The top 16 ArizonaSports.com headlines of 2020
It was a year.
Looking back on the early parts of 2020 is pulling back the curtains on another era of life.
A pandemic sports paused leagues, and here in the Valley, two blockbuster trades made it clear which teams own this town.
The Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Suns made big moves. Meanwhile, the pandemic made for weird times.
To look back before the new year, here is a collection of some of the most-read headlines — we touch on those with strong ties to the news stories of the year — on ArizonaSports.com in 2020.
Certainly, this headline would make no sense if you read it before March 2020.
The answer to this educated question posed by Vincent Bonsignore of the turned out to be “yes.” It just didn’t come to fruition until before Week 13 of the NFL season.
Santa Clara County, home of the 49ers, declared in late November that large gatherings, including sports teams’ practices, were unsafe with rising coronavirus numbers in the area. So the 49ers relocated to play scheduled Week 13 and 14 home games in Arizona at State Farm Stadium.
The Niners will also close their year at State Farm Stadium.
They weren’t the only team that temporarily moved to Arizona during the pandemic.
Teams from New Mexico State, San Jose State and the NHL’s San Jose Sharks also set up shop in the Grand Canyon State to keep their seasons alive as local government guidelines limited them from working at their respective home bases.
Phoenix Suns fan favorite Dan Majerle sued his former employer, Grand Canyon University, for a breach of contract. It was an ugly end to a successful run with the Antelopes.
The coach built the school’s men’s hoops program up as a competitive Division I team and went 136-89 in seven seasons there.
GCU was 13-17 before he was fired after his first losing season, and GCU later replaced Majerle with Bryce Drew.
Among the things that took on a new look during the pandemic was the NFL Draft. Instead of a planned in-person ceremony along the Las Vegas strip, commissioner Roger Goodell operated the draft from his basement.
Coaches, GMs and players participated in the draft over Zoom.
Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury set up his draft war room at his Paradise Valley mansion, and damn the views were nice.
War Room 2.0 pic.twitter.com/aCh3GYPVCG
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) April 24, 2020
Remember that lockdowns at the start of the coronavirus pandemic made getting out of the house a little harder?
Not for Suns guard Devin Booker and friend-but-nothing-more Kendall Jenner, who popped by a rest stop around a trip to Sedona.
The Kardashian curse was a real worry for Suns fans. So far, so good after the bubble run.
You can click the story and read about what David Johnson was referencing, but his history of cryptic social media messages bucketed his tweet as negative commentary about the Arizona Cardinals.
When the grass is cut the snakes will show 🐍
— David Johnson (@DavidJohnson31) March 20, 2020
It came after the team traded Johnson to the Houston Texans.
Arizona used Johnson and a swap of draft picks to acquire DeAndre Hopkins, who enters the season finale as the NFL’s third-leading receiver in yardage. More on him in a bit.
Johnson has amassed 607 rushing yards and 278 receiving yards with five combined touchdowns with the Texans this year.
6. Suns fully reveal ‘The Valley’ City Edition jerseys / Suns make huge progress on arena renovations, set for home opener
We’re coupling up these Suns items from Nov. 12 and Dec. 15 because they represent winds of change sweeping through the Valley.
Kelly Oubre Jr. had the unfortunate role of developing the “Valley Boyz” identity of a Suns team that just after using him to showcase their new jerseys flipped him in the Chris Paul trade.
Paul’s arrival, a new practice facility and a renovated Phoenix Suns Arena represent what the team hopes is a change in status after a decade run without a playoff appearance.
The Suns were in the midst of a perfect bubble run that nearly got them into the NBA playoffs via a play-in when Warriors forward Draymond Green, working with the TNT crew, dug himself a $50,000 hole.
He called for Booker to leave Phoenix and find himself a winning team to play for.
That, as Ernie Johnson called in the moment, was defined as tampering by the NBA league office.
Hopkins let some free birds fly as he was driving his Ferrari to State Farm Stadium before the Cardinals squared off against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football.
Later, he told teammate Patrick Peterson on the “All Things Covered Podcast” that one driver in a Donald Trump parade had slammed on their brakes.
“I really was about to do the peace sign to him, but this finger right here was kinda hurting, so it didn’t make it up in time,” Hopkins said.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety did not have a record of Hopkins being stopped for reckless driving or speeding after it was alleged by many on social media he was weaving dangerously in and out of traffic.
It sure does, J.J.
It was no surprise that the Texans moved on from head coach-slash-GM Bill O’Brien after Houston got out to a rough start and clearly missed having one of the NFL’s best pass-catchers to lean on.
Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his daughter Gianna, died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, shocking the sports world.
Steve Nash eloquently described what it was like as a Sun to compete with Bryant and later become teammates with the brash competitor on the Lakers.
If you need one clip of evidence that the Hopkins trade went well for Arizona, consider the Hail Murray catch to beat the Buffalo Bills “exhibit A.”
Murray rolled out for a desperate heave after the Bills scored a go-ahead touchdown, and with time expiring, Hopkins sucked the ball out of the air with three Buffalo defensive backs contesting his catch.
Best meme gets a signed jersey. pic.twitter.com/L02Aluqzuo
— Deandre Hopkins (@DeAndreHopkins) November 17, 2020
The imagery of his Jordan brand quintuple-XL gloves reaching above a mass of hands and arms went viral — but as a non-Jordan athlete, Hopkins didn’t get a cent.
Good thing he self-negotiated that contract extension with Arizona earlier on this year.
12. Suns to play at ‘Madhouse on McDowell’ if NBA season returns – March 31
If there’s one lesson about a pandemic, it’s that you should plan for everything and expect nothing to go as you thought it would.
The NBA was the first sports league to shutter with Rudy Gobert’s positive coronavirus test on March 11, and from there it was a guess as to how play would commence.
Meanwhile, the Suns were still expecting to move forward with arena renovations, so they set up shop at their original home, Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.
While fans never got to see basketball games at the Madhouse on McDowell — virtually or in person — they instead got an even more unthinkable product with a Disney World bubble instead.
Finally, Booker got his well-deserved All-Star bid. It just came in a non-traditional way.
Damian Lillard injured himself days before the All-Star game and vouched for Booker to get the nod in his place. It ended up happening.
Booker canceled some vacation plans and instead played some hoop.
Not often do you get to see live video of a professional athlete finding out their season might be done with. Not ever.
Booker found out the NBA had been postponed while he was streaming online. It was a sign of the times, where athletes have found formats to let fans into their lives digitally.
Booker’s gaming practices got more attention soon after as the country locked down. He defeated teammate Deandre Ayton in the title round of an NBA 2K tournament that aired in place of live sports on ESPN.
The Paul trade went from rumor to report to likely to happening over the course of a few weeks.
Even then, Suns fans apparently couldn’t be more excited than to see Paul joining his new All-Star teammate.
It was a year in which sports did not avoid the topic of racism and inequality.
Nationally, games were canceled or postponed as Black athletes took a stand over police violence and overt instances of hate.
Locally, the story that was felt came from Arizona State. Sun Devil football players Jordan Clark, Nolan Matthews and T Lee took to social media to tell the story of their interaction with a racist woman at a Whataburger drive through.
The incident went viral, and Clark’s father, ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, spoke candidly and passionately about his perspective.