In just about all respects, 2021 could have been better for New York. But the sports in the city could have been worse, too.
The Knicks surprised, the stars of yesterday (Derek Jeter) and today (Kevin Durant) came through and New York finally won a title — not in football but in fútbol.
Here are The Post’s rankings of the 10 best sports moments of the year:
1. Knicks make the playoffs
This year saw the advent of the most successful Knicks team of the past eight years. For the first time since 2013, there was playoff basketball at the Garden, with a defense-oriented, upstart team that got enough offense from breakout star Julius Randle to shock its way to home-court advantage in the first round. The Knicks fell in five games to Trae Young’s Hawks, but it has been a long time since the Garden witnessed that kind of excitement.
2. Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame induction
No. 2, naturally. Of course it was a gorgeous autumn day, the perfect setting to salute the perfect New York career, when Jeter officially entered the Hall of Fame. The Captain’s speech was pitch-perfect. He thanked his family, his Yankees family and so many who helped the kid from Kalamazoo achieve immortality. Jeter thanked the fans above all else: “I wanted to prove to you I belonged, and you kept pushing me to prove it over and over again.”
3. Kevin Durant goes berserk
The Nets’ Big 3 was a limp 1 ½ in the playoffs, with no Kyrie Irving and with James Harden suiting up, but struggling through a hamstring injury. On one night, though, one of the greatest players in NBA history did not need backup — or a backup. Durant played all 48 minutes of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semis against the Bucks, shot 16-for-23 and poured in 49 points as the Nets took a 3-2 series lead that they could not hold.
4. Islanders close out Nassau Coliseum in style
The Coliseum was rocking, but the energy soon turned to fear as the Islanders fell into a 2-0 hole with their season and their home on their last breaths. But in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup semifinals against the Lightning, Jordan Eberle scored on a backhand, and Scott Mayfield’s third-period goal forced one last overtime at the Barn. Anthony Beauvillier set Long Island ablaze with a steal and wrist shot that ensured the last memory of the Coliseum was a good one.
5. Yankees walk off into postseason
The Yankees’ season did not end well, but their regular season sure did. They needed to win Game 162 to sneak into the wild-card game, and they needed their best hitter to come through. With Tyler Wade on third in the bottom of the ninth of a scoreless game against the Rays at the Stadium, Aaron Judge smoked a grounder up the middle that scored Wade, emptied the Yankees’ dugout and set up a juicy wild-card faceoff at Fenway Park. Not sure what happened next.
6. Madison Square Garden reopens
There were only about 2,000 in attendance. And the Knicks were actually, you know, good. But otherwise, it was a step toward feeling normal again. On Feb. 23, tickets were sold and bought, masked fans were allowed in for the first time in 11 months, and refs were jeered. The outcome, a 114-106 Knicks loss to the Warriors, had never mattered less. The world was moving once more.
7. Fireworks and bombs in Queens
Citi Field was never louder this season. The Subway Series finale on Sept. 12 was an instant classic filled with memorable moments, none more stunning than Giancarlo Stanton’s game-tying rocket of a home run in the seventh inning. He ambled around the bases, jawed with Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez, and both dugouts cleared. The Mets, upset about some whistling from the Yankees’ dugout, whistled last, when Lindor’s third homer of the game made the difference in his brightest moment in Queens.
8. NYCFC’s title
With a team that plays on the sacred grass of Yankee Stadium, New York finally got its first champion since the Giants following the 2011 season. But the Yankees had been finished playing for more than two months. New York City FC captured the MLS Cup on Dec. 11 with plenty of drama, when goalkeeper Sean Johnson needed to stop a pair of Portland penalty kicks for NYCFC to win its first title and New York to remember what winning feels like.
9. Corey Kluber’s no-hitter
The Klubot’s expression never changed, and Yankees fans might have been more nervous than he was. But in just his ninth start as a Yankee, the two-time Cy Young winner showed how good he could be, tossing a no-hitter in Texas on May 19 that made an ordinary Wednesday night extraordinary. He allowed just one walk and just one smile, breaking character and raising his arms upon the final out.
10. Stars added
Even in another down season for New York, the stars of the city grew brighter. The Nets added James Harden to complete their Big 3 on Jan. 14; the Mets’ Steve Cohen era kicked off with Lindor and took off with Max Scherzer; the Knicks took a shot with Kemba Walker, the Jets drafted Zach Wilson and the Giants welcomed back Saquon Barkley.