From Crying Jordan to McKayla Is Not Impressed, memes came of age in the 2010s
We look back at the best sports memes of the past 10 years
A decade ago, you might have reacted to the word 'meme' like this:
Now, you probably wouldn't bat an eye. A meme is an inside joke with the internet; it's a moment turned into comedy; it's Twitter somehow galvanizing over humour.
Memes, at least in their current form, did not exist prior to this decade. Twitter was launched in 2006, but only began turning mainstream in 2009 after celebrities like NBA star Shaquille O'Neal joined the social platform.
Merriam Webster dictionary defines a meme as "an amusing or interesting item [such as a captioned picture or video] or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media." Think grumpy cat, or the odd excess of Spongebob pictures you've seen in the 2010s.
By that definition, sports lend themselves perfectly to memes. They're at once amusing, interesting and rapidly spread through social media.
And so, let's sort through the best sports memes of the decade. But really, it's the best memes ever. Sound good, Alonzo Mourning?
Can anyone else claim GOAT status in two separate things? Michael Jordan is probably still the greatest basketball player ever. He's definitely the best sports meme ever. Ironically, the meme was born during his 2009 basketball hall of fame speech when an Associated Press photographer snapped the now-iconic moment.
But the photo didn't begin to take off until 2012 when a user on a meme website uploaded it with the caption "Why did I buy the Bobcats?" (Jordan is the owner of the Charlotte NBA franchise that used to be nicknamed the Bobcats, but are now the Hornets.)
A scary thought: there's probably a certain demographic that hears Michael Jordan and says, "Oh yeah, the guy from the crying meme!" Yikes.
Perhaps the first meme to involve audio, "good job, good effort" kid blew up when a national TV audience in 2012 heard him yell those words of encouragement repeatedly at LeBron James after an important playoff loss.
NBC Miami identified the kid as nine-year-old Jack Meyer, a die-hard Miami Heat fan who truly meant what he was telling LeBron. Miami went on to win six of its next eight games to clinch James' first title.
Only a few weeks later, a less wholesome meme emerged when a Toronto reporter asked a then-19-year-old Bryce Harper if he planned on taking advantage of the younger legal drinking age in the North.
A snarky, yet somewhat appropriate, response from Harper. Snark always plays on the internet.
To end the year, we were gifted a gif that endures to this day: the Lakers fan bros.
Some further investigation from Deadspin revealed them as a pair of 18-year-olds. Deadspin asked: why are you wearing sunglasses inside?
The answer: "I was wearing the sunglasses inside cuz I knew the camera always looks for people wearing shades cuz they r usually famous. My plan worked hahaha."
Olympics, Part I
Our earliest meme comes from way back in Feb. 2010, after Canadian skeleton athlete Jon Montgomery won gold at the Vancouver Olympics. The first Canadian to win in the Whistler venues, Montgomery muttered moments after victory that he'd celebrate with a pint.
Instead, this happened:
Two years later, American gymnast McKayla Maroney was primed to win a vault gold medal but couldn't land her final jump. She finished in second.
McKayla was not impressed. McKayla went viral, thanks largely to this Tumblr page.
Also at the London Olympics, British runner Mo Farah won the 5,000 metres for his second gold medal of the Games. As he crossed the finish line, he spread his arms and opened his mouth. It was a celebratory reaction. But to the internet, Mo Farah looked scared.
And so, Mo Farah Running Away From Things was born:
In honour of <a href="https://twitter.com/Mo_Farah?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Mo_Farah</a> 's final track race here's some meme photos of Mo running away from things. 😂 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/London2017?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#London2017</a> one more time MO!!!!!!! ❤️ <a href="https://t.co/DRSeRZD857">pic.twitter.com/DRSeRZD857</a>—@Boffintosh
In 2014, Derek Jeter spent the entire season touring MLB and receiving gifts from opponents. Jeter coined #Re2pect for his farewell tour, which was widely regarded outside of New York as being… a bit much.
The first baby gif comes courtesy Jeter's nephew, who tipped his cap after his uncle's final game. A great show of respect from the two-year-old.
Also in 2014, two-year-old Penguins fan Tyler Avolia, who "wants to be Sidney" when he grows up, went viral for his intensity during a playoff game.
It just so happened that the Penguins were already going with the hashtag #buckleupbaby.
The bat flip
2015 ALDS Game 5. Bottom of the seventh. Two outs. Blue Jays and Rangers tied at three.
You already know.
The blown leads
The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead. That's it. That's the meme.
Another version: The 73-win Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals with unanimous MVP Steph Curry. That says pretty much all you need to know.
Some more context: Golden State had put together the greatest regular season ever and Curry became the first player to ever receive every single first-place MVP vote. Owner Joe Lacob said the Warriors were "light years ahead" of the rest of the NBA.
And then the 2015-16 Warriors became the first Finals team to lose the series after leading three games to one.
The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead.
Some cousins of this meme include prequel "It was 4-1" and sequel "It was 28-3." Don't @ me, Leafs and Falcons fans.
First, a nice moment from his 2014 MVP acceptance speech, when Durant, crying, told his mom: "You the real MVP."
Then, a less nice moment, just weeks after The Warriors Blew A 3-1 Lead, Durant announced his intention to join those 73-win Warriors as a free agent. But wearing a white shirt underneath the words 'My Next Chapter' gave all the amateur photoshoppers plenty of ammunition.
And finally, during the playoffs, we received perhaps the first sign that Durant wasn't fitting in with Golden State as well as he'd hoped.
Weirdly, these Durant memes kind of explain his career arc. And from the guy once caught with burner accounts on Twitter, it makes sense.
Olympics, Part II
Oddly, the second half of the decade's Olympic memes somewhat mirror the first.
We begin with Phelps face, when the American swimming superstar was caught with a serious look before a big race while rival Chad Le Clos shadow-boxed near him.
An alternative to McKayla:
No way <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AngryPhelps?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AngryPhelps</a> does not become a meme. Absolutely no way. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Olympics2016?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Olympics2016</a> <a href="https://t.co/jaaFnnlZco">pic.twitter.com/jaaFnnlZco</a>—@downing413
The Rio Olympics also gave us smiling Usain Bolt, when the Jamaican sprinter, well, smiled and looked back at his competition as he won the 100-metre dash.
An alternative to Farah:
Fast forward to Pyeongchang in 2018, and there's another Canadian gold medallist drinking beer. This time, ice dancer Scott Moir was everyone at home watching the women's hockey gold-medal game.
An alternative to Montgomery:
The greatest day in meme history
On Sept. 24, 2018, "fun guy" Kawhi laughed and the Philadelphia Flyers gave birth to Gritty.
An enigma, Leonard is notorious for keeping his life private and for rarely deviating from his baseline tone of voice. So when asked about himself at his introductory press conference, Leonard mustered "I'm a fun guy" followed by that notorious laugh.
One championship later, he even meme'd himself.
Meanwhile, Gritty is an enigma in his own right. We know he's the Flyers mascot. We know he also likes to have fun. When it comes to Gritty, as with Leonard, nothing and everything would be surprising.