Phelps, Bolt, Brady, LeBron and other legacies formed in the 2010s

Michael Phelps of the US is seen with a red cupping mark on his shoulder as he competes in the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Final at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Rio de Janeiro

As the decade comes to a close, so does the current era of sports — after all, decades are one of the best ways to sort and separate notable sporting events, teams and players when discussing legacies. So many legendary moments are prefaced with a decade; 90s Bulls, 80s Oilers, 50s Yankees, etc.

So, what will we be saying in 30 years that starts with ‘the 2010s’? From an individual standpoint, this decade saw the two greatest Olympians cement their historic legacies. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, the best swimmer and runner, respectively, to have ever lived, capped off their respective careers in style at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games.

Phelps won 12 combined medals from the London and Rio games, nine of which were gold (the other three were silver) before announcing his retirement in August of 2016. Phelps stands alone as the most decorated Olympian ever, with an astonishing 28 medals. His 23 gold medals are also a record — the next highest gold medal total is nine. If we weren’t sure after his record breaking performance in Beijing in 2008 (which we should’ve been), Phelps undoubtedly cemented his legacy as the greatest swimmer, and Olympian of all time.

While Phelps was succeeding in the water, Usain Bolt was succeeding on land. Every Olympic event Bolt competed in resulted in a gold medal. After sweeping the 2008 Olympics, Bolt repeated in both the 2012 and 2016 games, to become the first runner to ever achieve the ‘triple-triple’, which is to win three sprinting golds in three straight Olympics. He was later stripped of his 4×100 relay gold because a teammate was on steroids, but that should not hinder Bolts’ legacy. Just watch the tape; not only is he beating these other top-ranked sprinters, but it’s not even close. He’s celebrating before the other racers cross the finish line.

In terms of team sports, this decade did wonders for the top-tier of professional sport athletes, the ones who might very well end up as the greatest of their respective sport. Tom Brady doubled his championship rings this decade, with Super Bowl wins in 2014, 2017 and 2019, making his six titles the most by any player in history. Love him or hate him, Brady has become the best to ever do it.

LeBron James won three championships this decade, two with Miami in 2012 and 2013, and most importantly, the 2016 title with Cleveland. The latter is his main selling point for his legacy; being matched up against the greatest regular season team in history, and coming back from a 3-1 Finals deficit to win the championship? Not to mention the hundreds of milestones and records he broke in the past nine years, LeBron has jumped up into most people’s top-three list.

While the 2016 Finals were not a fun time for Stephen Curry, consider it the one blemish on an otherwise historic resumé. The decade started out pretty bad for Steph; a number of ankle surgeries had everyone wondering if he could become an All-Star, let alone a two-time MVP with three (and probably a fourth soon) championships. Curry has already become the greatest shooter of all time, and is the heart and soul of one of the NBA’s greatest dynasties.

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin also cemented their legacies this decade, after Crosby’s Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, while Ovechkin finally winning in 2019. For so long, Ovi was this great regular season player who couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. After so many classic battles between these two, both will come out of the 2010s with championship rings and a spot in the Hall of Fame awaiting.

The 2010s, like every decade, was historic in its own right; the athletes and teams who excelled will forever be remembered. The 2020s are sure to do the same — whether it’s new Olympians taking the world by storm, or new dynasties formed on the field, it’s surely going to make for some great debate in the future.


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