starts steering baseball players from the Klutch Sports agency to Cleveland. The Spiders' Noah Syndergaard wins World Series MVP, and the city lights the Ohio River on fire in celebration.
NFL gives London a team of its own: After years of successful overseas games, the NFL finally allows the Jacksonville Jaguars to relocate to London. Fans are delighted to see players use their hands, and the team is so popular that fans begin referring to the sport played by Manchester United as “soccer.” Perpetual rain, fog and terrible food make London the least likely choice for players — until the repeal of Brexit makes the exchange rate wildly lucrative, and the Jaguars are flooded with top free agents.
Spencer Dinwiddie named NBPA President: The Brooklyn Nets guard is a lot more than a spurt scorer who helped lure Kyrie and KD to BK. Dinwiddie is a financial whiz kid who is changing how athletes view their contracts. However, when Dinwiddie becomes president of the players association, it leads to a mutually beneficial new CBA and labor piece, and Dinwiddie looks like a huge success — until Bitcoin fluctuations wipe out half of the retired player pension money.
Djokovic sets the Grand Slam titles record: When he brings home his 10th Australian Open title, Novak Djokovic becomes the tennis world’s biggest Grand Slam winner (25), having one more than Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer presents Djokovic with a prize goat at center court to end their feud and acknowledge Djoker's ascension to the Greatest Of All Time. Nadal continues to threaten, reaching the semifinals of the French Open every year through his 40th birthday.
Orange Bowl moves inland: With Miami and many of the coastal cities threatened by rising sea levels, the Orange Bowl moves to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the average yearly temperature soars to 95. It’s strange at first, but fans quickly get used to the winning quarterback exclaiming, “I’m going to the Three Rivers Rambler Train Ride” instead of Disney World.
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Surprise! Patrick Mahomes airs it out like no other: Taking advantage of new NFL rules to truly unleash offenses, the Los Angeles Rams QB — the league's first $50 million-per-year player — shatters Drew Brees' NFL record for all-time passing yards (77,416) in a 2029 Week 15 game at Kansas City. With 81,398 yards passing, the former Chiefs great seems like a sure bet in the 2030s to become the NFL's first 100,000-yard passer. And he's only 35 in 2030!
Kershaw is a HOFer — but it’s not unanimous: Derek Jeter was unable to match teammate Mariano Rivera's perfect Hall ballot, and Dodgers great Clayton Kershaw falls short as well. While his Cy Young and strikeout marks punch his ticket to Cooperstown, some writers hold back because of his lack of playoff success. Ultimately, it hurt him that they did the voting in October.
Romo is ready for some football: Always a bridesmaid as the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback, Tony Romo is the belle of the ball with the "Worldwide Leader," which, aiming to stop a massive decline in "Monday Night Football" ratings, finally lures him from CBS with a five-year, $150 million deal. Romo also demands a formal apology for his good friend Jason Witten, a parking space next to Stephen A. Smith and his own ABC remodeling show called “Extreme Romo Makeover.”
The Browns still don’t win the Super Bowl: After amassing talent by tanking for years, the Browns decide to tear things down again when Baker Mayfield hurts his knee, Odell Beckham forces a trade to Miami and Myles Garrett retires to join the WWE. They do keep it to just five head coaches this decade after seven in the 2010s, and they finally return to the playoffs in 2028 with young quarterback Brock Vandagriff and a rehired Hue Jackson. They lose in the wild-card round.
Every arena has a sportsbook: By 2029, legalized betting is everywhere — including in nearly every sports venue in the country, outside of the state of Utah. It’s an untapped revenue stream for teams as well as an incentive to get fans to the live events. While strange at first, it’s become mundane to see fans cheering wildly after opposing teams score, simply because they hit the “over.”
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