Alas, it was another largely disappointing year for New York sports in 2023 — at least on the men’s side.
The Big 4 championship drought continued as major teams like the Mets and Yankees failed to make the playoffs while the Giants and Jets regressed in the worst ways. Meanwhile, the likes of the Islanders, Rangers, Knicks, and Nets made little noise when they found their way into the postseason as three of the four bowed out in the first round.
In Major League Soccer, the New York Red Bulls also lost in the first round while New York City Football Club failed to make the playoffs.
The professional women’s teams in the city, however, came up big.
Gotham FC is the champion of the National Women’s Soccer League and the New York Liberty took home its first Eastern Conference crown in more than 20 years.
Hopefully next year, some other teams in the Big Apple can catch up to their pace. In the meantime, let’s take a look back at the year that was in sports as we count down the top 12 sports stories of 2023:
Nets’ Big 3 breakup
Talk about a flop.
Even three of the best players this generation of the NBA has seen couldn’t figure it out in Brooklyn.
After trading away James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers in September 2022, the Nets officially broke up their ‘Big 3’ within three days of each other in February.
They dealt Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 6 for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2029 first-round pick, and two second-round picks in 2027 and 2029.
On Feb. 9, they traded Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns for Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, multiple first-round picks (2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029), and a first-round pick swap in 2028.
They were bounced from the first round of the playoffs in the spring and currently sit in the No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference this season.
Knicks win first playoff series in 10 years
Sparked by the acquisition of Jalen Brunson, the Knicks put together a 47-win season in 2022-23, their most since winning 54 in 2012-13.
Nabbing the No. 5 seed in the East, they dominated the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games to win their first playoff series in a decade thanks to a defense that yielded just 94 points per game.
It was Brunson who did the heavy lifting, averaging 24 points per game in that series. The Knicks would fall to the Miami Heat in six games in the second round.
It was all going well enough for the Yankees. They had just moved to 10 games over .500 on June 3 after a 6-3 win over the vaunted Los Angeles Dodgers in LA, but it came at a price.
Aaron Judge injured his toe crashing into the wall while robbing JD Martinez of an extra-base hit, which kept him shelved for 42 games.
The Yankees never recovered.
An offense that was largely carried by the star slugger sputtered the rest of the season, even when Judge returned.
After ranking second in Major League Baseball in 2022 in runs scored, they finished 25th in 2023. Couple that with a starting rotation that had little support behind Gerrit Cole and the Yankees went 47-55 following Judge’s injury to miss the playoffs for just the fifth time in 29 years.
An Amazin’ nosedive
The Mets put together the most expensive team in baseball history and it still wasn’t enough to even make the playoffs.
After Jacob deGrom spurned New York to join the Texas Rangers in free agency, the Mets went out and signed the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to a massive two-year, $86.6 million deal to pair with Max Scherzer.
The two-headed veteran partnership flopped. Scherzer was suspended 10 games for sticky stuff and dealt with neck and back issues. Verlander’s start was delayed due to injury before he warmed up toward an All-Star level.
But the Mets’ roster was full of holes that former general manager Billy Eppler simply chose not to fill. Star closer Edwin Diaz was lost for the season after tearing his patellar tendon at the World Baseball Classic and nothing was done to bring a legitimate replacement back into the fold. Therefore, the bullpen was a mess all year.
There was little depth in the rotation after Taijuan Walker and Chris Bassitt also left via free agency. The designated hitter spot in the lineup was a void that Daniel Vogelbach never filled. Starling Marte’s injury-riddled season (groin, migraines) took away what was an anchor in the No. 2 spot of a 101-win team in 2022. Jeff McNeil regressed mightily after winning the batting title.
The Mets were out of it by June and with it, owner Steve Cohen hit the sell button. They traded Verlander and Scherzer, reliever David Robertson, third baseman Eduardo Escobar, and outfielders Tommy Pham and Mark Canha to boost a meager farm system. But it also came with just 75 wins.
On the final day of the regular season, manager Buck Showalter announced that he was being shown the door while Eppler was gone within the next few days.
A weekend of legends in August
For one weekend in August, the New York City area played host to two of professional sports’ most transcendental athletes to help provide a break from what had been a season of mundane play from the Big Apple’s local clubs.
From Aug. 25-27, the Mets hosted Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Dodgers amidst the rampant speculation that the Mets would be in on the two-way superstar once he reached free agency in the offseason.
Ohtani, whose pitching season had just ended after suffering a UCL tear, went 3-for-9 with two doubles and a triple in the three-game set.
On the night of Aug. 26, across the river in New Jersey, the New York Red Bulls hosted arguably the greatest soccer player of all time, Lionel Messi, as he made his Major League Soccer debut with Inter Miami.
Sitting out the first 60 minutes, the former Barcelona talisman and Argentinian World Cup winner scored in the 89th minute of a 2-0 Miami victory over the Red Bulls.
While Messi and Inter Miami are primed to make a run at the MLS Cup next season, especially after signing Luis Suarez, Ohtani wound up not getting much of a pitch from the Mets in free agency as he moved across town in Los Angeles to the Dodgers with a historic 10-year, $700 million contract.
Aaron Rodgers’ 4 snaps, 4 months on the shelf
The stars actually appeared to be aligning for the New York Jets when future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ relationship with the Green Bay Packers disintegrated into dust. Needing a legitimate quarterback after former No. 2 pick Zach Wilson’s failure to live up to extreme expectations, the Jets pounced, acquiring the now-40-year-old in April to state the Jets’ intentions of going all in right now.
His introduction could not have been any more storybook. Under singular spotlight on opening night — the 22nd anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — the face of the franchise and the man to lead the Jets back to contention ran out with a raised American flag.
Twenty minutes later, his season was over. Four snaps into his Jets career, Rodgers tore his ACL.
Undergoing an experimental procedure known as a “Speed Bridge,” to repair the knee, Rodgers continuously promised that he would make it back before the year was over, especially if the Jets were still in playoff contention.
But after a 30-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 15 to drop to 5-9 with the combination of Wilson and Trevor Siemian under center, they were eliminated from contention. Three days later, Rodgers said that he would need three or four more weeks anyway to make it back.
So, as initially forecasted when he suffered the injury, we’ll see him in 2024.
The arrival of David Stearns
After years of pining, Mets owner Steve Cohen finally got his guy.
The Mets officially named former Milwaukee Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns to the same position in Queens following the completion of the regular season, providing a homecoming for the 38-year-old New York native.
Just days after his introductory press conference, Billy Eppler left as GM — a vacancy that has not been filled yet and might not be until next winter.
Stearns built the Brewers into an annual playoff contender thanks to an ability to evaluate talent and build from within. Milwaukee made the playoffs five times in the last six years after making the postseason just four times in its previous 48 years of existence.
It’s been a slow start to his reign in Queens, though. His acquisitions have been more about depth while the Mets missed out on their No. 1 offseason priority in Japanese ace, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Liberty makes WNBA Finals
The Liberty overhauled its roster to transform from a team that finished 16-20 last season to a WNBA force to be reckoned with.
Going big-game hunting in the offseason, New York brought in former league MVPs Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones along with point guard Courtney Vandersloot to revitalize a starting five that didn’t do enough to provide former No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu with any sort of help.
The loaded Liberty put together their best regular season in franchise history, going 32-8 and ultimately making its first WNBA Finals since 2002 while Stewart took home another league MVP. New York fell to the Las Vegas Aces in four games, but the foundation appears set for a perennial championship contender.
Daniel Jones: Franchise QB to expendable in a flash
The book was still out on Daniel Jones being the New York Giants’ franchise quarterback of the future even after he led them to the NFC Divisional Round back in January and signed a four-year, $160 million deal in the offseason.
That’s why GM Joe Schoen built an opt-out after the 2024 season — a feature in the contract that looks perfectly placed, at this point.
Jones couldn’t recapture the magic in 2023 behind an offensive line that was the worst protection unit over the first half of the season. He was 1-5 as a starter, completing 67.9% of his passes for just two touchdowns compared to six interceptions. He missed four games after suffering a neck injury in Week 5 and then was done for the season after suffering a torn ACL in Week 10.
Over his first five seasons, Jones has played in 60 of a possible 82 games.
Gotham FC wins NWSL title
From worst to first, Gotham FC pulled off a remarkable turnaround that saw them go from finishing dead last in 2022 to winning their first-ever NWSL title.
In need of a major boost up front as they struggled to score goals last season, Gotham brought in United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) striker Lynn Williams to bolster the attack.
Despite finishing sixth in the regular season, Gotham won each of their first three playoff games on the road before taking down OL Reign in the final 2-1 thanks to goals by Williams and Esther Gonzalez.
Gerrit Cole’s Cy Young season
There wasn’t a lot that went right for the Yankees in 2023, but Gerrit Cole did continue to prove that his $324 million deal was a good investment.
Following two good seasons that Cole himself would likely describe as mediocre at best, the 33-year-old right-hander put it all together this season, going 15-4 with an AL-best 2.63 ERA with 222 strikeouts in a career-high 209 innings pitched.
His two shutouts, 0.981 WHIP, and 6.8 hits allowed per nine innings led the AL, which locked up his first-career Cy Young Award.
Yankees land Soto, but for how long?
In desperate need of a Robin to Aaron Judge’s Batman, the Yankees finally made a big splash by acquiring San Diego Padres All-Star Juan Soto in exchange for four players.
The 25-year-old is one of the best pure hitters in the game and will immediately slot into the Yankees’ lineup in the No. 3 spot behind Aaron Judge — a duo that could potentially be the most imposing 1-2 punch in baseball for a long time. That is if Soto decides to commit his long-term future to the Bronx.
Soto is a free agent following the 2024 season and judging by his comments in his introductory press conference earlier this month, fully intends on testing the waters of the open market.