This year has been a rather momentous year in regards to sports in general. Any real, diehard sports fan will likely tell you that every year in every sport should be an eventful one, but 2016 has been an unusually historic year across the entire sports world in regards to the major players who have retired. Whether your sport of choice happens to be basketball, baseball, football, or what have you, you likely found yourself devastated to see your favorite player hang up their jersey. Every sport tends to have at least a handful of key players under their umbrella to withdraw from the sport every year--normally due to injury or age--but during this year in particular, for some reason, it feels like every prolific athlete from every sport under the sun is announcing their retirement. Athletes who have built a legacy for themselves that has become synonymous with the sport they play. Athletes whose sport cannot be mentioned without their name being brought up as one of the greatest to ever play. This list is going to talk about many of those athletes.
Not only will this list attempt to reflect on the incredible careers of the athletes who have retired this year, but we will also touch on the impact each of these tremendous athletes have made to the respective sports they've made a living in. For some, it's going to be hard to imagine many of these athletes outside of the sports that made them famous and it will be even harder for their absence to be filled by another up-and-coming athlete. There are plenty of athletes on this list that are irreplaceable, but all of these athletes and everything they've attributed to the sport they play will be unforgettable. Here are 15 of the most shocking athlete retirements we witnessed in 2016.
10 Kobe Bryant
For many, it may seem strange for such a world-renowned basketball player as Kobe Bryant to sit at such a low spot on this list. The reason why Bryant sits so low on this list is because, technically, it wasn't all that shocking when Bryant retired this year. Most of the athletes on this list announced their retirement seemingly out of the blue with no prior notice while Bryant gave us a heads up back in November 2015 that he planned to retire at the end of the season. Even before he made the announcement, Bryant's age at the time (37) and his 20-year career made his retirement something to be expected. That still doesn't undermine the awe-inspiring career that Bryant has made in the NBA as his accomplishments are resounding. He's the all time leading scorer in the Lakers' history, a 5x NBA champion, 18x NBA All Star, 2x NBA Finals MVP, and the 2008 Most Valuable Player. And that just barely sums up just how much of an impact Kobe Bryant has made in the NBA. The point stands that Bryant was one of the very best players in the league and the NBA almost feels incomplete without his presence on the court.
9 Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan is another retirement that was to be expected, but his announcement didn't make it any less devastating for wrestling fans. After Bryan's history with neck injuries and concussions started to finally catch up to him after a 17-year long career, the leader of the "YES! Movement" announced his retirement on the February 8th edition of Monday Night Raw. His retirement speech in front of his hometown crowd is acclaimed as one of the most heartwrenching retirement speeches fans ever had to sit through. Not just because of his humble words, but also because of everything he's contributed to the wrestling business. In addition to being a surprising WrestleMania headliner and former 3 time WWE Champion, he's had several high-profile accomplishments outside of WWE, including a lengthy reign as ROH Champion. No one could have predicted just how popular Bryan would become once reaching WWE and to see him have such a meteoric fall from grace at the height of his fame is bittersweet. For the time being, we'll still be able to see Bryan on WWE TV as an on-screen General Manager for Smackdown Live, but watching Bryan book wrestling matches just isn't the same as watching him wrestle in matches.
8 McKayla Maroney
Many of you will recognize McKayla Maroney's face as the "not impressed" meme that hit the internet a few years back, but those who followed her career know that she was a tremendous gymnast. While she may not deem her silver medal win during the 2012 Olympics all that impressive, the gold medals she won in 2011 and 2013 during the World Artistic Gymnastic Championships certainly were. She also competed in the P&G Championships where she won gold medals for competing in the vault and floor exercises. As she racked up all these prestigious victories, she had high hopes of competing in the Olympics again once 2016 rolled around. Unfortunately, in the later years, she would sustain a string of nasty injuries and health issues that would keep her out of active competition. These injuries would contribute to her announcing her retirement from gymnastics on February 24th, just two days after her fellow Fierce Five teammate, Kyla Ross, announced her own retirement from the sport. Let's remember Marooney's face not as a meme, but as an impressive competitor.
7 Calvin Johnson
It may be easy for football fans to poke fun at the Detroit Lions for not having the best win-loss record over the years, but if there was ever a star player on their team who produced a glimmer of hope for a Lions victory every game, it was Calvin Johnson. There's a reason why he was the Lions 2nd overall Draft pick in 2007. He showed great promise early on in his career and went on to exceed expectations throughout his career with the Lions. One season, he broke a record for the most receiving yards in a single season. In fact, no one has averaged more receiving yards per game than Johnson in NFL history. He was also the NFL's receiving touchdown leader in 2008. All of these highlights earned him one of the largest contracts in sports history when he received an eight year contract extension in 2012. Which made his retirement from the NFL this year all the more shocking. It seems that the reason was because he felt tired after all the years he put in; he said he was "fed up" with football. We can only hope he's discovered a newfound happiness and peace of mind in his retirement life.
From the very start of his NBA career, Kevin Garnett managed to turn heads and impress many. As the first player in NBA history to ever be drafted straight out of high school, he was signed to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995 and led the team to eight consecutive Playoff appearances. He earned the prestige of being the NBA MVP in 2004, the all time leading scorer in Timberwolves history, and the All Star Game MVP of 2003. Duncan was a selected All Star 15 times, which he ties for the third-most selections in All Star history alongside Shaquille O'Neal and fellow 2016 retiree, Tim Duncan. After feeling the strain of his prior knee injuries, Garnett realized that his knees probably wouldn't be able to last one more season and decided to hang up his jersey on September 23rd. Now that his career is over, he's still keeping a close eye on NBA action with his spot on post-game series, Inside the NBA.
6 Brad Richards
NHL star, Brad Richards, announced his retirement on July 20th. With a pro career that began in 2000, it was probably the right time to retire as Richards leaves behind a long, lucrative career. Across 15 seasons, Brad Richards found himself as a member of the Tamba Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and finally, the Detroit Red Wings. As an athlete who was constantly in high demand from just about every team in the NHL, Richards managed to make waves wherever he was. He led the Lightning to a Stanley Cup win in 2004, where he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs. He made a quick impact with the Stars by breaking a career record for most assists in a player's team debut game during his first game on the team. His time with the Rangers scored Richards his first career goal. In 2015, he helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. While his time with the Red Wings was short, they narrowly made the playoffs and he hit a goal before his team was eliminated. In post-retirement, he plans to help his wife, Rechelle, raise their second child together.
While his interactions with the media have garnered him a bad reputation, one thing that his detractors cannot deny is that Marshawn Lynch is one of the best running backs to enter the NFL in recent memory. While it may be easy for some to criticize Lynch on his attitude and character, his attitude during media junkets only proved just how deep his dedication to his sport was in his career. As Lynch told interviewers time and time again, he was "all about that action." He was never too concerned with how he acted towards the media because he was more focused on how he planned to play on the field. That focus and dedication led him to a Super Bowl championship and becoming a 2x running back leader. The whole reason why he earned the nickname "Beast Mode" was because he was an absolute beast on the field. On February 7th, the day of Super Bowl 50, he announced his retirement. He spends his post-retirement days as a mentor for football players at his alma mater, University of California, Berkeley.
The NBA saw various players retire from the league this year and one of their most crushing losses came from shooting guard, Ray Allen. As the NBA's all-time leader in making three point shots during regular and post-seasons, Allen has made a career for being one of the best three point and free throw shooters to ever enter the league. In his prolific career, we saw Allen don colors for Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Boston Celtics, and finally the Miami Heat. Everywhere he went, he was a standout on his team. With the Bucks, he won the three point shootout in an All Star game during the 2000-01 season. With the SuperSonics, he became the 97th player in NBA history to score 15,000 points. He became an NBA Champion in 2008 with the Celtics and then again in 2013 with the Heat. Upon becoming a free agent in 2014, he sat out the season to focus on the 2015-16 season, but ultimately, Allen would announce his retirement on November 1st.
After one glance at her career resume, anyone can argue that Sanya Richards-Ross is one of the most impressive track and field stars to ever compete in the Olympics. Her accomplishments speak for themselves. She won Olympic gold for her stellar performances during 4x400 meter relay in 2004, 2008, and 2012. For a decade, she held the record as the best 400m runner in the world. As she aspired to compete once again in the Olympics in 2016, a string of injuries would derail her momentum. She first suffered a minor foot injury in 2014, though she recovered shortly afterwards and went on to begin her track season in 2014 where she won the season's best record at 49.66 and won Diamond League races in Paris and Brussels. Sadly, Richards-Ross would suffer a calamitous right hamstring injury during the Olympic trials on July 1st that not only kept her out of the Olympics, but ended her career. If it's any consolation, she went on to commentate for the event and she owns a hair extension line that she can fall back on in post-retirement.
5 Alex Rodriguez
While his departure from the New York Yankees this year was more of a release than a bonafide retirement, many are speculating that A-Rod quietly retired after becoming a free agent. Anything can happen in the world of baseball and with the right offer from the right team, Alex Rodriguez could easily wind up back in the MLB under new team colors, but if this really is the last time we'll see him on the field, it is certainly a monumental career to end on. He won the World Series alongside the Yankees in 2009, he's a 3x Major League Most Valuable Player, 14x All Star, 2x Golden Glove winner, and a 10x Silver Slugger winner. He is also a member of the prestigious 500 home run club and the 3,000 hit club. This year alone, he became the 19th player to make 12,000 career plate appearances. Also this year, A-Rod played his last game with the Yankees and was granted his release. Whether he remains secluded in retirement or makes a shocking comeback sooner or later, one thing is for sure: the New York Yankees just won't look the same without an athlete as gifted as A-Rod on their team any longer.
4 Vincent Lecavalier
This year, on June 21st, Vincent Lecavalier closed out a solid ice hockey career after spending 18 years with the NHL. While he may not have been one of the most recognizable names among the NHL's star athletes, he always gained people's attention when audiences least expected it. Almost like a secret weapon. You may not have always paid him too much attention to him during the game, but you always kept him in the back of your mind. Then, when you least expected it, he would score some points in a huge way that would dramatically change the course of the game in his team's favor. Those were the kind of calculated plays that Lecavalier would make that helped bring a Stanley Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning when he played for them in 2004. After his 15 year run in Tampa Bay ended, he moved on to the Philadelphia Flyers where he finished his first season with 20 goals and 17 assists. He would be traded to the Los Angeles Kings this year before announcing his retirement.
This NASCAR driver has had a rough few years. Anyone who has followed the race car driving career of Brian Scott can tell you that. What makes his retirement so shocking is the fact that he made the decision so early into his career. At the age of only 28 while having made his professional debut in 2008, no one could have expected him to hang up his NASCAR keys after only a few years. While he hasn't made any huge waves in the race car driving world, he's had at least made some accomplishments over the year. He finished in 2nd for Rookie of the Year in 2008. His second win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series came at the Phoenix International Raceway in the Lucas Oil 150. From there, things didn't look great for Scott as he finished the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at 27th. The season for him this year started off with him crashing on the last lap in his Can-Am Duel qualifying race. Later, at Auto Club Speedway, Scott scored a career best 12th place finish. Optimistic fans hoped he would improve in time, but Scott unexpectedly announced his retirement this year on November 10th. He admitted that the reason for him walking away from the sport was due to wanting to play a bigger part in his family's life, namely for his two children.
3 Tim Duncan
For nearly 20 years, Tim Duncan spent his entire professional basketball career with the San Antonio Spurs. His loyalty and dedication to his team for so long has earned him much respect over the years from critics, but the skills which he showcased on the court are what made him such a popular name in the NBA. At the very start of his career, he earned the NBA Rookie of the Year award. This would just be a preview for the outstanding career he would go on to craft for himself in the NBA. He quickly became world renowned as one of the best power forwards in the NBA. He led the Spurs to 5 NBA Championships and Duncan himself would become a 3x NBA Finals MVP, 2x NBA MVP, 15x NBA All Star, and the all time leading scorer in Spurs history. On July 11th, Duncan announced his retirement and on December 18th, the Spurs will retire his #21 jersey. He will still continue exercising a close relationship with the NBA in post-retirement in a coaching role to the Spurs for the 2016-17 season.
2 Peyton Manning
Before announcing his retirement this year on March 7th, Peyton Manning crafted the ideal NFL career for himself that most football players should aspire to have. From 1998 until 2010, he etched out a bountiful resume with the Indianapolis Colts. In his rookie year alone, he was regarded as a well-rounded quarterback and went on to prove his worth that year with a record 26 touchdowns. In the coming years as a member of the Colts, Manning would find himself showered with Espy awards for Best NFL Player, MVP awards, All Pro selections, and most notably, his first Super Bowl Championship win at Super Bowl XLI where he also snagged himself a Super Bowl MVP award. By time he was traded to the Denver Broncos in 2012, he was already a well decorated athlete with a momentous career. His career would look even better with the Broncos after earning another big Super Bowl win and becoming the NFL's all time leader in passing touchdowns. In retirement, Manning leaves behind a legacy as one of the most accomplished athletes in the sport of football.
1 Miesha Tate
Given how Ronda Rousey is still reeling from her first crushing defeat at the hands of Holly Holm and judging by how she's making a slow transition into being an actress, MMA fans fully speculated her to announce her retirement before 2016 closed out. The world of UFC was shocked to find out that Rousey's longtime rival, Miesha Tate, had announced her retirement instead following a unanimous loss to Raquel Pennington on November 12. Her reason being that after a decade into her career, she believes her time has passed. Tate leaves behind a legacy as a former UFC Bantamweight Champion, an 18-7 win-loss record, and a competitor who always brought a level of intensity to the octagon that's hard to match. Her feud and matches with Ronda Rousey helped put the Bantamweight division on the map in UFC. Too bad we'll never get to see a third bout between the two. Now, we'll have to wait and see if Rousey decides to retire next following her comeback match on December 30th at UFC 207.
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