The definition of a champion is someone or something (such as a team or an animal) that has won a contest or competition especially in sports. It has been a long time in professional sports where we have witnessed several champions in a 72-hour stretch. This feat took place between the dates of June 10-13.
The NLL (National Lacrosse League) crowned a new champion on June 10. It was the Georgia Swarm. The Swarm were originally in Minnesota until 2016. In their first season, they finished 8-10, which was good enough for third place. They lost in the Division Semi-finals. In only their second year in Atlanta, they finished in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 13-5 record. They went to the Champions Cup and played the two-time defending champions, the Saskatchewan Rush. A daunting challenge, or so it seemed. The first game was played in Georgia, which the Swarm won 18-14. The second game was in Saskatchewan and it seemed like the game was over with 42 seconds left. That is when the Rush took at 14-13 lead. The Swarm got possession thanks to an errant pass. Joel White got the rebound from a missed goal and tied the game with three seconds left. This forced overtime. That’s when Miles Thompson scored the game winner with 1:17 into the overtime period. Lyle Thompson was the Champion’s Cup MVP for scoring 12 points in two games. This is the first title for the city of Atlanta since the 1995 Braves won the World Series.
The French Open had a familiar face as champion on June 11. It was Rafael Nadal. Nadal is nicknamed the “King of Clay” because it’s the tennis surface that is used at the tournament. He is definitely the king because he has now won 10 times there. That is unheard of! He faced a tough opponent in Stan Wawrinka, who is ranked third in the world. However, it was apparent early and often that Nadal knew every inch of that tennis court. He beat Wawrinka in straight sets 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. In winning his 10th French Open, Nadal also totaled his 15th title. He only trails Roger Federer on the men’s side with 18 total titles. Nadal has already won at least once at the other three major championships (Australian Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open); giving him a career Grand Slam.
After the daytime champion was celebrating, it was time for the evening champions to do the same. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup on June 11. The Penguins did something that hasn’t been done since 1997-98 by the Detroit Red Wings. They won back-to-back championships. They beat the Nashville Predators in Nashville in Game 6 by a score of 2-0. The Predators were an outstanding 9-1 at home during the NHL playoffs this season coming into that game. They showed why it was tough to beat them at home since it was a defensive battle from the outset. The first goal of the game came in the third and final period with only 1:35 left in the game. The Predators removed their goalie to bring in an extra defenseman to try to tie the game. This led to an “empty net goal” with 14 seconds left in the game that sealed the title for the Penguins. Sidney Crosby was named the MVP of the Stanley Cup finals and awarded the Conn Smythe trophy. He received 11 of the 15 first place votes to repeat as the winner.
On June 12, the Golden State Warriors became NBA champions. Ever since last year with the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the championship on the Warriors home floor, there has been one mission and one mission only. They added Kevin Durant to the squad during the off-season. That move proved to be invaluable. Kevin Durant was the difference in these finals because he was named the MVP. He didn’t join the best regular season team ever and ride their coat tails. He led them to a title with a playoff record of 16-1. Durant’s decision to join the Warriors was viewed by many, including myself, as a weak move. He had just lost to the Warriors as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder after being up 3-1 to them in the series. He said if I can’t beat them, I’ll join them. By joining them they beat the Cavaliers 4-1, as he averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, and one steal in the series. His signature play of the finals came in Game 3 when he nailed a three-pointer over LeBron to put his team up one in the final seconds of the game. I would be remiss if I don’t mention that LeBron James averaged a triple double in the series loss. He was the first to ever average a triple double in the Finals. It was a great effort by LeBron but these are not participation trophies, the only thing that matters is winning the chip. The Warriors dethroned the champions and claimed their second title in three years.
Winning a championship is no small task. It takes hours and days of preparation, mental toughness, and sometimes sweat and tears. For these champions they each had something historic happen. The Swarm being the first to win a title for a city that has been devoid of one for years. Nadal being the first tennis player to win 10 titles at one Grand Slam tournament. The Penguins being the first to go back-to-back in 20 years. The Warriors winning the title with a playoff record of 16-1. Congratulations to all the champions!