Summer officially begins just after midnight, but the sports summer started Sunday evening as the sun set on Brooks Koepka's win at the U.S. Open. That tournament caps a glorious springtime stretch that includes the Masters, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, NFL draft, French Open, horse racing Triple Crown and other events and leads into what can often be a challenging summer for sports fans. The whole season can feel like an appetizer, from NFL training camp to baseball in August to NBA free agency. But worry not, here are 13 sporting events that are worth your time this summer, ranked from can-watch to must-watch.
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Mayweather vs. McGregor (Aug. 26)
Remember when Devin Hester and Chris Johnson raced a cheetah? Or all those times Jesse Owens ran next to a horse? Or when Ben Johnson went up against a sports car? Or that 150-meter race between Michael Johnson and Donovan Bailey? Or that time Screech fought Horshack? In the annals of stupid competitions devoid of meaning, logic or reason, we get Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor, a fight that's every bit the oddity of the aforementioned "competitions" and about as meaningful as Rocky vs. Thunderlips. The only entertaining part will be the press tour, with Mayweather's fanatical narcissism playing beautifully against McGregor's tremendous bravado.
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NFL preseason (begins Aug. 3)
All the importance of the Pro Bowl without any of the talent.
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Darts world matchplay (begins July 22)
I'm gonna shoot you straight: I have no idea whether this is a big-, medium- or small-stakes darts tournament. For all I know, it might be the preseason football of darts. But if you've never enjoyed darts on TV or a live stream, get on it. The atmosphere is electric, the players are sniper-good and you'll spend all your time wondering how they're able to calculate their need for triple-20, double-19, double-6 so quickly. Michael Van Gerwin (pictured) is the star of the sport and I speak for most of us when I say I can identify with that dude far better than I can some sporting Adonis like LeBron or Tom Brady.
Tim Tebow playing baseball (all summer throughout the southeast)
Tim Tebow is batting .224/.319/.338 (translation: NOT GOOD) with three HRs and 21 more strikeouts than hits. He's a 29-year-old man on a team that started no player older than 22 in its last game (including two teenagers). But reality can't dampen celebrity, so if you happen to be within 500 miles of Columbia (SC), Lexington (KY), Rome (GA), Greensboro (NC), Kannapolis (NC), Augusta (GA), Charleston (SC), Hickory (NC) or Asheville (NC) this summer, make it a point to go see Tebow just so you can tell your grandkids one day that you saw Tim Tebow play baseball and they can say, "who?"
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NBA draft (June 22)
Trust "The Process" all you want but it's a complete bust in terms of draft-night excitement. Rather than shaking up the basketball world with a trade up as the clock ticked down on the Celtics' No. 1 pick, the Sixers got the deal done over the weekend, thus removing whatever drama there may have been at the top of the draft. Luckily, Fultz scores about a -9 in Q rating so we can all stop acting like we know anything about the anonymous, NCAA-tournament missing Washington star and instead get to the important questions like will the Lakers take Lonzo Ball, will Lonzo Ball go to the Lakers, where will Lonzo Ball end up and, if those things do indeed happen, how many minutes into the season will it take LaVar Ball to start a public crusade to get Luke Walton fired?
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America's Cup (continues June 24)
The experience of watching golf and auto racing on TV has greatly improved with real-time stats and creative on-screen graphics. But both were watchable before pro-tracer and in-car audio. Sailing, on the other hand, was the most boring thing on television this side of the middle 90 minutes of The Oscars. In 2017 it's become a pretty enjoyable experience. Wind speed, distance behind, Hansel and Gretel-like graphics being dropped behind the ship to help you follow it's path: Great stuff. Yeah, it doesn't hurt that this America's Cup is being held in the crystal blue waters of picturesque Bermuda, a nice bit of escapism from the 105-degree heat indexes outside some of our windows. Larry Ellison's Oracle team (from the U.S., natch) is already down 3-0 to New Zealand in the first-to-seven competition and a comeback doesn't look in the offing, despite the team's stunning victory in 2013 after trailing 8-1. But, hey, at least it'll look pretty.
British Open (begins June 20)
Last year was one of the most thrilling majors of the century, as Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson went toe-to-toe on Sunday at Royal Troon before Stenson posted a remarkable 63 to take home his first major. Will the run of first-time winners at majors (Brooks Koepka made it seven straight at the U.S.Open) continue or will Rory, DJ, JDay or Jordan Spieth get back in the winner's circle?
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Swimming world championships (begins July 23)
Worlds for swimming and track are biennial events, taking place the year after one Olympics and the year before the next Olympics. This one (the year after) can be hit or miss depending on how seriously swimmers got back into shape after Rio. The 2009 world champs, for instance, were the fastest swim meet ever (thanks mainly to a since-banned suit technology) and a thrilling coda to that Olympic cycle with Michael Phelps defending his Beijing golds against a world trying to draw at least a blittle blood. The 2013 WCs were more of a yawn - kind of a London 2.0 (minus Phelps) starring Sun Yang, Chad Le Clos, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky (in her true breakout meet).
This year's WCs may be more like 2009, with new stars ready to emerge. Phelps is gone. Ryan Lochte is suspended. Missy Franklin is injured. That leaves the stage to Ledecky, who will again go for a historic 200-400-800-1500 sweep, which will include a quick-turnaround from the 1500 final to the 200 semis. It's basically like finishing a marathon, jogging for a few minutes, and then running the 400. Her Stanford teammate Simone Manuel will also be featured, as will Chase Kalisz, who's best positioned to become the next American Olympic swimming star.
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Track and field world championships (begins Aug. 4)
Usain Bolt's last meet. Period. (Well, maybe: Usain Bolt's last meet. Ellipses.)
I'm firmly in the "Usain's coming back for the 2020 Olympics" camp but, as with Michael Phelps at the London Olympics, the sincerity of retirement is there even if a return is more probable than not. Regardless, one should be in front of the TV to watch Bolt's finals in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay to see if he can finish his career without a race loss at the Olympics and world championships. (He "only" has 19 golds in 21 races because one of his 20 wins was stripped by a doping relay teammate and he false started in the final of the 100 the at the 2011 world champs in Daegu.)
Bonus points here for location. The last time London hosted a major, international track meet was the 2012 Olympics - one of the greatest weeks the sport has ever had.
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Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones at UFC 2014 (July 29)
While Mayweather/McGregor will be hyped for hype's sake, the bad blood between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier is very much real. Jones won their light heavyweight title bout in January 2015 but had the title stripped for legal reasons. The rematch has been postponed both for injury and drug-test reasons and Cormier (who went on to win the vacant belt and still holds it) is worried it might happen again. "Is he really going to be in Anaheim?" Cormier asked of Jones during the fight announcement. "Is this guy really gonna go to the fight?" As if the main event at UFC 2014 needed even more drama.
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Big 3 (begins June 25)
Three-on-three basketball is having its moment, first with its planned inclusion in the 2020 Olympics and now with the impending debut of Ice Cube's The American Professional 3 on 3 Basketball League (or the Big 3 as it's more familiarly known). The whole thing sounds pretty great: Every Sunday for eight weeks, all eight teams in the league travel to the same city and treat fans to four games on the same afternoon, with the results broadcast on FS1 the following night. There's a two-week playoff after that, with the championship taking place the week before Labor Day. But if you're looking for the elevator pitch: A 3-on-3 basketball league with a flagship team captained and coached by Allen Iverson that happens to be named 3's Company. I'll meet you at the Reagle Beagle and we'll watch FOX Sports' coverage together, curious to see if AI will mess around and get a triple-double. (Somebody got both parts of that joke. I hope.)
MLB All-Star Game (July 11)
Still the only professional All-Star game worth watching. In what should be a nice change from the other 81 games this season, there will be actual, real-life fans at Marlins Park for the Midsummer Classic, which will be televised on FOX. Between Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge, there will be more young star power than the game has seen in more than a decade. Close voting battles to watch: NL 1B (Ryan Zimmerman leads Anthony Rizzo by 150,000 votes), NL OF (Jason Heyward leads teammate Ben Zobrist by 90,000 votes for the final spot), AL SS (Carlos Correa leads Francisco Lindor by 120,000 votes) and AL OF (George Springer leads Michael Brantley and Mookie Betts for the final spot by a few thousand votes).
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Wimbledon (begins July 3)
The Gentlemans' tournament will have its usual first-week intrigue building into the inevitable second-week questions: Can Roger Federer continue his hot 2017 and win his first Wimbledon since 2012? How will Rafael Nadal back up his dominant French Open and clay-court season on grass, a surface that's stymied him in recent years? Can Andy Murray turn around his average season and repeat at the All England Club? And can Novak Djokovic build on his French Open run or will his semifinal drubbing at the hands of Dominic Thiem put him in another tailspin?
On the women's side, the field may not be as wide open as the French Open (won by No. 47 Jelena Ostapenko), but given the parity at the top of the sport, that still leaves room for 15-20 legitimate contenders thanks to the absence of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. All eyes will be on three different feel-good stories in the Ladies' competition: First, there's Victoria Azarenka, who returns to the sport on Tuesday for her first match since the birth of her son in December. It'll be her first tournament in over a year and though she's never been as good on grass as she has been on hard courts, the right kind of draw could propel her deep into the tournament. Venus Williams is seeking her first Wimbledon title since 2008 and, at 36, would be the oldest champ at any major. (Only sister Serena has won a Slam after turning 34.) After her run to the final at the Australian Open and given her strong play last year (she made the semis), Vee should be considered a favorite. Best of all is the grass-court return of Petra Kvitova, who missed the first part of 2017 after she was stabbed in a home invasion in December. The two-time champion will be back on the grass courts and with some tournaments already under her belt, could she become a feel-great champion?