December 16, 2016 4:00 AM EST It was a year of firsts, lasts, and loss in the world of sports documented in millions of photographs.
In one image, LeBron James bows his head, tears of joy in his eyes, as he fulfills a promise—for the first time in the franchise’s history, the Cleveland Cavaliers were NBA Champions. At the Rio Olympics,
Usain Bolt preserved another title as World’s Fastest Man, grinning in a photograph captured by Getty’s Cameron Spencer. On the NFL field, football great Peyton Manning claimed a final Super Bowl trophy before an emotional retirement from the game. And around the world, mourners said goodbye to the greatest, Muhammad Ali.
There were milestone moments, records and champions made, but the images in between can be as monumental— a fog around a diehard crowd supporting its team on one of winter’s coldest days; a dog is groomed for its moment at Westminster; an Olympic diver disappears into the blur of motion and water, her ending and the water’s beginning indiscernible.
Here, TIME selects its favorite moments from this year in sports.
Chelsea Matiash, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s deputy multimedia editor. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @cmatiash. Follow TIME LightBox on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Joao Sousa of Portugal serves to Feliciano Lopez of Spain during his second round Men's Singles match on Day Four of the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City on Sept. 1, 2016. Al Bello—Getty Images 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 Aug. 14, 2016. Cameron Spencer—Getty Images Sun Yating of China is challenged during the Women's Water Polo 7th - 8th Classification match between Brazil and China on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Aug.19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. Adam Pretty—Getty Images Horses clear a fence during the Racing UK Profits Returned To Racing Handicap Steeple Chase at Wetherby Racecourse on March 22, 2016 in Wetherby, England. Alex Livesey—Getty Images Juliet Itoya of Spain competes during the Women's Long Jump Qualifying Round on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 16, 2016. Shaun Botterill—Getty Images An American Cocker Spaniel gets its fur blown by a hair dryer in the grooming area on the second day of the 140th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City on Feb. 16, 2016. Stephanie Keith—Getty Images Giniel De Villiers of South Africa and Dirk Von Zitzewitz of Germany in the Toyota Hilux for Toyota Gazoo Racing compete on day 11 stage ten between Belen and La Rioja during the 2016 Dakar Rally on Jan. 13, 2016 in near Fiambala, Argentina. Dean Mouhtaropoulos—Getty Images Yuval Filo, Alona Koshevatskiy, Ekaterina Levina, Karina Lykhvar and Ida Mayrin of Israel compete during the Group All-Around Final on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Rio Olympic Arena on Aug. 21, 2016. Julian Finney—Getty Images A banner stating "We Love You Muhammad" is displayed as well-wishers touch the hearse carrying the body of the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali during his funeral procession through Louisville, Kentucky, June 10, 2016. Adrees Latif—Reuters Actor Bill Murray reacts on the field after the Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on Nov. 2, 2016 in Cleveland. Ezra Shaw—Getty Images Kenya Yasuda of Japan is injured during the 2016 Rio Olympics Water Polo Preliminary Round at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 10, 2016. Laszlo Balogh—Reuters Katie Ledecky of the United States competes in the Women's 400m Freestyle Final on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Aug. 7, 2016. Al Bello—Getty Images Pandelela Rinong Pamg of Malaysia competes in the Women's 10m Platform Preliminary at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 17, 2016. Michael Dalder—Reuters Fans during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks at TCFBank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Jan. 10, 2016. Hannah Foslien—Getty Images Steam rises from a scrum during the Super Rugby Exhibition match between the Rebels and the Hurricanes at Harlequins Rugby Club in Melbourne, Australia, on June 23, 2016. Scott Barbour—Getty Images Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza in Monza, Italy, on Sept. 3, 2016. Dan Istitene—Getty Images David Boudia and Steele Johnson of USA compete in the Men's Synchronized 10m Platform at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 8, 2016. Dominic Ebenbichler—Reuters An RS-X athlete is seen on the way back to the marina after the conclusion of racing on Day 7 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Marina da Gloria on Aug. 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. Clive Mason—Getty Images Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs drops back to pass against the Houston Texans during the first quarter of the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, on Jan. 9, 2016. Scott Halleran—Getty Images Jhoanis Portilla of Cuba, Orlando Ortega of Spain and Deuce Carter of Jamaica compete in the rain during the 2016 Rio Olympics Men's 110m Hurdles in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 15, 2016. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters A general view of court action as the weather closes in on day 3 of the FIVB Kish Island in Iran on Feb. 17, 2016. Amin M. Jamali—Getty Images The TCU Horned Frogs celebrate after winning the Valero Alamo Bowl in three overtimes against the Oregon Ducks at Alamodome on Jan. 2, 2016 in San Antonio. Ronald Martinez—Getty Images Croatia football fans at the Stade de Bordeaux in France on June 21, 2016. Sergio Perez—Reuters Anna Marton of Hungary, right, fences against Manon Brunet of France during women's saber individual fencing competition in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 8, 2016. Gregory Bull—AP A general view inside the stadium as Lightning strikes following the postponement of the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on Sept. 13, 2016 in Manchester, England. Laurence Griffiths—Getty Images Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Zach Collaros warms up before his team plays the Toronto Argonauts in their CFL game in Hamilton, Sept. 5, 2016. Mark Blinch—Reuters 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 in Oakland, Calif., on June 19, 2016. Ezra Shaw—Getty Images An athlete poses for the judges during the bodybuilding competition as part of the Arnold Classic Europe 2016 on Sept. 23, 2016 in Barcelona. David Ramos—Getty Images Paralympic gold medalist, Oscar Pistorius, prepares to walk across the courtroom without his prosthetic legs during the third day of his hearing at the Pretoria High Court for sentencing procedures in his murder trial in Pretoria on June 15, 2016. Siphiwe Sibeko—AFP/Getty Images Simone Biles of the United States competes on the balance beam during the Women's Individual All Around Final on Day 6 of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Rio Olympic Arena on Aug. 11, 2016. Elsa—Getty Images Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Josh Reddick can't catch a foul ball hit by Chicago Cubs' Ben Zobrist during the fifth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series, on Oct. 19, 2016, in Los Angeles. Jae C. Hong—AP Kris Jenkins, #2 of the Villanova Wildcats, shoots the game-winning three pointer to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 77-74 in the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, on April 4, 2016. Ronald Martinez—Getty Images Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos is handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Carolina Panthers during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Ronald Martinez—Getty Images Fireworks explode over Maracana stadium with the Mangueira 'favela' community in the foreground during opening ceremonies for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Aug. 5, 2016. Mario Tama—Getty Images More Must-Reads From TIME Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets Meet the 2024 Women of the Year East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does Column: The New Antisemitism The 13 Best New Books to Read in March Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time