Top 10 story lines that defined 2017 in sports – USA TODAY

As 2017 comes to a close, so too does the year in sports.
And what a year it was.
There were historic winning streaks and inspiring championship runs, national-anthem protests and monumental trade requests, massive scandals, ascending stars, a boxing spectacle, an FBI sting and much more.
As 2018 looms, USA TODAY Sports pinpoints the 10 story lines that defined sports in 2017:
Every offseason features trades and free-agent signings, but rarely have as many stars found new homes as they did last summer — and with some drama, too. Chris Paul requested a trade and joined James Harden in Houston. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George moved to Oklahoma City. Jimmy Butler was shipped to Minnesota. And then, of course, was the upheaval in the Eastern Conference. In a ballyhooed decision, Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, who then nabbed Kyrie Irving in a massive trade with the rival Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving supposedly requested a trade because he wanted to escape LeBron James’ shadow, but he has since declined to talk about his reasoning for the request.
The Cleveland Indians went more than three weeks without a loss, winning 22 consecutive games from Aug. 24 through Sept. 15. It was the longest winning streak in baseball history without a tie and second-longest unbeaten streak in the sport overall, behind only the New York Giants’ 26-game streak in 1916. The stretch featured seven shutouts and four one-run wins.
Meanwhile, the UConn women’s basketball team saw its own historic streak come to an end after multiple years. The Huskies’ 66-64 overtime loss to Mississippi State in the Final Four ended a 111-game winning streak that dated to Nov. 23, 2014 and was the longest in the history of Division I basketball. “We kind of lived a charmed life for a long time,” coach Geno Auiriemma said after the loss.
Though she only played two events early in January, 2017 was still a banner year for tennis legend Serena Williams, on and off the court. First, she beat her older sister, Venus, in the Australian Open final to claim her 23rd Grand Slam single’s title, the most of any tennis player since 1968. Then, in April, she revealed that she was eight weeks pregnant when the tournament began. Williams gave birth to a baby girl, Alexis Olympia, on Sept. 1 and is scheduled to return to the court with an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
To say the Patriots rallied from a 28-3 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, would be accurate — and wildly incomplete. This was the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. It featured the largest comeback (25 points) in Super Bowl history. It was arguably the most compelling game in Super Bowl history. And, according to Fox, it was the second most-watched event, period, in the history of the network, with a total audience of 172 million. Yes, it was only one game in a year full of buzzer-beaters and come-from-behind thrillers. But it came on the largest stage in American sports, and defined the year unlike any other single event could.
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Rarely has one family dominated headlines as the Balls did in 2017.  Oldest son, Lonzo, emerged as one of college basketball’s stars in his only season at UCLA and was drafted No. 2 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. His younger brother, LiAngelo, enrolled at UCLA, was arrested and suspended for shoplifting in China, left the school and recently signed a contract with a professional team in Lithuania. And the youngest Ball, LaMelo, is also headed to Lithuania, though he only recently turned 16, after he was pulled out of a California high school and briefly homeschooled. 
And then there’s the family’s braggadocious patriarch, LaVar. He outrageously claimed that he could beat Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one. He went on a sexist rant after demanding a female referee be replaced during an AAU game. And, most recently, he baited President Donald Trump into a Twitter spat. Through it all, LaVar became a lightning rod of criticism and a constant source of eye rolls — but he got America’s attention.
On the heels of 2016 reporting by The Indianapolis StarUSA Gymnastics found itself at the heart of one of the most disturbing stories of 2017. Former team doctor Larry Nassar was accused of sexual abuse by more than 150 women — including three members of the Fierce Five — and was sentenced to serve 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges. Steve Penny, the embattled president of USA Gymnastics, resigned. And last week, McKayla Maroney filed a lawsuit alleging she was paid to not publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, which she says was an attempt by USA Gymnastics to “allow Nassar to quietly leave USAG; further silencing his victims.”
Meanwhile, Russia faced a wave of sanctions from the International Olympic Committee after widespread violations of anti-doping rules. Forty-three Russian athletes have been sanctioned, resulting in the loss of 13 medals at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and several lifetime bans. The country has also been barred from competing in the February Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Russians will be able to compete as neutral athletes, however.
The fight itself was better than many expected, with MMA fighter Conor McGregor holding his own during his first foray into boxing before losing to Floyd Mayweather in a 10th-round TKO. It generated a massive payout and was one of the most publicized bouts in years. But the real story was the circus surrounding the fight in the weeks and months leading up to it — and in a few months afterward.
There were roughly five months of public posturing from both sides about whether the fight would even take place, then a string of verbal jabs, some of which had racial undertones. And the talking didn’t stop after they left the ring. McGregor has since said there’s “no doubt” he would win a rematch, while Mayweather has claimed he could make $1 billion for three or four fights, including one against McGregor, in the octagon.
In news that shook the world of college sports, four assistant basketball coaches were indicted in a fraud and corruption scheme after a lengthy investigation by the FBI. Adidas, sports agent Christian Dawkins and Louisville were among the several entities swept up in the scandal, which resulted in the firing of longtime coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich, but the effects were (and still are) felt throughout college basketball. Like many 2017 storylines, this one will carry over in 2018, as several lawsuits remain pending and the government continues submitting evidence for its case.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which caused nearly $200 billion in damage and displaced  thousands of residents, the Houston Astros gave their city a reason to celebrate. Led by American League MVP Jose Altuve, they slipped past the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of the most thrilling World Series in recent years to win their first title in franchise history.
The city also received a boost through the efforts of Houston Texans linebacker J.J. Watt. Though Watt missed most of the season due to injury, his impact off the field was profound: He raised more than $37 million for hurricane relief efforts, 185 times his initial goal of $200,000.
When President Donald Trump used an expletive at a September rally to describe NFL players who protest during the national anthem, he turned an already massive sports story into the story of the year. Trump’s comments prompted a major backlash from players (and, in some cases, owners) that rippled across the league and the nation at large. While Trump has continued to blast the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell on Twitter, one notable sponsor blamed the protests for declining profits, and a group of players has since negotiated a fundraising agreement with the league, with a focus on social justice issues. 
Meanwhile, quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who started the protest in 2016 to bring attention to racial inequality and police brutality — didn’t play in 2017. Kaepernick became a free agent in March, and in October, he filed a collusion grievance against NFL owners. Though he’s largely remained out of the public eye over the past year, Kaepernick remains a key figure in the movement and has donated at least $900,000 to social-justice causes.
Others receiving votes: 
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