The world of sports thrives on milestones, with fans consistently watching out for the next record to fall or drought to be broken. There were plenty of notable individual and team milestones — mostly good — achieved in 2021. Here’s a look (listed in chronological order).
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LeBron keeps climbing
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We’re not sure if LeBron James will ever become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, but he’s getting close. James, who turns 37 shortly before the new year, joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone as the only players in NBA history to reach 35,000 career points. The Los Angeles Lakers star hit that milestone in February 2021 and continues to pile up the points as perhaps the greatest player in NBA history.
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Iowa star Luka Garza swept the various national player of the year honors during the men’s college basketball season in 2020-21. On Feb. 21 against Penn State, Garza poured in 23 and became the Hawkeyes’ all-time leading scorer by topping Roy Marble’s 32-year-old program record of 2,116 points. Garza, now playing for the Detroit Pistons, finished his superb four-year collegiate career at Iowa with 2,306 points for an 18.2 average over 127 games.
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Campbell’s consecutive stardom
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Toronto goaltender Jack Campbell made NHL history on April 10, when he recorded a league-record 11th straight victory to open what was the abbreviated 2020-21 season. During that run, Campbell posted a 1.88 goals-against average, stopping 297 of 318 shots, He also posted a .934 save percentage and recorded two shutouts during that historic early-season run of success.
4 of 20
Mercedes magical start
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When the Chicago White Sox opened the season on April 2 at the Los Angeles Angels, little-known designated hitter Yermin Mercedes made modern-day (since 1900) major-league history by recording a hit in each of his first eight at-bats, spanning two games, to open a season. That included his first career home run. Mercedes batted .415 through his first 22 games of the 2021 season, but as fast as he rose to unexpected prominence, Mercedes’s struggles ensued and lingered. By July 1, he was no longer a major-league roster.
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Love him or hate him, Yadier Molina, at the very least, commands respect for his longevity and the way he loves the game of baseball. On April 14, the longtime, beloved St. Louis star became the eighth catcher in major-league history to catch 2,000 career games. Molina, who broke into the majors with the Cardinals in 2004, is the only player to accomplish that impressive feat with the same team.
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Bieber baffles batters
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One season after winning the AL Cy Young Award, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber opened the 2021 campaign with a bang. He became the first pitcher in major-league history (or at least since 1893) to post at least 10 strikeouts over four starts to open a season. Bieber actually fanned 11 or more in each of those contests and totaled 48 strikeouts while going 2-1 during that impressive fourth-start pitcher-versus-batter dominance.
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Don’t take Burnes for a walk
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Perhaps baseball fans should have known that Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes would be in for a special season. An NL Cy Young Award-winning season, to be more specific. Through his first four starts of the 2021 season, the Brewers right-hander recorded 40 strikeouts without walking a batter — breaking Adam Wainwright’s mark of 35 strikeouts and no walks to open a campaign. Over his first five starts, Burnes still did not yield a walk, while striking out 49 and posting a 1.53 ERA.
8 of 20
Messed around and got — a record — triple-double
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Russell Westbrook has been a triple-double machine during an NBA career that began in 2008-09. So, it was only a matter of time before he became the all-time leader in NBA history. For Westbrook, it came on May 10 at Atlanta, while playing for the Washington Wizards. He recorded 28 points, 21 assists, and 13 rebounds for triple-double No. 182 — breaking Oscar Robertson’s record that stood since 1974.
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“Lefty” nifty at 50
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Phil Mickelson might have turned 50, but that didn’t mean his game was washed up or that he still couldn’t compete with the talented young guns on the PGA Tour. And, “Lefty” proved that when he stunned most of the golf world by winning the 2021 PGA Championship (May 20-23) at Kiawah Island. With the 2-shot triumph at 6-under par, Mickelson became the oldest golfer (50 years, 11 months, seven days) to claim victory at a major tournament.
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Lonely on the road
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Records of futility aren’t fun to bring up, but the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ early ineptness on the road was rather remarkable. Their 24-game losing streak away from home, spanning May 4-June 25, is the longest in Major League Baseball history. The previous mark was 22 consecutive road games without a victory. Arizona finished the 2021 season just 20-61 away from home, winning three total road series and sweeping just one such set.
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Milwaukee Bucks‘ fans hope it doesn’t take another half-century for the franchise to win its next NBA championship. It took the Bucks just three seasons into their existence to win the franchise’s first title in 1971. Finally, and led by superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA Finals MVP after he averaged 35.2 points, 13 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the title series, Milwaukee overcame losing the first two Finals games at Phoenix by winning the next four to end the mammoth drought between titles. Those final three games came by a combined 17 points.
13 of 20
Olympics a dandy for Durant
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Not only did Kevin Durant help the United States men’s basketball team win a fourth straight Olympic gold medal this summer in Japan, but he made some personal history along the way. On July 31 against the Czech Republic, Durant broke Carmelo Anthony‘s record of 336 points scored in American Olympic history. Anthony set his record in 31 Olympic contests, but Durant has now totaled 435 in just 22 games. And, we believe that total can grow.
14 of 20
The kick heard ’round the world
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Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker seems destined for the Hall of Fame. He further cemented that case on Sept. 26, when he booted a 66-yard field goal, which bounced off the crossbar and in, as time expired to give the Ravens a 19-17 win at Detroit. Not only did that long-distance boot win the game for Baltimore, but it set the NFL record for longest field goal — topping Matt Prater‘s 64-yarder from 2013. Tucker has now made two field goals of more than 60 yards during his stellar career.
15 of 20
Semien second to none
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The career-high 45 home runs that Marcus Semien hit last season for Toronto were a big reason he got a seven-year, $175 million contract to play for the Texas Rangers in 2022. It was homer No. 44, specifically, that etched Semien’s name in Major League Baseball history. That shot against the New York Yankees on Sept. 29, set the record for most homers by a second baseman — smashing the 43-year-old mark set by Davey Johnson from 1973.
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Simply put, 2021 was the year of the no-hitter in Major League Baseball. A league-record nine no-hitters were tossed this season, including two of the combined variety. Joe Musgrove recorded the first no-hitter in San Diego Padres’ history on April 9. Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox (April 14), Baltimore’s John Means (May 5), Cincinnati’s Wade Miley (May 7), Spencer Turnbull of Detroit (May 18), and the Yankees’ Corey Kluber (May 19) all followed with no-nos. On June 24, four Chicago Cubs — Zach Davies, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin, and Craig Kimbrel — combined to no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers. Arizona’s Tyler Gilbert posted a no-hitter in his first MLB start on Aug. 14 and the aforementioned Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers teamed up to keep Cleveland from getting the hit. Interestingly enough, the Indians were no-hit three times and the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers twice in 2021.
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Ohtani deserves an ovation
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We knew Shohei Ohtani was a special player. But, perhaps not to the extent with which he displayed during the 2021 season. An easy choice for AL MVP, the two-way standout for the Los Angeles Angels left his mark on the game in numerous areas. His 48 home runs are by far the most from a Japanese-born Major Leaguer, while he’s also the first player from Japan to club at least 40 homers and steal 20 bases in the majors. When Ohtani’s 2021 season was complete, he became the first MLB player to record at least 45 home runs, 25 stolen bases (26), 100 RBIs, 100 runs (103), and eight triples for a campaign. On the mound, the right-hander was the sixth starter ever to make at least 13 starts at home without a losing decision (6-0) while posting a sub-2.00 ERA (1.95).
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Brady: The Record Basher
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It’s getting hard to keep track of all the quarterback records Tom Brady holds. The list is likely to keep growing, and the 2021 calendar has been among the most notable during his illustrious 22-yard career. The year started with Brady extending his record for most individual Super Bowls won to seven after leading Tampa Bay over Kansas City on Feb. 7. He also extended another league record by winning his fifth Super Bowl MVP award. On Oct. 3, against his former team at New England, Brady broke Drew Brees’ all-time NFL passing yards mark of 80,358, then shattered Brees’ career completions record (7.141) on Dec. 12 versus Buffalo. That same game, Brady threw his 700th regular-season and playoff touchdown pass — the game-winner in overtime.
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Steph dials up long-distance record
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No player has hit more 3-pointers in NBA history than Stephen Curry — and he’s far from done. The Golden State star surpassed Ray Allen (2,973 made 3s) for the all-time lead with a first-quarter 3-pointer against the New York Knicks on Dec. 14. Curry, expected to become the first player in league history to make 3,000 3s during the 2021-22 season, is shooting roughly 43 percent from distance for his career.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.