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7 athletes who made us proud in 2016

As the year ends, check out these moments that we’ll remember with joy

Filled with wins, losses, births, deaths and all kinds of surprises, 2016 is on its way out.

It was a year in which we lost some music icons, including Prince and George Michael, boxing great Muhammad Ali, actors, comedians and more. A year when major social issues such as more killings of African-Americans by police sparked athletes and others to take a stand for racial equality. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the national anthem. Michael Jordan spoke out on social justice for the first time, saying he was “deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers.” Donald Trump was also elected as the 45th president of the United States.

Many Americans can’t be done with 2016 fast enough. But despite the whirlwind of happenings, many athletes got our attention with positive news that we can all take into the new year.

Check out seven of the athletes that made The Undefeated list of folks who made us smile in 2016.

7. Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, the five-time NBA champion, 18-time All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, retired from basketball, leaving the Los Angeles Lakers franchise without a star veteran player and fans discussing his legacy. It was the Black Mamba’s final hours on the court that made us proud. In the final game of his 20-year career, Bryant scored 60 points as the Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz. Who knew? We did.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 13: Kanye West (R) greets Kobe Bryant at a basketball game between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on April 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

Kanye West (right) greets Kobe Bryant at a basketball game between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on April 13, 2016, in Los Angeles.

Noel Vasquez/GC Images

6. Usain Bolt

The Jamaican sprinter also known as the “lightning bolt” made us proud when he captured the world’s attention at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Usain Bolt won the gold medal in the 100 meters with a time of 9.81 seconds, becoming the first athlete to win the event at three Olympic Games. And it was this photo that made us smile and became a social media favorite, sparking some of the funniest memes.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14: Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men's 100 meter semifinal on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men’s 100-meter semifinal on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

5. J.R. Smith

Just before the Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard gave us shirtless J.R. Smith, he made us cry tears of joy when he served us an emotional postgame news conference after winning his first NBA championship against the Golden State Warriors. Smith credited his family, and gave a special tribute to his father. “I know a lot of people don’t have their parents in their life, their mother, their father, but I’ve got the best two you could ask for, I swear,” Smith said. “There’s six of us, and they didn’t treat any of us different. They loved us the same. They treated us all the same, and I just wanted to be like them when I grow up.”

4. Dak Prescott

Who knew that when Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo went down with an injury, it would be 23-year-old rookie quarterback Dak Prescott who would rally “America’s Team” back into football relevance. Whether you agree or not, this guy made us all smile just watching his success.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) throws the ball against Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) throws the ball against Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

3. Simone Biles

Simone Biles epitomizes “Black Girl Magic” — the epic term of 2016. The gymnast fiercely worked her way into our hearts when she won five Olympic medals in her first Olympic Games. With four golds and one bronze, she made us all smile when she added a photo to her Instagram account wearing all five medals around her neck. She attributed that pose to swimmer Michael Phelps, who took a similar photo. She became the first female gymnast and black woman to carry the U.S. flag in the closing ceremony. Now, she’s speaking out about body image. She can do no wrong in our eyes.

 

2. LeBron James

LeBron James rallied the Cleveland Cavaliers from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The win ended a 52-year sports championship drought for the city of Cleveland. He was named the 2016 Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated. Just recently, he was chosen as The Associated Press 2016 Male Athlete of the Year, an award he also won in 2013. He donated $2.5 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and continues to inspire families off the court through his LeBron James Family Foundation.

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after defeating the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California.

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy after defeating the Golden State Warriors, 93-89, in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016, in Oakland, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

1. Serena Williams
‘Nuff said. In 2016, Serena Williams was the queen of making us smile. There shouldn’t be an explanation required for this, but we will tickle your fancy. She inspires women daily on her social media accounts. Just recently, she and her sister Venus opened the Yetunde Price Resource Center in their hometown of Compton, California. The center will cater to community members affected by gun violence. She graced her fashions at New York Fashion Week. Williams has 22 Grand Slam titles, holding the most major titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles combined among active players, male or female. Williams opened up in an exclusive Undefeated interview about her success with hip-hop mogul Common.

Common and Serena Williams sit down for an interview at Urban Vintage cafe in Clinton Hill Brooklyn, New York.

Common and Serena Williams sit down for an interview at Urban Vintage cafe in Clinton Hill Brooklyn, New York, as part of Undefeated In-Depth: Serena with Common.

Demetrius Freeman for The Undefeated

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.