Shaping the sports landscape

Reuters

, Last Updated: 1:52 PM ET

Hockey

Player of the decade:

While Martin Brodeur’s Hall of Fame career is entering a third decade the New Jersey Devils netminder has done much of his best work since the start of the new millennium rewriting the National Hockey League (NHL) record books.

Brodeur, who helped Canada to win Olympic gold in Salt Lake City in 2002, has set NHL records for the most career wins, the most games played by a goaltender and most wins in a single season. He has won three Stanley Cups and four Vezina trophies as the league’s top netminder. He also needs one more shutout to become the NHL’s all-time leader in that category.

Defining moment:

With the NHL in financial crisis and unable to reach a new pay agreement, league owners locked out players in 2004 and an entire season was wiped out by a labour dispute.

The bitter stand-off finally ended in 2005 with players grudgingly accepting a salary cap. Desperate to win back disgruntled fans the NHL overhauled rules, leading to big changes that brought back speed and creativity to a sport that had been plagued by clutching, grabbing and fighting.

Event of the decade:

The biggest hockey event of the decade did not take place in an NHL arena but on Olympic ice in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Winter Games where a Canadian team assembled by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, ended a 50-year gold-medal drought with a 5-2 win over the United States in the final.

Voted the greatest Olympic moment of all-time by hockey-mad Canadians, the victory restored national pride and Canada’s reputation as the sport’s superpower.

Basketball

Player of the decade:

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant share the honour, winning narrowly from San Antonio Spurs stalwart Tim Duncan. Bryant won three successive titles with the Los Angeles Lakers at the beginning of the decade but those were with the huge O’Neal patrolling the paint. He finally won his fourth -- and first without O’Neal -- last season.

O’Neal, released by the Lakers in 2004 during a feud with Kobe, won his first without Bryant two years later as a member of the Miami Heat. Each player won the league’s MVP title once.

Defining moment:

NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West, one of the most respected basketball minds, said shortly before the playoffs began last season that LeBron James had surpassed Bryant as the best player in the game, a remark that ignited a raging debate.

Clearly, the 24-year-old James will be the better player during the next decade but Bryant, 31, was not yet ready to pass the torch. He was especially stung by the remarks because it was West who had ushered Bryant into the league when he was the general manager of the Lakers. Bryant fed off West’s words like a man possessed, and ultimately guided the Lakers to their first championship since 2002.

Event of the decade:

The 2007-08 Finals pitted Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers against Kevin Garnett’ Boston Celtics, which marked the first time since the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era that the two iconic franchises had met for the championship. They were also the league’s best teams, the top seeds from both conferences.

The Celtics, led by MVP Paul Pierce, proved to be too much for the Lakers, winning their first crown since the Bird years, 4-2. Pierce averaged 21.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds in leading the Celtics to their record 17th title.

Football

Player of the decade:

Peyton Manning, precision quarterback and consummate leader of the Indianapolis Colts, lived up to his billing as top overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft out of Tennessee with an extraordinary 10-year run of iron-man brilliance, never missing a game while serving as de-facto coach on the gridiron with his meticulous preparation and pinpoint throwing.

Manning transformed the Colts from a 3-13 team into a perennial powerhouse, steering Indy into the playoffs nine times, earning nine Pro Bowl selections, claiming NFL Most Valuable Player honours three times (2003, 2004, 2008), snaring the Super Bowl MVP award in their 2006 championship season and posting seven successive seasons of 12 or more wins while dominating statistical charts at the game’s key position.

Defining moment:

A crushing tackle by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis drove three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Bledsoe of New England out of the second game of the 2001 season and forced the Patriots to rely on their sixth-round pick of the 2000 draft -- Tom Brady of Michigan, the 199th player chosen that year.

Brady, quickly grasping the intricacies of the offense and showing more mobility than pocket quarterback Bledsoe, posted an 11-3 record as emergency starter and went on to lead New England to a Super Bowl crown. They added two more NFL titles for a total of three in a four-year period. Brady claimed two Super Bowl MVP awards, NFL MVP honours in 2007 and four Pro Bowl bids.

Event of the decade:

The Super Bowl following the 2007 season produced the only blemish on a near-perfect campaign by the New England Patriots, who were denied a 19th victory without a loss and their fourth NFL title of the decade by the New York Giants, thanks largely to an extraordinary catch by seldom-used receiver David Tyree in the dying seconds of the championship game.

Tyree pinned the desperation third-down throw by scrambling quarterback Eli Manning against his helmet for a 32-yard gain, somehow keeping the ball from hitting the ground and coming loose as he was tackled. The superb play set up a game-winning touchdown grab by Plaxico Burress that gave the Giants a 17-14 upset and kept the Patriots from joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the NFL’s only unbeaten champions.

Player of the decade:

Brawny St Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, three times the National League MVP and three times runner-up, never failed to surpass a .300 batting average, 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in during nine seasons. Pujols, who won last season’s home run crown with 47, has led the league in runs scored four times and his .334 career batting average is the highest of any active player in the game.

Defining moment:

The Mitchell Report, Major League Baseball’s attempt to achieve closure on a period of widespread doping and bloated slugging statistics known as the steroids era, was issued in December, 2007. A decrease in home run hitting since suggest the report, which named names, had helped serve as a deterrent to drug cheating.

The 409-page report linked 89 former and current players to use of performance-enhancing drugs, naming All-Stars, MVPs, and implicating some players presumed to be on a path to the Hall of Fame such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. No punishments were recommended for past misbehaviour but MLB installed proposals for tighter testing and stronger discipline.

Event of the decade:

The Boston Red Sox shatter the 86-year-old “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 and humiliate arch-rival New York Yankees in the process by becoming the first major league team to overcome a 3-0 playoff deficit by sweeping the last four against the Yanks in the American League Championship Series before sweeping St Louis to win their first World Series since 1918.

Shortly after that 1918 triumph, Boston traded/sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, who began an unprecedented run of success on the majestic home run blasts by the Bambino, while the Red Sox famously squandered their various chances.


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