Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
After being drafted by the Cowboys in the first round, Boise State linebacker and Idaho native Leighton Vander Esch fielded an inevitable question about Tex-Mex at his introductory press conference. The small-town kid was unfamiliar, apparently. "Text messages?" he responded, before saying that he wasn't familiar with Texas' major contribution to U.S. cuisine. While the Dallas Observer is sure Vander Esch has been acclimated, we'd be happy to take him to Avila's if he wants to come by the office.
It's hard to remember now, but Adrian Beltre came to the Rangers as a consolation prize. After losing the 2010 World Series to the San Francisco Giants, the Rangers' No. 1 offseason priority was re-signing ace lefthander Cliff Lee. Lee chose the Phillies instead, and the Rangers spent their free-agent kitty on Beltre. During his time in Texas, all Beltre has done is solidify himself as a surefire Hall-of-Famer, the best third baseman of his generation. Last year (after the 2017 Best of Dallas issue's deadline), Beltre gave Rangers fans a moment they'll never forget, reaching one of baseball's iconic round numbers by picking up his 3,000th hit in Arlington against the Orioles. The thunderous ovation that greeted his achievement made it clear: While he may have played in Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston before arriving in Texas, Beltre is a Ranger forever.
Somehow, despite making his most iconic play with the 49ers and his only Super Bowl appearance with the Eagles, Terrell Owens is best known for being a Cowboy. Maybe it's his infamous, teary-eyed "that's my quarterback" speech about Tony Romo, or his iconic, popcorn-eating celebration after scoring against the Packers in 2007, but Owens is tied to Dallas. It's a good thing. Owens is one of the gutsiest football players of the last couple of decades. His decision to skip the Hall of Fame ceremony after years of being unfairly labeled as a bad teammate or a clubhouse cancer by NFL insiders is admirable too.
Through the first 21 games of the 2018 WNBA season, Dallas Wings center Liz Cambage was the league's second leading scorer. Despite five years away from the United States playing in Australia and China, she was playing at an All-Star level, combining with Skylar Diggins-Smith to make the Wings into a genuine contender. Then, against the New York Liberty in Game 22, Cambage etched herself into the record book, scoring a WNBA-record 53 points on 17-of-22 shooting and cementing herself as Dallas' most interesting athlete. Cambage is a fiery competitor, an outspoken advocate for gender equity in sports and one of DFW's very best follows on Twitter. Her bandwagon isn't full yet, but seats are going fast.
One Sunday in October, football's most mundane play became one of its most exciting, thanks to an injury to Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey. Without a backup kicker on the roster, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett pressed safety Jeff Heath into service. While he didn't look good doing it, the former high school kicker knocked in two of three extra points and kicked off adequately, helping the Cowboys to a 40-10 win in San Francisco against the 49ers. Heath loved it, the Cowboys players clearly loved it on the sidelines and, for fans at home, it was a welcome respite from an otherwise disappointing season.
Errol Spence Jr. has been a bright, shining light in what's been a dismal year for Dallas sports. The Dallas-raised welterweight champion of the world is affable, self-effacing and preternaturally talented, as charming outside of the ring as he is unforgiving inside of it. Spence sold out the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco for his first hometown title defense in June and didn't disappoint. Nearing the first-round bell, he knocked out undefeated challenger Carlos Ocampo with a vicious body shot, sending a jolt of joyous hometown pride through the 12,000-plus on hand. Spence is Dallas' best athlete right now. International superstardom is next.
The Athletic's Tim Cato lives, sleeps and breathes the NBA, and it shows in his coverage. While he's focused on the Mavs now, his experience as a national NBA reporter for "SB Nation" shows through in the context and depth that highlight his work. Cato can tell you what the Mavs are going to do not just because he knows what they're thinking, but because he's plugged into what the rest of the league is thinking as well. It doesn't hurt that, as a UNT graduate, he's a local kid made good too.
2018 was a bad, bad year for the Mavericks, but rookie Dennis Smith Jr.'s high-flying heroics won't be easily forgotten. On April 3 at home against the Portland Trail Blazers, Smith found himself in the open court following a turnover. With his last dribble, the point guard slammed the ball into the floor, bouncing it to rim level, where he caught it and slammed it home. Smith's dunk was of the type usually reserved for the slam dunk contest, but he executed it easily during an otherwise mundane regular-season game.
The Dallas Morning News is no longer the city's best sports page. The subscription-only, online-only The Athletic made its Dallas debut during Super Bowl week, publishing the smartest sports writing in Dallas on a daily basis. Bob Sturm and his venerable Cowboys analysis set up shop, as did Rangers blogging dean Jamey Newberg and NBA savant Tim Cato. While it's yet to be seen whether The Athletic's financial model will hold up long-term, the company has used its resources wisely so far. It's an essential subscription for local sports fans.
This summer, the United States' joint bid with Canada and Mexico won official FIFA approval, guaranteeing that the three countries will host the 2026 World Cup. The United States will host the lion's share of the big games in the tournament, including all games from the quarterfinals onward. Gleaming palace that it is, Arlington's AT&T Stadium will likely get to host at least a couple of the 60 tournament games expected to be played in the United States. With Jerryworld missing out again on a second Super Bowl or Final Four in recent bidding, it's nice to have something to look forward to, at least.
Whether Luka Doncic ends up being, as some scouts have optimistically suggested, a 6-foot-8 Steve Nash or just another lottery flameout, the Mavericks did the right thing when they acquired him on draft night. The front office viewed Doncic potentially as the best player in a deep draft, one who could combine with Dennis Smith Jr. to make the team a contender again. That's still a couple of years off, but the Slovenian's silky offensive game should at least make the Mavs more attractive on TV in the meantime.
Spieth, Dallas' world champion golfer next door, entered the final round at The Masters in April nine shots behind leader Patrick Reed. It was a seemingly insurmountable deficit until, all of a sudden, it wasn't. Spieth, the 2015 Masters champ, scorched a path through Augusta National's hallowed grounds, playing his first 17 holes in 9 under par. As things turned out, Spieth needed a birdie at 18 to force Reed into a playoff. Instead, Spieth clipped a tree with his tee shot and made bogey, finishing two shots back after a 64. While Spieth didn't quite get there, it was a valiant effort, one that reminded you, with sports especially, that anything is possible.