- Andy Lyons/Getty
- This year was filled with memorable sports moments, from jaw-dropping dunks to goosebumps-inducing buzzer-beaters.
- Our list includes the best action from the World Cup, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, college sports, and plenty more.
- Though he doesn’t own the top play, it’s hard to argue that anybody else produced more highlights this year than LeBron James.
- Our top play was the buzziest play of 2018.
With 2018 coming to a close, we compiled the best plays in sports we saw this year and arranged them in a completely subjective order.
On the list you’ll find feats of athleticism from jaw-dropping jumps to clever maneuvers. Of course, the stakes of the play, the athlete, and the situation all got taken into account. A game-winner in the playoffs is cooler than a great pass – it just is.
Additionally, star power played a part. When LeBron James hits a game-winner or dunks on somebody, it simply means more than if the 8th man on the team does so. And – spoiler alert – James had a highlight-filled year.
Our top 40 plays of 2018 include action from the World Cup, Super Bowl, World Series, NHL playoffs, NBA season and more.
Check out the best plays of 2018 below.
40. Tiger Woods eagles from 95 yards out at the Memorial Tournament
One thing to know: Was there anyone more watched or more rooted-for in 2018? Fresh off some encouraging rounds at The Players Championship and Masters, Woods continued to round into shape, sending the crowd into a frenzy with this shot.
39. LeBron James fools the entire Lakers defense
One thing to know: James was on cruise control for half of the 2017-18 season, but in the latter part of the year, he turned it on, seemingly creating jaw-dropping highlights each night. This one was pretty, understated, and another example that he controls all parts of the game.
38. Ping pong player practices perfect paddle defense
One thing to know: According to Deadspin, this is 15-year-old Chris Chen at the Trondheim Table Tennis Club going with a last-ditch defense and coming up with the point. We’re not sure he could do this again if he tried – then again, maybe he has!
37. Patrick Mahomes throws a 73-yard touchdown vs. the Rams
???? MAHOMES TO HILL FOR 7️⃣3️⃣ YARDS ???? ???? ???? pic.twitter.com/tJKuWatnTZ
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) November 20, 2018
One thing to know: The Rams-Chiefs shootout was the NFL’s game of the year. Mahomes, the Chiefs young star quarterback, took things up a level by delivering a 73-yard strike to Tyreek Hill in the fourth quarter. This is not the last you’ll see of Mahomes on this list.
36. LeBron James goes through his teammate’s legs and gets an and-1
One thing to know: The best offensive players in the NBA can split double-teams no problem. James took it to a new level by going behind his back, through a teammate’s legs, then getting the and-1 bucket.
35. Colombia’s James Rodriguez bends a pass for an assist in the World Cup.
One thing to know: The Colombian star took home the Golden Boot in 2014. At the 2018 World Cup Rodriguez showed off his passing sorcery, curving a ball to Juan Cuadrado for the goal.
34. Sue Bird dishes it behind her head.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 2, 2018
One thing to know: The best assists in basketball are the ones you simply don’t see coming, and nobody was prepared for Bird to go no-look, behind-the-head on this play.
33. Rasmus Ristolainen goes between the legs for a goal
Some razzle here, some dazzle there. pic.twitter.com/JtBYehpDjU
— NHL (@NHL) November 28, 2018
One thing to know: The Buffalo Sabres defenseman made this move look easy, then gave us an equally good celebration.
32. Kolten Wong makes the diving stop, bobbles the ball, still gets the out
One thing to know: There are more dramatic dives than this, but can anybody top Wong’s arm strength to beat the runner?
31. Patrick Mahomes goes left-handed for the first down
One thing to know: Mahomes might have the best arm in the NFL. That goes for both arms, as he somehow managed a first down with Von Miller bearing down on him.
30. Benjamin Pavard nails a screamer in the World Cup
One thing to know: The French defender scored his first career international goal on a huge stage vs. Argentina. The shot itself was gorgeous. The slow-mo of the spin takes it to a new level.
29. Larry Nance Jr. posterizes Kevin Durant
One thing to know: Larry Nance Jr. can jump. While he was with the Lakers, he went full Statue-of-Liberty to dunk on Durant – no easy feat.
28. Edeiny Echavarria skies for the out.
— MLB (@MLB) October 4, 2018
One thing to know: As the Yankees routed the A’s in the AL Wild Card game, the third basemen showed off impressive hops to rob a sure base hit.
27. LeBron James goes behind his back, through a defender’s legs, to find Dwyane Wade
One thing to know: How did James see this, let alone get the ball through a Magic defender’s legs for the pass? Bonus points for Wade’s reaction.
26. Keelan Cole makes a one-handed grab against the Patriots.
One thing to know: Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole pulled off the best one-handed grab of the 2018 NFL season. If this had gone for a touchdown, it may have surpassed Odell Beckham Jr. in style points.
25. Ramon Laurreano makes a 321-foot throw for a double play
One thing to know: The catch at the wall was impressive enough, but turning this into a double play made it perhaps the most impressive throw of the MLB season.
24. Filip Forsberg toys with a defender
One thing to know: Forsberg’s move is more-or-less the same as Ristolainen’s, but Forsberg went through his legs, then back around the defender, and he did it in the playoffs. Forsberg wins.
23. Patrick Mahomes does his best Aaron Rodgers impression
One thing to know: Mahomes is back! The first-year starter proved he’s the most electric quarterback in the league early this season, scrambling away from the defense, nearly falling, then firing a 20-yard fastball to such a precise location in the end zone that the defense had no chance at taking it.
22. Sidney Crosby taps the puck in mid-air for the goal
One thing to know: Sidney Crosby makes the game look easy. When he’s evading defenders by alley-ooping the puck to himself, then smashing it into the net like a table tennis point, you know he’s having fun.
21. Adam Engel robs three home runs in one week
One thing to know: Okay, this is cheating a bit. Robbing a home run at the wall is one of the most spectacular plays in baseball. White Sox outfielder Adam Engel did it three times in one week, with each successive catch becoming more spectacular. To choose just one of these as a best play would be unfair to Engel.
20. Lionel Messi shows perfect ball control and finally gets on the World Cup scoreboard
One thing to know: Much was made about Messi’s struggles before and during the World Cup. In Argentina’s second game, Messi finally got on the board, corralling a deep ball like no one else in soccer could, then blasting it into the net.
19. DeMar DeRozan posterizes the Pistons in the clutch
One thing to know: Certain plays leave the sports world buzzing for extended periods of time, and that’s what DeMar DeRozan did on this play. Not only did DeRozan go for 42 points in the game, the entire scene made it one of the best plays of the year: the full-court sprint, massive dunk, go-ahead bucket in the final seconds, his teammates’ reactions, the call from Mike Tirico, the buzz of an away crowd. Wow.
18. Kevin Durant buries the Cavaliers … again
One thing to know: Kevin Durant hit a go-ahead three-pointer from 30 feet out in a decisive Game 3 win over the Cavs in the 2017 Finals. He then hit the same shot, in the same situation, in the same game, to break the Cavs’ hearts. The man is cold-blooded.
17. Gary Anderson throws a nine-darter.
One thing to know: Sure, it’s not the most physically impressive play on this list, but find a greater crowd reaction than this, we dare you.
16. Giannis Antetokounmpo literally jumps over Tim Hardaway Jr. for a slam
One thing to know: When the dunk happened line, it almost didn’t strike everyone that Antetokounmpo leaped over Tim Hardaway Jr. It’s no Vince Carter hurdle, but it’s one of the smoothest posterizations we’ve seen.
15. James Harden breaks Wesley Johnson’s ankles, ruthlessly.
One thing to know: As if Harden’s crossover wasn’t enough, his stare-down of Johnson, completely stopping the play, only served to make it more embarrassing. This play was the talk of the sports world for a good 48 hours.
14. Mirai Nagasu becomes the first woman to land a triple axel in the Olympics
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) February 12, 2018
One thing to know: We left out moments from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics because most of those qualify as “performances” rather than “plays.” But in the case of Nagasu, she had an individual highlight during the team event in Pyeongchang by landing the triple axel. Just as great as the move was her inability to contain her excitement during and after her skate. Chills.
13. Tiffany Hayes hits a game-winner from beyond half-court.
One thing to know: It’s a half-court game-winner. Enough said.
12. Miami upsets UNC with wild buzzer-beater
MIAMI UPSETS THE HEELS!
The Hurricanes snap No. 9 North Carolina's six-game win streak to get a huge win in Chapel Hill. pic.twitter.com/EJCt1V1XaN
— ESPN (@espn) February 28, 2018
One thing to know: Joel Berry appeared to play hero for UNC with a gusty pull-up three, but Miami responded with a buzzer-beating heave to beat the ninth ranked Tar Heels. Pandemonium!
11. Ronaldo goes full bicycle kick in the Champions League
OH MY RONALDO ????pic.twitter.com/RKh83FknT9
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) April 3, 2018
One thing to know: Fresh into his Juventus career, Ronaldo evened up the score against his former team with a picture-esque bicycle kick.
10. Braden Holtby makes the save of the NHL season
One thing to know: The Vegas Golden Knights were the darling team of the sports world going into the Stanley Cup Final, but it was Holtby that quite literally helped the Capitals stop them. His stretched-out, cat-reflex save goes down in NHL history as one of the best.
9. Max Muncy ends the longest World Series game ever with a walk-off home run
One thing to know: The Dodgers-Red Sox 18-inning epic had everyone begging for an end. Muncy delivered it in dramatic fashion. The Red Sox won the series, but the game everyone outside of Boston remembers best is Game 3.
8. Romelu Lukaku executes a dummy to help Belgium score a game-winner
We dare you to find a better counterattack!
Chadli finishes off a beautiful team play to give Belgium the win late in stoppage time. ???????????? pic.twitter.com/lbUxZDzG0E
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 2, 2018
One thing to know: This play had it all. It capped off a wild comeback in an elimination game for Belgium. It occurred in stoppage time. Lukaku dragged the defense with him, allowing Nacer Chadli to tap in the game-winning goal. Lukaku told INSIDER that it ranked among his favorite plays of his career.
7. LeBron James dunks on Jusuf Nurkic
One thing to know: There’s a lot to like here. The distance from which James dunked, the height of the dunk, the sound of the dunk, the buzz of the crowd. This came during a stretch when James was producing nightly highlights. We submit this was the jam of the year.
6. Tua Tagovailoa throws the championship-winning touchdown over Georgia
One thing to know: Tagovailoa replaced the struggling Jalen Hurts in the college football championship and blew everyone away. His night reached its climax when on 2nd-and-26 in overtime, he delivered the game-winning, 50-yard strike.
5. LeBron James buries the Raptors
One thing to know: James and the Cavs tormented the Raptors three years in a row. In Game 3 of the 2018 semifinals, James officially laid the Raptors to rest, hitting a game-winning floater, his second of the playoffs, to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
4. LeBron James blocks Victor Oladipo, then hits the game-winning three over the Pacers
One thing to know: James and the Cavs were facing a crisis in the first round against a feisty Pacers team. James, as he did all season, single-handedly saved the Cavs, first blocking Victor Oladipo’s go-ahead layup, then moments later hitting the game-winning three to take a crucial Game 5.
3. The Minneapolis Miracle
One thing to know: The Saints looked ready to take down the Vikings in Minnesota to make the NFC Championship when Case Keenum connected with Stefon Diggs on a 26-yard pass, which then turned into a miraculous touchdown run. This only loses points because the Vikings got shellacked by the Eagles in the NFC Championship.
2. Arike Ogunbowale hits back-to-back game-winners to give Notre Dame the championship
One thing to know: Junior Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale hit a game-winner over mighty UConn in the Final Four to send her team to the final. She delivered again in the final, nailing a second game-winner in 48 hours to beat Mississippi State. As far as dramatic plays go, it doesn’t get better than this.
1. The Philly Special
One thing to know: This play lacked the drama of some others on this list – it wasn’t the go-ahead play or a buzzer-beater. But the “Philly Special” was the most talked-about play of the year. It was the play where everyone realized, yes, the Nick Foles-led Eagles were going to hang with the Patriots, and yes, they were willing to get creative. That it came on the biggest stage in American sports only made it better. Every NFL team now has this play in their playbooks; we’ve seen it a half-dozen times this year. The Eagles built a dang statue to commemorate it. It’s the play of the year.
Now, check out which NFL players and teams had the best end zone celebrations…
- Grant Halverson/Getty Images